Wright v Granath. Lis alibi pendens in defamation. The Court of Appeal on Norwegian harpoons and ‘same cause of action’ under Lugano..

Wright v Granath [2021] EWCA Civ 28 is not the only litigation involving Mr Wright, defamation and bitcoin gossip: see my review of Wright v Ver [2020] EWCA Civ 672 (judgment to which Popplewell LJ refers for connections between Mr Wright and the UK) here. The judgment appealed here is Wright v Granath [2020] EWHC 51 (QB). Jurisdictional grounds evidently include the CJEU case-law right up to Bolagsupplysningen.

The title of this post is courtesy of Greg Callus, one of counsel for the claimant.

Defendant, Magnus Granath, is a citizen of Norway, resident in Oslo. He has tweeted on various technology issues, including cryptocurrencies, and has an interest in Bitcoin and its development. He believes that Dr Wright’s claim to be Satoshi Nakamoto (the developer of bitcoin) is false, a statement that was also tweeted at the since deleted @Hodlonaut account. By 15 May 2019 Dr Wright’s advisers thought they had identified Mr Granath as the owner of the @Hodlonaut account, and sent a further letter via Facebook and LinkedIn seeking confirmation. The letter was served by hand on Mr Granath on 20 May 2019. Meanwhile on the previous day, 19 May 2019, Mr Granath issued proceedings in the Oslo District Court seeking in effect a declaration of non-liability aka NDR: Negative Declaratory Relief: a classic (and as Popplewell LJ justifiably suggests, CJEU-blessed) flip side of the coin action to avoid jurisdiction of the English courts. 

It is common ground that the Norwegian court was first seised. Jurisdiction was accepted by the Norwegian courts right through to the Supreme Court (talk about speedy proceedings: within a year the jurisdictional issue was considered at first instance, appeal and SC) on the basis that the relief sought was “global” in the sense that it was not limited to any harm or loss suffered in Norway, and that A5(3) Lugano was applicable because the “harmful event” occurred in Norway, that being where Mr Granath lived and published the tweets (locus delicti commissi).

CJEU Gubish Machinenfabrik and The Tatry clarify for the English version of Brussels I hence also of Lugano (assuming the requirement of parrallel interpretation of the lis alibi pendens rule) what was already clearer in other language versions:  A27 Lugano requires three identities: identity of parties; identity of object or ‘ subject-matter ’; and identity of cause.

In the establishment of identity of cause of action, the ‘ cause of action’ comprises the facts and the rule of law relied on as the basis of the action (CJEU Gubbisch). 

Coming then to the decision, Popplewell J dissented, with Singh LJ and Moylan LJ allowing the appeal. At 41 ff Popplewell J discusses the cause of action criterion, with the core at 48-49: he identifies two core differences between the English and the Norwegian claims: 

there are two differences between the English and Norwegian Claims whose significance requires examination. The first is that the Norwegian Claim identifies negligence as a necessary ingredient of liability under Norwegian law, and asserts the absence of negligence on Mr Granath’s part. This gives rise to the possibility that Mr Granath could succeed in Norway on a basis that would not be inconsistent with liability to Dr Wright in England under English law: if the Norwegian Court were to hold that the tweet was untrue because Dr Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto, and there was no defence of lawfulness by way of public interest or freedom of expression, but that Mr Granath was entitled to his declaration on the grounds that although the tweet was wrong it was not negligently so, Dr Wright would have established all the ingredients of an English law defamation claim. However the consequence of the Court now declining jurisdiction under article 27 would be to preclude him from pursuing that English law claim or obtaining the relief it would provide.

The second difference between the claims is that were Mr Granath to fail in full in Norway, the relief available there to Dr Wright by way of counterclaim would not be co-extensive with that available in a successful English law claim. It would not include a s.12 statement; and it might not include an injunction. I say “might not” because it was in dispute as to whether that was so. Dr Wright sought to adduce expert evidence of Norwegian law before the Judge below, but permission was refused on the grounds that it came too late, with the result that there was no relevant evidence of Norwegian law or practice before the Court. Mr Tomlinson asserted that an injunction must be available in Norway as an effective remedy guaranteed by the EU Charter, but later confirmed that Norway was not a signatory to the Charter and not bound by it. He submitted in the alternative that such relief would be available as part of Dr Wright’s article 8 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, but that is not self-evident to me and the point was not explored in argument. I shall assume for the purposes of my analysis that an injunction is not available in Norway because for the reasons explained below I do not regard any such unavailability as precluding the application of article 27.

At 51 ff, Popplewell J’s important take-aways from Gubisch, are that  when considering objet, the search is not for complete identity, but for identity on a question “which lies at the heart of” the two actions. Same does not mean same. The two claims need not be “entirely identical” (at 55). And at 56 that there can be the necessary identity of cause without complete identity of legal issues in the two sets of proceedings. Here too same does not mean same.

Further precedent is considered extensively (much of it discussed on the blog) leading to summary of the principles at 90 and application in fact at 93 ff: Popplewell J would have held that the claims have the same cause and the same objet and that A27 Lugano requires the EN claim to be dismissed.

At 99 ff he dismisses the argument,  which was encouraged (wrongly in my view, as readers know) by Vedanta and EuroEco, that the application of A27 to Mozaic claims as here, be an abuse of EU law. There is no authority to suggest that A27 is inapplicable to defamation claims, and no sound reason for restricting its applicability, and on this Singh LJ and Moylan LJ agree.

Of note is that Popplewell LJ is spot on at 101 where he says

in any tort claim in which article 5(3) confers a choice of jurisdiction on the claimant for a global claim, the choice is equally conferred on a defendant by way of an NDR claim; in each case the option is circumscribed by the simple and automatic mechanism (per Gantner paragraph 30) in article 27 of who starts first. That is not an abuse of the regime established by the Convention, but rather its implementation.

