Posts Tagged Locus damni

Unilever. Accepting CSR jurisdiction against mother companies not the High Court’s cup of tea.

After  Shell/Okpabi, the High Court has now for the second time in 2017 rejected jurisdiction to be established against the foreign subsidiary (here: in Kenya) using the mother company as an anchor. In [2017] EWHC 371 (QB) AAA et al v Unilever and Unilever Tea Kenya ltd, Unilever is the ultimate holding company and registered in the UK. Its subsidiary is a company registered in Kenya. It operates a tea plantation there. Plaintiffs were employed, or lived there, and were the victims of ethnic violence carried out by armed criminals on the Plantation after the Presidential election in Kenya in 2007. They claim that the risk of such violence was foreseeable by both defendants, that these owed a duty of care to protect them from the risks of such violence, and that they had breached that duty.

Laing J unusually first of (at 63 ff) all declines to reject the case on ‘case management’ grounds. Unlike many of her colleagues she is more inclined to see such stay as ignoring ‘through the back door’ Owusu‘s rejection of forum non conveniens.  I believe she is right. Instead the High Court threw out the case on the basis that the claims, prima facie (on deciding jurisdiction, the Court does not review the substantial merits of the case; a thin line to cross) had no merit. Three issues had to be decided:

i) By reference to what law should the claim be decided? This was agreed as being Kenyan law.

ii) Are the criteria in Caparo v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605 satisfied? (A leading English law case on the test for the duty of care). The relevance of English law on this issues comes about as a result of Kenyan law following the same Caparo test: as I have noted elsewhere, it is not without discussion that lex fori should apply to this test of attributability. Laing J held that the Caparo criteria were not fulfilled. The events were not as such foreseeable (in particular: a general breakdown in law and order). Importantly, with respect to the holding company and as helpfully summarised by Herbert Smith:

  • the pleaded duty effectively required the holding to ensure that the claimants did not suffer the damage that they suffered, and not merely to take reasonable steps to ensure their safety;
  • the pleaded duty also effectively imposed liability on that holding for the criminal acts of third parties, and required it to act as a “surrogate police force to maintain law and order”; and
  • such a duty would be wider than the duty imposed on the daughter, as the actual occupier of the Plantation, under the Kenyan Occupiers’ Liability Act

At 103, Laing J discussed and dismissed plaintiff’s attempts at distinguishing Okpabi. In her view, like in Shell /Okpabi, the mother’s control is formal control exercised at a high level of abstraction, and over the content and auditing of general policies and procedures. Not  the sort of control and superior knowledge which would meet the Chandler test.

iii) Are the claims barred by limitation? This became somewhat irrelevant but the High Court ruled they were not. (This, under the common law of conflicts, was a matter of lex causae: Kenyan law, and requiring Kenyan expert input. Not English law, as the lex fori).

The case, like Okpabi, is subject to appeal however it is clear that the English courts are not willing to pick up the baton of court of prefered resort for CSR type cases against mother companies.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

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Lodi Trading, a lotta fog: Kolassa in the Belgian Supreme Court.

Many thanks Michael Verhaeghe  (whom I have the pleasure with jointly to be representing a client) for alerting me to Lodi Trading in which the Belgian Supreme Court applied (and distinguished) Kolassa. Lodi Trading is registered in The Netherlands and seemingly had been duped into transferring funds to a gang of fraudsters.  As always, the judgment is very very scant on factual reference, and I have not been able to find the Court of Appeals’ judgement: if anyone can: Court of Appeal Gent, 8 December 2015.

Like the CJEU itself did clearly in Universal Music, the Hof van Cassatie distinguished Kolassa (although it does not refer to Universal Music in this part of the judgment) by insisting there be circumstances specific to the case, over and above the simple presence of a bank account, which point to the damage occurring in that State.

In Universal Music the CJEU had emphasised the need for case-specific facts for bank accounts to be a relevant factor in determining jurisdiction, by holding that ‘it is only where the other circumstances specific to the case also contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the courts for the place where a purely financial damage occurred, that such damage could, justifiably, entitle the applicant to bring the proceedings before the courts for that place.’ (emphasis added).

