Fong Chak Kwan v Ascentic. The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal aligns the damage jurisdictional gateway with the UKSC’s Brownlie approach.

This post is one for the comparative binder. Fong Chak Kwan v Ascentic Limited and Others [2022] HKCFA 12 (many thanks to Poomintr Sooksripaisarnkit for alerting me to the judgment) discusses a variety of issues, the one of interest to the blog is the tort gateway for a tort allegedly committed outside of Hong Kong. The ruling on that issue was delivered by Lord Collins, a former UKSC judge who continues to sit in the Hong Kong judicial system (unlike others who have withdrawn from the Hong Kong courts in light of the region’s rule of law issues).

[67] Direct damage was sustained on the Mainland, with indirect damage only in Hong Kong.

The First Instance judge [68] ‘in line with the majority judgments of Lady Hale and Lord Wilson in [UKSC Brownlie] .., and being unpersuaded by the minority view of Lord Sumption, decided that (a) the expression “damage” in Gateway F was not limited to damage which completed the cause of action; (b) the expression was not limited to direct damage as opposed to indirect/consequential damage; (c) where damage was felt in more than one jurisdiction, indirect/consequential damage qualified under Gateway F if it was of some significance; (d) the expression was to be given its ordinary and natural meaning, which embraced indirect/consequential damage; and (e) the consequences of a wide interpretation were sufficiently addressed by the discretion as to forum conveniens.’ 

The Court of Appeal [69] ‘like the judge, held that the reasoning of the majority in Brownlie v Four Seasons Holdings Inc was to be preferred to that of the minority. Damage included all of the heads of damage which might be suffered as a result of tortious conduct, including all the detriment, physical, financial and social which the plaintiff suffered as a result. The natural and ordinary meaning of Gateway F was clear, and there was no basis for drawing a distinction between direct and indirect damage. Nor was there any basis for applying the European jurisprudence on the Brussels Convention and Brussels I Regulations. Finally, the expression “the damage” in Gateway F did not mean that all the damage, or the damage which completed the cause of action, had to be sustained in Hong Kong.’

[74] ff Collins NPJ provides a historic and geographical comparative (Commonwealth) tour d’horizon, confirming the lower courts’ view.

[107]-[108] ‘(I)n the light of the legislative purpose, the natural and ordinary meaning of the word “damage” is just that, and the rule does not distinguish between the damage which completes a cause of action and that which does not, nor does it distinguish between direct or indirect damage, or between physical or financial damage. The question is whether there is a legislative purpose, or a public policy, or an absurd or undesirable result, which justifies a narrower construction, to encompass only direct damage as opposed to indirect damage.’: the judge finds there is no such purpose, policy or result.’

[109] he discusses 3 flows in the reasoning of the alternative reading, which are worth a read. [121] the same safety valve is emphasised as the UKSC did in the majority view in Brownlie: where the exercise of the locus damni gateway leads to unwarranted results, forum non conveniens can come to the rescue.

Geert.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank v Shetty. Rome II applicable law for fraud, misrepresentation, instructs forum non conveniens stay.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank Pjsc v Shetty & Ors [2022] EWHC 529 (Comm) engages Rome II by way of the applicable law to the claim playing a role in the forum non conveniens challenge. (Compare BRG Noal v Kowski for a similar discussion under Rome I). The case confirms the importance of retained Rome I and II discussion. The stage is set at [7]

at the heart of the jurisdiction challenge is an assertion that England is manifestly not the most suitable forum for the resolution of this dispute which all defendants maintain should be resolved by the UAE courts. Unsurprisingly, ADCB places significant reliance for its case that England is the most suitable forum for resolution of this dispute on the fact that Plc was a FTSE 100 quoted company, that the contracts by which the two most important of the Core Facilities were given contractual effect (the Syndicated Facility Agreement and the Club Facility Agreement) were drafted and completed in London by a prominent London law firm and were subject to London arbitration clauses and on its contention that England is the governing law of the dispute. Equally unsurprisingly the defendants emphasise that Plc was a holding company that carried on no active business activity, that the activity in London was essentially administrative in nature, that the lending which it is alleged lies at the heart of the scheme was lending by ADCB (a UAE registered entity trading in the UAE) to entities within the Group including principally Healthcare, all of which were based elsewhere than England and Wales. They maintain that if what is alleged is true then this was from first to last a conspiracy that was conceived and carried into effect in the UAE. They maintain that the governing law is beyond argument UAE law.