Singh LJ and Moylan LJ allowed the appeal, however: Moylan LJ for the majority summarises at 160 ff, largely on the basis of the same authority as that discussed by Popplewell (with The Alexandros at the core). At 168:

Although I agree with Popplewell LJ when he says, at paragraph 81, that irreconcilability may be a helpful tool in evaluating whether the article 27 test is met, the potential for conflicting decisions will not determine whether the causes of action are the same.

I should like to refer to the litmus test proposed by Adrian Briggs and applied eg in Awendale: whether a decision in one set of proceedings would have been a conclusive answer in the other. If it would, then there is identity of cause of action.

The appeal is allowed, the case may continue in E&W – clearly irreconcilability at the recognition stage might still be an issue.

Should the UK be successful in its Lugano accession attempt, this case will be crucial authority post The Alexandros. In the alternative, it will be among the last echoes of Lugano in the E&W courts.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.1.

Lopesan Touristik v Apollo Principal Finance. Importance of choice of court in lis alibi pendens applications testifies to English courts’ strong support for party autonomy..

Another day and another application for a stay on the basis of Article 30 Brussels Ia. Lopesan Touristik SA v Apollo European Principal Finance Fund III (Dollar A) L.P. & Ors [2020] EWHC 2642 (Comm) engages a Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) between Lopesan as seller and Spanish company Oldavia as buyer, for Lopesan’s interest in the Buenaventura hotel in Spain. The Hotel is owned by Creative Hotel Buenaventura SAU.

Oldavia is a special purpose vehicle through which Apollo, who are private equity interests, acquired the Hotel for c.€93 million. That funding commitment was reflected in the terms of an Equity Commitment Letter (ECL), under which Apollo promised Oldavia, on the terms and conditions set out in the ECL, to provide it with the funding required to complete the SPA, which obligation was expressly made enforceable by Lopesan under the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999.

The SPA is governed by Spanish law and contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Spanish courts. The ECL is governed by English law and contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English courts.

Completion did not take place, and there are disputes between Lopesan and Oldavia as to whether Oldavia was or is obliged to complete under the SPA.

On 12 August 2020, Lopesan commenced proceedings against Oldavia in Madrid seeking specific performance of Oldavia’s obligation to complete under the SPA. Parties agree that those proceedings will not be determined for at least 12 months. On 20 August 2020, Lopesan wrote to Apollo seeking confirmations and undertakings intended to ensure that, if the specific performance claim against Oldavia succeeded, Apollo would provide the funds to Oldavia to allow completion to occur. Apollo disputed that Oldavia was under any obligation to complete, and as a result that it was under any corresponding obligation to put Oldavia in funds to enable it to complete.

On 15 September 2020 Lopesan then issued proceedings seeking to enforce its rights as a third party beneficiary under the ECL by way of an order for specific performance of Apollo’s obligation to put Oldavia in funds. Lopesan also issued an application for a speedy trial of that action to ensure judgment was delivered before 1 January 2021: there is a potential argument that Apollo’s obligations will lapse on 1 January 2021, even if, before that date, Oldavia came under a legal obligation to complete the SPA.

Apollo seek a stay of the proceedings under A30(1) BIa.

At 47 Foxton J refers to the Privatbank /EuroEco discussion which he summarises as ‘whether actions are related for the purposes of A30 only when the actions can in fact be heard and determined together, or whether actions are related where they would be heard and determined together but for some external factor (such as exclusive jurisdiction agreements or subject-matter limits on the jurisdiction of a particular court) which prevents this.’ Effective v theoretical hearing together, in other words. He sides with Privatbank but also accepts, with reference to Privatbank, that a practical inability to achieve an outcome where both cases are heard and determined together will be a factor which weighs against granting a stay as a matter of the discretion which Article 30 grants the judge, and that “absent some strong, countervailing factor, the fact that proceedings cannot be consolidated and heard together will be a compelling reason for refusing a stay”.

Further, and with reference to The Alexandros and to Generali v Pelagic Fisheries, where the factor which prevents the two actions being heard together is an exclusive jurisdiction clause, that of itself will constitute a powerful (although not insuperable) factor against staying proceedings which have been brought in the parties’ chosen jurisdiction pending the determination of proceedings elsewhere. At 50 he holds that this is a factor even when the other proceedings have themselves not been commenced in breach of contract.

At 57 Foxton J points that neither the relatedness of the actions nor that the Spanish court is first seised, are disputed. Relatedness exists given that any issue arising in the English proceedings which concerns the issue of whether Oldavia was obliged to complete the SPA necessarily arises in Spain. He then holds that the degree of relatedness is high and that the Spanish courts have much closer proximity to the subject matter of the case, involving, as it does, issues as to the effect of Covid-19 and the Spanish government’s response to it on a Spanish hotel, and the legal effects of those and other matters on a contract governed by Spanish law. However, at 58, if the English proceedings are stayed, it will not be possible to hear and determine the claims in the English and Spanish proceedings together, given the conflicting exclusive jurisdiction clauses in the ECL and the SPA. The decision (whether on issues of law or fact) in the Spanish proceedings would not be binding in the English proceedings, although if Lopesan fails in the Spanish proceedings, that will in practice be determinative of the English proceedings. Findings of law in the Spanish proceedings will also have a strong evidential value in the English proceedings.

