Forever chemicals, and suing 3M for PFAS pollution in Europe. A flag on applicable law.

On Friday, together with my learned colleague at both Bar and Faculty Isabelle Larmuseau, I was asked to put my environmental law hat on at the Flemish Parliament. I was heard  on the current scandal hitting Flanders following PFAS (‘forever chemicals’) emissions by 3 M at the port of Antwerp. For background to PFAS see here.

Isabelle’s slidedeck for same is here (updated at 09:28 on 31 August to correct earlier pdf which contained an earlier version of the slides), and mine here. Both are in Dutch, with Isabelle’s focusing on the Flemish environmental law angle (albeit with strong EU law influence, necessarily) and mine on the EU and international law context).

Focus of the debate is on environmental /public health law however for my conflicts followers there is a treat. A civil law suit by Belgian and /or other [the port of Antwerp is very close for instance to the Dutch border. Emissions in air, water and soil (for the latter, particularly if exported) clearly impact Dutch citisens, say] claimants against 3M’s Belgian corporate presence is easily pursued both in Belgium (Article 4 Brussels Ia) and in other Member States (Article 7(2) locus damni). Residual private international law in all these States would fairly straightforwardly allow for the suit to be extended to 3M’s corporate mother, based at St Paul, Minnesota.

The more exciting bit is applicable law. The impact of common US (State) law on forever chemicals suits is well documented. Despite EU courts not willing to apply the punitive damages elements of these suits, an application of the other elements of US tort law may well be very attractive to claimants here. Those US laws are certainly within reach of claimants, using Article 7 Rome II. There is no question the damage ‘arises out of’ environmental damage (unlike the hesitation in Begum v Maran). There is certainly merit in the suggestion that locus delicti commissi is in St Paul, Minessota. Like with its fellow manufacturers and industrial users of PFAS, 3M’s worldwide grip on corporate communication and legal strategy on the issue is tight. More importantly, the decision tree on the manufacture, use and emissions of PFAS is arguably equally located at holding level. Reference here can be made to the relevance of Shell’s holding policy in lex causae determination in the recent climate ruling.

Clearly, via A17 Rome II, Flemish and of course European environmental law would play a role (cue Isabelle’s slidedeck for an excellent starter).

A collective action procedure in say The Netherlands in my view would be an ideal strategy to test these most murky waters.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd. ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.3 (4.54 ff).

Lakatamia Shipping. On (in)direct damage, applicable law (A4(3) Rome II) and conspiracy.

Lakatamia Shipping Co Ltd v Su & Ors [2021] EWHC 1907 (Comm)  discusses i.a. [840 ff; this is a lengthy judgment] the applicable law in the case of conspiracy. Lakatamia advance two claims against the Defendants, the first re dissipation of two assets (net sale proceeds of two Monegasque villas – the Monaco conspiracy and a private jet – the Aeroplane conspiracy)  in breach of a World Wide Freezing Order (“WFO”)  and secondly re intentional violation of rights in a judgment debt.

Lakatamia’s case as claimants is that English law applies to the claims regarding both conspiracies, whilst Madam Su’s case is that Monaco law applies to the claim regarding the Monaco Sale Proceeds and that an unspecified law (but not English law) applies to the Aeroplane Conspiracy.

None of the specific categories of torts in the Rome II Regulation are said to apply, bringing the focus therefore on the general rule of Article 4(1), with firstly its insistence that only direct damage determines lex causae, not indirect damage.

At 843 Bryan J, like claimants, focuses on the judgment:

the focus being on the freezing order and judgment, with the damage to Lakatamia being suffered in England as that is the situs of the Judgment Debt arising out of the Underlying Proceeding in England, policed by the… Freezing Order, and that is where the Judgment Debt stands to be paid, and where Lakatamia suffers damage if it is not paid or the ability for it to be paid is impaired – put another way England is the country where the Judgment Debt should have been paid, and the damage has accordingly occurred here.