I shall limit the post to the Rome II element: Pelling J discusses this [64] ff, with the core element [68-69]:

the damage occurred when a UAE based company drew down against or otherwise benefitted from the Core Facilities offered by a UAE based bank. …ADCB … ultimately acted upon the representations in Abu Dhabi, from where the relevant loan funds were drawn down by NMC Healthcare“.

In the case of a misrepresentation or fraud, the locus damni is held to be the place where that misrepresentation is acted upon. UAE law as lex causae is in fact also and primarily confirmed by A4(2) Rome II: joint place of habitual residence, held [71] to be the UAE. Application of the A4(3) escape clause is dismissed [77], and a passing reference to a potential for A12 Rome II’s culpa in contrahendo leading to English law as the lex contractus, is summarily dismissed [78].

A stay is granted.

Geert.

The UK Supreme Court in Brownlie (II). With the tort jurisdictional gateway widened to consequential losses, forum non conveniens emerges as the default gatekeeper.

I have posted before on the Brownlie v Four Seasons litigation, please refer to the earlier post for context. The case revolves around whether courts should hear cases where the only damage sustained in their jurisdiction, is ‘indirect’ damage.

The litigation is not terribly good publicity for English civil procedure. The length of the proceedings resembles that of systems often referred to when in ordinary circumstances the English courts are much speedier. Moreover the outcome of the final Supreme Court judgment on 20 October (FS Cairo (Nile Plaza) LLC v Brownlie [2021] UKSC 45 ) on the jurisdictional gateway for torts inevitably will lead to a carrousel of future litigation and long-winded jurisdictional argument.

Even though the court was seized much before Brexit day, the jurisdictional issues are not subject to Brussels Ia. (The applicable law is, however, determined by Rome II and that this is Egyptian law is not disputed). The Court of Appeal as I discussed in my earlier post, upheld ‘damage in the jurisdiction’ on the basis of a wider notion of ‘damage’ under residual English rules than under the EU rules. The UKSC has now agreed by a majority of four to one, confirming the obiter outcome of the earlier, ‘Brownlie I’ (in current judgment recalled at [45] ff) obiter views of the Court in a different composition.

Lord Lloyd-Jones reminds us [25] of the 3 requirements to meet the jurisdictional threshold. Claimant must show firstly ‘a good arguable case’ that the claims fall within one of the gateways in the civil procedure rules – CPR, introduced by Statute; further a serious issue to be tried on the merits (this is designed to keep out frivolous suits); and finally that England is the appropriate forum for trial and the court ought to exercise its discretion to permit service out of the jurisdiction that is the ‘forum non conveniens’ test.

The only issue under consideration before the SC was the first one, in particular, whether the case meets the conditions of CPR PD 6B paragraph 3.1(9):

“Service out of the jurisdiction where permission is required. 3.1 The claimant may serve a claim form out of the jurisdiction with the permission of the court under rule 6.36 where -…

Claims in tort

(9)       A claim is made in tort where –

(a)        damage was sustained, or will be sustained, within the jurisdiction; or

(b)       damage which has been or will be sustained results from an act committed, or likely to be committed, within the jurisdiction.”

Candidates for Lady Brownlie’s claim satisfying the tort gateway in England, are [27] (a) a claim for damages for personal injury in her own right; (b) a claim for damages in her capacity as executrix of the estate of her late husband for wrongful death; and (c) a claim for damages for bereavement and loss of dependency in her capacity as her late husband’s widow.

Under EU jurisdictional rules, the only one of these three which in my view would have any chance of success under A7(2) BIa, is the latter. Despite CJEU Lazar (on the equivalent rule for applicable law under Rome II) I still do not see clear in the application of A7(2) to claims based on bereavement and loss of dependency. For these, I submit, Lloyd-Jones suggestion [73] fits even if the test, like in the EU, is based on direct effect only: ‘the event giving rise to the damage directly produced its harmful effects on Lady Brownlie in England and Wales.’

In essence the SC confirms the Court of Appeal’s insistence that the residual English rules must not ‘parrot’ the CJEU’s interpretation of ‘damage’ with its insistence on only direct damage satisfying the tort gateway – Pike in particular echoed the same feeling. Great emphasis is put on the perceived very different nature of the English private international law exercise as opposed to the EU, ‘Brussels’ regime. See for instance [55] ‘fundamental differences between the two systems would have made such an assimilation totally inappropriate’ – ditto, ex multi, [74].