Nevertheless, the significance of the English jurisdiction clause and the practical impossibility to hear the claims together in the Spanish courts, make him decide at 60 ff against a stay. His judgment displays the characteristic support of the English courts and English law for party autonomy: parties have deliberately structured the transaction so that claims under the ECL would be heard in a different jurisdiction to claims under the SPA. Consider his reasoning at 61:

That choice having been made, no doubt for good commercial reasons, and the events which have transpired being a scenario which must have been squarely within the parties’ contemplation, it would take a very strong case to justify staying proceedings brought as of right here pending the outcome of proceedings in another jurisdiction. The closer proximity of the Spanish courts to the dispute, nor its status as the natural forum to determine issues of Spanish law, are not sufficient to justify a stay, both because this must have been obvious to the parties when they put this arrangement in place, and because the parties expressly agreed not to raise any objections to proceedings in England on the ground that proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient forum. I do not suggest that this last factor is determinative or that it precludes an Article 30(1) stay. There is a public, as well as a purely private, interest in avoiding irreconcilable judgments within the Brussels Recast regime. However, the factor that the parties wanted the dispute to be determined in their chosen forum regardless of whether another court might be a more convenient forum is a factor which weighs in the balance against a stay.

A relevant judgment.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.
Third edition forthcoming February 2021

 

Philips v TCL. On lis alibi pendens /res judicata, and FRAND proceedings.

In Koninklijke Philips NV v Tinno Mobile Technology Corporation & Ors [2020] EWHC 2553 (Ch) Mann J considers the English side of a licence on  ‘FRAND’ (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms.  In these English proceedings Philips seek inter alia, a declaration that the terms it has offered are FRAND, or alternatively that FRAND terms be determined. Its injunction claim accepts that the injunction will only come into force if a worldwide FRAND licence is not accepted by TCL, one of the defendants who is seeking the licence. TCL have commenced proceedings in France which, inter alia, seem to seek to have FRAND terms determined. Philips attempted to have those proceedings stayed pursuant to Article 29 Brussels Ia, but that attempt failed, as did an application for a stay under Article 30 BIa. In turn, not surprisingly, TCL seek a stay of the English proceedings, including, crucially, the vacation of a trial date in November which is intended to determine FRAND issues, in favour of its French proceedings pursuant to the same Articles 29 and/or 30 Brussels Ia.

Philips’ claim form says it is for infringement of two of its European patents, corresponding injunction (prohibiting further infringement) and damages or an account of profits, and other ancillary relief.

At 49 in assessing the impact of the French judgment and the scope of its res judicata, Mann J justifiable refers to C-456/11 Gothaer, that it is not just the ‘dispositif’ of a judgment which has res judicata, but also the core reasoning: at 40 of the CJEU judgment: ‘the concept of res judicata under European Union law does not attach only to the operative part of the judgment in question, but also attaches to the ratio decidendi of that judgment, which provides the necessary underpinning for the operative part and is inseparable from it …’

His enquiry of the dispositif and the French judge’s reasoning as well as, to a certain extent, the submissions of the parties, leads Mann J to conclude that the French judge did not hold that the French court was first seized of FRAND proceedings. Instead, she held that the proceedings in England and the proceedings in France did not (for the purposes of A29) have the same subject matter. That means that the question of first seised became irrelevant.

Mann J then holds himself that the English court was first seized of the FRAND issue and consequently has no power under A30 BIa to stay its proceedings. It was suggested in vain by counsel for the defendants that Articles 29 and 30 are not acte clair on the point of new actions arising in an existing action, given a distinction between the word “proceedings” in Article 29 and “actions” in Article 30 at least in the English version of those Articles.

The jurisdictional challenge was rejected and the relief granted.
Geert.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.
Third edition forthcoming February 2021.

Weco projects: on Yachts lost at sea, anchor jurisdicton (that’s right), lis alibi pendens, carriage, ‘transport’ and choice of court.

In Weco Projects APS v Piana & Ors [2020] EWHC 2150 (Comm),  Hancock J held on a case involving Brussel Ia’s consumer title, including the notion of contract of ‘transport’, Article 25’s choice of court regime, and anchor jurisdiction under Article 8(1) BIa.

The facts of the case are complex if not necessarily complicated. However the presence of a variety of parties in the chain of events led to litigation across the EU. Most suited therefore to be, as WordPress tell me, the 1000th post on the blog.

For the chain of events, reference is best made to the judgment itself. In short, a Yacht booking note, with choice of court and choice of law was made for the Yacht to be carried from Antigua to Genoa. Reference was also made to more or less identical standard terms of a relevant trade association. A clause was later agreed with the identity of the preferred Vessel to carry out the transfer, followed by subcontracting by way of a Waybill.

The Yacht was lost at sea. Various proceedings were started in Milan (seized first), Genoa and England.

At 21, Hancock J first holds obiter that express clauses in the contract have preference over incorporated ones (these referred to the trade association’s model contract), including for choice of court. Readers will probably be aware that  for choice of law, Rome I has a contested provision on ‘incorporation by reference’, although there is no such provision in BIa.

Next comes the issue of lis alibi pendens. Of particular note viz A31(2) [‘Without prejudice to Article 26, where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seised, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seised on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement’] is the presence of two prima facie valid but competing exclusive choice of court agreements. Hancock J proceeds to discuss the validity of the English choice of court agreement in particular whether the businessman whose interest in sailing initiated the whole event, can be considered a consumer.

The judge begins by discussing whether the contract concerned is one of mere ‘transport’ which by virtue of A17(3) BIa rules out the consumer title all together. At 37 it is concluded that the contract is indeed one of transport and at 37(8) obiter that freight forwarding, too, is ‘transport’. Hancock J notes the limited use of CJEU authority, including Pammer /Alpenhof. In nearly all of the authority, the issue is whether the contracts at issue concerned more than just transport, ‘transport’ itself left largely undiscussed.

