Posts Tagged Rotterdam

Petrobas securities class action firmly anchored in The Netherlands. Rotterdam court applying i.a. forum non conveniens under Brussels Ia.

Many thanks to Jeffrey Kleywegt and Robert Van Vugt for re-reporting Stichting Petrobas Compensation Foundation v PetrÓleo Brasilieiro SA – PETROBRAS et al. The case, held in September (judgment in NL and in EN) relates to a Brazilian criminal investigation into alleged bribery schemes within Petrobras, which took place between 2004 and 2014. the Court had to review the jurisdictional issue only at this stage, and confirmed same for much, but not all of the claims.

The Dutch internal bank for Petrobas, Petrobas Global Finance BV and the Dutch subsidiary of Petrobas, Petrobas Oil and Gas BV are the anchor defendants. Jurisdiction against them was easily established of course under Article 4 Brussels Ia.

Issues under discussion, were

Firstly, against the Dutch defendants: Application of the new Article 34 ‘forum non conveniens’ mechanism which I have reported on before re English and Gibraltar courts. At 5.45: defendants request a stay of the proceedings on account of lis pendens, until a final decision has been given in the United States, alternatively Brazil, about claims that are virtually identical to those brought by the Foundation. They additionally argue a stay on case management grounds. However the court finds

with respect to a stay in favour of the US, that

the US courts will not judge on the merits, since there is a class settlement; and that

for the proceedings in which these courts might eventually hold on the merits (particularly in the case of claimants having opted out of the settlement), it is unclear what the further course of these proceedings will be and how long they will continue. For that reason it is also unclear if a judgment in these actions is to be expected at ‘reasonably short notice’: delay of the proceedings is a crucial factor in the Article 34 mechanism.

with respect to a stay in favour of Brasil, that Brazilian courts unlike the Dutch (see below) have ruled and will continue to rule in favour of the case having to go to arbitration, and that such awards might not even be recognisable in The Netherlands (mutatis mutandis, the Anerkennungsprognose of Article 34).

Further, against the non-EU based defendants, this of course takes place under residual Dutch rules, particularly

Firstly Article 7(1)’s anchor defendants mechanism such as it does in Shell. The court here found that exercise of jurisdiction would not be exorbitant, as claimed by Petrobas: most of the claims against the Dutch and non-Dutch defendants are so closely connected as to justify a joint hearing for reasons of efficiency, in order to prevent irreconcilable judgments from being given in the event that the cases were heard and determined separately: a clear echo of course of CJEU authority on Article 8(1). The court also rejects the suggestion that application of the anchor mechanism is abusive.

It considers these issues at 5.11 ff: relevant is inter alia that the Dutch defendants have published incorrect, incomplete, and/or misleading financial information, have on the basis of same during the fraud period issued shares, bonds or securities and in that period have deliberately and wrongly raised expectations among investors. Moreover, at 5:15: Petrobras has itself stated on its website that it has a strategic presence in the Netherlands.

Against two claims ‘involvement’ of the NL-based defendants was not withheld, and jurisdiction denied.

Further, a subsidiary jurisdictional claim for these two rejected claims on the basis of forum necessitatis (article 9 of the Duch CPR) was not withheld: Brazilian authorities are clearly cracking down on fraud and corruption (At 5.25 ff).

Finally  and again for these two remaining claims, are the Netherlands the place where the harmful event occurred (Handlungsort) and /or the place where the damage occurred (Erfolgsort)? Not so, the court held: at 5.22: the Foundation has not stated enough with regard to the involvement of the Dutch defendants in those claims, for the harmful event to be localised in the Netherlands with some sufficient force. As for locus damni and with echos of Universal Music: at 5.24: that the place where the damage has occurred is situated in the Netherlands, cannot be drawn from the mere circumstance that purely financial damage has directly occurred in the Dutch bank accounts of the (allegedly) affected investors – other arguments (see at 5.24) made by the Foundation did not convince.