To support the point, at 845 ff English and CJEU authority (much of it also reviewed on this blog) under A7(2)BIa is discussed albeit the judge correctly cautions ‘Authorities on the Brussels Regulation are “likely to be useful” but are not of direct application’. Core reference is Pan Oceanic,

(6)  There is a difference between a case in which the claimant complains that he has lost his money or goods (as in the Marinari case [1996] QB 217 or the Domicrest case [1999] QB 548 ) and a case in which the claimant complains that he has not received money or goods which he should have received. In the former case the harm may be regarded as occurring in the place where the money or goods were lost, although the loss may be said to have been consequentially felt in the claimant’s domicile. In the latter case the harm lies in the non-receipt of the money or goods at the place where they ought to have been received, and the damage to him is likely to have occurred in the place where he should have received them: the Dolphin case [2010] 1 All ER (Comm) 473 , para 60 and the Réunion Européenne case [2000] QB 690 , paras 35-36. (emphasis in the original).

I am not entirely convinced. While it is true that the conspiracy clearly impacts on the receipts, this is the consequence of actual behaviour by defendants elsewhere, with actual impact of that behaviour in that same place abroad. I do not think it is inconceivable to qualify the damage in England as ricochet hence indirect damage. The discussion here leads to CJEU Lazar which, it would seem, was not discussed in the proceedings.

At 860 at any rate, the judge lists his reasons for picking English law as the ‘proper law of the tort’ per A4(3) Rome II. This may be a more solid decision than the A4(1) decision.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 4.30, para 4.39 ff.

Applicable law in cases of purely economic loss following judgment in Vereniging van Effectenbezitters.

I have reported before on the jurisdictional consequences of CJEU Vereniging van Effectenbezitters v BP. In this post for the European Association of Private International Law, I give my views on the impact for applicable law.

Geert.

Applicable law (Article 4 and 7 Rome II) in the Dutch Shell climate ruling. Not quite as momentous as the core message.

I have an article forthcoming on the application of Rome II’s Article 7, ‘environmental damage’ rule. Last week’s widely reported first instance ruling in the Dutch Shell climate case will of course now feature.

I reported on application of A7 in Begum v Maran. There I submit, the Court of Appeal engaged without sufficient depth with the Article. It held against its application. Xandra Kramer and Ekaterina Pannebakker then alerted us to the use of Article 7 in last week’s momentous Milieudefensie v Shell (umpteen) ruling [Dutch version here, English version here], in which Shell by a first instance judge has been ordered to reduce its CO2 emissions. In that ruling, too, the judges leave a lot of issues on Rome II underanalysed. The conclusion  however goes in the opposite direction: the court held A7 is engaged and leads to Dutch law as the lex loci delicti commissi (Handlungsort or ldc).

I have taken the Dutch version of the judgment as the basis for the analysis for the English version is a touch under par when it comes to the finer detail. The Dutch version it has to be said is not entirely clear either on the conflict of laws analysis.

Firstly, Milieudefensie argue that A7 is engaged, and it suggests it opts for Dutch law given the choice left to it by that Article. Whether it does so as lex loci damni (Erfolgort or ld) or lex loci delicti commissi is not specified. It is reported by the courts that in subsidiary fashion Milieudefensie argue that per A4(1)’s general rule, Dutch law is the lex causae: that has to be Erfolgort.  (Lest the court inaccurately reported parties’ submissions here and the argument made under A4 focused on Article 4(3)’s displacement rule) [4.3.1].

The judges further report [4.3.2] that parties were in agreement that climate change, whether dangerous or otherwise, due to CO2 emissions constitutes ‘environmental damage’ in the sense of A7 Rome II (and the judges agree) and that they were in disagreement on the locus delicti commissi. Milieudefensie argue that Shell’s holding policy viz climate change and emissions, dictated from its corporate home of The Netherlands, is that Handlungsort. Shell argue that the place of the actual emissions are the Handlungsorts (plural), hence a Mozaik of applicable laws. (This nota bene has interesting applications in competition law, as I suggest here).

