Posts Tagged Rome II

Vis (non) attractiva concursus. Bobek AG suggests tortious suit brought by liquidator (‘Peeters /Gatzen’) is covered by Brussels I Recast.

I earlier posted a guest blog on the qualification of the Dutch Peeters /Gatzen suit, a damages claim based on tort, brought by a liquidator against a third party having acted wrongfully towards the creditors. Bobek AG opined two weeks back in C-535/17 NK (insolvency practitioner for a baillif practice) v BNP Paribas Fortis.

His Opinion is of relevance not just for the consideration of jurisdiction, but perhaps even more so (for less litigated so far) for the analysis of applicable law.

Roel Verheyden has commented on the Opinion in Dutch here, and Sandrine Piet had earlier contextualised the issues (also in Dutch) here. She clarifies that the suit was introduced by the Dutch Supreme Court in 1983, allowing the insolvency practitioner (as EU insolvency law now calls them) to claim in tort against third parties whose actions have diminished the collective rights of the creditors, even if the insolvency person or company at issue was not entitled to such suit. The Advocate General himself, in his trademark lucid style, summarises the suit excellently.

Importantly, the Peeters /Gatzen is not a classic pauliana (avoidance) suit: Bobek AG at 16: ‘The power of the liquidator to bring a Peeters-Gatzen action is not limited to cases where the third party belongs to the circle of persons who, based on a Paulian (bankruptcy) claim .. would be liable for involvement in allegedly detrimental acts. The liquidator’s competence relates more generally to the damage caused to the general body of creditors by the wrongful act of a third party involved in causing that damage. The third party need not have caused the damage or have profited from it: it is sufficient that that third party could have prevented the damage but cooperated instead.’

In the case at issue, the third party is BNP Paribas Fortis, who had allowed the sole director of the company to withdraw large amounts of cash from the company’s account.

Firstly, on the jurisdictional issue, Nickel /Goeldner and Nortel had intervened after the interim judgments of the Dutch courts, creating doubt in their minds as to the correct delineation between the Insolvency and Brussels I Recast Regulation. The Advocate-General’s approach in my view is the correct one, and I refer to his Opinion for the solid arguments he deploys. In essence, the DNA of the suit are the ordinary rules of civil law (re: tort). That it be introduced by the insolvency practitioner (here, the liquidator) and that it is the case-law on liquidation proceedings which has granted that right to the liquidator, is not materially relevant. Note that the AG correctly adds in footnote 40 that even if the suit is not subject to the Insolvency Regulation, that Regulation does not disappear from the litigation. In particular, given that liquidation proceedings are underway, the lex concursus determines the ius agendi of the liquidator to bring the suit in tort, in another Member State (Belgium, on the basis of Article 7(2) or 4 Brussels I Recast).

Now, for applicable law, the AG first of all completes the analysis on the basis of the Insolvency Regulation, in the unlikely event the CJEU were not to follow him on the jurisdictional issue. Here (para 85 ff) the referring court wishes to know whether, if the Peeters-Gatzen action is covered by the Insolvency Regulation, such a claim would be governed, pursuant to Article 4(1) of that Regulation, by the law of the Member State where the insolvency proceedings were opened as regards both the power of the liquidator to bring that claim and the substantive law applicable to that claim. This question seeks to determine whether it is possible to follow the approach of the second-instance court in the main proceedings, and separate the law governing the powers of the liquidator (ius agendi) from the law applicable to the merits of the claim. The powers of the liquidator would then be governed by the lex fori concursus (Dutch law, per Article 4(2)(c) Insolvency Regulation). That article states that ‘the law of the State of the opening of proceedings … shall determine in particular … the respective powers of the debtor and the liquidator’. However, the merits of the claim would then be governed by the law applicable by virtue of the general (non-insolvency) conflict of law rules. In the present case that would lead to application of residual Dutch conflict of law rules, because the Rome II Regulation does not apply ratione temporis as the AG further explains. These rules lead to Belgian law being the lex causae.

Within the assumption of the Insolvency Regulation determining jurisdiction (for see footnote 40 as reported above, re ius agendi) the AG emphasises the Regulation’s goal of Gleichlauf: at 89: If the Peeters-Gatzen action were covered by the Insolvency Regulation, all its elements would be governed exclusively by the conflict of law rules of that regulation.