Obiter at 75, with reference to CJEU Gruber and Schrems, and also to Baker J in Ramona v Reliantco, Hancock J holds that Mr Piana had failed to show that the business use of the Yacht was merely negligible.

Following this conclusion the discussion turns to the impact of the UK’s implementation of the EU’s unfair terms in consumer contracts regulations, with counsel suggesting that the impact of these is debatable, in light of A25 BIa’s attempt at harmonising validity of choice of court. Readers will be aware that A25’s attempt at harmonisation is incomplete, given its deference to lex fori prorogati). Hancock J does not settle that issue, holding at 111 that in any event the clause is not unfair viz the UK rules.

Next follows the Article 8(1) discussion with reference to CJEU CDC and to the High Court in Media Saturn. Hancock J takes an unintensive approach to the various conditions: they need to be fulfilled without the court at the jurisdictional stage getting too intensively caught up in discussing the merits. At 139 he justifiably dismisses the suggestion that there is a separate criterion of foreseeability in A8(1). On whether the various claims for negative declaratory relief are ‘so closely connected’, he holds they are on the basis of the factuality of each being much the same and therefore best held by one court. Abuse of process, too, is ruled out per Kolomoisky and Vedanta: at 143: there is no abuse of process in bringing proceedings which are arguable for the purposes of founding jurisdiction over other parties.

(The judgment continues with extensive contractual review of parties hoping to rely on various choice of court provisions in the chain).

Quite an interesting set of Brussels Ia issues.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, big chunks of Chapter 2.

 

 

 

Villiers v Villiers. ‘Divorce tourism’ at the UKSC. An undisputed rejection of forum non; and a contentious discussion of ‘related action’.

Mr Villiers reacted to Villiers v Villiers [2020] UKSC 30 with a letter in the FT on Monday, set against the general background of ‘divorce tourism’ said to have been encouraged by the Supreme Court ruling last week. Ms Villiers now lives in England however the majority of the marriage was spent in Scotland which is also where divorce proceedings were issued.

Sales J for the majority summarises the legislative background at 8:

The national legislation governing jurisdiction in cross-border cases is primarily contained in the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 (“the CJJA 1982”). That Act gave effect in domestic law to the [1968] Brussels Convention… [which] was amended on the association of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom in 1978. It was replaced as the principal instrument governing jurisdiction in cross-border cases between member states of the European Union by [Brussels I] which in large part replicated the provisions of the Brussels Convention. The CJJA 1982 was amended to refer to and give effect in domestic law to the Brussels Regulation. The Brussels Regulation has been replaced by [Brussels Ia].

The Brussels Convention did not apply to issues of the status of natural persons, including marriage, nor to rights in property arising out of a matrimonial relationship (article 1(1)), but it did apply in respect of claims for maintenance. This was later carved out and titled into a separate Regulation, the Maintenance Regulation 4/2009. The UK until Brexit day chose to apply the Regulation intra-State, too, i.e. between the constituent parts of the Kingdom. 

Lord Sales posits that all in all, the application of the jurisdictional rules is ‘straightforward’ (at 25) however his needing 32 paras to set out the test somewhat belies that statement, as does Lord Wilson’s and Lady Hale’s lengthy dissent at 93 ff. (and Lady Black’s at 58 ff).

There is no forum non conveniens rule in the Maintenance Regulation. The CJEU held so in C-468/18 R v P and Lord Sales refers to that judgment.

The only viable route to a stay of the jurisdiction in principle of the English courts, the place of habitual residence of Mrs Villiers, the maintenance creditor, is via the ‘related actions’ gateway of A13 of the Regulation.

Article 13

Related actions

1.   Where related actions are pending in the courts of different Member States, any court other than the court first seised may stay its proceedings.

2.   Where these actions are pending at first instance, any court other than the court first seised may also, on the application of one of the parties, decline jurisdiction if the court first seised has jurisdiction over the actions in question and its law permits the consolidation thereof.

3.   For the purposes of this Article, actions are deemed to be related where they are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings.

 

Are the husband’s divorce proceeding in Scotland a “related action” for the purposes of A13? And, pursuant to that provision, should the English court decline jurisdiction in respect of the wife’s maintenance claim? At 45 Sales LJ holds that to be related actions, they must refer

‘primarily to maintenance claims of the kind to which the special regime in the Regulation applies. If the position were otherwise, and the word “actions” meant legal proceedings of any kind whatever, that would undermine the fundamental object of the Maintenance Regulation that a maintenance creditor has the right to choose in which jurisdiction to claim maintenance. On such a reading, there would be a substantial risk that this object of the Maintenance Regulation would be undermined by the commencement of proceedings by the maintenance debtor according to the jurisdictional provisions of instruments other than the Maintenance Regulation, laid down in pursuance of entirely different jurisdictional policies than that reflected in the Maintenance Regulation.’

At 48 he adds obiter (for the husband’s suit in Scotland here concerned the divorce and the divorce only) that contra to the likely position in Moore v Moore [2007] EWCA Civ 361, even a maintenance debtor’s claim for distribution of family property with an impact on maintenance, cannot be a related action for the purposes of A13: for it would hand the debtor a torpedo against the creditor’s Regulation-protected choice.

It is on the issue of related actions that Lord Wilson and Lady Hale disagree at 147 ff., with Lord Wilson adding an arguably stinging postscript at 172 ff. At 162 Lord Wilson refers to A13(2) as ‘the dog. The reference to “irreconcilable judgments” is no more than the tail.’ A wide interpretation therefore of A13 (Lady Black, consenting with Sales, at 85 puts more emphasis on the irreconcilability of the judgments).

A most interesting to and fro of arguments and one which post Brexit will be recommended reading for the continuing application of the Maintenance Regulation in the EU.