Then follows a rather sloppy reference to Jan von Hein’s note bene excellent review of Article 7 in Calliess; distinguishing of the arguments made by Shell with reference to ia product liability cases; and eventually, with reference to ia the cluster effect of emissions (‘every contribution towards a reduction of CO2 emissions may be of importance’ [4.3.5]) and the exceptional, policy driven nature of A7, the conclusion [4.3.6] that the holding policy is an independent cause of the CO2 emissions and hence imminent climate damage and obiter [4.3.7] that A4(1) would have led to the same conclusion.

The ruling will of course be appealed. It would be good to get the application of Article 7 right, seeing as environmental law is a core part of strategic and public interest litigation.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd. ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.3 (4.54 ff).

Skatteforvaltningen v Solo Capital Partners. Unfinished business on endangering Brussels Ia’s effet utile, ‘civil and commercial’ in revenue matters, enforcing foreign public law and Dicey Rule 3.

At issue in Skatteforvaltningen (The Danish Customs And Tax Administration) v Solo Capital Partners LLP & Ors [2021] EWHC 974 (Comm)  is ‘Dicey Rule 3’ which states that “English courts have no jurisdiction to entertain an action: (1) for the enforcement, either directly or indirectly, of a penal, revenue or other public law of a foreign State; or (2) founded upon an act of state“. The assertion of such claims is an extension of a sovereign power of taxation and, per Lord Keith of Avonholm in Government of India v Taylor [1955] A.C. 491, 511: “an assertion of sovereign authority by one State within the territory of another, as distinct from a patrimonial claim by a foreign sovereign, is (treaty or convention apart) contrary to all concepts of independent sovereignties“.

By its claims, SKAT (Danish customs and excise) seeks the return of amounts it says it was wrongly induced to pay out as tax refunds.

Brussels Ia and Lugano (the latter viz a number of defendants domiciled in Lugano States) feature in the discussion because SKAT argue that [22] ‘: (i) this is a ‘civil and commercial matter’, not a ‘revenue, customs or administrative matter’, under A1(1) BIa; and (ii) it is therefore not possible to invoke Dicey Rule 3 to dismiss its claims against Brussels-Lugano defendants, because to do so would be to decline to exercise a jurisdiction conferred by the Brussels-Lugano regime otherwise than in accordance with its rules.’

If the argument were upheld, any claims falling within Dicey Rule 3 would proceed against Brussels-Lugano defendants while being dismissed against other defendants. 

Dicey Rule 3 is not a jurisdictional rule: it is a substantive rule of English law. Yet SKAT’s argument in my view essentially means that an application of Dicey Rule 3 to the matter, would deprive A1(1) BIa of its effet utile.

Logically the BIa /Lugano argument would have had to have been considered first. Baker J does the opposite (his thinking process, unlike writing up, may of course first have considered the BIa argument) and holds at 120 after thorough consideration of the authorities on Dicey Rule 3, that the rule applies: SKAT’s claims seek indirectly to enforce in E&W, Danish revenue law.

In an interesting Coda at 121 ff, he also considers obiter the argument that, in essence, was that in line with a long public international law history, the cross-border recovery of tax refunds wrongfully procured is seen as or assumed to be a matter of revenue law requiring to be dealt with (if at all) by supranational legal instrument. Refence here is made ia to 1925 League of Nations reports.

Justice Baker starts [132] the BIa /Lugano argument along familiar lines: need for autonomous interpretation. QRS 1 ApS et al v Frandsen [1999] EWCA Civ 1463 is English authority under the Brussels Convention, and CJEU C-49/12 Sunico (to which both the AG and the CJEU refer in C-73/19 Belgische Staat v Movic BV et al) CJEU authority.

[142] In Sunico, the CJEU considered claims brought by HMRC alleging missing trader VAT carousel frauds. The substantive claims, for damages at common law for an alleged tortious conspiracy to defraud, were pursued in E&W against defendants domiciled in Denmark. HMRC also brought ancillary  proceedings in Denmark to attach assets with a view to enforcing any damages judgment obtained in England. Those Danish proceedings were objected to on the basis that they were a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ excluded from BI.

