Nigeria v Shell et al at the High Court. Yet more lis alibi pendens and cutting some corners on case-management.

One does not often see Nigeria sue Shell. Federal Republic of Nigeria v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Anor [2020] EWHC 1315 (Comm) engages Article 29 Brussels Ia’s lis alibi pendens rule in a period in which (see other posts on the blog) the High Court intensely entertained that section of Brussels Ia. Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDS) is the anchor defendant for the other EU-domiciled defendants. Quite a few of the defendants are not domiciled in the EU.

The case concerns Nigerian allegations that monies paid by it under an earlier settlement following alleged expropriation, which had led to bilateral investment treaty arbitration under ICSID rules, had been channeled to pay bribes. Nigeria is pursuing the case in the criminal courts in Italy, too.

Nigeria therefore are already pursuing claims in Italy to obtain financial relief against 4 of the defendants including the anchor defendant. Defendants contend that those claims are the same claims as the English ones and that the court should decline jurisdiction in respect of those claims pursuant to A29 BIa. Defendants then further contend that, if the court so declines jurisdiction over the claims against RDS and Eni SpA, the entire proceedings should be dismissed. This is because RDS is the ‘anchor defendant’ under A8(1) BIa in the case of three of the EU-domiciled defendants and under English CPR rules against the other defendants. In the alternative to the application under Article 29, Defendants seek a stay of the proceedings under A30 BIa (related cases) or, in the further alternative as a matter of case management, pending a final determination, including all appeals, of the claim that the FRN has brought in Italy.

Butcher J refers at 41 to the UKSC in The Alexandros, and to Rix J in Glencore International AG v Shell International Trading and Shipping Co Ltd, at 110: ‘broadly speaking, the triple requirement of same parties, same cause and same objet entails that it is only in relatively straightforward situations that art [29] bites, and, it may be said, is intended to bite. After all, art [30] is available, with its more flexible discretionary power to stay, in the case of ‘related proceedings’ which need not involve the triple requirement of art [29]. There is no need, therefore, as it seems to me, to strain to fit a case into art [29].’

Same parties. Per CJEU The Tatry A29 applies to the extent to which the parties before the courts second seised are parties to the action previously commenced. Butcher J correctly holds that the fact that there may be other parties to the second action does not prevent this. Nigeria nevertheless argue that the involvement of the Italian Public Prosecutor in the Italian case, and not in the English case, and its crucial role in the Italian proceedings, means that the proceedings nevertheless are not between the ‘same parties’. Defendants call upon CJEU C-523/14 Aertssen to counter this: there BE and NL proceedings were considered to be caught by A29 even though the BE proceedings concerned criminal proceedings and the Dutch did not.

At 47 Butcher J holds that the prosecutor is not a ‘party’ in the A29 sense and that even it were, it is nevertheless clear from The Tatry that there does not have to be complete identity of the parties to the two proceedings for Article 29 to be applicable. (Ditto Leech J in Awendale v Pixis).

Same cause of action. Nigeria accept that there is no material difference in the facts at issue in the two proceedings, however contends that the legal basis of its claim in England is different.

Butcher J refers to Lord Clarke in The Alexandros, that in order to consider same cause of action, one must look ‘at the basic facts (whether in dispute or not) and the basic claimed rights and obligations of the parties to see if there is coincidence between them in the actions in different countries, making due allowance for the specific form that proceedings may take in one national court with different classifications of rights and obligations from those in a different national court’. Doing that, at 55 he holds that these basic claimed rights in the IT and EN proceedings, which he characterises as being the right not to be adversely affected by conduct of RDS which involves or facilitates the bribery and corruption of the FRN’s ministers and agents, and the right to redress if there is such bribery and corruption’, are the same.

That seems to me an approach which is overly reliant on the similarity of underlying facts. (At 70, obiter, Butcher J splits the claims and suggests he would have held on a narrower similarity of cause of action for some claims and not the others, had he held otherwise on ‘same cause of action’; and at 80 that he would have ordered a stay under Article 30 or on case management grounds on the remainder of the action).

Same object. Nigeria contend that its present proceedings do not have the same objet as the civil claim in the Italian proceedings. It contends that the only claim made in the Italian proceedings is for monetary damages, while in the English action claims are also made of a declaration of entitlement to rescind the April 2011 Agreements, other declaratory relief, an account of profits and tracing remedies.

