WWWRT v Tyshchenko. Interesting if contestable engagement with Brussels IA’s Article 34’s forum non-light regime.

In WWRT Ltd v Tyshchenko & Anor [2021] EWHC 939 (Ch) and following an earlier Worldwide Freezing Order, Bacon J engages with Article 34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens ‘light’ regime.

The proceedings are brought by WWRT ltd against Mr Serhiy Tyshchenko and his ex-wife, Mrs Olena Tyshchenko. The claim is founded on an allegation that the Defendants carried out an extensive fraud on the Ukrainian bank, JSC Fortuna Bank during which time the bank was (it is claimed) ultimately owned by Mr Tyshchenko. The bank was subsequently declared insolvent and was liquidated, in the course of which a package of its assets, including the disputed loans, was sold to Ukrainian company Star Investment One LLC.  Star in turn sold those rights and assets to WWRT in March 2020. WWRT’s case is that following those two assignments it has now acquired the rights to bring the claim relied upon in the present proceedings, which is one in tort under Article 1166 of the Ukrainian Civil Code.

In current proceedings, defendants contest jurisdiction, on the basis of 3 alternative grounds:

Firstly, the principle of ‘modified universalism’ (which I have discussed ia here) which should ground a stay under common law so as to prevent WWRT from bypassing the Ukrainian insolvency proceedings. The suggestion is that CJEU Owusu did not deal with a potential stay to allow the judge in one EU Member State to stay proceedings so as to support insolvency proceedings in another Member State. Bacon J held [57], in my view justifiably, that even if indeed the CJEU in Owusu did not specifically deal with this issue, its reasoning (particularly the insistence on predictability and legal certainty) extends to the current scenario. Insolvency proceedings may well (and indeed clearly) fall outside BIa’s scope, however the claim at issue is one in tort, which falls squarely within it. At 62 ff he discusses obiter that even if such stay would have been theoretically possible, he would not have exercised his discretion to grant it.

Secondly, at 89 ff, a stay by analogy with A34 BIa. It is seemingly common ground between the parties and the judge that the bankruptcy exclusion in A1 BIa precludes the express application of A34 if the pending action in the third State is in the nature of bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings. Support is found in Baker J’s views in BB Energy. This is not a settled issue. Neither is much discussion, pro or contra, of the in my view unjustifiable finding of reflexive application of A28 Lugano in JSC Commercial Bank v Kolomoisky [2019] EWCA Civ 1708. The more sound rejection of an A34 stay in the case at issue  in my view lies in the judge’s obiter finding at 95 that the proceedings in E&W are not ‘related’ to those in the Ukraine.

Thirdly, a more straightforward argument of lack of domicile of one of the defendants in the UK, hence room for a forum non conveniens stay. This argument was in fact dealt with first, at 38 ff, with Bacon J  holding on the basis of a pattern of settled residence that domicile was in fact established. At 98 ff he holds obiter that even if A4 hence BIa had not been engaged, he would not have allowed a stay on forum non grounds.

In conclusion, the freezing orders were continued.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, para 2.539 ff

Advocate General Richard de la Tour in Volvo Trucks on the location of damage, in competition law follow-on damages suits, and on national CPR rules varying Brussels Ia.

I apologise I could not find a snappier title to this post however Richard de la Tour AG’s Opinion in C-30/20 Volvo Trucks yesterday (no English version had been published at the time of writing) does cover a lot of issues.

Applicant ‘RH’ brings a follow-on action, based on the EC finding of a cartel in the truck manufacturers market. Volvo contest Spain as the locus delicti commissi under A7(2) BIa, however that element is neither referred to the CJEU nor picked up by the AG. That is unfortunate for there is in my view most certainly scope for clarification as I discuss here.

There is also discussion whether A7(2) assigns international jurisdiction only, or also territorial jurisdiction. The referral decision in the end only refers the latter question to the Court. The Advocate General engages with quite a few more and I am not sure the CJEU itself will be inclined to entertain them all.