[144] The CJEU concluded at [41]-[43], essentially, that because the claim was framed in tort and not as a claim under a tax law, the proceedings were a ‘civil and commercial matter’ and not a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ for the purpose of Article 1(1) of the Brussels Regulation, so long as “the commissioners were in the same position as a person governed by private law in their action against Sunico and the other non-residents sued in the High Court of Justice” (ibid at [43]).

At 149 Baker J concedes that the decision of the Court of Appeal in Frandsen was incorrect per Sunico, however then holds that the result would be the same: the classification of proceedings as a ‘civil and commercial matter’ or a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ for the purpose of applying the Brussels-Lugano regime does not touch the question whether Dicey Rule 3 applies so as to defeat the claim. He suggests [149] a search for the lex causae under Rome II would be largely irrelevant for per A16 Rome II Dicey Rule 3 qualifies as lois de police, and finds support for his view that despite scholarly suggestion (i.a. by prof Briggs), Frandsen must not be displaced, in The Law Debenture Trust Corporation [2017] EWHC 655 (Comm) [and in Andrew Dickinson’s reporting on same], in which the English Act of State doctrine was upheld despite Rome II’s classification of the matter as civil and commercial.

At 165 ff he, somewhat superfluously still considers the more recent CJEU authority of Buak and the aforementioned Movic, and decides at 174 that per BUAK and Movic (on the use of evidence etc.) that SKAT was neither attempting nor able to change the rules of the litigation game, either as to the substantive rules of law that would apply in determining its claims, or as regards the procedural rules applicable in the litigation, or as regards the status or effect of any of the evidence it might deploy or disclose. SKAT was not by this litigation pursuing public law proceedings, in which liabilities are determined as if this were a judicial review of SKAT’s actions, decisions or exercise of public law powers.

Yet that the matters are of a civil and commercial nature, in the end does not matter at all: [176]

To the extent that SKAT relied on the Brussels-Lugano regime as the basis for this court having jurisdiction over the Brussels-Lugano defendants that have been sued, including it may be for serving proceedings out of the jurisdiction, in my judgment it was right to do so. But its having been entitled to do so did not oust or disapply Dicey Rule 3 in respect of those defendants.

Using prof Dickinson’s words (26-27), there is a dissonance here between Brussels Ia and the applicable law. One that, I would suggest, endangers the effet utile of Brussels Ia. Dicey Rule 3’s character as a substantive rather than a jurisdictional rule, does not to my mind save that.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.28 ff.

Begum v Maran. A hopeful Court of Appeal finding on duty of care; however open issues on its engagement with Rome II’s environmental heading.

I am late in reporting  Begum v Maran (UK) Ltd [2021] EWCA Civ 326, in which the Court of Appeal rejected an application for strike-out. I reported on the High Court judgment here and I should add I am instructed for claimant in the case. Oliver Holland, the lead Leigh Day solicitor in the case, discusses its implications together with Rachel Bonner (who was led by Richard Hermer) here.

Coulson LJ held that it is at least arguable (reminder: the specific action that was being discussed was an application for strike-out) that Maran does have a duty of care. His analysis essentially leans heavily on the fact that Maran availed itself of a disposal route, the consequences of which it was much aware of. It is clear that the well-known Bangladesh route to escape health, safety and environmental standards for the dismantling of ships, is questionable under the Basel Convention on Hazardous wastes and their disposal, and that shipowners have been using privity of contract in an attempt to shield themselves from any liability for consequences which are neither unexpected nor infrequent.