This now Supreme Court confirmed ‘fundamental’ [74] difference between the regimes must and will, I submit, play a role in pending cases under Brussels Ia, such as those involving Articles 33-34 lis pendens provisions.

I do agree with Lloyd-Jones’ remark [50] that he is unconvinced of the suggested link between damage completing a cause of action (highly relevant at the applicable law stage] and the identification of an appropriate jurisdiction. Yet unlike him I would take that in a different direction. Not therefore in the direction of an in principle unlimited jurisdictional gateway for tort (Lord Leggatt, dissenting, at 171 remarks all English tourists travelling abroad will now have such gateway, without anyone suggesting ‘any principled basis for it’, and at [194] he suggests forum shopping will be encouraged eg by non-English tourists employing medical treatment in England as an anchor for jurisdiction), disciplined only by forum non conveniens (which was not under appeal here [79]; although Lord Lloyd-Jones does remark obiter at 80 that the judge had rejected forum non referring in particular referring to the fact that to a significant extent the claimant’s losses had been experienced in England ). Rather, I would revisit the original (for the EU at least) and contra legem (for A7(2) BIa like its predecessors does not mention damage) introduction of damage as a gateway in CJEU Bier.

The SC puts great trust in forum non conveniens as a gatekeeper: [79]

The discretionary test of forum non conveniens, well established in our law, is an appropriate and effective mechanism which can be trusted to prevent the acceptance of jurisdiction in situations where there is merely a casual or adventitious link between the claim and England. Where a claim passes through a qualifying gateway, there remains a burden on the claimant to persuade the court that England and Wales is the proper place in which to bring the claim. Unless that is established, permission to serve out of the jurisdiction will be refused (CPR rule 6.37(3)). In addition – and this is a point to which I attach particular importance – the forum non conveniens principle is not a mere general discretion, the application of which may vary according to the differing subjective views of different judges creating a danger of legal uncertainty. On the contrary, the principle applies a structured discretion, the details of which have been refined in the decided cases, in a readily predictable manner.

I have less trust in forum non as the predictable gatekeeper suggested by the majority. Consider Lord Leggatt’s dissenting view [200]:

In the absence of any prescribed decision procedure or ranking of factors, different judges assessing whether England and Wales is the appropriate forum will inevitably attach different degrees of weight to different factors and may reach differing conclusions on similar facts without either conclusion being susceptible to legal challenge. Not only is such inconsistency of outcome itself a source of injustice, but it also encourages satellite litigation and causes defendants who have no real connection with England to have to incur the difficulty and expense of instructing English lawyers to apply in England to contest the jurisdiction of the English courts. That gives a claimant a significant and unfair tactical advantage.

Moreover, as already highlighted by Joshua Folkard, cases of purely economic loss are likely to provoke much (and expensive) discussion. Lloyd-Jones L [43] himself notes: ‘Within the Brussels system, the distinction between direct and indirect damage is, however, sometimes elusive.’ He refers immediately to financial losses as the example with the least jurisdictional grip. He repeats this point ia [76], seeking to distinguish it from the more complex tort suffered by Lady Brownlie.

Cases of purely economic loss will continue to be litigated extensively at the jurisdictional level for current judgment does not offer any instruction on them. [76]: ‘the mere fact of any economic loss, however remote, felt by a claimant where he or she lives or, if a corporation, where it has its business seat would be an unsatisfactory basis for the exercise of jurisdiction. However, this is not such a case.’

An end to the jurisdictional tussle in current case therefore, nine years (8  years and 11 months) after the claim was issued. Yet continuing consequential uncertainty for many other pending and future claims.

Geert.

CHEP. When employees’ alleged conspiracy ‘relates to’ contract of employment.

CHEP Equipment Pooling BV v ITS Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 2485 (Comm) concerns in the main when a claim between two parties who are in a relation of employment, ‘relates to’ that employment contract. (In the case concerned, leading to lack of jurisdiction against one of the defendants).

At issue is whether 3 former senior employees had essentially defrauded claimant by negotiating on its behalf, price-inflated audit and supply agreements with corporations which those employees (in)directly owned and /or controlled. Causes of action are breach of fiduciary duty; dishonest assistance of the breaches of fiduciary duty by the other former employees; and unlawful means conspiracy.

