Posts Tagged Piercing the corporate veil

SCOTUS holding in Bristol-Myers Squibb BMS further restricts personal jurisdiction in State courts.

I have reported before (search tag ‘CSR’ or ‘ATS) on the personal jurisdiction cases in US litigation. The United State Supreme Court this morning held in Bristol-Meyers Squibb, BMS for short. For background see earlier reporting in this post. California was held not to have jurisdiction for claims brought by non-residents. In her dissenting Opinion justice Sotomayor notes the important impact of the ruling, suggesting that a corporation that engages in a nationwide course of conduct cannot now be held accountable in a state court by a group of injured people unless all of those people were injured in the forum State.  Precedent evidently includes Bauman.

Judgment and opinion include many interesting takes on personal jurisdiction and how it should be managed.

Kenneth Argentieri and Yuanyou (Sunny) Yang have an interesting suggestion here, that ‘plaintiffs will continue to develop creative arguments to obtain jurisdiction over defendants in their preferred jurisdictions, for example, by arguing that a corporation’s registration to do business in a state or designation of an agent to accept service in a state constitute consent to the jurisdiction in that state. Circuit and state courts are currently split on this issue, and the United States Supreme Court has not yet ruled on it.’ We are not a the end of the personal jurisdiciton road.

Geert.

 

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Garcia v Total Gabon: Stay of English proceedings with (potential) lis alibi ex-EU.

Thank you very much indeed Sarah Venn and Emma Hynes both for flagging Garcia v BIH, Total Gabon and Sigma, [2017] EWHC 739 (Admlty), and (Emma) for providing me with copy (Bailii are not yet running it). This case is extremely suited to an oral exam of conflict of laws: in a written exam to many issues would have to be discussed. (Mine this term are mostly written. Hence I’ll run this piece early).

Claimant is a French national who worked as a professional diver offshore Gabon, West Africa, and suffered catastrophic brain injury which he blames on poor working practices on the second defendant’s site (Total Gabon), which is where he was working. He was employed by first defendant BIH, a UK based company, with choice of court and governing law made for English courts cq English law. First defendant is clearly domiciled in the UK and the Brussels I Regulation clearly applies to it. The third defendant Sigma, was contracted by Total Gabon. Claimant’s position is that he was deployed by BIH to work under the control of Sigma on the site which was, or should have been, supervised by Total Gabon. Total Gabon claim the contractual relationships between it and Sigma prevent a claim against the former.

BIH is small fish which may even have been struck off the company register. It is clear that plaintiff will not receive from BIH the amounts he needs for his constant medical care.

A default judgment was issued against BIG who did not engage with proceedings – at any rate jurisdiction against BIG per Owusu (with which readers of this blog are now ad nauseam familiar) could not be dismissed; . Total Gabon contest jurisdiction on the basis that England and Wales is not the appropriate forum.

This is not said in so many words in the Judgment however the presence of an anchor defendant per Article 4 Brussels I Recast, is of no relevance where the co-defendants are not domiciled in the EU. The regulation cannot be used to justify such anchor, residual conflicts rules take over.

Jervis Kay QC AR considers many cases which I have reported on before: VTB, Owusu, Lungowe, Spiliada. Lungowe in particular is considered by Mr Kay, including the issue of abuse of the use of anchor defendants and (at 23 in fine) the acknowledgment, implicitly (I wrote it explicitly in my review of the case) that of course EU precedent in this respect is pro inspiratio only.  Applying English residual conflicts rules, the judge then reviews whether there is a serious case (‘a real prospect of succeeding’) that could be made against Total Gabon, either one in tort or one in contractual liability. He found there is such real prospect, for both, but especially for tort.

However the case eventually (access to justice issues in Gabon were not flagged neither discussed) stumbles on the question whether the English courts would be the most appropriate forum: it is found they are not. Inspiration is found especially in Erste Group Bank [2015] EWCA Civ 379, a case in which forum non conveniens was applied even against an England-domiciled defendant because there had already been submission to Russian jurisdiction. In Garcia, the Court applies Erste per analogiam: the parallel, Mr Kay suggests, is that the case against the first defendant has effectively been wrapped up. The spectre of competing judgments therefore, Mr Kay holds, does not arise (at 36) and England is therefore not the appropriate forum. If the case is appealed I would imagine this altogether brief consideration of appropriateness and the parallel seen with Erste, I would imagine would be its Achiless heel.