Others have written on the duty of care issue and I will focus on the A7 Rome II discussion: the lex specialis for environmental damage – on which I have a paper forthcoming (but to find more time!).  At 78 ff Coulson LJ firstly links the requirement of causality (the use of the flimsy ‘arising out of’) to the non-contractual obligation claimed (here: corporate duty of care), rather than the one immediately following the damage (here: negligence, recklessness causing death). That duty of care does not, it was held, ‘arise out of’ environmental damage. [82]: ‘In essence, it is the duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the sale of the vessel for demolition purposes did not endanger human life or health. That duty did not arise out of environmental damage; it had nothing to do with environmental damage at all. It arose out of the complete absence of workplace safety.’ And at 86: ‘even if the court had to consider whether the death (rather than the duty) arose out of environmental damage, the result would be the same…the death arose out of the absence of safe working practices and, in particular, the absence of a safety harness.’ Support is found in scholarly sources suggesting a narrow interpretation of A7; other sources are not discussed (despite having been submitted) and I continue to be convinced such limiting interpretation is not supported by the travaux. Males J, in his mostly concurring opinion, agrees that the last thing on A7 is far from said although he, too, holds that A7 is not engaged in casu.

Lord Justice Coulson obiter considers locus delicti commissi (which would be  the alternative lex causae under A7) and at 91 succinctly holds (pro memoria: obiter) that this would not have been England. There is authority I would suggest for the opposite finding and the judge’s interpretation of Arica Victims, I submit,  leaves room for discussion: at 91 he correctly refers to the Ovre Norrland Court of Appeal having pointed to ‘key decisions’ having been made in Sweden. These to me seem present in current case, too (and here: located in England).

At 110 ff the ordre public argument under A26 Rome II, which could displace the shorter statute of limitation of the Bangladeshi lex causae, for the longer English one, is succinctly dismissed as not meeting A26’s high hurdle. This leaves a narrower (and perhaps curiously indirect) ‘undue hardship’ argument under the E&W Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984 to be discussed as a preliminary issue at the remanded trial in the High Court.

A most relevant case, also highlighting the many unresolved issues under A7 Rome II.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 4.54 ff.

Johnson v Berentzen. The doubtful Pandya conclusions on service as lex causae confirmed.

Cressida Mawdesley-Thomas has overview of the facts and issues in Johnson v Berentzen & Anor [2021] EWHC 1042 (QB) here. Stacey J essentially confirms the conclusions of Tipples J in Pandya.

The case concerns the extent of the ‘evidence and procedure’ exclusion from the Rome II Regulation on applicable law in the event of non-contractual obligations.  For the reasons I outlined in my review of the latter (readers please refer to same), I continue to disagree. With counsel for claimant I would suggest Pandya wrongly interpreted A15(h) Rome II in concluding that the provisions of A15 (‘scope of the law applicable) are to be construed widely , and the evidence and procedure exclusion (not: ‘exception’), narrowly.

Something for the Court of Appeal to look into, I would suggest.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 4.79 ff.

 

Duffy v Centraal Beheer Achmea. Interim payments qalified as procedural, not within the scope of Rome II.

Update 23 February 2021 see Gilles Cuniberti here on a related issue of the application of the lex causae to interim proceedings, with the French Supreme Court reversing decades of case-law to hold that interim measures are included in the lex causae, not subject to lex fori.

I am busy on many fronts and not complaining, yet I am sorry if some posts are therefore a little later than planned. A quick flag of Duffy v Centraal Beheer Achmea [2020] EWHC 3341 (QB) in which Coe J noted parties agreed that interim payments are included in the Rome II exemption of evidence and procedure: at 8:

The claim is brought in the English Court against a Dutch motor insurer and it is agreed that the law of the Netherlands applies to this claim in tort. The claimant, as a result of Dutch law has a direct right of action against the insurer and, following the decision in FBTO v Odenbreit [2007] C 463-06, the jurisdiction of the English Court is not an issue. The law of the Netherlands applies (pursuant to Article 41(1) of the Rome II Regulation on applicable law in tort (Regulation 864/2007)). Dutch law will govern limitation, breach of duty and causation as well as the existence of, the nature of and the assessment of damages to which the claimant might be entitled. Matters of procedure and evidence are nonetheless reserved to the forum court (see Article 15 (c) of the Rome II Regulation and Article 1(3)). This is an application for an interim payment which is a procedural application and thus governed by English law. However, when it comes to any assessment of the damages to which the claimant might be entitled on which to base the interim payment decision, Dutch law has to be applied.