Geert.

 

 

Mad Atelier v Manes. The High Court on res judicata and issue estoppel.

Mad Atelier International BV v Manes [2020] EWHC 1014 (Comm) engages among others Articles 29-30 BIa on lis alibi pendens and its relation with issue estoppel. Stewart Chirnside has analysis here and  I am happy to refer. The judgment itself is not straightforward for Bryan J had much to decide – I agree with his conclusion at 124 on A29-30 BIa related issues that he is

‘satisfied that the French Civil Proceedings does not give rise to any issue estoppel because, for the reasons that I have given: (1) The decision of the Paris Commercial Court on such issues is not final or conclusive; (2) The parties to both proceedings are not privies; (3) The issues identified by Mr Manès were not issues concluded by the court, but rather comments on the state of the evidence, and (4) The issues in the English Proceedings are significantly broader than the issues in the French Civil Proceedings. Each of these is, in and of itself, fatal to the contention that an issue estoppel arises from the Paris Judgment, and I find that no issue estoppel arises.’

Geert.

 

 

 

Nigeria v Shell et al at the High Court. Yet more lis alibi pendens and cutting some corners on case-management.

One does not often see Nigeria sue Shell. Federal Republic of Nigeria v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Anor [2020] EWHC 1315 (Comm) engages Article 29 Brussels Ia’s lis alibi pendens rule in a period in which (see other posts on the blog) the High Court intensely entertained that section of Brussels Ia. Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDS) is the anchor defendant for the other EU-domiciled defendants. Quite a few of the defendants are not domiciled in the EU.

The case concerns Nigerian allegations that monies paid by it under an earlier settlement following alleged expropriation, which had led to bilateral investment treaty arbitration under ICSID rules, had been channeled to pay bribes. Nigeria is pursuing the case in the criminal courts in Italy, too.

Nigeria therefore are already pursuing claims in Italy to obtain financial relief against 4 of the defendants including the anchor defendant. Defendants contend that those claims are the same claims as the English ones and that the court should decline jurisdiction in respect of those claims pursuant to A29 BIa. Defendants then further contend that, if the court so declines jurisdiction over the claims against RDS and Eni SpA, the entire proceedings should be dismissed. This is because RDS is the ‘anchor defendant’ under A8(1) BIa in the case of three of the EU-domiciled defendants and under English CPR rules against the other defendants. In the alternative to the application under Article 29, Defendants seek a stay of the proceedings under A30 BIa (related cases) or, in the further alternative as a matter of case management, pending a final determination, including all appeals, of the claim that the FRN has brought in Italy.

Butcher J refers at 41 to the UKSC in The Alexandros, and to Rix J in Glencore International AG v Shell International Trading and Shipping Co Ltd, at 110: ‘broadly speaking, the triple requirement of same parties, same cause and same objet entails that it is only in relatively straightforward situations that art [29] bites, and, it may be said, is intended to bite. After all, art [30] is available, with its more flexible discretionary power to stay, in the case of ‘related proceedings’ which need not involve the triple requirement of art [29]. There is no need, therefore, as it seems to me, to strain to fit a case into art [29].’

Same parties. Per CJEU The Tatry A29 applies to the extent to which the parties before the courts second seised are parties to the action previously commenced. Butcher J correctly holds that the fact that there may be other parties to the second action does not prevent this. Nigeria nevertheless argue that the involvement of the Italian Public Prosecutor in the Italian case, and not in the English case, and its crucial role in the Italian proceedings, means that the proceedings nevertheless are not between the ‘same parties’. Defendants call upon CJEU C-523/14 Aertssen to counter this: there BE and NL proceedings were considered to be caught by A29 even though the BE proceedings concerned criminal proceedings and the Dutch did not.

At 47 Butcher J holds that the prosecutor is not a ‘party’ in the A29 sense and that even it were, it is nevertheless clear from The Tatry that there does not have to be complete identity of the parties to the two proceedings for Article 29 to be applicable. (Ditto Leech J in Awendale v Pixis).

Same cause of action. Nigeria accept that there is no material difference in the facts at issue in the two proceedings, however contends that the legal basis of its claim in England is different.

Butcher J refers to Lord Clarke in The Alexandros, that in order to consider same cause of action, one must look ‘at the basic facts (whether in dispute or not) and the basic claimed rights and obligations of the parties to see if there is coincidence between them in the actions in different countries, making due allowance for the specific form that proceedings may take in one national court with different classifications of rights and obligations from those in a different national court’. Doing that, at 55 he holds that these basic claimed rights in the IT and EN proceedings, which he characterises as being the right not to be adversely affected by conduct of RDS which involves or facilitates the bribery and corruption of the FRN’s ministers and agents, and the right to redress if there is such bribery and corruption’, are the same.

That seems to me an approach which is overly reliant on the similarity of underlying facts. (At 70, obiter, Butcher J splits the claims and suggests he would have held on a narrower similarity of cause of action for some claims and not the others, had he held otherwise on ‘same cause of action’; and at 80 that he would have ordered a stay under Article 30 or on case management grounds on the remainder of the action).

Same object. Nigeria contend that its present proceedings do not have the same objet as the civil claim in the Italian proceedings. It contends that the only claim made in the Italian proceedings is for monetary damages, while in the English action claims are also made of a declaration of entitlement to rescind the April 2011 Agreements, other declaratory relief, an account of profits and tracing remedies.