On that issue of territorial jurisdiction, the AG refers in particular to CJEU Wikingerhof to confirm with some force that A7(2) assigns both international and territorial jurisdiction. Other cases (and in particular AG Opinions) eg in CJEU Löber v Barclays already suggested the same and the overwhelming majority of scholarship has the same view, even if not always explicitly expressed. The AG in current Opinion refers ia to ratio legis, and the clear contrast in formulation between eg A4 and A7.

Next the AG discusses at length locus damni. CDC and Tibor-Trans (markets affected) are the core judgments which the discussion is anchored upon. The discussion here is  rounded up at 94 with the suggestion by the AG that in principle it is the location where the goods (here: the trucks) are purchased, which qualifies as the locus damni. He then revisits the awkward (see my handbook at 2.458) identification of registered office as locus damni, as it has been put forward by the CJEU in CDC. flyLAL further picked up on that discussion and the AG here, too, reviews that judgment. He concludes in the case at issue at 110 that the place of registered office of the claimant should be a fall-back option in case the locus damni does not correspond to the place where that claimant carries out its activities. None of this makes the application of A7(2) any more straightforward, of course.

Finally, the AG concurs with the view expressed by a number of Member States and the EC that the Member States should be able to employ their internal CPR rules to vary the principled territorial consequence of A7(2), which could to lead to a specialised court in the specific case of competition law. Here I disagree, despite the suggested limitation of not endangering effet utile (ia per CJEU Joined Cases C‑400/13 and C‑408/13 Sanders and Huber) and I do not think the justification (at 127 ff) for competition law specifically, justifies special treatment different from say intellectual property law, consumer law, environmental law etc. Claimants will be encouraged to dress up claims as relating to competition law if the centralised court is their court of choice, which will further endanger predictability.

A most rich Opinion and as noted I wonder how much of it the CJEU will be happy to engage with.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.8.

Mittelbayerischer Verlag: determining centre of interests for jurisdiction in online defamation cases. The AG suggests this is not the case for big changes.

What I said in my post on Markt24 this morning, also goes for the Opinion of Bobek AG in C-800/19 Mittelbayerischer Verlag KG v SM: others have in the meantime posted analysis on it, in this case Tobias Lutzi whose scholarship was cited by the AG.

Claimant is a Polish national who had been a former Auschwitz prisoner. He brought a civil claim against a German newspaper before the Polish courts for having used the expression ‘Polish extermination camp’ in an online article to refer to a Nazi extermination camp built on the territory of (then) occupied Poland. The camp in Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp built within the territory of occupied Poland. Not a ‘Polish’ or indeed even a ‘German’ concentration camp: a Nazi or fascist camp. But I stray.

Although the article had been online for only a few hours before it was corrected, the applicant maintains that the online publication has harmed his national identity and dignity.

Do Polish courts have international jurisdiction to hear such claim? In the main proceedings, the applicant is not only seeking monetary compensation, but also other remedies: a court order prohibiting the publisher from using the expression ‘Polish extermination camp’ in the future and the publication of an apology. (For related issues on the nature of the remedy, see prof Hess’ post on the blog here). Bolagsupplysningen is the most recent relevant CJEU authority. Some of the complications of that case recently featured in Napag Trading and in  Saïd v L’Express.

Warsaw was undoubtedly the claimant’s centre of interest per Bolagsupplysningen, yet the referring court wondered whether this was sufficient to give it jurisdiction given the range of remedies sought by the claimant (damages; prohibition to use the term in the future; public apology). Particularly seeing as the intensity of contact of the claimant with the offending material was on the lighter side: unlike eDate, the online article that formed the basis for the action did not directly concern claimant. The paper’s regional profile and readership range, and focus on regional news, the entirely German nature of the site, lack of any targeting of non-regional readers etc.. meant it was not at all directed at anything else but a local readership.

As Tobias points out, the AG reemphasises (39-44) the unfortunate consequences of Mozaik jurisdiction per CJEU Bier, as plenty of AGs and scholars have done with him. He suggests however that current case is not one suited to a wholesale revisiting of the Bier authority, specifically in an internet context (see also the phrase ‘ubiquitous nature’ of the internet in Google v CNIL, per Szpunar AG), seeing as the essence of the dispute is one on the merits. Instead, he suggests the Court exercise judicial economy and take a most narrow approach to the case: whether in a case seeking a prohibition on the use of a certain statement in the future and the publication of an apology, the applicability of centre of interests of a party allegedly harmed by online publication, be precluded by the fact that that person is not named in the publication at issue?