Coe J has little reason to disagree however I imagine she would have entertained the issues more had the distinction between Dutch and English law on the interim payment issue been materially different, hence had counsel made diverging noise. For as I have signalled before, the extent of the evidence and procedure exemption is not clear at all.

Geert.

EU Private International Law. 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.8.

 

Lyle & Scott v American Eagle. The High Court holds the applicable law for passing off does not fly under IPR wings.

Lyle & Scott Ltd v American Eagle Outfitters, Inc [2021] EWHC 90 (Ch) entertains ia the question whether the governing law for passing-off claims involving an eagle trademark, fall under Article 6 or 8 Rome II. The application is for an earlier order allowing service of jurisdiction, to be set aside.

Parties had agreed a ‘memorandum’ (which may or may not be a ‘contract’ – it is further referred to in the judgment as a ‘contract’) following a disagreement on whether each corporation’s eagle (L&S’s being trademarked in the UK and various EU Member States; AEO’s not being trademarked here, I understand) incorporated in apparel involved infringement of trademark and passing off.

Image 1

AEO are domiciled in the US  and have no physical presence in the UK (or, one assumes, anywhere in the EU (the litigation was initiated pre-Brexit); their apparel is offered via online sales.

Jurisdiction is decided on the basis of the laws of E&W. Applicable law comes into the discussion for per Lord Mance at 46 in VTB v Nutritek,

“The governing law, which is here English, is in general terms, a positive factor in favour of trial in England, because it is generally preferable, other things being equal, that a case should be tried in the country whose law applies. However, that factor is of particular force if issues of law are likely to be important and if there is evidence of relevant differences in the legal principles or rules applicable to such issues in the two countries in contention as the appropriate forum…”.

Miles J discusses the governing law issue at 64 ff. Claimant argue the claim comes under A8 Rome II: infringement of intellectual property rights, English law, lex loci protectionis. Defendants argue they fall under A4 (by way of A6(2): Act of unfair competition), and that A4(3) is engaged to make the applicable law that of the state of Pennsylvania, because of the ‘contractual’ relationship.

At 72 Miles J agrees with the classification under A6, holding ia that ‘(t)he cause of action protects the goodwill of traders against deceptive conduct; goodwill is not an intellectual property right; and passing off is not the infringement of a right.’ Unlike the judge I do not think Rome II’s recital is of much help here and I suspect more can be made of the comparative law insights (common law and civil law) offered.

The next question is whether the claim falls within A6 (2). In Miles J’s succinctly expressed view it does, at 73: ‘The act of unfair competition alleged (passing off) affects exclusively the interests of a specific competitor (L&S). It follows that Art. 4 applies.’ As I have often noted, I find it very difficult to think of acts of unfair competition do not ultimately also impact the consumers of those involved.

The final hurdle then is whether A4(3) is engaged to displace E&W law as the lex loci damni, which at 75 the judge holds is not the case. Parties have not agreed on a governing law for the ‘contract’, they have conducted previous proceedings on the basis of that law being the laws of Pennsylvania. However even if the lex contractus is probably Penn law, and English law probably the lex causae for the passing off claim, Miles J holds this should not have an impact at the jurisdictional level: particularly seeing as there is no immediate reason to assume E&W courts will have great difficulty in applying Penn law to what on the contractual substance does not seem an overly complicated case.

Application dismissed, service out of jurisdiction stands.

This case once again highlights the level of complication resulting from having inserted different heads of applicable law into Rome II – a phenomenon which as I recently reported, might soon be expanded upon.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.5.2, 4.6.2, 4.6.4.

