VKI v Amazon. Readers who read this item should also read plenty of others.

C-191/15 Verein für Konsumenteninformation v Amazon SarL is one of those spaghetti bowl cases, with plenty of secondary law having a say on the outcome. In the EU purchasing from Amazon (on whichever of its extensions) generally implies contracting with the Luxembourg company (Amazon EU) and agreeing to Luxembourg law as applicable law. Amazon has no registered office or establishment in Austria. VKI is a consumer organisation which acted on behalf of Austrian consumers, seeking an injunction prohibiting terms in Amazon’s GTCs (general terms and conditions), specifically those which did not comply with Austrian data protection law and which identified Luxembourg law as applicable law.

Rather than untangle the bowl for you here myself, I am happy to refer to masterchef Lorna Woods who can take you through the Court’s decision (with plenty of reference to Saugmandsgaard Øe’s Opinion of early June). After readers have consulted Lorna’s piece, let me point out that digital economy and applicable EU law is fast becoming a quagmire. Those among you who read Dutch can read a piece of mine on it here. Depending on whether one deals with customs legislation, data protection, or intellectual property, different triggers apply. And even in a pure data protection context, as prof Woods points out, there now seems to be a different trigger depending on whether one looks intra-EU (Weltimmo; Amazon) or extra-EU (Google Spain).

The divide between the many issues addressed by the Advocate General and the more narrow analysis by the CJEU, undoubtedly indeed announces further referral.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.5.

Unjust enrichment under Rome II. The High Court in Banque Cantonale de Genève.

RPC and Sarah Shaul it seems, like me, are hoovering up database backlog – once again thank you to their excellent blog for alerting me to Banque Cantonale de Genève v Polevent. Other than the direct impact for the interpretation of Rome II‘s Article 10, and its relation with Article 4’s general rule, an important lesson from the case to me seems to be, yet again, the relevance of the articulation of claims, for the determination of jurisdiction.

Facts are as follows (at 2 ff). Claimant (“BCGE”) is a bank in Geneva. On 24 March 2104 a man calling himself Mr. Dumas telephoned BCGE and asked to speak to Yvan Nicolet of the accounting department. He was not in the office and so the call was taken by Jacqueline Konrad-Bertherin. Mr. Dumas asked her to send a confidential message to what he said was the private mail address of Eric Bourgeaux, the deputy CEO of BCGE. She did so and received a reply from someone claiming to be Mr. Bourgeaux instructing her to pay Euro 6,870,058 from BCGE to the Natwest Bank in London in favour of Polevent Limited. She did so. She believed she had been instructed to do so by Mr. Bourgeaux; but she had not been. The fraud was discovered and repayment was requested later that day.

Shortly before the fraud Natwest had been advised of a freezing order against Polevent in favour of an Italian company Enoi SpA (“Enoi”). The funds were therefore frozen in Polevent’s account with Natwest. BCGE has claimed damages from Polevent for deceit. BCGE accepts that that claim is governed by the law of Geneva. It has also advanced a claim against Polevent in restitution on the basis that the sum was paid by mistake. It claims that since Polevent must have realised that the sum was paid by mistake the conscience of Polevent was affected such that a constructive trust arises thereby providing BCGE with a proprietary claim in respect of the frozen funds. BCGE says that this proprietary claim is governed by English law.

Enoi is another creditor of Polevent. Enoi maintains that BCGE’s claim for restitution, in common with the claim is in deceit, is governed by the law of Geneva which does not recognise a proprietary claim. The resulting dispute is therefore between two creditors of Polevent. That company is in liquidation and has taken no part in this dispute.

 

The only preliminary issue which the High Court was asked to adjudicate on is worth repeating in full:

“On the basis of the facts as pleaded in the Amended Particulars of Claim and on the basis that the claim set out at paragraph 13 of the Amended particulars of Claim is governed by the law of Geneva, are the claims set out at paragraph 15 of the Amended particulars of Claim governed by English law or by the law of Geneva ? ”

One can appreciate why two different claims were formulated here.