Whether any of these claims engage A22 jurisdiction needs to be assessed viz each claim separately: [44]: Cuneo Resources NV and others v Daskalakis and others [2019] EWHC 87 (Comm).  Among others Bosworth was discussed in the subsequent analysis. After reviewing ia the employment history of defendant with the claimant, and the bond between the alleged dishonesty and the employment contract,  Jacobs J concludes [107]

the claims relate to Mr de Laender’s contract of employment, and also …the connection between Mr de Laender’s contract and the conduct relied upon is material. It cannot be described as tenuous, or a small part of the picture, or simply part of the history. I also consider that the legal basis of the claims can reasonably be regarded as a breach of his contract, so that it is indispensable to consider the contract in order to resolve the matters in dispute.

Obiter the judge reviews locus delicti commissi and locus damni under A7(2). For Handlungsort, Jacobs J holds that the claimant has the better of the argument that that is located in England: particularly seeing as the main alleged conspirator was domiciled in England at the time the various strands of the action materialised. For locus damni – Erfolgort, the conclusion [133] is one of Mozaik per Shevill, particularly in view of a corporate reorganisation (incl a move to England) which occurred midway through the conspiracy.

Geert.

Forever chemicals, and suing 3M for PFAS pollution in Europe. A flag on applicable law.

On Friday, together with my learned colleague at both Bar and Faculty Isabelle Larmuseau, I was asked to put my environmental law hat on at the Flemish Parliament. I was heard  on the current scandal hitting Flanders following PFAS (‘forever chemicals’) emissions by 3 M at the port of Antwerp. For background to PFAS see here.

Isabelle’s slidedeck for same is here (updated at 09:28 on 31 August to correct earlier pdf which contained an earlier version of the slides), and mine here. Both are in Dutch, with Isabelle’s focusing on the Flemish environmental law angle (albeit with strong EU law influence, necessarily) and mine on the EU and international law context).

Focus of the debate is on environmental /public health law however for my conflicts followers there is a treat. A civil law suit by Belgian and /or other [the port of Antwerp is very close for instance to the Dutch border. Emissions in air, water and soil (for the latter, particularly if exported) clearly impact Dutch citisens, say] claimants against 3M’s Belgian corporate presence is easily pursued both in Belgium (Article 4 Brussels Ia) and in other Member States (Article 7(2) locus damni). Residual private international law in all these States would fairly straightforwardly allow for the suit to be extended to 3M’s corporate mother, based at St Paul, Minnesota.

The more exciting bit is applicable law. The impact of common US (State) law on forever chemicals suits is well documented. Despite EU courts not willing to apply the punitive damages elements of these suits, an application of the other elements of US tort law may well be very attractive to claimants here. Those US laws are certainly within reach of claimants, using Article 7 Rome II. There is no question the damage ‘arises out of’ environmental damage (unlike the hesitation in Begum v Maran). There is certainly merit in the suggestion that locus delicti commissi is in St Paul, Minessota. Like with its fellow manufacturers and industrial users of PFAS, 3M’s worldwide grip on corporate communication and legal strategy on the issue is tight. More importantly, the decision tree on the manufacture, use and emissions of PFAS is arguably equally located at holding level. Reference here can be made to the relevance of Shell’s holding policy in lex causae determination in the recent climate ruling.

Clearly, via A17 Rome II, Flemish and of course European environmental law would play a role (cue Isabelle’s slidedeck for an excellent starter).

A collective action procedure in say The Netherlands in my view would be an ideal strategy to test these most murky waters.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd. ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.3 (4.54 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.

Jurisdiction for prospectus liability: Sanchez-Bordona AG in Vereniging van effectenbezitters attempts another go at Bier; leaves questions hanging on collective action.

When I flagged the Dutch SC reference to the CJEU in C‑709/19 Vereniging van Effectenbezitters, asking for clarification of the Universal Music case-law on purely economic damage, I signalled the specificities of this case:  the case concerns a class action, not that of an individual shareholder; no prospectus was specifically addressed at Dutch investors, who instead feel they received incomplete and misleading information that was made public through press releases, websites and public statements by directors; finally the Dutch Supreme Court questions the CJEU on an e-Date accessibility type jurisdictional basis.

BP plc, defendant, is domiciled in the UK.

Sanchez-Bordona AG Opined last Thursday (apologies I did not make the Twitter-promised Friday review). He kicks off  his Opinion with calling into question the very premise of the Universal Music case-law: at 24

the fact that the applicant’s account is located in that Member State is a relevant consideration in any non-contractual action for damage suffered by investments as a result of defective information, even when supplemented by other factors. While noting that the Court of Justice has inclined towards that view, in my opinion it is an open question.