Butcher J disagrees. Per Lord Clarke in The Alexandros, he holds that to have the same object, the proceedings must have the ‘same end in view’, per CJEU Aertssen at 45 interpreted ‘broadly’. At 61; ‘that ‘end in view’ is to obtain redress for RDS’s alleged responsibility for bribery and corruption…. Further, it is apparent that a key part of the redress claimed in the English proceedings is monetary compensation, which is the (only) relief claimed in the Italian proceedings. On that basis I consider that the two sets of proceedings do have the same objet.’

That the English action also seeks to rescind the original 2011 agreements is immaterial, he finds, for RDS were not even part to those proceedings. Moreover, that aim included in the English action serves to support the argument that if the two sets of proceedings go ahead, (at 64) ‘there would be the possibility of the type of inconsistent decisions which Article 29 is aimed at avoiding’. ‘If the English proceedings were regarded as involving a significantly different claim, namely one relating to rescission, and could go ahead, that would give rise to the possibility of a judgment in one awarding damages on the basis of the validity of the April 2011 Agreements and the other finding that those Agreements were capable of rescission. That would appear to me to be a situation of where there is effectively a ‘mirror image’ of the case in one jurisdiction in the other,..’

At 66 ff Butcher J adopts the to my mind correct view on the application of A29 to proceedings with more than one ‘objet’: one does not look at all claims holistically, one has to adopt a claim by claim approach, in line with CJEU The Tatry. At 68: ‘Difficulties which might otherwise arise from the fragmentation of proceedings can usually be addressed by reference to Article 30..’

At 71 he then concludes that the stay must be granted, and that he has no discretion not to do so once he finds that the conditions of A29 are fulfilled. He also holds that with the case against the anchor defendant stayed, A8(1) falls away. He appreciates at 72 that this may expose Nigeria to limitation issues in the Italian proceedings, however those are of their own making for they were under no obligation to sue in Italy.

 

At 74 ff Article 30 is considered obiter, and Butcher J says he would have stayed under A29. At 77 he notes the continuing debate on the difference at the Court of Appeal between Privatbank and Euroeco. At 75(2) he summarises the distinction rather helpfully as

‘In the Kolomoisky case, it was decided that the word ‘expedient’ in the phrase ‘it is expedient to hear and determine them together’ which appears in Article 28.3 of the Lugano Convention (as it does in Article 30.3 of the Regulation), is more akin to ‘desirable’ that the actions ‘should’ be heard together, than to ‘practicable or possible’ that the actions ‘can’ be heard together: paras. [182]-[192]. In the Euroeco Fuels case, having referred to the Kolomoisky case, the Court of Appeal nevertheless appears to have proceeded on the basis that the court had no discretion to order a stay under Article 30 when there was no real possibility of the two claims being heard together in the same foreign court’

At 75(5) he then without much ado posits that

‘In any event, even if not under Article 30, there should be a stay under the Court’s case management powers, and in particular pursuant to s. 49(3) Senior Courts Act 1981 and CPR 3.1(2)(f). Such a stay would not, in my judgment, be inconsistent with the Regulation, and is required to further the Overriding Objective in the sense of saving expense, ensuring that cases are dealt with expeditiously and fairly, and allotting to any particular case an appropriate share of the Court’s resources. Given that the Italian proceedings are well advanced, and that after the determination of the Italian proceedings English proceedings may well either be unnecessary or curtailed in scope, there appear good grounds to consider that a stay of the English proceedings will result in savings in costs and time, including judicial time.’

Whether such case-management stay under CPR 3.1(2)(f) is at all compatible with the Regulation in claims involving EU domicileds, outside the context of Articles 29-34 is of course contested and, following Owusu, in my view improbable.

Most important lis alibi pendens considerations at the High Court these days.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.

 

Awendale v Pyxis. More Article 29 lis alibi pendens, with focus on ‘same cause of action’, ‘same parties’ and time limits for application.

Update 22 July 2020 the follow-up re the undertaking, discussed below, is [2020] EWHC 1978.

Awendale Resources v Pyxis Capital Management [2020] EWHC 1286 (Ch) applies Article 29 Brussels Ia’s lis alibi pendens rule.

Awendale is a company incorporated under the law of the Seychelles and Pyxis is a company incorporated under the law of Cyprus. On 7 November 2017 Infinitum Ventures Ltd, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, issued proceedings in Cyprus against Mr Andreas Andreou, Awendale and Pyxis. Awendale entered an appearance and submitted to the jurisdiction of the Cypriot court. On 24 June 2019 Awendale then issued the Claim Form in the current proceedings and on 20 August 2019 Pyxis filed an acknowledgment of service stating that it intended to defend the claim. Pyxis now applies to stay the English Claim on the basis that it and the Cypriot Claim involve the same cause of action between the same parties and that Article 29 is engaged. 

At 31 Leech J lists the six issues for determination: i) The same cause of action: Are the English Claim and the Cypriot Derivative Claim “proceedings involving the same cause of action”? ii) The same parties: If so, are the English Claim and the Cypriot Derivative Claim “between the same parties”? iii) Seisin: If so, was the Cypriot court first seised? iv) The scope of Article 29: If so, is Article 29 nevertheless inapplicable because of the jurisdiction clause in relevant Loan Agreements? v) The time of application: Is the operation of Article 29 excluded because the stay application was not filed earlier and in accordance with CPR Part 11. vi) Reference to the CJEU: If Pyxis succeeds on the first four issues but fails on the fifth issue, should the Court consider referring a question to the CJEU?

Leech J first, at 32 ff gets Article 31(2)’s priority rule for choice of court (which I discussed the other day in my review of Generali Italia v Pelagic) out off the way: that is because A31(2) is without prejudice to A26 and as noted, Awendale had submitted to the Cypriot courts.