(Current) Article 16’s exception such as in Nike and Lutz does not come into play for as Bobek AG notes at 94, ‘It is difficult to see how the Peeters-Gatzen action at issue in the main proceedings could be qualified as a rule ‘relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of legal acts detrimental to all the creditors’, in the sense of Article 4(2)(m) [old, GAVC] of the Insolvency Regulation. The purpose of such an action is not a declaration of the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of an act of the third party, but the recovery of damages based on the wrongful behaviour of that third party towards the creditors. Therefore, as Article 4(2)(m) [old, GAVC] of the regulation would not apply in the main proceedings, the exception in Article 13 [old, GAVC] could not apply either.’

The AG finally discusses the referring court’s question whether if the Peeters-Gatzen action is exclusively subject to the lex fori concursus, it would be possible to take into account, whether directly or at least by analogy, and on the basis of Article 17 Rome II read in conjunction with Article 13 (now 16) of the Insolvency Regulation, the security regulations and codes of conduct applicable at the place of the alleged wrongful act (that is to say, in Belgium), such as financial rules of conduct for banks. Article 17 Rome II reads ‘In assessing the conduct of the person claimed to be liable, account shall be taken, as a matter of fact and in so far as is appropriate, of the rules of safety and conduct which were in force at the place and time of the event giving rise to the liability.

I have argued before that Article 17 Rome II does not have the rather extensive impact which some attribute to it. The AG, after signalling that the Article is yet to be applied by the CJEU, notes that Rome II does not apply here ratione temporis. He then concludes with an aside (it is not articulated as a proper argument – which is just as well for it is circular I suppose): at 104: ‘the more pertinent question is… whether it is really necessary to have recourse to a cumbersome legal construction, in this case the application of rules by analogy, outside of their material and temporal scope, in order to reach a solution (the application of Belgian law) which solves a problem (the applicability of Netherlands law by virtue of the Insolvency Regulation) that should not have been created in the first place (since the Peeters-Gatzen claim at hand should fall within the scope of the Brussels I Regulation). In any event, I am of the view, also in this regard, that these questions by the referring court rather confirm that there is no close connection between that action and the insolvency proceedings.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.4.1, Heading 5.7.

 

 

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Bento Rodrigues (Samarco dam victims) v BHP Billiton in the English courts. A new CSR marker.

The media have been reporting on a considerable class action lawsuit, underway in the English courts, in the Corporate Social Responsibility /mass torts category.

The class action case was filed against Anglo-Australian company BHP Billiton on behalf of 240,000 individuals, 24 municipal governments, 11,000 businesses, a Catholic archdiocese and about 200 members of the Krenak indigenous community. It concerns victims of the Samarco dam collapse in Mariana three years ago.

I am reporting the case simply to ensure complete overview of the CSR /jurisdiction /applicable law issues reported on the blog. For as I am co-counsel acting for the claimants, I am not in a position to comment on the case until and if legal analysis will be in the public domain.

Geert.

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

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Committeri v Club Med. The Court of Appeal parades CJEU precedent to distinguish contract from torts.

[2018] EWCA Civ 1889 Committeri v Club Med , appeal against Dingeman J’s findings in [2016] EHWC 1510 (QB) featured in a recent resit exam of mine, slightly later reporting therefore. Dingeman J’s analysis was confirmed by the Court of Appeal.

Mr Committeri lived and worked in London. He was injured when climbing an ice wall in Chamonix in France in 2011. He brought proceedings in England against Club Med and their insurers: they had provided the relevant travel and accommodation pursuant to a ‘team-building’ contract with the appellant’s employers, a Bank. The claim is pleaded by reference to that contract and Article L211-16 of the French Code de Tourisme (which imposes strict (safety) liability upon the providers of tourist accomodation: une obligation de résultat); contrary to English law which foresees in une obligation de moyens).

French law has considered that “proper performance of the contract” in a package holiday setting requires the absolute safety of the consumer, so that (unless the exceptions in the Code apply) when there is an injury on a package holiday the organiser will be liable.