For the claim in damages for deceit, BCGE accept Geneva law applies. The claim for restitution on the basis of unjust enrichment, however, is covered in its view by Article 10(3) Rome II: the law of the place in which the unjust enrichment took place, this being England, hence allowing for the existence of a constructive trust and priority in the pecking order following Polevent’s insolvency.

Enoi argue that the claim in restitution, like the claim in damages, is covered by the law of Geneva: at 9:

The submission of counsel for Enoi is that the law governing the claim in restitution is the law of Geneva by reason of Article 4(1) of Rome II. The claim arises out of the tort/delict of fraud and so the governing law is that of the place in which the damage occurred, namely, Geneva. Alternatively, the governing law is the law of Geneva pursuant to Article 10(1) on the grounds that the unjust enrichment concerns a relationship arising out of a tort/delict such that the governing law is that which governs that relationship, namely, the law of Geneva. In the further alternative the governing law is the law of Geneva pursuant to Article 10(4) on the grounds that the obligation arising out of the unjust enrichment is manifestly more closely connected with Geneva.

Both parties of course reverse engineer their governing law arguments: being aware of the attraction of one State’s laws over the other, counsel brief is to convince the court that the matter is characterised so that it leads to the warranted applicable law.

Enoi suggest that BCGE in reality have one claim only: one in fraud, a tort, it argues, from which the claim in unjust enrichment follows in a dependent fashion. Teare J disagrees (at 13). A claim in restitution need not be fault-based. It is a separate claim, to which Article 10’s regime applies (in the end leading to a finding of English law).

The judgment is in fact quite short. Its crucial implication to me would seem to be that BCGE has won the day by formulating two separate heads of action. Teare J acknowledges that his view may be an ‘unduly English law’ view, in other words, that he read the formulation of two claims at face value, as being two separate claims, because English law recognises non-fault based unjust enrichment. Regardless of the fact that other States, including European States, do so too, the obvious question is whether the EU’s qualification would be the same. The concept of unjust enrichment, like the concept of tort, necessarily needs to be an ‘autonomous’ one. Yet without much guidance in the preparatory works of Rome II on this concept, who can blame national law for filling in the blanks?

Geert.

(Handbook EU Private International Law, 2nd ed 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.7).

Rome II: A manifestly closer connection overrides common habitual residence. The High Court in Marshall v MIB.

Marshall v MIB [2015] EWHC 3421 (QB) involved a road traffic accident that occurred in France. On 19th August 2012 an uninsured Peugeot motor car registered in France driven by Ms Bivard, a French national, hit Mr Marshall and Mr Pickard, both British nationals, as they were standing behind a Ford Fiesta motor car and its trailer, while it was being attended to by a breakdown recovery truck on the side of a motorway in France. The Ford Fiesta motor car was registered in the UK and insured by Royal & Sun Alliance (“RSA”), and the recovery truck was registered in France and insured by Generali France Assurances (“Generali”). The Peugeot then collided with the trailer shunting it into the Ford Fiesta which in turn was shunted into the vehicle recovery truck. Mr Pickard suffered serious injuries. Mr Marshall died at the scene.

This case raises points about among others (1) the law applicable to an accident involving a number of persons and vehicles; and (2) the application of the French Loi Badinter to the facts of this case, if French law applies: The second main issue is if French law applies, whether the Ford Fiesta motor car and recovery truck are “involved” within the meaning of the Loi Badinter, which it is common ground is the applicable French statute. If those vehicles are “involved” it is common ground that RSA, as insurer of the Ford Fiesta, and Generali, as insurer of the recovery truck, are liable to Mrs Marshall, and that Generali, as insurer of the recovery truck, is liable to Mr Pickard.

Two actions were commenced. The first by Mrs Marshall (Mr Marshall’s widow) against the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (“the MIB”). Mrs Marshall relied on relevant English 2003 Regulations. The 2003 Regulations make the MIB liable in respect of liabilities of compensation bodies in other EEA states for losses caused by uninsured drivers. The relevant compensation body in France responsible for such losses is the Fonds de Garantie (“FdG”). The MIB denied liability, contending that the FdG would not be liable to Mrs Marshall because under the Loi Badinter Mr Pickard and RSA, as driver and insurer of the Ford Fiesta, and Generali, as insurers of the recovery truck, were liable. The second action was brought by Mr Pickard against the Motor Insurers’ Bureau relying on the 2003 Regulations. The MIB deny liability and contend that Generali, as insurers of the recovery truck, are liable to Mr Pickard.