Owen v Galgey. Applying A4(2) Rome II to multiparty claims (following Marshall), and a rare, if in my view uncertain, reversal using A4(3)’s ‘manifestly more closely connected’ escape clause.

Update 29 January 2021 today posted additional critical analysis here.

In Owen v Galgey & Ors [2020] EWHC 3546 (QB), Linden J yesterday dealt with the application of Rome II’s common habitual residence exception to A4(1) lex loci damni rule, and with the general escape clause of A4(3).

These cases often involve tragic accidents and injuries and the sec conflict of laws analysis below in no way of course mean any disrespect to claimant and his loved ones.

Claimant is a British citizen who is domiciled and habitually resident in England. He brings a claim for damages for personal injury sustained by him as result of an accident in France (3 April 2018), when he fell into an empty swimming pool which was undergoing works at a villa in France, a holiday home owned by the First Defendant, whose wife is the Second Defendant. They are also British citizens who are domiciled and habitually resident in England, Third Defendant is a company domiciled in France, and the public liability insurer of the First and Second Defendants. Fourth Defendant is a contractor which was carrying out renovation works on the swimming pool at the time of the accident. Fifth Defendant is the public liability insurer of the Fourth Defendant. Fourth and Fifth Defendants are both companies which are domiciled in France.

That French law applies to the claims against Fourth and Fifth Defendant is undisputed. There is however a dispute as to the applicable law in relation to his claims against the First to Third Defendants. These Defendants contend that, by operation of A4(2) Rome II, English law applies because the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants are habitually resident in England. Claimant contends that French law applies by operation of A4(3) Rome II: the ‘manifestly more closely connected’ rule.

Textual argument suggest that on the basis of the text of Recital 18 and A4(2) itself, A4(2) only applies to two party cases and does not apply in multi-party cases. Linden J at 29 notes that this would also correspond with the narrow reading required of A4(2). However he follows of course the authority of Marshall, which I approved of at the time (if only because, if multi-party claims were outside the scope of A42(), it would suffice for either claimant artificially to add a defendant to the claim, or for a defendant similarly to manoeuvre in a second defendant, for A4(2) to become inoperable). A4(2) also applies if more than one party is involved.

On A4(3), then, Marshall, too, is authority and Winrow v Hemphill another rare case that seriously engaged with the issue. In the latter case, 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 (inter alia for follow-up treatment). In the former, Dingemans J did reach a conclusion of applying A4(3) hence lex causae being French law on the grounds I discuss in my post on the case. Here, Linden J discusses the various factors at issue in Winrow v Hemphill and in Marhsall and reaches a conclusion of French law:

In my view it is clear that the tort/delict in the present case is manifestly more closely connected with France. France is where the centre of gravity of the situation is located and the preponderance of factors clearly points to this conclusion. This conclusion also accords with the legitimate expectations of the parties.

The reasons for that are essentially listed at (75  ff)

The tort/delict occurred in France, as I have noted. This is also where the injury or direct damage occurred. The dispute centres on a property in France and it concerns structural features of that property and how the First, Second and Fourth Defendants dealt with works on a swimming pool there. Although these defendants deny that there was fault on the part of any of them, the First and Second Defendants say that the Fourth Defendant was responsible if the pool presented a danger and the Fourth Defendant says that they were. The allegations of contributory negligence/fault also centre on the Claimant’s conduct whilst at the Villa in France.

The First and Second Defendants also had a significant and long-standing connection to France, the accident occurred on their property and the works were carried out by a French company pursuant to a contract with them which is governed by French law. Their insurer, the Third Defendant, is a French company and they are insured under a contract which is governed by French law. The contract was to insure a property in France albeit one which, I accept, applied to claims under English and French law. It is also common ground that the claim against the Fourth Defendant, and therefore against the Fifth Defendant, also a French company, is entirely governed by French law and will require the court to decide whether the Fourth Defendant or, at least by implication, the First and Second Defendants were “custodians” of the property for the purposes of French law.