That is a bold proposition not borne out by either CJEU or national case-law. Arguably better formulated is the position at 28 that the interest of the location of the bank account ‘should not be overstated’.

At 32 ff the AG repeats his call (joining a list of AG’s) to abandon the Bier Handlungsort Erfolgort distinction which he also expressed in his Opinion in Volkswagen. He emphasises again that in cases like these, the procedural decision on jurisdiction requires the judge too intensive an engagement with the substance of the case, consequently (at 36) ‘the very nature of the criterion may well create uncertainty among legal practitioners and encourage procedural delaying tactics, as well as divergent interpretations in Member States and further requests to the Court of Justice for preliminary rulings.’

At 37 (and with reference to national case-law) follows a repeat of the call to ‘ruling out the place where the investment account is located’. However the AG himself then acknowledges that call is likely to fall on deaf CJEU ears (at 39):

having regard to the wording of the questions referred, I shall answer them in accordance with their own premisses, that is to say, in the light of the existing case-law of the Court of Justice

hence he continues the Opinion taking Universal Music and its descendants into account:

at 46: ‘the fact that the financial damage took place in an investment account located in the Netherlands cannot be accepted as a ‘sufficient connecting factor for the international jurisdiction’ of the courts of that State.’ – I agree.

Again with reference to his Opinion in Volkswagen, and using the initial justification of the CJEU in Bier to put forward locus damni, the AG at 49-50 reiterates that

the ‘specific circumstances’ relevant to attributing jurisdiction are those which demonstrate the proximity between the action and the jurisdiction, and the foreseeability of that jurisdiction, .. Those circumstances must include: factors that facilitate the sound administration of justice and the smooth operation of proceedings; and factors that may have helped the parties to determine where they should institute proceedings or where they might be sued as a result of their actions.

He then rejects, for reasons succinctly explained in the Opinion, as being relevant: BP’s settlement with other shareholders; the status as consumer of some of the shareholders; BP’s information about its shares.

He concludes on this point at 60 ff that there simply is not a locus damni that meets with A7(2) Brussels Ia’s conditions. He refers as he did in Volkswagen pro inspiratio to the CJEU’s similar holding viz A7(1) forum contractus in C-56/00 Besix that we are dealing with an obligation which ‘is not capable of being identified with a specific place or linked to a court which would be particularly suited to hear and determine the dispute relating to that obligation’.

Finally the AG deals with the question whether the nature of the action brought by VEB (the fact that it is a collective action) and the fact that it is purely an action for a declaratory judgment, should have an impact. The referring court fears that extending the CJEU rule of CDC, that the transfer of claims by each original creditor to the applicant does not affect the determination of the court having jurisdiction under Article 7(2), would make collective action ineffective.

The AG points out first of all that following ia Folien Fischer, the courts of the Member State in which either the causal event took place or the harm occurred or may occur may lawfully accept jurisdiction by virtue of A7(2) in actions in which specific damages have not (yet) been sought.

He then suggests at 79 that he sees ‘no difficulty in applying [A7(2)] to declaratory actions such as that brought by VEB, in advance of subsequent actions for damages which may be brought only by the individual injured parties, whose identity and residence are unknown at the time of the (first) action.’ Here I do not quite follow. The questions asked by VEB are not merely provisional in an A35 sense (indeed that Article is not discussed). VEB are asking the court to hold

that the courts in the Netherlands have international jurisdiction to hear the claims for compensation brought by the BP shareholders; that the rechtbank Amsterdam (District Court, Amsterdam) has territorial jurisdiction to hear those claims; that BP acted unlawfully towards its shareholders inasmuch as it made incorrect, incomplete and misleading statements about: (i) its safety and maintenance programmes prior to the oil spill on 20 April 2010; or (ii) the extent of the oil spill; or (iii) the role and responsibility of BP in regard to the oil spill; that, had it not been for the unlawful conduct on the part of BP, the purchase or sale of BP shares by the BP shareholders would have been effected at a more favourable market price, or not at all; that there is a conditio sine qua non link between BP’s unlawful conduct and the loss suffered by the BP shareholders due to the fall in the share price in the period between 16 January 2007 and 25 June 2010.

Surely these kinds of questions can only be entertained by court that has A7(2) jurisdiction which, the AG had just opined, is highly unlikely (although the referring court will have the last word on that).  That he sees ‘no difficulty in applying [A7(2)] to declaratory actions such as that brought by VEB’ either then contradicts what he just advised (unlikely) or reinforces it cynically (as in ‘no difficulty in applying it, meaning there is no such jurisdiction’) – also perhaps unlikely. Am I missing something?