What seems (but again: see the joint caveat of the Supreme Court’s judgment being scant and the Court of Appeal’s judgment being untraceable) to be specific to this case is that the Court of Appeal had held in favour of the location of the bank account of recipient of the funds being locus damni, given that ‘internal law’ (by which I take it reference is made to Belgian, not Dutch law) determines that the time of payment is determined by the moment of accreditation of the funds to the beneficiary’s account: not (the alternative reading; but again I am assuming for the judgment’s 10 brief paras do invite speculation) the time of the funds leaving the account holder’s account.

It could well be therefore that the Supreme Court is rebuking the Court of Appeal for having Belgian law enter the equation, given the need for autonomous interpretation of European civil procedure. But I am not entirely sure.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 2.2.11.2, 2.2.11.2.7

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Finding SHELLter. The High Court on CSR and applicable law in Okpabi.

Where does one look first? : as I reported last week, Ms Kiobel is now taking her US case to The Netherlands (this case essentially involves human rights), at a time when Shell is still pursued in the Netherlands by Milieudefensie, in a case involving environmental pollution in Nigeria.

That latter case now is being mirrored in the High Court in London in Okpabu v Shell [2017] EWHC 89 (TCC). The dual proceedings are squarely a result of the split listing of Shell’s mother company, thus easily establishing jurisdiction in both The Netherlands and London, under Article 4 Brussels I Recast.

The only preliminary issue which the High Court had to settle at this early stage was whether Shell’s holding company, established in the UK, can be used as anchor defendant for proceedings against Shell Nigeria. It held that it could not. The questions dealt with are varied and listed as follows:

1. Do the claimants have legitimate claims in law against RDS?

2. If so, is this jurisdiction the appropriate forum in which to bring such claims? This issue encompasses an argument by RDS that it is an abuse of EU law for the claimants to seek to conduct proceedings against an anchor defendant in these circumstances.

3. If this jurisdiction is the appropriate forum, are there any grounds for issuing a stay on case management grounds and/or under Article 34 of the Recast Regulation in respect of the claim against RDS, so that the claim against SPDC can (or should) proceed against SPDC in Nigeria?

4. Do the claims against SPDC have a real prospect of success?

5. Do the claims against SPDC fall within the gateway for service out of the jurisdiction under paragraph 3.1(3) of CPR Practice Direction 6B?

This issue requires consideration of two separate sub-issues, namely (a) whether the claims against RDS involve a real issue which it is reasonable for the Court to try; and (b) whether SPDC is a necessary or proper party to the claims against RDS.

6. Is England the most appropriate forum for the trial of the claims in the interests of all parties and for the ends of justice?

7. In any event, is there a real risk the Claimants would not obtain substantial justice if they are required to litigate their claims in Nigeria?

 

In detailed analysis, Fraser J first of all seems to accept case-management as a now established route effectively to circumvent the ban on forum non conveniens per Owuso (see Goldman Sachs and also reference in my review of that case, to Jong and Plaza). Over and above case-management he refers to potential abuse of EU civil procedure rules to reject the Shell Nigeria joinder. That reference though is without subject really, for the rules on joinders in Article 8 Brussel I recast only apply to joinder with companies that are domiciled in the EU – which is not the case for Shell Nigeria.

Of specific interest to this blog post is Fraser J’s review of Article 7 Rome II: the tailor made article for environmental pollution in the determination of lex causae for torts: in the case at issue (and contrary to the Dutch mirror case, which is entirely being dealt with under residual Dutch conflicts law) Rome II does apply to at least part of the alleged facts. See here for my background on the issue. That issue of governing law is dealt with at para 50 ff of the judgment.