Whilst it cannot be said at this stage that, by analogy with Marshall, the accident was entirely caused by the Fourth Defendant in particular, the situation in relation to the swimming pool which is said to have been the cause of the accident was firmly rooted in France and it resulted from works which were being carried out by the Fourth Defendant as a result of it being contracted to do so by the First and Second Defendants. The liability of the First and Second Defendants, if any, will be affected by how they dealt with that situation, including by evidence about their dealings with the Fourth Defendant. That situation had no significant connections with England other than the nationality and habitual place of residence of the First and Second Defendants.

The core counterarguments which were dismissed, are (78 ff)

I take the point that the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants were habitually resident in England at the relevant time, that there was a pre-existing relationship between them, and that the Claimant and his family came to be at the Villa as a result of an agreement which was made in England. But, applying an objective test (see Chitty on Contract Volume 1 at paragraph 2-171 in particular), I am not satisfied that this agreement, on the information available at this stage, was contractual in nature. Part of the difficulty in relation to this aspect of the First to Third Defendants’ argument is that there is very little information before the court as to what precisely happened. Looking at the agreed facts in the context of the statements of case and the other materials which I have been shown, however, it appears that the agreement resulted from a casual conversation between social acquaintances in the context of mutual favours having been done in the past. It was informal in nature and it appears that the Claimant offered to do the work as a favour and the First and Second Defendant invited him and his family to the Villa to return that favour.

If I had found that there was a contract, I would also likely have found that it was governed by French law. Although it was entered into in England between British parties, it related entirely to a property in France. Performance of the contract on both sides could only be effected at a particular property in France and was very strongly connected to France in that it involved work on a villa there and a family holiday there. This and the other features of the case would have led me to conclude that [A4(3) Rome I] indicated that there was a manifestly closer connection between the contract and France, although I acknowledge that there is a degree of circularity in this approach. ….

Mr Doherty understandably emphasised that, even if there was no contract with the Claimant, the relationship and the agreement which led to the Claimant and his family being in France were based and made in England. I was also initially attracted by his argument that in effect the Claimant’s complaint is about the way in which the First and Second Defendants fulfilled their side of that agreement. But that is not the claim which he makes, and, in any event, their performance of the agreement was in the form of allowing the Claimant and his family to occupy a villa in France. Nor is this a case in which, for example, the injury occurred whilst the Claimant was carrying out work on the Villa and potential tortious and contractual duties (if the relationship was contractual) therefore arose directly out of the relationship between the parties.

To my mind the tort/delict in this case is much more closely connected to the state of the swimming pool which, as I have said, was part of a property in France and resulted from the French law contract between the First and Second Defendants and the Fourth Defendant. If any of the Defendants is liable, that liability will be closely connected with this contract. This point, taken in combination with the other points to which I have referred, in my view clearly outweighs the existence of any contract with the Claimant relating to the Villa, even if I had found there to be a contractual relationship and even if it was governed by English law.

Similarly, although I have taken into account the nationality and habitual place of residence of the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants, these do not seem to me to alter the conclusion to which I have come. I have also taken into account the fact that the consequences of the accident have to a significant extent been suffered by the Claimant whilst he was in England, but in my view the other factors to which I have referred clearly outweigh this consideration.

Of particular note for future direction on Rome II, is the discussion on existing pre-contractual relations.

This is of course a fact-specific and to a certain extent, discretionary assessment. I also agree there is no limit to the kinds and amount of factors which a judge may take into account when applying the A4(3) exception.

I am minded to disagree with the conclusion reached here, however.  The judge’s assessment is one that echoes a proper law of the tort approach, starting from scratch. But that is not what A4(3) is about: it does not start from scratch; it starts from the clearly stated rule of A4(1) or A4(2), which require a lot of heavy lifting to be dislodged. The arguments pro upholding the A4(2) presumption listed in 78ff in my view give the finding for sustaining its consequence and hence English law as lex causae, strong foundations indeed which I believe, respectfully of course, the judge did not show enough deference to.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 4.5.