The central issue is the proper characterisation of that claim. If it is a contractual claim then English law applies (the lex contractus agreed between the Bank and Club Med) and it is common ground that it will fail. If it is properly characterised as a non-contractual claim, French law applies and it is agreed that it will succeed.

CJEU authorities considered by Coulson LJ were in particular Brogsitter, ErgoVerein Fur Konsumenteninformation v Amazonand flightright

At 52 Coulson LJ summarises the modus operandi per the European precedents as follows:

‘(a) The mere fact that a contracting party brings a civil liability claim against the other party does not by itself mean that the claim concerns “matters relating to a contract” but it will be sufficient if the conduct complained of may be considered a breach of contract (Brogsitter [24]) or if the purpose of the claim is to seek damages, the legal basis for which can reasonably be regarded as a breach of the rights and obligations set out in the contract (Brogsitter [26]).

(b) Only an obligation freely consented to by one person towards another and on which the claimant’s action is based is a ‘matter relating to contract’ (Ergo [44]).

(c) The classification of an obligation for the purposes of Rome I or Rome II depends on the (contractual or non-contractual) source of that obligation (Amazon, AG’s opinion [48]). A contractual obligation implies at the very least an actual and existing commitment (Amazon [50]).’

I would have added what I called Sharpston AG‘s ‘pedigree’ (one of my students seems to have mistakenly noted this down as ‘Paddy Pee’), ‘ancestry’, or ‘centre of gravity’ test in Ergo.

At 53: ‘On an application of all or any of those principles, it is clear that the pleaded strict liability claim can only be characterised as a contractual claim. …That contract is the source of the relevant obligations and imposed the necessary commitments. To put it another way, to use Judge Waksman’s words in AXA ([2015] EWHC 3431 (Comm), the contract was not “a stepping stone to the ultimate liability of [the respondent but] the basis for the obligation actually relied upon…”.

A very useful reminder of the relevant precedents.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1.

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Docherty: Asbestos litigation and the application ratione temporis of Rome II.

Thank you Brodies for flagging [2018] CSOH 25 George Docherty et al a while ago – I was not sure whether I might use the case for exam purposes. C-350/14 Lazar was among the precedents cited by  Lord Tyre to decide the application ratione temporis of the Rome II Regulation.

Article 31 Rome II states that the Regulation applies to “events giving rise to damage which occur after its entry into force”. The date of entry into force, according to article 32, was 11 January 2009. The reference in article 31 to “events giving rise to damage” is not necessarily easy to determine. Lord Tyre at 31 clarifies things by suggesting the Article is ‘clearly linked to the distinction drawn in article 4(1) between three separate concepts, namely (i) the event giving rise to the damage; (ii) the damage; and (iii) the indirect consequences of the event. In the present case, the damage consisted of the deceased’s illness and death. The indirect consequences are the losses suffered by the deceased’s relatives. The event giving rise to all of this was exposure to asbestos’: this occurred before the entry into force of the Regulation.

Had it occurred after, the Court would have applied Rome II for the UK has opted to apply the Regulation’s Article 25(2) provision for Member States with internal conflicts of laws, to apply the Regulation to these conflicts: The Law Applicable to Non-Contractual Obligations (Scotland) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/404) provide (reg 3) that the Regulation shall apply in the case of conflicts between the laws of different parts of the UK as it applies in the case of conflicts between the laws of other countries. SI 2008/2986 contains an equivalent provision for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Accordingly what the applicable law would be under the Regulation is not addressed, neither is the pursuers’ submission that any choice of English law by virtue of article 4(1) should be displaced by applying article 4(3) and holding that the delict is manifestly more closely connected with Scotland.

Residual conflict of laws applies and at 17 ff the judge applies pre-1995 common law, leading to the lex loci delicti. However these rules do not provide a clear identification of the lex loci delicti where the harmful event occurs in one jurisdiction (Scotland) but the harm, consisting of physical injury, occurs in another (England). Reviewing authority, Lord Tyre eventually holds (at 23) that the presence of asbestos dust in an employee’s lungs does not of itself constitute injury, and (subject to the Scottish statutory provisions regarding pleural plaques) no cause of action arising out of negligent exposure arises until it does. At 24:  since injury is an essential ingredient of an actionable wrong, and since injury obviously cannot take place until after the breach of duty has occurred, the place of the harmful event (or locus delicti) is where the injury takes place and not, if different, where the antecedent negligent act or omission occurred.