The High Court was asked (1) what law applies per Article 4 Rome II, and (2) whether under the circumstances, Article 4(3) Rome II might have any relevance.

Save for Mrs Marshall’s claim for dependency which if English law applies is under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (“FAA 1976”), it is common ground that the direct damage occurred in France for all of the claims, including Mrs Marshall’s claim on behalf of Mr Marshall’s estate. In respect of the FAA 1976 claim, RSA (Mr Marshall’s insurers) submits that the direct damage occurred in the location where Mrs Marshall has suffered her loss of dependency, which is in England and Wales. Dingemans J resolves this issue of ricochet damage with reference to the AG’s Opinion in Lazar: the CJEU’s judgment in same was issued about a month after the High Court’s judgment in Marshall. The Advocate General, having regard to the relevant principles of consistency, foreseeability and certainty, in his opinion considered that “the damage occurs” for the purposes of a claim such as an FAA 1976 claim where the relevant death occurs. The AG noted that different EEA states took different approaches to the characterisation of a dependency claim. For example in both England and Italy it is considered that the damage for a loss of dependency occurs in the country where the dependant is situated, but that this is not a European wide approach. The opinion, Dingemans J notes, shows that the Advocate General was influenced by the need to avoid different Courts in different EEA states adopting different solutions to applicable law in fatal accident cases, which would lead to a diversity of approach in different jurisdictions.

The action between Mrs Marshall and Mr Pickard triggers Article 4(2) of the Rome II Regulation, identifying as applicable law the law of the country were both the ‘person’ claimed to be liable and the ‘person’ sustaining damage, are habitually resident at the time the damage occurs. Dingemans J rightly (at 17) dismisses the suggestion (made in scholarship) that the moment more than two ‘persons’ are involved, Article 4(2) becomes inoperable.

Turning then to Article 4(3), the escape clause of a ‘manifestly closer connection’. Dingemans J entertains the interesting proposition that Article 4(3) has to lead to a law different from the law which would be applicable per Article 4(1) or (2). This in particular would mean that once Article 4(2) is engaged, it cannot be undone by recourse to Article 4(3). Dingemans J insists that Article 4(3) must be employed generally, even if it leads to a resurrection of Article 4(1), and goes on to find French law to be applicable (at 19-20):

In my judgment this case provides an illustration of when French law is provided as the governing law under article 4(1), excluded (for part of the claims) under article 4(2), and then required again under article 4(3).

It is also common ground that article 4(3) imposes a “high hurdle” in the path of a party seeking to displace the law indicated by articles 4(1) or 4(2), and that it is necessary to show that the “centre of gravity” of the case is with the suggested applicable law. In this case there are a number of circumstances which, in my judgment, make it clear that the tort/delict is manifestly more closely connected with France than England and Wales. These are: first that both Mr Marshall and Mr Pickard were hit by the French car driven by Ms Bivard, a national of France, on a French motorway. Any claims made by Mr Marshall and Mr Pickard against Ms Bivard, her insurers (or the FdG as she had no insurers) are governed by the laws of France; secondly the collision by Ms Bivard with Mr Marshall and Mr Pickard was, as a matter of fact and regardless of issues of fault or applicable law, the cause of the accident, the injuries suffered by Mr Marshall and Mr Pickard and the subsequent collisions; and thirdly any claims that Mr Marshall and Mr Pickard have against Generali, as insurers of the vehicle recovery truck, are also governed by the laws of France.

This judgment to my knowledge, with Winrow v Hemphill  is one of few discussing Article 4(3)’s escape clause in such detail. (The add-on being that in Marshall Article 4(3) was found as being able to override Article 4(2). A judgment which, like Winrow, does justice to both the exceptional nature of the provision, and the need to consider all relevant factors.