Finally at 95 the AG (not further discussing Qs 3 and 4) concurs with Bobek AG in Schrems: on the issue of assignment, it is not up to the CJEU to write the law.

Most relevant.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.459.

 

Qatar Airways v Middle East News (Al Arabiya). On forum non and determining lex causae for malicious falsehood and locus damni for conspiracy.

Forum non conveniens featured not just in Municipio de Mariana at the High Court yesterday but also in Qatar Airways Group QCSC v Middle East News FZ LLC & Ors [2020] EWHC 2975 (QB).

Twenty Essex have good summary of the background and decision. Context is of course the blockade on Qatar, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Qatar Airways Group (QAG) sue on the basis of tort, triggered by a rather chilling clip aired by Al Arabiya which amounted to a veiled threat against the airline.

Saini J at 27 notes what Turner J also noted in Municipio de Mariana and what Briggs LJ looked at in horror in Vedanta, namely the spiralling volume and consequential costs in bringing and defending a jurisdictional challenge. (Although at least for Vedanta and Municipio de Mariana the issues discussed are matters of principle, which may eventually settle once SC (and indeed CJEU) authority is clear).

The judgment recalls some principles of international aviation law under the Chicago Convention (with noted and utterly justifiable reference a 77 ff to an article on the opiniojuris blog by prof Heller) which is important here because (at 61) it is the starting point of QAG’s case that anyone who had taken steps to inform themselves of the legal position would have known that contrary to what (it argues) is the message of the Video, there was no real risk of any internationally legitimate interception, still less legitimate shooting at or down, of a QAG scheduled service in flight along one of the defined air corridors. At 88 Saini J concludes on that issue that there is an arguable case as to meaning and falsity.

On good arguable case, reference is to Kaefer v AMS, Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco, and Brownlie.

At 164 ff the judge discusses the issue of pleading foreign law at the jurisdictional threshold of making a good arguable case. Here, Saini J holds on the basis of the assumption that malicious falsehood is not covered by Rome II, which is the higher threshold for the purposes of establishing jurisdiction. He does suggest that it is likely that in fact malicious falsehood is covered by Rome II and not by the exception for infringement of personality rights (at 166: ‘Malicious falsehood is not a claim for defamation, and what is sought to be protected is not Qatar Airways’ reputation or privacy rights, but its economic interests’).

As for applicable law for conspiracy, that is clearly within the scope of Rome II and poses the difficulty of determining locus damni in a case of purely economic loss. Here, at 169 Saini J suggests preliminarily that parties agreed “damage” for the purposes of Article 4(1) of Rome II to have been suffered in the place where the third parties (that is, potential passengers) failed to enter into contracts with QAG (which they otherwise would have done) as a result of the video. Location of purely economic damage under Rome II as indeed it is under Brussel Ia is however not settled and I doubt it is as simple as locating it in the place of putative (passenger) contract formation.

Of long-term impact is the judge’s finding that for jurisdictional threshold purposes, he is content for claimant to proceed with a worldwide claim for tort on the basis of any foreign law that might be applicable having the same content as English law. 

Of note in the forum non analysis is that not just the obvious alternative of the UAE was not good forum, but neither would the DIFC be. At 374:’the UAE is not an appropriate forum is what I would broadly call “access to justice” considerations in what has clearly become a “hostile environment” for Qataris in the UAE.’ And at 379, re the DIFC: ‘The DIFC courts are a sort of “litigation island” within the UAE, created to attract legal business by their perceived superior neutrality, and higher quality, compared to the local courts. But as such, they have no superiority compared to the English courts, also a neutral forum. The English courts have the other connections to the case, which the DIFC courts do not.’

Geert.

 

 

Jurisdiction for trademark infringement and passing off. Easygroup v Easyfly and ATR Aircraft

In [2020] EWHC 40 (Ch) Easygroup v Easyfly and ATR Aircraft the issue is the jurisdiction of the English court to hear claims of trade mark infringement, passing off and conspiracy against a Colombian domestic airline, its founder and chief executive, and a French aircraft manufacturer. As always the blog’s interest is not in the substantive issues concerning trademark and passing off, they do however make for interesting reading.