Conclusion: lex causae is English law. The case is a good illustration of the difficulties that remain in applying what seem prima facie fairly understandable concepts to the average lawyer.

Geert

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Unilever. Court of Appeal summarily dismisses CSR jurisdiction against mother company, confirming High Court’s approach. Lex causae for proximity again left undiscussed.

Update 21 September 2018 further litigation on similar issues is underway in Gemfield [AAA and others v Gemfields Plc and Montepuez Ruby Mining Limitada]. See overview of issues here.

The Court of Appeal in [2018] EWCA Civ 1532 has confirmed the High Court’s approach in [2017] EWHC 371 (QB) AAA et al v Unilever and Unilever Tea Kenya ltd, holding that there is no good arguable case (the civil law notion of fumus boni iuris comes closes, as Bobek AG notes in Feniks) against Unilever, which could then be used to anchor the case in the English jurisdiction.

Pro memoria: jurisdiction against Unilever is clear, following Article 4 Brussels I Recast. That Regulation’s anchor mechanism however is not engaged for Article 7(1) does not apply against non-EU based defendants. It is residual English private international law that governs this issue.

Appellants appeal in relation to the High Court’s ruling that neither Unilever nor UTKL (the Kenyan subsidiary) owed the appellants a duty of care. Unilever has put in a respondent’s notice to argue that the judge should have found that there was no duty of care owed by Unilever on the additional ground that, contrary to her view, there was no proximity between Unilever and the appellants in respect of the damage suffered by them, according to the guidance in Chandler v Cape Plc. Unilever and UTKL also sought to challenge that part of the judgment in which the judge held that, if viable claims in tort existed against Unilever (as anchor defendant) and UTKL, England is the appropriate place for trial of those claims. Unilever also cross-appealed in relation to a previous case management decision by the judge, by which she declined an application by Unilever that the claim against it should be stayed on case management grounds, until after a trial had taken place in Kenya of the appellants claims against UTKL.

The legal analysis by Sales LJ takes a mere five paragraphs (para 35 onwards). Most of the judgment is taken up by an (equally succinct) overview of risk management policies within the group.

At 35 Sales LJ notes ‘Having set out the relevant factual background in relation to the proximity issue (i.e. whether the appellants have any properly arguable case against Unilever in the light of Chandler v Cape Plc and related authorities), the legal analysis can proceed much more shortly. It is common ground that principles of English law govern this part of the case.

– the ‘common ground’ presumably being lex loci incorporationis.

This is an interesting part of the judgment for I find it by no means certain that English law should govern this part of the case. In one of my chapters for professor Vinuales’ en Dr Lees’ forthcoming OUP book on comparative environmental law, I expand on that point.

The long and the short of the argument is that Unilever did not intervene in the affairs of its subsidiary in a more intensive way than a third party would have done. Reference at 37 is made to the contrasting examples given by Sir Geoffrey Vos in Okpabi, ‘One can imagine … circumstances where the necessary proximity could be established, even absent the kind of specific facts that existed in Vedanta … Such a case might include the situation, for example, where a parent required its subsidiaries or franchisees to manufacture or fabricate a product in a particular way, and actively enforced that requirement, which turned out to be harmful to health. One might suggest a food product that injured many, but was created according to a prescriptive recipe provided by the parent. …’

and, at 38, to the raison d’être of mother /daughter structures,

“… it would be surprising if a parent company were to go to the trouble of establishing a network of overseas subsidiaries with their own management structures it if intended itself to assume responsibility for the operations of each of those subsidiaries. The corporate structure itself tends to militate against the requisite proximity …

– subject evidently to proof of the opposite in the facts at issue (a test seemingly not met here).

Geert.

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

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Spring v MOD and Evangelisches Krankenhaus Bielefeld. Joinder (based on Article 8(1) Bru I Recast) ultimately fails given limitation period in the lex causae.

[2017] EWHC 3012 (QB) Spring v MDO and Evengelisches Krankenhaus Bielefeld is unreported as far as I can tell (and I have checked repeatedly). Thank you Max Archer for flagging the case and for sending me copy of judgment a few months back. (I am still chipping away at that queue).