Geert.

Ps very soon the Supreme Court will hear further argument on the application of the Rome II Regulation in Moreno v MIB.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Headings 4.5.1 and 4.5.2

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 in Eric Barizaa Dooh and Vereniging Milieudefensie v Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd. (Please note the link first has the NL version of the judgment, 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

(Polish) Ius novit (English) curia. The High Court settles Polish law in Syred v PZU.

Postscript 27 November 2017 for the opposite view in the common law (ius non novit curia) see recently [2015] UKEAT 0130_17_1110 Strickland v Kier.

As readers will be aware, the Rome II Regulation on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations, harmonises Member States’ governing law rules on non-contractual obligations (not entirely accurately known in short as ‘tort’). Article 15 clarifies that the scope of the law applicable is very wide, and indeed includes matters which may otherwise be considered to be procedural (hence subject to lex fori): I explained this mechanism in my posting on WallSyred V PZU again concerns Article 15(c) Rome II:

Article 15. Scope of the law applicable
The law applicable to non-contractual obligations under this Regulation shall govern in particular:
…(c) the existence, the nature and the assessment of damage or the remedy claimed;…

The case concerns contributory negligence and quantum of this claim by Mr Syred for injury loss and damage suffered in consequence of a road traffic accident in Poland on 10 February 2010. He and his then girlfriend Kate Cieslar were rear seat passengers in a Fiat Punto, driven by her brother Mr Michal Cieslar, which was involved in a collision with a BMW, being driven by Mr Waclaw Bednorz. The collision caused Mr Syred to be ejected from the Fiat and in consequence to suffer serious injuries, in particular to his brain. He has no memory of the accident. Judgment on primary liability against the Defendants was entered by consent in the two actions on 25 September 2012 and 1 July 2014. Ms Cieslar’s claim in respect of her injuries has been settled.

There is no dispute between the experts for the defence and the plaintiff that a rear seat passenger who fails to wear a seat belt is at fault and negligent for the purpose of the passenger’s civil claims for compensation under Polish law. The experts also agree that the next question in Polish law is whether such negligence caused the injuries or made them worse. They also agree that Polish law in respect of damages for non-pecuniary loss (i.e. the equivalent of general damages for pain and suffering) provides no fixed scales or guidelines relevant to the case and that the judge should seek to assess a reasonable sum taking into account the injuries suffered by the claimant and all the circumstances of the case. Common practice of the Polish civil courts, it was said, is to calculate the non-pecuniary element on the basis of a 2002 table contained in the Ordinance of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy. The Supreme Court of Poland had criticised this practice in civil courts, as too slavish to a social insurance scheme.

In Wall, the CA held that the word ‘law’ in Article 15 of Rome II should be construed broadly and includes practice, conventions and guidelines; so that the assessment of damages should be on that basis. That, Soole J notes here, leaves the question of what the English Court should do if the evidence shows that the foreign courts continue to follow a particular practice despite criticism from the Supreme Court of that country. It is noticeable that the High Court does not wish to impose a precedent rule where there is none (Poland following civil law tradition). However it would be equally impertinent to ignore the criticism of that Supreme Court, that the 2002 table must not be slavishly followed. Soole J therefore ends up taking guidance from the 2002 table, without slavishly following it.

What remains to be seen (as also noted by Matthew Chapman, who alerted me to the case) is whether the High Court may now serve as inspiration for the Polish court. Precedent outsourcing, as it were.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.8

I ask ergo I find out? Not necessarily so after judgment in Ergo Insurance and Gjensidige Baltic (distinguishing between contract and tort).

Is the relationship between two insurers, having covered liability for a towing vehicle cq a trailer, each subrogated in their insured’s rights and obligations, one of them currently exercising a claim against the other in partial recovery of the compensation due to the victim, non-contractual? That is the issue in Joined Cases C‑359/14 and C‑475/14 Ergo.

I reviewed Sharpston AG’s Opinion here. I believe the Court has confirmed her Opinion. However I am not entirely certain for the judgment is awkwardly phrased.