Finally, an argument was made that the Petrobas arbitration clause contained in its articles of association, rule out recourse to the courts in ordinary. Here, an interesting discussion took place on the relevant language version to be consulted: the Court went for the English one, seeing as this is a text which is intended to be consulted by persons all over the world (at 5.33). The English version of article 58 of the articles of association however is insufficiently clear and specific: there is no designated forum to rule on any disputes covered by the clause. Both under Dutch and Brazilian law, the Court held, giving up the constitutional right of gaining access to the independent national court requires that the clause clearly states that arbitration has been agreed. That clarity is absent: the version consulted by the court read

“Art. 58 -It shall be resolved by means of arbitration [italics added, district court], obeying the rules provided by the Market Arbitration Chamber, the disputes or controversies that involve the Company, its shareholders, the administrators and members of the Fiscal Council, for the purposes of the application of the provision contained in Law n° 6.404, of 1976, in this Articles of Association, in the rules issued by the National Monetary Council, by the Central Bank of Brazil and by the Brazilian
Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as in the other rules applicable to the functioning of the capital market in general, besides the ones contained in the agreements eventually executed by Petrobras with the stock exchange or over-the-counter market entity, accredited by the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission, aiming at the adoption of standards of corporate governance established by these entities, and of the respective rules of differentiated practices of corporate governance, as the case may be.”

A very relevant and well argued case – no doubt subject to appeal.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed.2016, Chapter 2, almost in its entirety.

 

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Seatrade: Ships as waste.

Rechtbank Rotterdam held on 15 March last that 4 ships owned and operated by the Sea Trade concern had to be regarded as waste when they left the port at Rotterdam cq Hamburg (they were eventually beached in a variety of destinations). Not having been notified as waste, their shipment was considered illegal and the concern as well as some of its employees consequently convicted. (Illegal waste shipments being a criminal offense).

The court decided not to refer to the CJEU on the application of the waste definition to ships, as it considered the issue to be acte clair. The court’s review of the legal framework is included in Heading 4.3.4. As such, the analysis does not teach us much about the difficulty of applying the waste definition to international maritime logistics, in particular ship disposal. The court found at a factual level that the owners’ intention to dispose of the ships was clearly established when the ships left the EU, with, it suggested, the facts proving that the intention to dispose was at that moment of such an intensity as to trigger the waste definition.

The court does flag its appreciation for the difficulties. Not only is eventual disposal of hardware such as ships a possibility from the moment of their purchase. Such intention may also be withdrawn, reinstated, modified, at various moments of the ships’ life, fluctuating with market circumstances. Particularly given the criminal nature of the legal discipline here, I find that a very important driver to tread very cautiously and to look for firmer objective factors to establish intent.

Most probably to be continued on appeal.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2017, para 1.20 ff. Disclosure: I acted as court expert.

 

 

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Off-spec fuel: Else Marie Theresa: Not all blending disables qualification as waste.

The CJEU’s finding in Shell, was applied by the Court of first instance at Antwerp in a judgment from October last, which has just reached me. (I have not yet found it in relevant databases (not uncommon for Belgian case-law), but I do have a copy for those interested). The case concerned debunkered off-spec fuel, off the ship Else Maria Theresa (her engines apparently having been affected by the oil being off-spec), blended into /with a much larger amount of bunker oil.

The court applied the Shell /Carens criteria, leading to a finding of waste. In brief, the blending in the case at issue was not, the court held, standing practice in the bunkering /debunkering business, and /or a commercially driven, readily available preparation of off-spec for purchase by eager buyers. Rather, a quick-fix solution to get rid off unwanted fuel.

The judgment (which is being appealed I imagine) emphasises the case-by-case approach needed for the determination of ‘waste’. It relies heavily on (the absence of) evidence on market consultation and signals from interested buyers for the off-spec fuel.

Geert.

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Rotterdam ultimately lets Shell (and Carens) off the hook in reverse logistics v waste case.

Update 11 January 2016: Shell inform me that the DA (‘parket’ /Openbaar Ministerie) has appealed.

I have reported some time ago on the reverse logistics case involving Shell and Carens. As noted in that post, the CJEU instructed the court at Rotterdam to gauge the ‘true intentions’ of Shell vis-a-vis the contaminated fuel which it had taken back from one of its clients (Carens).

The Court at Rotterdam issued its final judgment on 23 December last, truly a christmas present for the companies involved for the accusations of illegal waste shipments were rejected. (I could not locate the judgment on ECLI yet: I have a copy for those interested).