Nugee J considers the jurisdictional issues at 26 ff with respect to the first two defendants and with respect to the French defendant, in para 127 ff. Here the relationship between the EU Trade Mark Regulation 2017/1001 and Brussels Ia comes to the fore. (I continue to find my colleague Marie-Christine Janssens’ 2010 paper most informative on the issues; see also the link to Tobias Lutzi’s analysis of AMS Neve in my report of same). The relevant provisions of the Regulation (previously included in Regulation 207/2009, applied ia in CJEU AMS Neve), read

Article 125. International jurisdiction
1. Subject to the provisions of this Regulation as well as to any provisions of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 applicable by virtue of Article 122, proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 124 shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the defendant is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment.
2. If the defendant is neither domiciled nor has an establishment in any of the Member States, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the plaintiff is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment.

3. If neither the defendant nor the plaintiff is so domiciled or has such an establishment, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State where the Office has its seat.

4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraphs 1, 2 and 3:

(a) Article 25 of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 shall apply if the parties agree that a different EU trade mark court shall have jurisdiction;

(b) Article 26 of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 shall apply if the defendant enters an appearance before a different EU trade mark court.

5. Proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 124, with the exception of actions for a declaration of non-infringement of an EU trade mark, may also be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the act of infringement has been committed or threatened, or in which an act referred to in Article 11(2) has been committed.

 

Article 126. Extent of jurisdiction
1. An EU trade mark court whose jurisdiction is based on Article 125(1) to (4) shall have jurisdiction in respect of:

(a) acts of infringement committed or threatened within the territory of any of the Member States;

(b) acts referred to in Article 11(2) committed within the territory of any of the Member States.

2. An EU trade mark court whose jurisdiction is based on Article 125(5) shall have jurisdiction only in respect of acts committed or threatened within the territory of the Member State in which that court is situated.

 

The first two defendants are not based in the EU. Here, Article 125(2) grants jurisdiction to the UK courts.

Controversially, at 36 Nugee J applies a forum non conveniens test. It is disputed whether this is at all possible in the Trademark Regulation. He decides England clearly is the appropriate forum: ‘there is no other court that can try the UK trade mark claims, and for the reasons just given [French and  Spanish courts might have partial jurisdiction, GAVC] no other court that can grant pan-EU relief in respect of the EU trade mark claims.’

At 37 ff Nugee J then also still considers with reference ia to CJEU Pammer and the discussions on ‘accessibility’ (see also ia Football Dataco) whether there is a ‘serious issue to be tried’ and answers in the affirmative. Here I am assuming this must be seen as part of case-management rather than a jurisdictional test (viz Article 8(1) BIa’s anchor defendant mechanism, a ‘serious issue to be tried’ test is said to be part of the ‘related cases’ analysis; see related discussions ia in Privatbank), unless he reformulates the application of Article 126 as a ‘serious issue to be tried’ test – the structure of the judgment is leaving me confused.

Eventually however the previous Order made by the High Court, granting permission to serve out of jurisdiction, is set aside by Nugee J on grounds of lack of full and frank disclosure at the service hearing – an issue less exciting for this blog however dramatic nevertheless.

The French defendant (who issued a relevant press release (only 11 copies of which were distributed at the Farnborough airshow; this was found to be de minimis; not as such a mechanism available under the EUTMR I don’t think; but it might be under case management) and was also responsible for organising (ia by having the logo painted) the offending branding in France), at the jurisdictional level is dealt with in para 127 ff., first with respect to the trademark claim.

‘By art. 125(1) the default position is that the proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State where the defendant is domiciled: in ATR’s case this is France. Neither art. 125(2) nor art. 125(3) applies to ATR because each only applies if the defendant is neither domiciled nor has an establishment in a Member State. Art. 125(4) does not apply as it is not suggested that ATR has either (a) agreed that the English court should have jurisdiction, or (b) entered an appearance before the English court. That leaves art. 125(5) under which proceedings may also be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the act of infringement has been committed or threatened. In the present case that would also be France (and possibly Spain). It follows that none of the provisions of art. 125 confer jurisdiction on the English court to hear actions based on acts of infringement said to have been carried out by ATR in France and Spain.’

Counsel for EasyGroup accepted ia per AMS Neve that the Trademark Regulation is lex specialis vis-à-vis Brussels Ia but that nevertheless the general spirit of BIa should blow over Regulation 2017/1001. They refer at 130 to the ‘general desirability of avoiding duplicative proceedings and the risk of inconsistent judgments (as exemplified by arts 29 and 30 of Brussels I Recast),’ and argue that ‘it followed that once the English court had jurisdiction over the Defendants for the acts taking place in France (as it undoubtedly did under art. 125(2)), then it must also have jurisdiction over anyone else alleged to be jointly liable for the same acts of infringement.’