For environmental pollution, plaintiff has a choice under Article 7 Rome II. Either lex damni (not appealing here: for Nigerian law; the judgment discusses at some length on the extent to which Nigerian law would follow the English Common law in issues of the corporate veil), or lex loci delicti commissi. This, the High Court suggest, can only be England if two questions are answered in the affirmative (at 79). The first is whether the parent company is better placed than the subsidiary to avoid the harm because of its superior knowledge or expertise. The second is, if the finding is that the parent company is better placed, whether it is fair to infer that the subsidiary will rely upon the parent. With reference to precedent, Fraser J suggest it is not enough for the parent company simply to be holding shares in other companies. (Notice the parallel here with the application of ATS in Apartheid).

The High Court eventually holds that there is no prima facie duty of care that can be established against the holding company, which would justify jurisdiction vis-a-vis the daughter. At 106, the Court mirrors the defendant’s argument: it is the Nigerian company, rather than the holding, that takes all operational decisions in Nigeria, and there is nothing performed by the holding company by way of supervisory direction, specialist activities or knowledge, that would put it in any different position than would be expected of an ultimate parent company. Rather to the contrary, it is the Nigerian company that has the specialist knowledge and experience – as well as the necessary licence from the Nigerian authorities – to perform the relevant activities in Nigeria that form the subject matter of the claim. … It is the specialist operating company in Nigeria; it is the entity with the necessary regulatory licence; the English holding company is the ultimate holding company worldwide and receives reports back from subsidiaries.

 

Plaintiffs have been given permission to appeal. Their lawyers have indicated to rely heavily on CJEU precedent, particularly T-343/06 Shell v EC. This case however concerns competition law, which as I have reported before, traditionally has had a theory on the corporate veil more easily pierced than in other areas. Where appeal may have more chance of success, I believe is in the prima facie character of the case against the mother company. There is a thin line between preliminary assessment with a view to establishing jurisdiction, and effectively deciding the case on the merits. I feel the High Court’s approach here strays too much into merits territory.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

 

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Cybercrime and jurisdiction. The CJEU in Concurrences /Samsung /Amazon.

In the flurry of judgments issued by the European Court of Justice on Super Wednesday, 21 December, spare a read for C-618/15 Concurrence /Samsumg /Amazon: Cybercrime, which dealt with jurisdiction for tort under the Brussels I Recast Regulation and the location of locus damni in the event of online sales. The foreign suffix of the website was deemed irrelevant.

To fully appreciate the facts of the case and the Court’s reasoning, undoubtedly it would be best to read Wathelet AG’s Opinion alongside the Court’s judgment.

Concurrence is active in the retail of consumer electronics, trading through a shop located in Paris (France) and on its online sales website ‘concurrence.fr’. It concluded with Samsung a selective distribution agreement (covering France) for high-end Samsung products, namely the ELITE range. That agreement included, in particular, a provision prohibiting the sale of the products in question on the internet. Exact parties to the dispute are Concurrence SARL, established in France, Samsung SAS, also established in France, and Amazon Services Europe Sàrl, established in Luxembourg. Amazon offered the product range on a variety of its websites,  Amazon.fr, Amazon.de, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es and Amazon.it.

Concurrence sue variously for a lift of the ban on internet sales (claiming the ban was illegal) and alternatively, an end to the  offering for sale of the elite products via Amazon. The French courts suggest they lack jurisdiction over the foreign Amazon websites (excluding amazon.fr) because the latter are not directed at the French public. Concurrence suggest there is such jurisdiction, for the products offered for sale on those foreign sites are dispatched not only within the website’s country of origin but also in other European countries, in particular France, in which case jurisdiction, they suggest,  legitimately lies with the French courts.

Pinckney figures repeatedly in Opinion and Judgment alike. Amazon submit that the accessibility theory for jurisdiction should not be accepted, since it encourages forum shopping, which, given the specific nature of national legal systems, might lead to ‘law shopping’ by contamination. Amazon seek support in Jaaskinen’s Opinion in Pinckney. Wathelet AG first of all notes (at 67 of his Opinion) that this argument of his colleague was not accepted by the CJEU. Moreover, he finds it exaggerated: the national court can award damages only for loss occasioned in the territory of the Member State in which it occurs: this limitation serves as an important break on plaintiffs simply suing in a State per the locus damni criterion ‘just because they can’.

