Posts Tagged Netherlands

Kiobel v Shell in The Netherlands. Court confirms jurisdiction anchored unto mother holding and qualifies the suit as one in human rights: not tort. Also orders limited use of documents obtained in US discovery and limited continuation of the trial.

Update 26 July 2019 the English version of the judgment is now available here.

In January 2017 I reported that Ms Kiobel, following failure to convince the USSC of jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute, subsequently initiated proceedings in the Dutch courts to try and sue Shell over the case. (Evidently unrelated to the pursuit of Shell in The Netherlands on environmental grounds – a case which is still pending upon appeal).

The court in first instance at the Hague on 1 May accepted jurisdiction against

  • both the mother holding. That was not at all under discussion: this is done via Article 4 Brussels Ia’s domicile rule. Use of Article 33 /34’s forum non conveniens-light mechanism was not suggested;
  • two English-incorporated Shell daughters using Article 8(1) of the Brussels I a Regulation; and
  • the Nigerian daughter company. Against the Nigerian daughter company, jurisdiction needs to be anchored unto the Dutch mother holding using Article 7 of the Dutch CPR, which is a near carbon copy of Article 8(1) Brussels Ia, whose CJEU authority is followed by Dutch courts in the interpretation of the Dutch residual rule.

Coming so soon after the UKSC in Vedanta the Dutch case has received quite a bit of attention. After first not considering an English translation (not surprisingly; these are the Dutch courts, not a World Service), the clerks have now announced that there will be one, coming up some time soon.

Readers of the blog will expect me to hold the judgment against a clear jurisdictional and conflict of laws lens – in doing so, I fear I have to be a little bit less optimistic than media soundbites following the case.

Jurisdictional issues were in the end dealt with fairly summarily. Most attention went to issues of evidence and discovery, as well as a first review of the substance of the case.

Of note is:

  • At 4.3: acceptance by all parties of of Nigerian law as the lex causae; if need be, choice of law by all parties for Nigerian law as the lex causae. Rome II is not applicable ratione temporis. The case has this in common with the Milieudefensie case against Shell. This being a civil law jurisdiction, ius novit curia applies. The court has taken into account parties’ submissions on Nigerian law yet has also conducted its own research. Foreign law is ‘law’ in the civil law; not ‘fact’ as in the common law.
  • Claimants suggest that in the events in Ogoniland Shell acted as one organisation and treated the issue as one engaging the Shell concern as a whole (4.7 in fine);
  • Claimants purposedly do not wish their claim to be qualified as one engaging piercing of the corporate veil; duty of care; shareholders responsibility; or tort of negligence. Rather, as one engaging the Shell concern directly in a suit on infringement of human rights included in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) and the Nigerian constitution. Tort is only suggested as an alternative should the court not follow the arguments on the basis of human rights (4.8).
  • At 4.12 the Court accepts the horizontal direct effect of human rights under Nigerian law, referring for that finding to Nigerian case-law. At 4.19 the Court notes the absence of statutes of limitation for human rights violations under Nigerian law: thus qualifying this as an issue of substance (lex causae), not procedure (lex fori). It revisits the statute of limitation issue at 4.47 ff (holding that under Nigerian law the suits can still be brought).
  • At 4.26 the court applies A8(1) BIa and A7 Dutch CPR in globo, given the same lines of interpretation, and finds succinctly that all conditions (Kalfelis; Roche Nederland; The Tatry) are met. It remarks at 4.26 in fine that given the same situation of law and fact, it was predictable for all parties that they might end up being sued in any of their corporate siblings’ domicile.
  • At 4.27 the court discussed summary dismissal. As seen in Vedanta, despite Owusu European courts are within their rights to reject the case in summary judgment if there is no ‘real issue’ to be tried against the anchor defendant. However this only applies against non-EU based defendants. Application of Article 8(1) does not allow such summary dismissal for EU-based defendants (see also C-103/05 Reisch Montage). The Hague court reviews summary dismissal only vis-a-vis the Nigerian defendant but finds succinctly that the suit is not prima facie without merit. There is a serious issue to be tried.
  • At 4.28 interestingly the Court rejects relevance of the High Court and the Court of Appeal‘s dismissal of jurisdiction in Okpabi, arguing that these courts employed ‘English law’. This underscores the argument I have made elsewhere, that there is a serious blank in the discussion on lex causae for the duty of care or, depending on the case, the piercing issue. The Dutch court here notes without hesitation that the English courts apply lex fori to that test, and so therefore, I am assuming, should they (meaning Dutch law in their case)?
  • At 4.29 it looks as if the Court considers some kind of reflexive argument which defendants seem to have made. Namely that the Dutch courts should respect the exclusive jurisdictional head under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) – FREP Rules, for the Federal High Court in cases involving alleged infringement of human rights. However the Dutch court considers this a mere internal jurisdictional distribution rule, which does not hinder the Dutch courts in their assessment of the claims. There is no written or unwritten rule in Dutch private international law which suggests such deference to a Nigerian civil procedure rule.

