Posts Tagged Locus delicti commissi

The CJEU in Nintendo. Where will you sue next?

As Bot AG put it, Joined Cases C-24 and 25/16 Nintendo v Big Ben gave the Court an opportunity to  determine the territorial scope of a decision adopted by a court of a Member State in respect of two co-defendants domiciled in two different Member States concerning claims supplementary to an action for infringement brought before that court.

The case concerns the relation between Brussels I and Regulation 6/2002 – which was last raised in the recent BMW case, particularly as for the former, the application of Article 6(1) (now 8(1))’s rule on anchor defendants. And finally the application of Rome II’s Article 8(2): the identification of the ‘country in which the act of infringement was committed’. In this post I will focus on the impact for Brussels I (Recast) and Rome II.

The Landgericht held that there had been an infringement by BigBen Germany and BigBen France of Nintendo’s registered Community designs. However, it dismissed the actions in so far as they concerned the use of the images of the goods corresponding to those designs by the defendants in the main proceedings.

The Landgericht ordered BigBen Germany to cease using those designs throughout the EU and also upheld, without territorial limitation, Nintendo’s supplementary claims seeking that it be sent various information, accounts and documents held by the defendants in the main proceedings, that they be ordered to pay compensation and that the destruction or recall of the goods at issue, publication of the judgment and reimbursement of the lawyers’ fees incurred by Nintendo be ordered (‘the supplementary claims’).

As regards BigBen France, the Landgericht held that it had international jurisdiction in respect of that company and ordered it to cease using the protected designs at issue throughout the EU. Concerning the supplementary claims, it limited the scope of its judgment to BigBen France’s supplies of the goods at issue to BigBen Germany, but without limiting the territorial scope of its judgment. It considered the applicable law to be that of the place of infringement and took the view that in the present case that was German, Austrian and French law.

BigBen France contends that the German courts lack jurisdiction to adopt orders against it that are applicable throughout the EU: it takes the view that such orders can have merely national territorial scope. Nintendo ia takes the view that German law should be applied to its claims relating to BigBen Germany and French law to those relating to BigBen France.

Taking into account the objective pursued by Article 6(1) of Regulation No 44/2001, which seeks inter alia to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments, the existence of the same situation of fact must in such circumstances — if proven, which is for the referring court to verify, and where an application is made to that effect — cover all the activities of the various defendants, including the supplies made by the parent company on its own account, and not be limited to certain aspects or elements of them. If I understand this issue correctly (it is not always easy to see the jurisdictional forest for the many IP trees in the judgment), this means the Court restricts the potential for the use of anchor defendants in Article 8(1).

As for the application of Article 8(2) Rome II, at 98 and following inter alia analysis of the various language versions of the Article, the CJEU equates the notion ‘country n which the act of infringement is committed’ with the locus delicti commissi:  ‘it refers to the country where the event giving rise to the damage occurred, namely the country on whose territory the act of infringement was committed.‘ At 103: ‘…where the same defendant is accused of various acts of infringement falling under the concept of ‘use’ within the meaning of Article 19(1) of Regulation No 6/2002 in various Member States, the correct approach for identifying the event giving rise to the damage is not to refer to each alleged act of infringement, but to make an overall assessment of that defendant’s conduct in order to determine the place where the initial act of infringement at the origin of that conduct was committed or threatened.’

At 108 the Court rules what this means in the case at issue: ‘the place where the event giving rise to the damage occurred within the meaning of Article 8(2) of [Rome II] is the place where the process of putting the offer for sale online by that operator on its website was activated’.

At 99 however it warns expressly that this finding must be distinguished as being issued within the specific context of infringement of intellectual property rights: Regulation 6/2002 as well as Rome II in its specific intention for IP rights, aims to guarantee predictability and unity of a singly connecting factor. This is a very important caveat: for while this approach by the CJEU assists with predictability, it also hands means for applicable law shopping and, where the Court’s approach for locus delicti commissi in IP infringement extended to jurisdiction, for forum shopping, too.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2; Chapter 3.

 

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A v M (Austria): Copyright infringement, locus delicti commissi in case of breach of obligation to pay.