The court first of all rejected a rather neat attempt of the Dutch prosecutor to get around the CJEU’s finding in para 46 of its judgment : ‘it is particularly important that the Belgian client returned the contaminated ULSD to Shell, with a view to obtaining a refund, pursuant to the sale contract. By so acting, that client cannot be regarded as having intended to dispose of or recover the consignment at issue and, accordingly, it did not ‘discard’ it within the meaning of Article 1(1)(a) of Directive 2006/12.‘ It was suggested that incoterm FOB (‘Free on Board’), applicable to the agreement between Carens and Shell, meant that the qualification of the payment by Shell could not have been a refund for defective goods (ownership of the goods already having been transferred prior to contamination) but rather the payment of damages for a contract not properly carried out. This, it was argued, made para 46 irrelevant for the facts of the case. The court at Rotterdam essentially argued that par 46 needs to be applied beyond the black letter of the law: in effect, in acting as they did and following their running contractual relationships, Shell and Carens had decided to annul the sale, sale price was refunded, and Carens could therefore not be seen as owner or holder of the goods.

Neither, the court held, could Shell be considered a discarding the fuel: the court paid specific attention to testimony that the fuel concerned was actually presented to market, with a view to establishing what price it could fetch. Offers were made which were not far off the initial sale price. Re-blending of the fuel was only done to obtain a higher price and was carried out in accordance with established market practices. Shell’s resale of the fuel, as holder of it, was not just a mere possibility but a certainty (language reminiscent of what the CJEU normally employs for the distinction recovery /disposal).

Final conclusion: the fuel at no stage qualified as waste and no one could have discarded it.

A very important judgment indeed – it will be interesting to see whether the prosecutor’s office will appeal.

Geert.

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Toxic policy-making? Rotterdam ‘bans’ the use of Roundup

It is being reported (this link in Dutch only however I suspect the international media will pick up on this soon) this morning that the city of Rotterdam has ‘banned’ the use of Roundup (Monsanto’s flagship herbicide). I was not able at this stage to get confirmation of what has actually been decided. My intuition however tells me what was had happened is not so much a ‘ban’ on the use of Round-up on Rotterdam territory. Rather, I imagine, a decision of the local council no longer to use Roundup in keeping pavements weed-free. A procurement or garden management decision, in other words.

The news caught my eye for I have an interest  in the legality of local (or other) bans on the use of products which have otherwise been approved by EU (such as in this case: EU approval of glyphosate) or national authorities. See e.g. here (but with a need to update with the Mickelsson judgment). A true ban on Roundup would certainly raise the prospect of WTO and EU litigation…

Geert.

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There’s only that much delay the ECJ will tolerate – Rotterdam court has to start from scratch in EBS, no clarification on waste shipments

The Court’s order in EBS, Case C-240/12 (available in French and Dutch only), has only now come to my attention (thanks to Raluca Rada) – and for the wrong reasons. This is a preliminary review by the Court at Rotterdam, concerning the application of the waste shipments Regulation.

The case at hand refers to a transport of unsorted used clothes from France to the United Arab Emirates via the Port of Rotterdam, seized by the Dutch authorities due to alleged failure to comply with the notification requirements under the waste shipment Regulation for waste transit. The defendant in the criminal proceedings essentially argued that the Dutch authorities interpret the concept of ‘transit’ in too wide a manner. Since these are criminal proceedings, there is additional tension on the notion of transit in old v new waste shipments Regulation – under criminal law, the provision with the most advantageous consequences for the defendant needs to be applied, even if it was not applicable at the time of the alleged infringement (retroactive application of the milder criminal law; thank you to Gaelle Marlier for confirming that).

The ECJ forewarned the national court that not enough information on the facts had been given for it to review. Time was given for the national court to provide additional data – the oral hearing was postponed to accommodate the national court’s delay in answering. Subsequently, the national court wanted to hear the parties on the additional facts to be given to the court: such hearing could not be scheduled for some time in view of the workload of the national court. The ECJ was then requested to try and answer the question anyway, on the basis of the facts that had been given in the request, supplemented with the few extra nuggets that had been provided informally. Not surprisingly therefore, the Court in the end declined full stop.

I am not sure what this means for the procedure: presumably, the question may be asked again, this time with the right amount of data? To my knowledge these kinds of orders do not occur all that frequently, pity it should do in this case, for I was rather looking forward to hearing the outcome.