Importantly, a great deal of attention at 4.30 ff  goes to the debate on the use of documents obtained in US discovery, in the Dutch proceedings. A fair amount of these had to be returned following a confidentiality agreement in the US proceedings. Claimants make recourse to Article 6 ECHR to regain access for use in the Dutch proceedings however the Dutch court curtails much of that. Common law discovery rules are notoriously more claimant friendly than those of the civil law (a comment also made by Marsh CM in Glaxo v Sandoz). It leads to Shell not having to turn over quite a large part of the documents claimants had hoped to use. [Note 18 May 2019 in my original post of 17 May I had ‘common’ law and ‘civil law’ accidentally mixed up in the previous sentence].

At 4.58 ff the Court then turns to the substance of the case for case management reasons, with a view to determining which parts of the claim may be made subject to further proof. It holds in a way which I imagine must have been very disappointing for claimants. Only limited claims (of the Nigerian daughter’s involvement in the bribing of witnesses) will be allowed to continue.

The court held that claims of controlling meddling in the Nigerian court proceedings were not proven with sufficient force for these claims to continue – instead it held that Shell’s policy of silent diplomacy, in line with its business policies, had been consistently carried out.

All in all I would suggest claimants have scored clear points on jurisdiction, minor points on discovery and a disappointing outcome for them on substance. Albeit that the witness bribe leg may still lead to a finding of human rights infringement.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2.

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Ordre Public in Bankruptcy. The Dutch Supreme Court confirms non-recognition of Yukos liquidation order.

The Dutch Supreme Court late in January has confirmed the lower court’s decision (see my report here) in Yukos, not to recognise the Russian liquidation order of 1 August 2006 regarding OAO Yukos Oil Company. The decision to recognise or not evidently is based on residuary Dutch conflict of laws (the Insolvency Regulation is not engaged).

At 4.1.3 the Supreme Court emphasises that the principle of mutual trust does not apply, as it would do between EU jurisdictions. It then does not perform the entire ordre public exercise from scratch, rather assesses whether the lower court properly carried out said analysis (as befits its role as a Supreme Court). Which it finds, the Court of Appeals did. Its ordre public check did not in the abstract test Russian court proceedings, rather tested whether the precise conduct of all involved parties led to use of the judicial system in a way which compromises the core Dutch legal order (see for more detail on that, my earlier post).

Textbook ordre public.

Geert.

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The Brussels International Business Court – Council of State continues to resist.

Update 21 March 2019 the proposal has now been torpedoed by one of the parties formerly serving in Belgium’s government – the BIBC will not be created for the time being.

Update 12 December 2018. The most recent proposal, the one actually adopted in Committee, is here. Note i.a. (Article 20) that the Committee has thankfully (see below) not followed the silly rules on languages. Whether the proposal will lead to law, remains to be seen: as we speak, the Belgian Government has turned into a minority government and not much is certain to go ahead before the next elections (May 2019).

I have reported twice before on the BIBC – once viz the initial version and a second time with my short report for the Parliamentary Hearing. I have now had a minute to review the Council of State’s comments on the amended version – among others with a view to preparing for next week’s conference on hybrid courts in Doha. Note that the Council of State here acts in its advisory function: essentially its opinions aim to improve draft statute so as to avoid future litigation.