Like its AG, the CJEU dismisses a suggestion that Directive 2009/103 (relating to insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles, and the enforcement of the obligation to insure against such liability) includes a conflict of laws (applicable law) rule which is lex specialis vis-a-vis the Rome I Regulation. Indeed the Directive’s provisions do not indicate whatsoever that they can be stretched.

Then comes the core of the issue, the nature of the relationship underlying the claim. The AG had suggested this is contractual, using as I noted in my earlier posting, ‘centre of gravity’ (‘the centre of gravity of the obligation to indemnify is in the contractual obligation’); ‘rooted in’ (‘the recourse action by one insurer against the other…is rooted in the contracts of insurance’); and ‘intimately bound up’ (‘[the action] is intimately bound up with the two insurers’ contractual obligation‘). (at 62).

The Court did not repeat any of this terminology. It first suggests that the national court where the case is pending, needs to determine using Article 4 of Rome II (lex locus damni) whether the law so determined ‘provides for apportionment of the obligation to compensate for the damage’. This the AG had not expressly pondered, rather it may be implicit in her use of the conditional ‘where two or more insurers are jointly and severally liable’ ((only) used at 71 of her Opinion). Next, the Court holds, if there is such apportionment, the law applicable to the action for indemnity between the insurers of the tractor cq the trailer, needs to be determined using Article 7 of Rome I (which applies to insurance contracts).

The referring courts were looking I believe for more straightforward advice. Instead I fear the many conditions precedent expressed in the judgment may well leave plenty of room for counsel to further confuse these national courts. This arguably may have a knock-on effect given the repeated insistence by the CJEU that the provisions of Brussels I (Recast) on contract and tort, need to be applied in parallel with those of Rome I and II (not something I necessarily agree with but have come to accept as standing CJEU precedent).

Geert.

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.

 

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.

 

Of tractors and trailers. Insurance contracts, subrogration, contracts and torts. Sharpston AG on the scope of Rome I and II.

Update 22 January 2016 The CJEU held today. More on that judgment here.

First, a quick heads-up on precedent: the difference between ‘contract’ and tort’ in European private international law is crucial, as regular readers of this blog will have observed. Crucial, yet the concept is left undefined in the Brussels I (and Recast) Regulation (which has a different special jurisdictional rule for both), the Rome I Regulation on applicable law for contracts, and the Rome II Regulation on applicable law for torts. Undefined, for these foundational elements of private law are outside the reach of legal and political compromise in the legislative process. Yet courts of course do have to apply the rules and in doing so, have to distinguish between both.

The CJEU pushes an ‘autonomous’ EU definition of both concepts which in the past has led to the seminal findings in Jakob Handte (C-26/91) and Kalfelis. In Handte the Court held: the phrase ‘matters relating to a contract [ ] is not to be understood as covering a situation in which there is no obligation freely assumed by one party towards another.’ (the double negative exercised scholarship for some time). In Kalfelis the Court had earlier defined ‘tort’ as ‘all actions which seek to establish liability of a defendant and which are not related to a ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article 5(1).’ (5(1) has become 7(1) in the Recast).

Is the relationship between two insurers, having covered liability for a towing vehicle cq a trailer, each subrogated in their insured’s rights and obligations, one of them currently exercising a claim against the other in partial recovery of the compensation due to the victim, non-contractual?

Per Kalfelis, tort as a category is residual. Sharpston AG’s starting point in Joined Cases Ergo Insurance and AAS Gjensidige Baltic, Opinion issued yesterday, therefore is to examine whether the recourse action is essentially contractual in nature. In the negative, the action is non-contractual. The case is evidently made more complex by the underlying relationships between insurer and insured, and the presence of subrogration. In question is not therefore the relationship between the insurer and the victim: this is clearly non-contractual. The question is rather whether the action of one insurer against the other is contractual in nature, given the contractual relationship between insurer and insured, cq the non-contractual relationship between the insured and the victim.