(One of the considerations which defendant, per VTB, considers, is that as a rule of thumb, Gleichlauf is to be preferred (I have often found this a less attractive part of the Supreme Court’s ruling). Which is why defendant considers Rome II: if the English courts were to hear the case, they would have to apply Rome II even if their jurisdiction is a result of residual English conflicts rules).

An alternative action for Mr Garcia, one imagines, would have been (or perhaps it still is) to use Total France SA as anchor in France, to try and have the subsidiary’s actions assigned to it: a more classic CSR case.

Anyways, I think you will agree that one could have a good chinwag on this judgment at oral exam.

Geert.

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Dutch Shell Nigeria / Royal Dutch Shell ruling: anchor jurisdiction confirmed against Nigerian daughter.

Update 21 March a mirror case is going ahead in the High Court in London: jurisdiction against the mother company again is easily established because of Shell’s incorporation in the UK (its corporate headquarters are in The Netherlands (which is also where it has its tax residence). The High Court has allowed proceedings against Shell Nigeria to be joined. Shell is expected to argue forum non conveniens at a later stage.

Postscript 1 March 2016 in Xstrata Limited /Glencore Xstrata plc ., similar issues of corporate social responsibility and liability for a subsidiary’s actions are at stake.

As I have reported in December, the Gerechtshof Den Haag confirmed jurisdiction against Shell’s Nigerian daughter company. (Please note the link first has the NL version of the judmgent, followed by an EN translation). The proceedings can be joined with the suit against the mother company Royal Dutch Shell (RDS, headquartered in The Netherlands whence easily sued on the basis of Article 4 Brussels I Recast (Article 2 of the Regulation applicable to the proceedings)). I have finally gotten round to properly reading the court’s judgment (which deals with jurisdiction issues only). As I have pointed out, Article 6(1) (now 8(1) of the Brussels I Recast) cannot be used against defendants not domiciled in the EU. Dutch rules on joinders applied therefore. The Gerechtshof however took CJEU precedent into account, on the basis that the preparatory works of the relevant Dutch rules on civil procedure reveal that they were meant to be so applied. Consequently a lot of CJEU precedent is reviewed (the most recent case quoted is CDC). The Gerechtshof eventually holds that lest it were prima facie established that liability of RDS for the actions committed by its Nigerian daughter is clearly unfounded, use of RDS as an anchor can go ahead. Only clearly abusive attempts at joinders can be sanctioned. (A sentiment most recently echoed by the CJEU in Sovag).

The Gerechtshof Den Haag, without being definitive on the issue, also suggested that applicable law for considering whether merger operations inserting a new mother company were abusive (merely carried out to make Royal Dutch Shell escape its liability), had to be addressed using ‘among others’ the lex incorporationis (at 3.2). That is not undisputed. There are other candidates for this assessment.

The judgment being limited to jurisdiction, this case is far from over.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2

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Just did not do it. USCA confirms strict attributability test in Ranza v Nike.

Update 21 June 2016 see also application with respect to the extraterritorial impact of the US ‘Rico’ (anti-racketeering) Act in RJR Nabisco, Inc. V European Community.

In Ranza v Nike, the Court of Appeal for the ninth circuit confirmed the high hurdle to establish personal jurisdiction over foreign corporations in the US, following the Supreme Court’s decisions in Kiobel and Bauman /Daimler. Trey Childress has good summary here and I am happy largely to refer.

Loredana Ranza is a US citisen, resident in the EU (first The Netherlands; Germany at the time of the court’s decision). She seeks to sue against her Dutch employer, Nike BV, and its parent corporation, Nike inc. for alleged violation of federal laws prohibiting sex and age discrimination. The Dutch equality Commission had earlier found the allegations unfounded under Dutch law.