The Court agrees (at 32 ff) but in a more succinct manner (one may need therefore the comfort of the Opinion for context):

  • The infringement of the prohibition on resale outside a selective distribution network is given effect by the law of the Member State of the court seised, so that a natural link exists between that jurisdiction and the dispute in the main proceedings, justifying jurisdiction for the latter.  It is on the territory of that Member State that the alleged damage occurs.
  • Indeed, in the event of infringement, by means of a website, of the conditions of a selective distribution network, the damage which the distributor may claim is the reduction in the volume of its sales resulting from the sales made in breach of the conditions of the network and the ensuing loss of profits.
  • The fact that the websites on which the offer of the products covered by the selective distribution right appears operate in Member States other than that of the court seised is irrelevant, as long as the events which occurred in those Member States resulted in or may result in the alleged damage in the jurisdiction of the court seised, which it is for the national court to ascertain.

With this judgment national courts are slowly given a complete cover of eventualities in the context of jurisdiction and the internet.

Geert.

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

 

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Lazar: CJEU relates ‘ricochet’ losses to initial damage under Rome II.

Lazar v Allianz, Case C-350/14, was held on 10 December last. It addressed the issue of ‘ricochet’ damage in the Rome II Regulation on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations. Ricochet or ‘reflective’ or ‘indirect’ losses occur when someone suffers losses as a result of a tort directly causing damage to someone else.

The request has been made in a dispute between Mr Lazar, who resides in Romania, and the Italian insurance company Allianz SpA regarding compensation for material and non-material damage which Mr Lazar claims to have suffered in jure proprio by reason of the death of his daughter, a Romanian national who was resident in Italy, which occurred in Italy as a result of a road traffic accident caused by an unidentified vehicle. For Mr Lazar, it is more interesting for Italian law to be considered the lex causae.

The Opinion of Wahl AG neatly summarised the two opposing views: (at 40-41 of his Opinion):

According to the first view, (…) material and non-material damage suffered by the family members of a person who has died in another Member State does not necessarily constitute indirect consequences of the tort/delict for the purposes of Article 4(1) of the Rome II Regulation. It would follow in particular that, because it is based on an obligation that is distinct from the obligation as between the opposing party and the person who died in the accident, a claim for compensation in respect of material rights claimed by the close relatives of a person who has died as a result of a traffic accident which occurred in the State of the court seised must be assessed by reference to the law of the place in which the damage sustained by those relatives occurred, namely the place of their habitual residence, unless it can be demonstrated that, in accordance with Article 4(3) of the Rome II Regulation, it is clear from all the circumstances of the case that there are manifestly closer connections with another country.

According to the second view (…) the damage sustained, in their country of residence, by the close relatives of a person who has died in a road accident which occurred in the State of the court seised must be regarded as constituting indirect consequences of the damage suffered by the immediate victim of the accident. The term ‘country in which the damage occurs’ must be interpreted as referring to the place which caused the damage, which, in the main proceedings, is the place of the road accident.

He eventually opined in favour of the second view, taking inspiration ia from CJEU case-law on Article 7(2) of the Brussels I Recast (previously Article 5(3) Brussels I)- even though at 51 he cautioned against lifting interpretation from the jurisdictional Regulation for use in the applicable law Regulation. His main arguments were as follows:

(at 74) the interpretation whereby the general rule under which the expression ‘country in which the damage occurs’ in Article 4(1) of the Rome II Regulation extends to the place of the direct damage — in this case the place of the fatal collision — has the benefit of simplicity and objectivity where all the damage alleged actually originates from the same source.