The case therefore will be an opportunity to specify to some extent the open questions with respect to the indivisibility of the remedies in online defamation cases (see also Gtflix TV and BVC v EWF).

Tobias maps the AG’s approach which discusses predictability yet anchors the conclusion unto the very reason (ia per recitals 15 and 16 which themselves go back to the Report Jenard) for having introduced A7 special jurisdiction: the connection of the court to the facts of the case (59):

any alternative grounds of jurisdiction, must be ‘based on a close connection between the court and the action or in order to facilitate the sound administration of justice. The existence of a close connection should ensure legal certainty and avoid the possibility of the defendant being sued in a court of a Member State which he could not reasonably have foreseen. This is important, particularly in disputes concerning non-contractual obligations arising out of violations of privacy and rights relating to personality, including defamation’.

‘the reasonable foreseeability of the centre of gravity of a dispute should not be effectively replaced by the publisher’s knowledge of the place of the victim’s domicile (62)’

A criterion of intent (69) must not be introduced for online torts, the AG suggests (cf intention expressed as ‘directing at’ in the consumer title). Applied to the case at issue, given the nature of the expressions used (the use of ‘Polish concentration camps’ can be predicted to create a fall-out in Poland, even if one does not have any specific individuals on one’s radar). At 81 ff the AG adds quasi-obiter that at the enforcement stage, any Polish judgment prohibiting in particular further use of the phrase may indeed bounce off German ordre public – as Burkhard’s post discusses re an earlier case.

What would be rather cool is for the CJEU in spite of the AG’s invite not to do so, to take the opportunity of this case to bin or radically amend Bier. That is a pipe dream: this is not going to happen [or is it 😉 ?] particularly seeing as the case will not be held in Grand Chamber.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.5, and para 2.598 in fine.

 

 

Premier Cruises v DLA Piper Russia and UK. Textbook ‘arbitration’ exception under Brussels Ia.

Premier Cruises Ltd v DLA Piper Rus Ltd & Anor [2021] EWHC 151 (Comm) is a textbook case for the relationship between arbitration and the Brussels Ia regulation, as well as relevance of lex arbitri on what is within the scope of an arbitration agreement.

Claimant is Premier Cruises Limited (“PCL”), a company originally domiciled in the British Virgin Islands and now domiciled in the Seychelles, which owns or operates two vessels. Defendants are entities within the DLA Piper Group of legal practices. The First Defendant is DLA Piper Rus Limited (“DLA Russia”), an English company with operations in Russia. The Second Defendant is DLA Piper UK LLP (“DLA UK”), an English LLP.  On 29 January 2020 (within the scope of Brussels Ia, therefore, at least as against DLA UK), PCL commenced proceedings against DLA in the Commercial Court claiming damages in contract and/or in tort for professional negligence.

DLA Russia argues the claim is within the scope of its arbitration agreement included in the engagement letter (International Commercial Arbitration Court at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation). DLA UK accepted it was not included in that agreement and applied for a case-management stay.

PCL argue its action against DLA Russia is in respect of advice allegedly given and work allegedly carried out by DLA Russia prior to 26 May 2015 when the Engagement Letter came into force.

At 52, Edward J identified Russian law as both lex contractus and lex arbitri, and held at 138 after hearing the Russian law experts, that upon contractual construction, PCL’s claim was not included in the clause for it was not meant to apply retroactively.

At 147 ff he agreed with PCL that a case-management stay for the claim against DLA UK is not possible given, with reference to Recital 12 BIa, that the arbitration exception is not engaged: ‘The claim made against DLA UK in this action is not one in respect of which PCL and DLA UK have entered into an arbitration agreement [161]; Arbitration is not the principal focus of the English proceedings against DLA UK; the essential subject matter of the claim made against DLA UK does not concern arbitration; and the relief sought in the proceedings is not ancillary to or an integral part of any arbitration process [163] (reference is made to The Prestige].