What is clear from these recent comments is that the Council does not at all embrace the regulatory competition incentives which lie at the heart of the proposal, in particular in its view on how a matter may be made ‘international’ so as to justify engagement of the BIBC. Its view (let alone the Justice Council’s fear for forum shopping?!: encouraging such shopping being the very raison d’etre of the Act) contradicts the CJEU’s flexible stance on the issue as apparent eg in Vinyls Italia. As I noted in my comments before the Committee, it is a rather odd indeed parochial requirement to insist on parties having used English in their correspondence, before they can validly engage the BIBC. Even the suggested amendment that the use of languages other than Belgium’s three official ones (French, Dutch, German) should suffice, is not convincing to the Council. One hopes the drafters will ignore the Council’s hesitation at this point.

The Council does not of course engage in the political discussions surrounding the proposal: in particular, whether in a country in which the court system arguably does not operate to satisfaction, the creation of an international commercial court may compound, rather than remedy issues.

Geert.

 

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The Brussels International Business Court – My notes for the parliamentary hearing.

Update 6 August 2018 the report of the hearing in Dutch and French is here.

I was at the Belgian Parliament yesterday for a hearing on the BIBC, following publication of the Government’s draft bill. For those of you who read Dutch, my notes are attached. We were limited to two pages of comments – the note is succinct.

An important change vis-a-vis the initial version (on which I commented here) is that the Court will now be subject to Belgian private international law (including primacy of EU instruments) for choice of law, rather than being able to pick the most appropriate law (arbitration panel style). That brings the court firmly within Brussels I. Also note my view and references on the Court being able to refer to the CJEU for preliminary review.

Geert.

 

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Heavily loaded. Applicable law in follow-up competition cases: watch the Dutch Supreme court in Air Cargo.

Update March 2018. Quentin’s blog has a link to the SC decision refusing to take the case, considering it was academic given that an appeal against the decision of the European Commission is still pending before the EU courts. It has therefore not irreversibly been decided whether the eleven air carriers had violated European competition law. Most probably the case will be back, one imagines.

Quentin Declève alerted me to the Air Cargo damages compensation case currently making its way through the Dutch courts. (I have previously reported on jurisdictional issues re such cases; searching the tag ‘damages’ should help the reader).

I have difficulty locating the actual judgment addressing the issue in this post: namely applicable law in follow-up competition cases. I have however located one or two previous judgments addressing the damages claims assignment issue in same. This web of litigation seems to be particularly knotty and any help by Dutch or other readers would be appreciated.

At issue is whether Rome II applies to the facts ratione temporis; if it does, how Article 6 should be applied, in particular: locus delicti commissi, locus damni and ‘affected markets”; and if it does not, how the previous Dutch residual connecting factor ought to apply.

A case of great relevance to competition law and fair trading cases.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.2.

 

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The Brussels International Business Court – BIBC: Some initial thoughts.

Update 9 Mach 2018 for the rules of procedure of the International Commercial
Chambers of the Amsterdam District Court (Netherlands Commercial Court) and the
Amsterdam Court of Appeal (Netherlands Commercial Court of Appeal) (The NCC Rules) see here.

I was asked yesterday (interview in Dutch) for my thoughts on the Belgian Government’s plans for a Brussels International Business Court. Here goes, in bullet-points format, a slightly extended and more technical version of those preliminary thoughts:

  • Three and more’s a crowd. The Belgian move of course is not the first and neither will it be the last. Even pre-Brexit, Member States (and even individual cities within Member States; see Michiel Poesen recently on Frankfort) were vying for the title of preferred place for litigation.
  • Brexit evidently may be a game-changer. I have flagged repeatedly that post-Brexit and assuming there will be no deal which would roll-over the UK’s engagement with EU civil procedure law, UK courts will become a lot less attractive. This is due to the more cumbersome recognition and enforcement regime that will be the result of decoupling from Brussels I. The same incidentally does not apply to arbitration. Pre and post Brexit, deal or not, free movement of arbitral awards is subject to the New York Convention.
  • Attractiveness as a centre of litigation and legal services is part of regulatory competition. Being known as a place of legal know-how and expedited litigation brings prestige as well as attractive billable hours to the law firms of one’s country.
  • Crucially, in an attempt to prise litigation away from London in particular, the use of English in proceedings is always the eye-catcher for the media. However in reality the language of proceedings is to my experience not the defining issue in client’s forum shopping strategies. Know-how of the bench; speed of proceedings; transparency of case-law; and of course ease of recognition and enforcement, are much more so. The Belgian proposal acknowledges as much by touting in particular the ‘collegiality’ and ‘expertise’ of the pool of (domestic and foreign) commercial law experts that will populate the court.
  • Unwittingly perhaps but without a doubt, the proposal in flagging the benefits of the BIBC, also highlights the well-known disadvantages of the Belgian courts in ordinary: tardiness of proceedings (the ‘Belgian’ torpedo) in particular. However also very much so, intransparency (as I have repeatedly signalled: access to Belgian case law continues to be highly problematic) and lack of collegiality among the bench: being a judge is a lonely professional existence in Belgium. Professional secrecy rules, practicalities (lack of proper office space), and the aforementioned reporting issues work against Belgian jurisprudence presenting itself as coherent.
  • At a technical level, the proposal emphasises repeatedly that the BIBC will be a court. Not an arbitral tribunal. The difference lies particularly in the easy or enforcement. The draft Bill loudly talks the talk in this respect. But does it walk the walk? What a ‘court’ means within the context of EU civil procedure law is of course the prerogative of that EU law: not of the Member States. (I refer to recent blog posts on same). Extensive reference to UNCITRAL’s Model Law on international commercial arbitration is a strange prop to use in the draft, if the idea is to take one’s attention away from arbitration. The BIBC will only take cases in the event of prorogation (choice of court or submission). The pool of judges will mostly be taken from part-timers, not benchers. Most importantly, in my mind: Article 43 of the draft instructs the BIBC, with respect to choice of law, to respect parties’ choice of governing law, and, in the absence of such law, ‘to apply the law determined by the conflict of laws rules which it considers applicable’. This is a copy /paste from Article 28(2) of the Model Law. In footnote the Act suggests that by omitting the third para of said Law (‘The arbitral tribunal shall decide ex aequo et bono or as amiable compositeur only if the parties have expressly authorized it to do so’), the Bill emphasises the nature of the BIBC as court. It does not. Courts are simply subject to Rome I and II when it comes to applicable law. They do not just ‘consider a law applicable’.

Much to chew on. My analysis is based on a draft Bill which a little bird sent me. This is probably not the final say on the BIBC. (On an aside: @BIBC is already taken. I can think of one or two Twitter Handles which the BE government may want to snap up before someone else does).

Geert.

 

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Shell holding hauled before Dutch court for infringement of environmental law in Nigeria – All left to be decided

It has been widely reported that Shell’s top holding has been hauled before a Dutch court by a Dutch environmental NGO (Milieudefensie), seeking (with a number of Nigerian farmers) to have the mother holding being held liable for environmental pollution caused in Nigeria. Readers will be aware of Shell being in the docket once or twice these days for so-called ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) issues (see here for relevant links).

The media have been somewhat wrongfooted in reporting on the issue. Establishing jurisdiction in an EU court vis-a-vis a company with seat in the EU, is not exactly rocket science. It is a simple application of the Brussels I Regulation. As readers will be aware, the Court of Justice of the EU has barred national courts from even pondering rejection of such jurisdiction (Owusu: rejection of forum non conveniens considerations).

What is interesting, is the fact that Milieudefensie and the individual applicants are also pursuing the Nigerian daughter company in The Netherlands. In an interim ruling going back to 2009, the court held that the case against the Nigerian daughter may prima facie at least be bundled with the case against the mother holding. I understand however that the bundling issue will be revisited in the proceedings which started yesterday.

Moreover, under the Rome II Regulation, the Dutch court near inevitably will have to apply the lex loci damni i.e. Nigerian law, both against mother and daughter. That not only means that (presumably stricter) EU environmental standards will be out off reach, it also leaves the question  whether under Nigerian law (indeed the same would have been the case under Dutch law), in substance the mother can actually be held liable for activities of its daughter.

Finally, were daughter Shell to be held liable, enforcement would have to be sought in Nigeria. Rejection of such enforcement by Nigerian courts is not unlikely.

One assumes that not many of the legal hesitations signaled above will be of much concern to the NGO involved: publicity for the wider CSR issue is arguably what is sought. This begs the more conceptual question whether overall sustainable development is assisted by having courts in ‘developed’ countries exercise jurisdiction and apply ‘developed’ law to cases such as these.

Geert.

ps for Dutch readers, I have an op-Ed on the case, in Dutch, here.

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