In 1997, Claimant was stationed in Germany with the British Army. The Claimant very seriously fractured his right leg and ankle whilst off duty in Germany (the off duty element evidently having an impact – on duty injuries arguably might not have been ‘civil and commercial’). He was then treated at the Second Defendant’s hospital under an established arrangement for the treatment of UK service personnel between the First (the Ministry of Defence) and Second Defendants (the German hospital). Various complications later led to amputation.

The Brussels I Recast Regulation applies for claimant did not introduce the claim against the second defendant until after its entry into force: 18 years in fact after the surgery. This was the result of medical reports not suggesting until after July 2015 that the German hospital’s treatment has been substandard. Rome II ratione temporis does not apply given the timing of the events (alleged wrongful treatment leading to damage).

Yoxall M held that Article 8(1)’s conditions for anchoring /joinder were fulfilled, because of the risk of irreconcilable judgments (at 35). Even if the claim against the First Defendant is a claim based on employer’s liability whereas the claim against the Hospital is based on clinical negligence. Should the proceedings be separate there is a risk of the English and German courts reaching irreconcilable judgments on causation of loss. At 35: ‘It would be expedient for the claims to be heard together – so that all the factual evidence and expert evidence is heard by one court. In this way the real risk of irreconcilable judgments can be avoided.’

With reference to precedent, Master Yoxall emphasised that ‘in considering Article 8(1) and irreconcilable judgments a broad common sense approach is justified rather than an over-sophisticated analysis’ (at 36).

Yoxal M is entirely correct when he states at 37 that Article 8(1) does not include a requirement that the action brought against the different defendants have identical legal bases. For decisions to be regarded as contradictory the divergence must arise in the context of the same situation of law and fact (reference is made to C-98/06 Freeport).

Next however the court considers as a preliminary issue, the limitation period applying between claimant and the German defendant and holds that the Hospital have an arguable case that the claim is statute barred in German law (German expert evidence on the issue being divided). The latter is the lex causae for the material dispute (on  the basis of English residual private international law), extending to limitation periods per Section 1(3) of the Foreign Limitations Period Act 1984 (nota bene partially as a result of the 1980 input by the Law Commission, and not entirely in line with traditional (or indeed US) interpretations of same). This ultmately sinks the joinder.

As a way forward for plaintiff, the Court suggests [2005] EWCA Civ 1436 Masri. In this case the Court of Appeal essentially held that joinder on the basis of Article 8(1) may proceed even if litigation against the England-based defendants are not the same proceedings, but rather take place in separate action. Masri has not been backed up as far as I know, by European precedent: Clarke MR held it on the basis of the spirit of C-189/87 Kalfelis, not its letter. Moreover, how the German limitation periods would then apply is not an obvious issue, either.

An interesting case and I am pleased Max signalled it.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1.

 

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Arica Victims v Boliden Mineral. Lex causae and export of toxic waste.

‘Reading’ Arica Victims v Boliden Mineral (I have a copy of the case, but not yet a link to ECLI or other database; however there’s a good uncommented summary of the judgment here] leaves me frustrated simply for my lack of understanding of Swedish. Luckily Matilda Hellstorm at Lindahl has good review here (including a hyperlink to her earlier posting which alerted me to the case in 2017).

Boliden Mineral exported toxic waste to Chile in the ’80s, prior to either Basel or EU or OECD restraints (or indeed bans) kicking in. A first issue for consideration was determination of lex causae. Rome II does not apply ratione temporis (it only applies to tortious events occurring after its date of entry into force) – residual Swedish private international law applies, which determined lex causae as lex loci damni. The Court found this to include statute of limitation. This would have been 10 years under Swedish law, and a more generous (in Matilda’s report undefined) period under Chilean law. Statute of limitation therefore following lex causae – not lex fori.

Despite this being good for claimants, the case nevertheless failed. The Swedish court found against liability (for the reasons listed in Matilda’s report). (With a small exception seemingly relating to negligence in seeing waste being uncovered). Proof of causality seems to have been the biggest factor in not finding liability.

Leave to appeal has been applied for.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8.

 

 

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