(at 75) this is consistent with the foreseeability pursued by the drafting of the Rome II Regulation. In most cases, the person liable is able to anticipate the consequences in other countries of his conduct or of the conduct of persons for whom he is responsible. Similarly, the victim is generally informed of the legal context to which he was exposed or exposed his property. In other words, both the person liable and the victim were informed and took the necessary steps, in particular with regard to insurance, in connection with the applicable law in the country or countries in which damage might potentially occur.

(at 76) the general rule for determining the applicable law in the Rome II Regulation is characterised by neutrality. Taking the example of the material damage suffered by the survivors of a person who has died as a result of a traffic accident, it may be considered that the neutrality of the law would be jeopardised in so far as that damage is still located in the victim’s place of residence. (The AG notes that in other instances Rome II is not neutral: he refers in particular to Articles 6 (on acts of competition) and 7 (on environmental damage).

(at 77) such an interpretation is also consistent with the other idea underlying connecting factors in private international law, namely the idea of proximity, which is intended, as far as possible, to connect a situation to the law of the country with which it is most closely connected. Whilst the place of the accident is undeniably related to the other components of the liability, the domicile of the indirect victim is not necessarily so related. 

(at 79) the Rome II Regulation introduces corrective mechanisms which make it possible, in several respects, to avoid the apparent rigidity of the rule of the place in which the damage occurs.

Conclusion (at 83) The term ‘place in which the damage occurs’ must, further to the case-law on the Brussels Convention and the Brussels I Regulation, be understood as meaning the place of the occurrence of the event, in this case the road accident, which directly produced its harmful effects upon the person who is the immediate victim of that event.’

The Court itself, much more succinctly, agrees.

A singular event, therefore, leads to one applicable law, even if its ricochet effect causes damage elsewhere. That such damage is actionable separately (for it may create multiple obligations in tort) or even iure proprio does not impact that analysis.

A word of caution, however: the judgment only holds for singular events. More complex events, especially of a continuing kind, are much more likely to create direct harmful effects in a multitude of persons, potentially therefore also leading to more loci damni. The ricochet effect therefore is highly likely to echo again at Kirchberg.

Geert.

 

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Jurisdiction for libel over the internet. Ontario’s view in Goldhar v Haaretz.

The exam season is over, otherwise Goldhar v Haaretz would have made a great case for comparative analysis. Instead this can now feed into class materials. This is an interlocutory judgment on the basis of lack of jurisdiction and /or abuse of process. Plaintiff lives in Toronto.  He is a billionaire who owns i.a. Maccabi Tel Aviv. (Chelsea’s first opponent in the Champions League. But that’s obviously an aside). Mr Goldhar visits Israel about five or six times per year. Defendant is Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd. which publishes Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper (market share about 7%).   It also publishes an English language print edition.  Haaretz is published online in both English and Hebrew.

Haaretz published a very critical article on Mr Goldhar in November 2011. The print version was not published in Canada, in either English or Hebrew. However, Haaretz was made available internationally on its website in Israel in both Hebrew and English – the judgment does not say so specifically however I assume this was both on the .co.il site – even if currently Haaretz’ EN site is available via a .com site.

Information provided by the defendants reveals that there were 216 unique visits to the Article in its online form in Canada. Testimony further showed that indeed a number of people in Canada read the article – this was sufficient for Faieta J to hold that a tort was committed in Ontario and thus a presumptive connecting factor exists. Presumably this means that the court (and /or Canadian /Ontario law with which I am not au fait) view the locus delicti commissi (‘a tort was committed’) as Canada – a conclusion not all that obvious to me (I would have assumed Canada is locus damni only). Per precedent, the absence of a substantial publication of the defamatory material in Canada was not found to be enough to rebut the finding of jurisdiction.

Forum non conveniens was dismissed on a variety of grounds, including applicable law being the law of Ontario (again Ontario is identified as the locus delicti commissi: at 48). Plaintiff will have to cover costs for the appearance, in Canada, of defendants’ witnesses. Importantly, plaintiff will also only be able to seek damages for reputational harm suffered within Canada.

I can see this case (and the follow-up in substance) doing the rounds of conflicts classes.

Geert.

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