This therefore is a makeshift joinder mechanism which Nugee J was not impressed with. He pointed to the possibility under A125(5) to sue the other defendants and the French defendants in one jurisdiction, namely France. An A7(2) BIa action is not possible: A122(2)(a) EUTMR expressly provides that in proceedings based on A124, A7(2) BIa does not apply.

Finally, a claim in conspiracy against the French defendant is not covered by the EUTMR and instead by A7(2) BIa, discussed at 142 ff with reference to (Lugano) authority [2018] UKSC 19, which I discussed here. Locus delicti commissi, Nugee J finds, is not in England: no conspiratorial agreement between ATR and the Defendants in relation to the branding of the aircraft took place in England. At 145: ‘the Heads of Agreement, and Sale and Purchase Agreement, were each signed in France and Colombia, and there is nothing that can be pointed to as constituting the making of any agreement in England.’

As for locus damni, at 148 Nugee J holds this not to have been or potentially be in England:

‘The foundation of easyGroup’s claims in relation to the branding of the aircraft is that once painted they were flown on test flights, and en route to Colombia, in full view of the public. But the public which might have viewed the planes were the public in France and Spain, not the public in the UK. That might amount to a dilution in the brand in the eyes of the French and Spanish public, but it is difficult to see how it could affect the brand in the eyes of the UK public, or otherwise cause easyGroup to sustain loss in the UK. Mr Bloch said that if such a plane crashed, the news would not stop at the Channel and it might adversely affect easyGroup’s reputation in the UK, but no such damage has in fact occurred, and it seems to me far too speculative to say that it may occur. As already referred to, Mr Bloch also relied on easyGroup having suffered damage on the user principle (paragraph 82 above), but it seems to me that damages awarded on this basis would be damages for the loss of an opportunity to exploit easyGroup’s marks by licensing them to be used in France and Spain, and that for the purposes of the first limb of art. 7(2) such damage would therefore be suffered in France and Spain as that is where the relevant exploitation of the asset would otherwise take place.’

This last element (place where the relevant exploitation of the asset would otherwise take place) is interesting to me in Universal Music (purely economic loss) terms and not without discussion, I imagine.

Conclusions, at 152:

(1) There is a serious issue to be tried in relation to each of the claims now sought to be brought by easyGroup against the non-EU defendants.

(2) There was however a failure to make full, frank and fair disclosure at the service out of jurisdiction hearing, and in the circumstances that Order should be set aside.

(3) The question of amending to bring claims against the French defendant. But if it had, Nugee J would have held that there was no jurisdiction for the English court to hear the claims based on the acts in France (or Spain), whether based on trade mark infringement or conspiracy. There is jurisdiction to hear the claims based on the issue of the Press Release in the UK, but Nugee J would have refused permission to amend to bring such claims on the basis that they were de minimis.

A most interesting and thought provoking judgment.

Geert.

 

 

 

Cyberinsults over patents, unfair competition and jurisdiction. The Paris Court of Appeal in Manitou v JCB.

In Manitou v J.C. Bamford Excavators, (defendant is better known as ‘JCB’ which in England is an eponym for ‘digger’ or excavator) the Paris Court of Appeal held that French Courts have jurisdiction in an interesting tale of patent insults. JCB (England incorporated) had obtained a French injunction against Manitou (domiciled at France) obliging it to halt production of one of its products possibly in violation of a JCB patent. On the eve of an important trade fair taking place in France, JCB boasted about the injunction in a Twitter, Linked-in and website post. Manitou argue the post was insulting and an act of unfair competition.

Manitou claim jurisdiction on the basis of A7(2) BIa, special jurisdiction for tort, per CJEU C-618/15 Concurrences /Samsumg /Amazon, which I reviewed here. It refers to all sites on which the news was posted being accessible in France (Pinckney would have been strong authority here); to the post discussing a French judgment which is only aimed at and enforceable in France; and that its publication was timed to coincide with the aforementioned French fair. JCB on the other hand argue mere accessibility does not suffice and that the sites did not target readers in France.

The Court refers both to Shevill and to Concurrences; decides that the very fact that the site was published in English does not insulate it from French jurisdiction (seeing also that plenty of potential clients looking to buy from Manitou at the time would have been in France for the fair); and that the publication clearly would have affected the brand’s reputation in France and also its sales there. Jurisdiction therefore established.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

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