Sharpston AG first gets two issues out of the way. Lithuania (both referred cases are pending in Lithuanian courts) is a signatory State to the Hague Convention on the law applicable to traffic accidents, which is left unaffected by Rome II by virtue of Article 28. However the Convention itself holds that it does not apply to recourse action and subrogation involving insurance companies. Further, a suggestion that Directive 2009/103 (relating to insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles, and the enforcement of the obligation to insure against such liability) includes a conflict of laws (applicable law) rule which is lex specialis vis-a-vis the Rome Regulation, was quickly dismissed. Indeed the Directive’s provisions do not indicate whatsoever that they can be stretched.

Then comes the core of the issue, the nature of the relationship underlying the claim. This, the AG suggests, is contractual. Relevant precedent referred to includes Brogsitter and OFAB. Essentially the AG puts forward an ancestry test: what is the ancestry of the action, without which the parties concerned would not be finding themselves pleading in a court of law?: she uses ‘centre of gravity’ (‘the centre of gravity of the obligation to indemnify is in the contractual obligation’); ‘rooted in’ (‘the recourse action by one insurer against the other…is rooted in the contracts of insurance’); and ‘intimately bound up’ (‘[the action] is intimately bound up with the two insurers’ contractual obligation‘). (at 62).

Incidentally, in para 20 of her Opinion the AG refers, in giving context, to the difference between Lithuanian and German law (the accidents both occurred in Germany) as regards the limitation periods for bringing a recourse action. In Rome II, limitation periods are included in Article 15 as being covered by the lex causae; ditto in Article 12 of Rome I. This pre-empts discussion on the matter for whether limitation periods are covered by lex fori (as a procedural issue) or the lex causae is otherwise not necessarily the same in all Member States.

If the CJEU confirms, preferably using the terminology of its AG, the tort /contract discussion in my view will have been helpfully clarified.

Geert.

Winrow v Hemphill: The High Court emphasises exceptional nature of ‘manifestly closer connected’ in Rome II. Clarifies ‘habitual residence’.

Winrow v Hemphill ([2014] EWHC 3164), involved a road traffic accident that occurred in Germany on 16 November 2009. The claimant was a rear seat passenger in a vehicle driven by Mrs Hemphill (‘the first defendant’), which collided head on with a German vehicle. The defendant admitted fault for the collision. As a result of the collision, the claimant sustained personal injury, for which she received some treatment in Germany and further ongoing treatment in England. She and her husband returned to live in England in June 2011, earlier than planned. ‘Second defendant’ was the German insurer of the first defendant.

The following was agreed between the parties:

  • iii) Since the claimant’s husband was due to leave the army in February 2014 after twenty-two years’ service he would have returned to England one and a half to two years before that date to undertake re-settlement training. It was always their intention to return to live in England.
  • ii) At the time of the accident the claimant was living in Germany, having moved there in January 2001 with her husband who was a member of Her Majesty’s Armed Services. Germany was not the preferred posting of the claimant’s husband, it was his second choice. He had four separate three year postings in Germany.
  • i) The claimant was a UK national.
  • iv) Whilst in Germany, the claimant and her family lived on a British Army base where schools provided an English education.
  • v) While in Germany, the claimant was employed on a full-time basis as an Early Years Practitioner by Service Children’s Education, (UK Government Agency).
  • vi) The claimant claimed continuing loss and damage including care and assistance and loss of earnings. She asserted that the majority of her loss has been and will be incurred in England. The claimant alleged continuing pain, suffering and loss of amenity.
  • vii) The first defendant was a UK national and an army wife, with her husband serving with the Army in Germany. She had been in Germany for between eighteen months and two years before the accident. She returned to England soon afterwards.

The High Court was asked (1) what law applies per Article 4 Rome II, and (2) whether under the circumstances, Article 4(3) Rome II might have any relevance.

 

On the habitual residence issue, Rome II corrects the overall lex loci damni rule in cases of joint habitual residence between tortfeasor and victim (which was argued to be the case here). Habitual residence was also argued to play a role in the ‘closer connection’ test (see below).