Geert.

Questions referred

Where waste is shipped by vessel from an EU Member State (in this case France) to a State in which the OECD-Decision does not apply (in this case the United Arab Emirates), is there ‘transit’ within the meaning of the former 2 and the new  Waste Shipment Regulation (WSR) if under way the vessel puts in at a port of another EU Member State (in this case the Port of Rotterdam)?

Does it make any difference to the answer to question 1 if:

there is storage and/or transhipment of that waste at that port and/or

that waste is taken ashore and/or

that waste is declared for import at customs?

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JÄÄSKINEN AG in Shell: Re-blended fuel was discarded. Waste status of off-spec and reverse logistics products remains uncertain.

I have reported earlier on the importance of the judicial review in Shell. JÄÄSKINEN AG this morning opined that A consignment consisting of fuel which the vendor takes back and processes through blending with a view to placing it back on the market, because the fuel had been unintentionally mixed with a substance and therefore no longer satisfies safety requirements so that it could not be stored by the buyer pursuant to an environmental permit, must be considered as waste

The Advocate-General’s Opinion was very much focused on the factual aspects of the case. Disappointingly, he did not much entertain many of the criteria suggested by the court at Rotterdam – for reasons of judicial economy, one imagines. However Advocate Generals do often get carried away on the analysis. A pitty that did not happen here. Core to the AG’s Opinion is his finding (at 25) that

re-blending of the fuel before its resale, in my opinion, points towards an intention to discard it, and the act of re-blending itself amounts to recovery;

With respect to the contractual context, the AG notes (at 26) that the fact that the contaminated fuel was ‘off-spec’ in relation to the specifications appearing in the contract between Shell and Carens is irrelevant to determining whether it amounts to waste under mandatory EU waste law, the latter being of a public law nature and not subject to the will of the parties to a contract. 

While I am of the view that the contract cannot singlehandedly determine the qualification or not as waste, its (seemingly at least) outright dismissal by the AG as a factor to consider (at least in this para), is disappointing. It is not, I submit, in line with the WFD. Neither arguably is the link which the AG makes at 14 (and in his final Opinion) between an environmental permit, and the qualification of the substance as waste. Ad absurdum: a stolen tanker full of diesel is left for re-sale in a rented garage. The garage has not been given a permit for storage of diesel. Yet the diesel has not turned into waste.

With respect to the overall debate on reverse logistics, there is an interesting section in the Opinion at 37: ‘a consignment consisting of ULSD mixed unintentionally with MTBE and having as a result a flame point lower than allowed for diesel sold from the pump becomes waste within the meaning of Article 1(1)(a) of Directive 2006/12 at the point of contamination, and remains as such up to its recovery by blending or by its commercial re-classification in a manner that is objectively ascertainable.‘[emphasis added by me]. This latter part does open room for products re-sent across the logistics chain not to be considered waste, however there needs to be some kind of ‘objectively ascertainable’ re-classification: this requires some thinking in terms of compliance.

The AG makes the following comparison at 40:

I would like to close by emphasising that mere failure to fulfil agreed contractual specifications does not, as such, mean that a substance or product is necessarily to be considered as waste. If a trader delivers to a restaurant minced meat that is a mixture of beef and horse, instead of pure beef as agreed between the parties, he may be contractually obliged to accept return of the delivery without it thereby becoming waste. However, if the product results from accidental contamination of beef with horse meat during the processing of minced meat, he has an obligation to discard the minced meat up and until its precise characteristics have been ascertained and the minced meat is either disposed of or commercially reclassified, for example, as feed for minks, or as a beef-horse meat mixture for human consumption, provided it satisfies the relevant requirements under food-stuffs regulations. More generally, a non-intentionally manufactured mixture of compound is prima facie waste if the use to which it is intended to be put is not safe, in the absence of knowledge of its composition. This applies to products such as food or fuel whose qualities are important to human health and the environment.

In this section, therefore, the contractual context between parties to a transaction, does seem to enter the train of thought when deciding on the waste status of an off-spec or reverse logistics product.

The ink on the Opinion is literally still drying and undoubtedly there are more angles to it than I report above. However I for one should like the ECJ to state something more unequivocal on the impact of the contractual context, when it delivers its judgment presumably in the autumn.

Geert.

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