The claim being within BIa, Owusu rules out a case management stay. The judge should have outright rejected the additional suggestion ([158 juncto [164]) of a temporary stay being within the Owusu confines.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.3.4, para 2.110 ff.

 

Okpabi v Shell. The Supreme Court reverses the Court of Appeal and the High Court on jurisdictional hurdles in parent /subsidiaries cases. Guest blog by professor Robert McCorquodale.

Those who combine my excitement of having professor McCorquodale contribute to the blog, with his enthusiasm at the end of his post, may find themselves in a perennial game of complimentary renvoi.

Robert, who represented interveners CORE in Okpabi v Shell (one-line summary in live tweeting here), signals the jurisdictional take-aways. The wider due diligence context of the case is considered by Ekaterina Aristova and Carlos Lopez here, Lucas Roorda signals ia the merits bar following the jurisdictional findings and Andrew Dickinson expressed his hope of an end to excessively lengthy jurisdictional proceedings here.

 

Okpabi v Shell: Judges’ Approach to Jurisdictional Issues is Crucial

In Okpabi v Shell [2021] UKSC 3, Nigerian farmers brought a claim against Shell’s parent company (RDS) and its Nigerian subsidiary (SPDC) for environmental and human rights impacts of oil pollution. The claim had been struck out at the initial state on the basis of lack of jurisdiction in relation to the actions of SPDC, and this decision had been upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court unanimously swept aside these decisions. It held that when considering issues of the court’s jurisdiction over such a claim, a court must start from the basis that the alleged facts of the claim are true and from there determine if the claim has a real prospect of success.  The defendant should not bring evidence of its own to dispute the alleged facts unless the facts are demonstrably untrue or unsupportable, as otherwise it risks showing that there is an issue to be tried.  If a judge engages with the evidence and makes findings on it in a summary judgment, the more likely it is that the decision to strike out will be overturned. Further, the Court considered that there was a danger of a court determining issues which arise in parent/subsidiary cases without sufficient disclosure of material documents in the hands of the defendants. Both courts below had acted incorrectly and conducted a “mini-trial”, and so the appeal by the claimants was successful.

The Court affirmed Vedanta that parent companies can have a duty of care towards those affected by a subsidiary’s actions, and that the Caparo test was inapplicable to these types of cases. The Court also clarified the scope of the duty of care by making clear that control is not determinative, it is the level of management involvement by the parent which is crucial. A parent company’s group-wide policies and standards were relevant in this respect. The Court, unfortunately, did not refer in its decision to any comparative law cases or international developments, even though these had been drawn to its attention.

This decision embeds the position that parent companies can have a duty of care towards those affected by a subsidiary’s actions, and that de facto management is a factor to consider. It examined the legal process by which courts consider these jurisdictional issues and made it much harder for a judge to strike out a case at the jurisdictional stage unless the facts on which the claim is based are demonstrably untrue or unsupportable. This could enable quicker proceedings towards the merits in these types of cases.

 

—Robert McCorquodale – it is my honour to contribute to this excellent blog.

 

Gategroup: A seminal and questionable judgment on gatekeeping viz restructuring ‘Plans’ under the Lugano Convention, Insolvency Regulation.

Zacaroli J this morning held in Gategroup Guarantee Ltd, Re [2021] EWHC 304 (Ch) on whether ‘part 26A’ English restructuring ‘Plans’ (see my review of ia Deep Ocean) are within the scope of the Lugano Convention’s insolvency exception (Lugano rather than Brussels Ia was engaged).

He held they are, leading to neutralisation of an exclusive choice of court agreement in the relevant bonds, and making the courts of England and Wales have jurisdiction despite this choice of court.

Oddly Kaupthing was not referred to. Neither was Enasarco.

The judge relied unconvincingly in my view on the dovetail discussion (most recently discussed by me viz Alpine Bau) under the Brussels IA Recast and the EU Insolvency Regulation (‘EIA’)- neither of course applicable to the UK anymore, as indeed is the case for the Lugano Convention.