For your second conflicts reading of the day I thought I should serve something more substantial. In A (an Austrian company) v M (a company located in Luxembourg) the Austrian Supreme Court (Oberster Gerichtshof) had to decide on the determination of the locus delicti commissi in the event of infringement of copyright. M had effectively siphoned off to its website, some of A’s satellite broadcasts. Plenty of CJEU precedent is referred to (Hejduk; Austro Mechana; to name a few).

Thank you very much indeed Klaus Oblin for providing me with copy of the judgment – back in early June. Effectively, at issue was  the infringement of a duty to pay.  Klaus has excellent overview of the issues, of which the following are definitely worth highlighting. The Supreme Court justifiably of course emphasises autonomous interpretation of Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast. Yet autonomous interpretation does not provide all the answers. There are plenty of instances where locus delicti commissi is not easily identified, such as here.

The Oberster Gerichtshof seeks support in the Satellite Directive 93/83, but notes that the Directive includes no procedural clauses, let alone any regarding international jurisdiction (at 2.4.2. It refers to the German Bundesgerichtshof’s decision in Oscar). It then completes the analysis by reference to national law:

Section 42b(1) of the Act on Copyrights and Related Rights to classify breach of copyright as a tort (CJEU Kalfelis would have been a more correct reference) ; and

Section 907a(1) of the Civil Code) to identify the locus of the delicti commissi: because monetary debts in acordance with that section must be discharged at the seat of the creditor, the domestic courts at the Austrian seat of the collecting society have jurisdiction. In coming to its conclusion, the court (at 3.2) refers pro inspiratio to Austro Mechana, not just the CJEU’s judgment but also the ensuing national judgment.

Now, lest I am mistaken, in Austro Mechana the CJEU did not identify the locus delicti commissi: it simply qualified the harm arising from non-payment by Amazon of the remuneration provided for in Austrian law, as one in tort: at 52 of its judgment: it follows that, if the harmful event at issue in the main proceedings occurred or may occur in Austria, which is for the national court to ascertain, the courts of that Member state have jurisdiction to entertain Austro-Mechana’s claim. (emphasis added)

Given its heavy reliance on national law, I would suggest the judgment skates on thin ice. Reference to the CJEU seemingly was not contemplated but surely would have been warranted. Kainz is a case in point where locus delicti commissi was helpfully clarified by Luxembourg, Melzer one for locus damni.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, heading 2.2.11.2.

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

Postscript 13 June 2017 for a similar scenario in the Italian courts (hearings pending) see here: Ikebiri v ENI.

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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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 Okpabi 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 (Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria – SPDC). 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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Universal Music: Szpunar AG suggests the Bier case-law does not apply to purely economic loss under Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast.

 

I have earlier reported on the referral in Universal Music, Case C-12/15. Szpunar AG opined today, 11 March (the English text of the Opinion is not yet available at the time I write this post) and suggests (at 37) that the Court not apply its Erfolgort /Handlungsort distinction per Case 21/76  Bier /Minnes de Potasse. He reminds the Court of Bier’s rationale: a special link between the Erfolgort and the case at hand, so as to make that place, the locus damni, the place where the damage arises, well suited to address the substantive issues raised by the claim. (He also reminds the Court, at 30, that the language of what is now Article 7(2) only refers to the harmful event; not in the slightest to damage).

In cases where the only damage that arises is purely economic damage, the locus damni is a pure coincidence (in the case of a corporation suffering damage: the seat of that corporation), bearing no relation to the facts of the case at all (lest it be entirely coincidental). The Advocate General skilfully distinguishes all relevant CJEU precedent and in succinct yet complete style comes to his conclusion.

The Court itself embraces its Bier ruling more emphatically than its AGs do (see the similar experience of Cruz Villalon AG in Hejduk).  That Universal Music is quite clearly distinguishable from other cases may sway it to follow the AG in the case at issue. However its fondness of Bier (judgment in 1976; it had been a hot summer that year) may I fear lead it to stick to its fundamental twin track of Erfolg /Handlungsort no matter the circumstances of the case.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 2.2.11.2, 2.2.11.2.7

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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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