Of particular interest are the Court’s views on the attributability test /piercing the corporate veil following Daimler and Kiobel. The Court held (p.15 ff) that prior to Daimler, personal jurisdiction over the mother company could be established using either the agency or the alter ego test, with the former now no longer available following Daimler. Under the Agency test, effectively a type of abus de droit /fraus /fraud, plaintiff needed to show that the subsidiary performed services which were sufficiently important to the foreign corporation that if it did not have a representative to perform them, the corporation’s own officials would undertake to perform substantially similar services. Daimler, the Court suggested in Ranza, held that the agency test leads to too broad a jurisdictional sweep. That leaves the alter ego test: effectively, whether the actions prima facie carried out by the subsidiary, are in fact carried out by the mother company for it exercises a degree of control over the daughter which renders that daughter the mother’s alter ego. Not so here, on the facts of the case: Nike Inc, established in Oregon, is heavily involved in Nike BV’s macromanagement, but not so ‘enmeshed’ in its routine management of day-to-day operation, that the two companies should be treated as a single enterprise for the purposes of jurisdiction.

For good measure, the Court also confirmed application of dismissal of jurisdiction on the basis of forum non conveniens.

Geert.

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Royal Dutch Shell. Watch those stockings. Nigeria / RDS judgment on appeal expected end December.

Postscript 1 March 2016 in Xstrata Limited /Glencore Xstrata plc ., similar issues of corporate social responsibility and liability for a subsidiary’s actions are at stake.

Postscript 18 December: quick update, more to follow: in an interim judgment, jurisdiction was upheld.

I have earlier referred to Shell’s arguments in appeal (in Dutch) on the specific issue of jurisdiction, which may be found here .  Judgment in first instance in fact, as I reported, generally was quite comforting for Shell (and other holding companies in similar situations) on the issue of substantive liability.

However on jurisdiction, the Dutch court’s approach of joinders under residual national jurisdictional rules, was less comforting. The rules on joinders, otherwise known as ‘anchor defendants’, in the Brussels regime (Brussels I as well as the Recast) do not apply to defendants domiciled outside of the EU. Consequently national rules of civil procedure decide whether an action against a daughter company, established outside of the EU, can be successfully anchored to an action against the mother company (against which jurisdiction is easily established per Article 4 of the Recast, Article 2 of the former Regulation). In first instance, the Court at The Hague ruled in favour of joining a non-EU defendant to a case against its mother company in The Netherlands.

In its submission for appeal, Shell (with reference to relevant national case-law) borrows heavily from CJEU case-law on what was Article 6(1) (now Article 8(1)), suggesting that Dutch residual law was meant to apply as a mirror the European regime, with one important difference: precisely the issue that under the Dutch regime, none of the parties need to be domiciled in The Netherlands. Any jurisdictional rule which leads the Dutch courts to accept jurisdiction against one defendant, even if that anchor defendant is not domiciled in the country, can lead to others being drawn into the procedure. This means, so Shell suggests, that the Dutch rule (Article 7(1) of the Dutch code of civil procedure) is more in need of precautions against abuse, than the equivalent European rule.

As part of the efforts to avoid abuse, the Dutch courts need to make a prima facie assessment of the claims against the anchor defendant: for if those claims are spurious, anchoring other claims to such loose ground would be abusive. On this point, the Court of Appeal will have to discuss the corporate veil, piercing it, Chandler v Cape etc. Shell’s submission does not in fact argue why piercing needs to be assessed by the lex causae (here: Nigerian law as the lex loci damni) and not, for instance, by the lex fori. I doubt the Court of appeal will raise it of its own accord. (See here for a consideration of the issues in an unrelated area and further pondering here).

A little bird tells me that appeal judgment will be issued on 18 December. I may or may not be able to review that before the Christmas break. In the negative, it will have to be an Epiphany posting. (Potentially in more than one meaning of the word).

Geert.

 

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Doe v Nestle and Tiffany v China Merchants Bank et al: The concertina effect of the Alien Torts Statute

I may yet have to insert a special category ‘ATS’ in the ‘Categories’ on the right hand side of this blog. Distinguishing, and precedent application alike keep on stretching cq enforcing the USCC’s decision in Kiobel.