Rome II, the Regulation of the law applicable to non-contractual obligations, does not define ‘habitual residence’ for individuals acting in their personal capacity. The matter therefore is one of national conflicts law. The habitual residence for a natural person is only defined by ht Regulation when it comes to his acting in the course of his business activity. ‘Habitual residence’ is a concept which is not used in Brussels I, however it is used in the Brussels II bis Regulation on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matter of parental responsibility, where it is left undefined, and in the Rome III Regulation (an instrument of enhanced co-operation and hence not applicable in all Member States) implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of applicable law to divorce and legal separation, where, too, somewhat oddly given its date of adoption (after Rome I and II) it is left undefined.

The Court of Justice has defined ‘habitual residence’ in Swaddling, Case C-90/97, within the context of social security law (entitlement of benefits subject to a residence requirement) as the place  ‘where the habitual centre of their interests is to be found. In that context, account should be taken in particular of the employed person’s family situation; the reasons which have led him to move; the length and continuity of his residence; the fact (where this is the case) that he is in stable employment; and his intention as it appears from all the circumstances.’

Undoubtedly the context of the adjudication needs to be taken into account, such as in Swaddling, a social security case, in which the seeking of holding of employment is likely to have a much greater relevance for determining habitual residence than in the context of, say, maintenance or parental responsibility (where, for instance, the interest and ‘anchorage’ of the child is likely to be much more relevant). [See also House of Lords M v M, [2007] EWHC 2047 (Fam), a case referred to in Winrow]. Moreover, the Court of Justice itself has warned that its case-law on habitual residence in one area, cannot be directly transposed in the context of any other (Case C-523/07, A).

It is obvious however that the ‘centre of interest’ test which in one way or another finds its way into habitual residence in all relevant EU law, includes a subjective  element: the intention of a person to be anchored in a particular place.  This was argued to be relevant in the case at issue, because both victim and tortfeasor were resident in Germany on account of their husbands’ military posting there.

Slade J in my view justifiably held that having regard to the length of stay in the country, its purpose and the establishing of a life there, habitual residence of the Claimant at the time of her accident was Germany. It is not because she followed her husband who was posted in Germany on Army business, that she was in Germany involuntarily.

 

On the issue of manifestly closer connected per Article 4(3) Rome II, the High Court first of all confirmed the exceptional character of the escape clause, however emphasises, and I have great sympathy for this view, that in reviewing that exceptional possibility, there should be no limitation in principle of factors that can be taken into account: Article 4(3) clearly is an exception to the EU’s mantra of predictability in EU private international law, however one which even the European Commission foresaw and which is inherent to the very nature of the exception. Hence the High Court considered inter alia the joint nationality of the victims (with an interesting discussion on whether United Kingdom nationality may be relevant for the consideration of English law being applicable – there is no such thing as ‘English’ nationality); habitual residence at the time of the accident and subsequently; location of subsequent consequences (the victim now suffering those in England; loss of earning occurring in England), etc.: even what a particular court in a particular Member State may consider to be relevant for the application of 4(3) may be very unpredictable indeed may also be disparate across the EU.

However on balance Slade J held that the balance was in favour of not applying the escape clause, particularly in view of the period of time of habitual residence in Germany, and subsequent continuing residence in that country (ia for follow-up treatment). Final holding therefore was

 

  • Factors weighing against displacement of German law as the applicable law of the tort by reason of Article 4(1) are that the road traffic accident caused by the negligence of the First Defendant took place in Germany. The Claimant sustained her injury in Germany. At the time of the accident both the Claimant and the First Defendant were habitually resident there. The Claimant had lived in Germany for about eight and a half years and remained living there for eighteen months after the accident.
  • Under Article 4(3) the court must be satisfied that the tort is manifestly more closely connected with English law than German law. Article 4(3) places a high hurdle in the path of a party seeking to displace the law indicated by Article 4(1) or 4(2). Taking into account all the circumstances, the relevant factors do not indicate a manifestly closer connection of the tort with England than with Germany. The law indicated by Article 4(1) is not displaced by Article 4(3). The law applicable to the claim in tort is therefore German law.

This judgment to my knowledge is one of few discussing Article 4(3)’s escape clause in such detail. A judgment which does justice to both the exceptional nature of the provision, and the need to consider all relevant factors.

Geert.