All in all this is a case in which the  reasoning has a potentially long term impact. The claim form in this case was issued on 30 December 2020. As such, by reason of Regulation 92(1), (2)(d) and (3) of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgment (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, the Lugano Convention continues to apply.

The Plan Company was incorporated on 8 December 2020 as a wholly owned subsidiary of gategroup Holding AG (the ‘Parent’, a company incorporated in Switzerland. At [55] , if Lugano applies to applications under Part 26A, then the Plan Company accepts that by reason of A23(1) Lugano and the exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of Zurich in the Bonds, this court has no jurisdiction. That acceptance is made notwithstanding that the Deed Poll contains a non-exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of England. The Plan Company acknowledges that since the purpose of the Plan is to effect amendments to the terms of the Bonds, the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Bonds is engaged.

The usual modus operandi of assuming application of Brussels Ia arguendo (see viz schemes of arrangement most recently KCA Deutag and viz Plans Deep Ocean and Virgin) did not fly here for as noted the Plan Company accepts that the exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Zurich courts is a complete bar to this court assuming jurisdiction if the Lugano Convention applies (in the preceding cases the point need not be decided, since jurisdiction under BIa could be established arguendo as in none of them was there adversarial argument on the point).

At 70 Justice Zacaroli introduces effectively an amicus curiae by Kirkland & Ellis, opposing the view that the insolvency exception applies.

At 73 ff a first point is considered: Part 26A Plans have not been notified under the EIA Annex. This refers to the so-called dovetailing between Brussels Ia, Lugano and the EIR. The suggestion is that if a procedure is not listed in Annex A EIR, it is conclusively not an insolvency proceeding and “that is the end of the matter” because the dovetailing principle leads inexorably to the conclusion that it falls within the Recast (‘and thus within the Lugano Convention’  [73]). At 82 the judge incidentally is under the impression that the older, heavier procedure of amendment by (EP and Council) Regulation applies – which it no longer does since the EIR 2015.

I have since long submitted that there is no such dovetail. It is also clear that there cannot be identity of interpretation between the Lugano Convention’s insolvency exception and the Brussels regime given that non-EU Lugano States are not part of the EIR. The judge confirms as much at 81 and at 91 ff  and, in a first approach, revisits the principles of modified universalism and the origin of the insolvency exception in particular in the Jenard report. He holds at 103 that the ratio behind the insolvency exception in the Rapport Jenard is the same as the ratio behind Plans, hence that the exception applies.

In a second (presumably subsidiary) approach, the judge queries whether proceedings under Part 26A comply with the abstract requirements for an ‘insolvency’ procedure under of A1(1) EIR and finds at 133 that they do. I am really not convinced by the relevance of that analysis. He includes at 134 ff an argument that the Dutch ‘WHOA’ (Wet homologatie onderhands akkoord) proceedings are to be included in Annex A. Again I am not convinced that serves much purpose. Member States populate the Annex and a Member State proposal for inclusion is not checked against A1(1) EIR.

Conclusion on the jurisdictional issue at 137: ‘proceedings under Part 26A are within the bankruptcy exclusion in the Lugano Convention. This court accordingly has jurisdiction notwithstanding the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Bonds.’

A most relevant judgment, on which the issues are not at all clear. Expect appeal lest the restructuring timing has made this nugatory – settling these issues would most certainly be welcome.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, paras 2.73 ff (2.81 ff in particular) and 5.35 ff.

 

Benkel v East-West German Real Estate Holding. Potential future proceedings should not frustrate anchor jurisdiction.

In Benkel v East-West German Real Estate Holding & Anor [2021] EWHC 188 (Ch), Morgan J was asked to join a party on the basis of Article 8(1) Brussels Ia’s anchor defendant mechanism, and obliged. Mr Dikautschitsch (domiciled in either Spain or Germany) is to be one of a number of defendants. One of the existing defendants, East-West UK, is domiciled in England and Wales.