On the determination of the ‘same cause of action‘, he then refers to The Alexandros, and of course to CJEU Gubisch and The Tatry. A discussion ensues as to whether the Cypriot and English proceedings concern two sides of the same coin, which at 42 Leech J decides they do, with at 43 supporting argument from professor Briggs’ litmus test: actions have the same cause if a decision in one set of proceedings would have been a conclusive answer in the other.

The same parties condition may be a bit more exacting (‘same cause of action’ implies some flexibility), however there need not be exact identity of parties. Here, the issue to hold was whether despite seperate legal personalities, the different interests of Infinitum and Pyxis are identical and indissociable which Leech J held they are to a good arguable case standard (and obiter, at 56, to a substantive standard, too). This condition therefore requires some wire-cutting through corporate interests and true beneficiaries of claims.

At 67 ff then follows an extensive discussion of the impact of the English CPR timing rules on the application proprio motu or not of A29. Reference here was made to the Jenard Report, and a contrario to provisions in BIa (including A33). Leech J holds at 78 that a party who fails to apply to stay proceedings under Article 29 within the time limit in CPR Part 11(4) is deemed to have submitted to the jurisdiction.

Eventually Leech J decides to use his discretion to allow Pyxis to apply for a time extension so as they can apply out of time for a stay of proceedings under A29. Unlike what I first tweeted, the stay has not exactly been granted yet, therefore. But it is likely to be. Pyxis made an undertaking  to consent to any stay being lifted if the Cypriot Claim is struck out and Awendale was permitted to apply to set aside the stay if Infinitum fails to take reasonable steps to prosecute or proceed with the Cypriot Claim.

More lis alibi pendens reviews are on their way.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5

Choice of court and lis alibi pendens in Generali Italia v Pelagic Fisheries. Article 31’s anti-torpedo mechanism further put to the test.

In Generali Italia & Ors v Pelagic Fisheries & Anor [2020] EWHC 1228 (Comm) the claimants-insurers commenced proceedings seeking declarations that they are not liable to the Insureds. Pelagic had already commenced proceedings in Treviso, Italy on the basis of what it claims to be choice of court in favour of Italy. The first instance Italian court stayed the Treviso Proceedings (the insureds have appealed; the appeal is yet to be heard) pending a determination by the English court as to whether the Treviso Policies are subject to an exclusive English jurisdiction clause. The Italian stay order reads in relevant part:

‘the lis alibi pendens defence which has been raised requires that these proceedings are suspended in order to allow the High Court of London to rule on the exclusive English jurisdiction clause pursuant to art 31.2 of EU Reg 1215/2012. That since, in the light of what is established by the said provisions, it is irrelevant that the Italian Judicial Authority has been seised first, …. Indeed article 31 of the above mentioned regulation represents an exception to the operation of the ordinary rule of priority in matter of lis alibi pendens, in order to allow the judges chosen by the parties in contractual terms (cover notes) to be the first to rule on the validity of the clause itself (according to the law chosen by the parties). In the concerned case all the cover notes, in the special insurance conditions, contain the clause ‘English jurisdiction. Subject to English law and practice”, with consequent waiver to the general insurance conditions provided in Camogli Policy 1988 form”.’

Other parties are part of the proceedings, too – readers best refer to the facts of the case. They clarify that chunks of the proceedings bear resemblance to the kind of split stay scenario applied by the CJEU in C-406/92 The Tatry.

Foxton J refers to the good arguable case test viz Article 25 Brussels Ia of BNP Paribas v Anchorage, recently also further summarised by the Court of Appeal in Kaefer Aislamientos and further in Etihad Airways PJSC v Flöther.

The case essentially puts Article 31 BIa’s anti-torpedo mechanism to the test in related ways as the first instance judge and the Court of Appeal did in Ablynx. There is a dispute between the parties as to whether A31(2) obliges the English Court to stay proceedings unless and until there is a determination in the Treviso Proceedings that the Italian courts do not have jurisdiction. There are 3 core questions: i) Should the English Court proceed to determine whether there is an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of this Court, in circumstances in which Pelagic is contending in Italy that the Italian courts have jurisdiction, or should it await a ruling on jurisdiction in the Treviso Proceedings? ; ii) If it is appropriate to determine the issue, is there an English exclusive jurisdiction agreement in the Treviso Policies for the purposes of Article 25?; iii) Should the Court stay the remainder of the proceedings under Article 30?

At 65 counsel for the insureds take a similar position as Ms Lane did in Ablynx: he argues that the only issue which the High Court should consider is whether it is satisfied that there is a prima facie case that the Italian court has jurisdiction (which he says there is on the basis that the parties agreed that both the English and Italian courts would have jurisdiction) and that if it is so satisfied, it should stay the English proceedings, pending the outcome of Pelagic’s appeal in the Italian proceedings.

Foxton J however at 68 ff highlights the inadequate nature and limitations of A31(2), as also pointed out by the last para of recital 22 which accompanies it: in the face of conflicting choice of court provisions (typically, as a result of overlapping clauses in overlapping contractual relations between the parties), A31(2) loses its power and the more classic lis alibi pendens rules take over. At 70 he points to the ping-pong that threatens to ensue:

in circumstances in which the Italian court has stayed its proceedings to allow the English court to determine if it has exclusive jurisdiction, it would be particularly surprising if the English court was then bound to stay its proceedings pending a decision on jurisdiction by the Italian court. This approach, in which the dispute might become caught in the self-perpetuating politeness of an Alphonse and Gaston cartoon, is not consistent with enhancing “the effectiveness of exclusive choice-of-court agreements” and avoiding “abusive litigation tactics” which Article 31(2) is intended to achieve. It does not matter for these purposes that the decision of the Italian court granting such a stay is presently under appeal.