On the precedent side of the debate,  Tiffany v China Merchants Bank et al , the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals took the application of Kiobel in Daimler as cue for a refusal of the recognition of Asset Restraints and Discovery Orders against a Bank with merely branch offices in New York. The Bank’s sites of incorporation and principal places of business are all outside of the US. With reference to Daimler, the Court held that there is no basis on which to conclude that the Bank’s contacts in New York are so ‘continuous and systematic’ judged against their national and global activities, that they are ‘essentially at home’ in the State.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Doe v Nestle reversed the lower court’s decision to dismiss ATS claims and arguably indeed adopted an extensive view of ‘aiding and abetting’ within the context of ATS: ‘Driven by the goal to reduce costs in any way possible, the defendants allegedly supported the use of child slavery, the cheapest form of labor available. These allegations explain how the use of child slavery benefitted the defendants and furthered their operational goals in the Ivory Coast, and therefore, the allegations support the inference that the defendants acted with the purpose to facilitate child slavery.’ : these allegations were considered to even meet the supposedly stricter ‘purpose’ test. Defendant’s market power and control over operations abroad seemed to have played an important role.

Applicants have now been allowed to re-plead given the intervening judgments by the USSC (the Doe v Nestle case has been running for a while)- watch this space, yet again.

Geert.

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Anglo American: The Court of Appeal on ‘Central Administration’ in Brussels-I

In Anglo-American South Africa, the Court of Appeal held mid July on the application of the definition of corporate ‘domicile’ in the Brussels I-Regulation. Specific context was the use of the English courts under the Brussels I Regulation, by a Botswana-born plaintiff, against a South Africa incorporated company, part of the Anglo-American PLC group of companies. Anglo-American itself are incorporated in England, hence a case against them would have been straightforward (under Article 2 of the Regulation) however would not have had any merit: there was no suggestion that Anglo-American were in any way at fault for the behaviour of one of the employees of one of their corporate affiliates.

For a company, legal person or association of natural persons, Article 60 of the Regulation (in contrast with the provision for natural persons, which refers to national conflicts law to determine the concept) aims to encourage harmonisation by listing three possible locations only, for the determination of corporate domicile: statutory seat (a term not known in English or Irish law: hence Article 60(2) refers to registered office or place of incorporation; central administration; and principal place of business.

Evidently this troika of criteria does not rule out positive jurisdiction conflicts – it does help address negative ones (ie where no court claims jurisdiction).

It was for the Court of Appeal to decide whether under the rules of the Brussels I-Regulation, AASA could be found to have their central administration in England (place of incorporation and principal place of business not having any calling). Justifiable reference was made to the fact that the concept needs to be given an EU (‘autonomous’) meaning. ECJ case-law on the exact issue is however, non-existent (reference in the judgment was made to Daily Mail, ECJ case-law on the freedom of establishment, and to relevant German case-law).

Aikens LJ essentially agreed with the analysis in first instance by Smith J, that ‘the correct interpretation of “central administration” in Article 60(1)(b), when applied to a company, is that it is the place where the company concerned, through its relevant organs according to its own constitutional provisions, takes the decisions that are essential for that company’s operations. That is, to my mind, the same thing as saying it is the place where the company, through its relevant organs, conducts its entrepreneurial management; for that management must involve making decisions that are essential for that company’s operation’. (at 45).

This is in contrast with (at 39) both place of incorporation, and principal place of business: ‘the first is the domicile for the purpose of the internal laws of the state where the company is incorporated. It will usually be identified in its Memorandum and Articles of Association or equivalent. The third is the place where the company does its principal “business”. Where that is must be a question of fact in each case.

The case is an interesting attempt at forum shopping, with a certain relevance for the corporate social responsibility debate: by suggesting that the place of central administration is the very head of the corporate spider web, plaintiffs can sue directly in Europe. This case shows however that such suggestion is not easily substantiated. Neither would it necessarily assist much at the applicable law stage.

Geert.

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