Casio Computer Co Ltd v Sayo & Ors [2001] EWCA Civ 661 was the authority mostly relied on, as was, via the link with Article 30, Sarrio SA v Kuwait Investment Authority. Expediency to add the second defendant to the proceedings was found to be present given the possibility of conflicting findings of fact [59]. Morgan J rejected [64] a rather novel argument that given the possibility of the E&W courts’ findings of fact clashing with potential future proceedings elsewhere, he should refrain from exercising his discretion to consolidate.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.13.1.

Deep Ocean. A presumably last judgment confirming Brussels Ia UK jurisdiction over continental restructuring using ‘Restructuring Plans’.

Trower J confirmed mid-December (judgment was not published until earlier this week) jurisdiction for England and Wales courts over continental corporations using ‘Restructuring Plans’, in an echo of his earlier findings in Virgin Atlantic.  The plan has in the meantime also been sanctioned. Mother holding is a Dutch BV. Plan companies are all UK incorporated. Creditors in part UK based, largely non-UK based. However the presence of a sizeable number of them in E&W is held (36-38) to be sufficient to serve as anchor using A8(1) BIa.

As I flagged in my review of Virgin Atlantic, pre-Brexit and of course even more so post Brexit, jurisdiction for these Plans let alone their recognition and enforcement in the EU, involves additional challenges to Schemes of Arrangements. I have a paper on the issues forthcoming.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, paras 5.35 ff

 

TOT and TOP v Vodafone. An awkward emphasis on the potential for submission in deciding a stay for related cases.

In Top Optimized Technologies SL (A Company Incorporated Under the Laws of Spain) & Anor v Vodafone Group Services Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 46 (Pat) Smith J is asked to stay proceedings on the basis of Article 30 Brussels Ia’s related actions rule.

Three sets of proceedings are pending: one in Madrid; two in the UK. Parties, even some of them are of similar corporate blood, are not the same. Hence an Article 29 lis alibi pendens application is not possible. Arguments advanced at 39 ff in favour of a stay, are in the main, the same facts and matters being traversed (with an immediate indication of Smith J that the applicable law being different counts against, there being a ‘danger in overstating the overlap’); the danger of relitigating earlier proceedings elsewhere, and of consequential double recovery.

Smith J at 40 ff is in favour of what he calls the ‘wide approach’ to A30 (unlike a more narrow approach under A29 and incidentally under A45), to which I can subscribe. At 45 he sums up his reasons for declining the stay which of course are largely discretionary. However, among them is one oddity: at 45(4):

Moreover, this is a case where Vodafone has avoided – entirely properly – the jurisdiction of the Spanish courts by invoking the exclusive jurisdiction clauses in favour of England and Wales. Vodafone could have submitted to the jurisdiction of the Spanish courts under Article 26, but instead elected to invoke Article 25. As a result, proceedings involving all relevant parties (Vodafone and Huawei) and so eliminating any risk of irreconcilable judgments have not been possible. No criticism can be made of Vodafone in this: but, conversely, it seems to me perverse now to prevent the progression of the Second UK Proceedings in circumstances where the fragmentation of the originally constituted Madrid Proceedings against Huawei and Vodafone has occurred at Vodafone’s insistence. (emphasis in the original)

This echoes the findings of Lord Briggs in Vedanta, that the potential for submission carries a lot of weight in ultimate jurisdictional decisions. I am not convinced Brussels Ia supports this.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.2 (para 2.521 ff)

 

The Agent Orange litigation in France. A reminder of France’s infamous Article 14.

A succinct post on yesterday’s reports that the French courts are now properly engaging with the action brought in France by more than a dozen US-based corporations (and one local, French defendant) on the continuing impact of the use of Agent Orange by the US Army in Vietnam. Thank you Taco van der Valk for pointing me to an earlier interlocutory judgment which identifies defendants.

Claimant is a dual French-Vietnamese citisen. Jurisdiction is based on Article 4 BIa against the one French defendant. Against the non-EU based other defendants, Brussels Ia does not apply. Anchor jurisdiction with the French defendant in play, reinforces the jurisdiction based on claimant’s French nationality (the infamous, often labelled ‘exorbitant’ jurisdictional rule of Article 14 of the Code Civil; on which see here). Claimant’s domicile in France presumably is an additional reinforcing factor.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.139.