He holds therefore at 79 that his task is essentially to review whether there is a good arguable case that the Treviso Policies (the ones subject of the English litigation, GAVC) are subject to exclusive jurisdiction agreements in favour of the English court which satisfy the requirements of A25 BIa. At 95 he finds there is such case. At 113 ff he holds obiter he would have stayed the remainder of the claims under A30, had he held in favour of a stay under A31(2).

Fun with conflict of laws.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.7, Heading 2.2.9.5.

 

Mastermelt v Siegfried Evionnaz highlights the continuing torpedo under Lugano, as opposed to the Brussels regime. Suggests cautious application of the Privatbank authority on reflexivity.

In Mastermelt v Siegfried Evionnaz [2020] EWHC 927 (QB), at issue is negative declaratory relief on contractual performance. 

Claimant Mastermelt is an English company specialising in the reclamation of precious metals. The defendant, Siegfried Evionnaz SA (“Siegfried”), is a Swiss company. There is a dispute between the parties over the quality of Mastermelt’s performance. Siegfried’s standard terms and conditions of contract (“STC”) include a clause stating that the governing law is Swiss law and that the Swiss courts have exclusive jurisdiction.

Relevant pending proceedings, are: very shortly after Siegfried had informed Mastermelt that it was going to issue proceedings against Mastermelt in Switzerland, Mastermelt issued the present claim in England on 5 February 2019. It seeks negative declaratory relief against Siegfried. Proceedings were subsequently issued by Siegfried against Mastermelt in the Zurich Commercial Court on 23 July 2019. Meanwhile, on 24 May 2019, Siegfried applied to the High Court in London for a declaration that it had no jurisdiction to try Mastermelt’s claim and so the Claim Form and service should be set aside, alternatively stayed. Further, on 29 January 2020 Mastermelt applied to the Swiss court (1) for a stay of those proceedings pending the UK decision, or (2) for the Swiss proceedings to be limited at that stage to a consideration of the court’s own jurisdiction there and nothing else, or (3) an extension of time for service of a response to Siegfried’s claim. By an order of 4 February 2020, the Swiss court rejected all three applications. On 7 February Mastermelt filed an appeal to the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland which initially suspended enforcement of the Zurich Commercial Court’s decision pending the appeal. However, on 13 February Siegfried objected to any such suspension. The Supreme Court directed Mastermelt to file any response to that objection by 9 March. As far as the English courts know, that has been done but at the moment the Supreme Court has not given its decision on the suspension issue, let alone any substantive appeal, nor has there been any decision yet on the jurisdiction or otherwise of the Swiss court to hear the claim.

Siegfried argues, and has convinced the Swiss courts, that A27 Lugano needs to be applied ‘in harmony’ with A31(2) Brussels Ia: this now provides that regardless of which court was seised first, the court which was the subject of the putative exclusive jurisdiction clause, must decide the question of its jurisdiction first and the other proceedings must be stayed in the meantime. At 13 Waksman J refers to the Swiss court’s reasoning, where it takes an expansionist view of the Lugano Convention‘s protocol no2, that the Lugano States shall take ‘due account’ of each other’s courts decisions. The Swiss court suggests that in principle it should follow CJEU authority in Gasser (which introduced the torpedo mechanism by giving strict interpretation to the lis alibi pendens rule, even in case of choice of court) but that it has reasonable justification to deviate from Gasser given that the judgment has become ‘obsolete’ following A31(2) BIa.

Waksman J is first invited to accept the Swiss court’s reasoning as res iudicata, per CJEU C-456/11 Gothaer. (I did say at the time the CJEU may find its ruling in Gothaer would come back to haunt it). This he finds is a stretch of that authority but also not applicable given the limited findings of the Swiss court at any rate: ‘here the actual and only decision of the Swiss court thus far is simply to refuse to stay its own proceedings’.

He then discusses how A27 Lugano needs to be applied. A first reference is to the Court of Appeal’s most problematic view in Privatbank, to my mind, of applying Article 28 Lugano reflexively to third States. At 23-24 Waksman J distinguishes Privatbank (clearly he cannot hold it no relevant authority should he think so); then holds correctly that Gasser is not entirely obsolete following BIa; and finally at 30 that the harmonised regime per Lugano’s Protocol does not mean that one should now interpret Article 27 Lugano like 31.2 and (b) i Brussels Ia.

I agree most firmly. Note this has Brexit implications: one of the routes post Brexit, as readers know, is for the UK to become part of Lugano. In doing so it will surrender BIa’s forum non-light regime (Articles 33-34) in favour of Lugano which most definitely does not have a forum non-application – as well as, as is at issue here, re-arming the Italian torpedo. (Update 7 May 2020 Many thanks to Elijah Granet for pointing in the comments section to A6 of the Hague Choice of Court Convention which in future might serve towards disarming the torpedo to some degree: pursuant to Article 6 of that Convention, a court of a Contracting State other than the contractually chosen court must suspend or dismiss proceedings in that court to which an exclusive choice of court applies. There are exceptions however and in my view these could be used quite extensively: asymmetric choice of court, for instance, might well by some jurisdictions be classed as ordre public). (Update 28 May 2020 see also Aygun Mammadzada in the meantime here for similar and further comments re Lugano).

This leaves the issue of the putative choice of court agreement. England is the forum contractus per Article 5(1)a Lugano, hence will have jurisdiction less choice of court stands. Authority is well-known and recently applied in Pan Ocean, referred to here at 85. After much factual consideration it is accepted to a good arguable case standard that the parties contracted on the basis of the STC for the obligations concerned.

In conclusion therefore the action is stayed.

Quite a few relevant issues here. I for one note the cautious approach of the Court, in handling the Court of Appeal’s Privatbankauthority – following SCOR v Barclays.

Geert.

Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2.