Butcher J disagrees. Per Lord Clarke in The Alexandros, he holds that to have the same object, the proceedings must have the ‘same end in view’, per CJEU Aertssen at 45 interpreted ‘broadly’. At 61; ‘that ‘end in view’ is to obtain redress for RDS’s alleged responsibility for bribery and corruption…. Further, it is apparent that a key part of the redress claimed in the English proceedings is monetary compensation, which is the (only) relief claimed in the Italian proceedings. On that basis I consider that the two sets of proceedings do have the same objet.’

That the English action also seeks to rescind the original 2011 agreements is immaterial, he finds, for RDS were not even part to those proceedings. Moreover, that aim included in the English action serves to support the argument that if the two sets of proceedings go ahead, (at 64) ‘there would be the possibility of the type of inconsistent decisions which Article 29 is aimed at avoiding’. ‘If the English proceedings were regarded as involving a significantly different claim, namely one relating to rescission, and could go ahead, that would give rise to the possibility of a judgment in one awarding damages on the basis of the validity of the April 2011 Agreements and the other finding that those Agreements were capable of rescission. That would appear to me to be a situation of where there is effectively a ‘mirror image’ of the case in one jurisdiction in the other,..’

At 66 ff Butcher J adopts the to my mind correct view on the application of A29 to proceedings with more than one ‘objet’: one does not look at all claims holistically, one has to adopt a claim by claim approach, in line with CJEU The Tatry. At 68: ‘Difficulties which might otherwise arise from the fragmentation of proceedings can usually be addressed by reference to Article 30..’

At 71 he then concludes that the stay must be granted, and that he has no discretion not to do so once he finds that the conditions of A29 are fulfilled. He also holds that with the case against the anchor defendant stayed, A8(1) falls away. He appreciates at 72 that this may expose Nigeria to limitation issues in the Italian proceedings, however those are of their own making for they were under no obligation to sue in Italy.

 

At 74 ff Article 30 is considered obiter, and Butcher J says he would have stayed under A29. At 77 he notes the continuing debate on the difference at the Court of Appeal between Privatbank and Euroeco. At 75(2) he summarises the distinction rather helpfully as

‘In the Kolomoisky case, it was decided that the word ‘expedient’ in the phrase ‘it is expedient to hear and determine them together’ which appears in Article 28.3 of the Lugano Convention (as it does in Article 30.3 of the Regulation), is more akin to ‘desirable’ that the actions ‘should’ be heard together, than to ‘practicable or possible’ that the actions ‘can’ be heard together: paras. [182]-[192]. In the Euroeco Fuels case, having referred to the Kolomoisky case, the Court of Appeal nevertheless appears to have proceeded on the basis that the court had no discretion to order a stay under Article 30 when there was no real possibility of the two claims being heard together in the same foreign court’

At 75(5) he then without much ado posits that

‘In any event, even if not under Article 30, there should be a stay under the Court’s case management powers, and in particular pursuant to s. 49(3) Senior Courts Act 1981 and CPR 3.1(2)(f). Such a stay would not, in my judgment, be inconsistent with the Regulation, and is required to further the Overriding Objective in the sense of saving expense, ensuring that cases are dealt with expeditiously and fairly, and allotting to any particular case an appropriate share of the Court’s resources. Given that the Italian proceedings are well advanced, and that after the determination of the Italian proceedings English proceedings may well either be unnecessary or curtailed in scope, there appear good grounds to consider that a stay of the English proceedings will result in savings in costs and time, including judicial time.’

Whether such case-management stay under CPR 3.1(2)(f) is at all compatible with the Regulation in claims involving EU domicileds, outside the context of Articles 29-34 is of course contested and, following Owusu, in my view improbable.

Most important lis alibi pendens considerations at the High Court these days.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.

 

The governing law of privilege. The Dutch courts in re Shell.

This item has been in the queue a long time – apologies. Thank you Marco Vogels for reporting end of 2019 on the Rotterdam court’s approach re privilege in ECLI:NL:RBROT:2019:7856, a criminal prosecution involving Shell. Marco’s report is most complete and I am happy to refer.

Compare the Dutch approach to my earlier reports on the issue in England and in the US. The Rotterdam court takes the law of the place of establishment of the (self-employed) solicitors as the connecting factor, ditto for in-house lawyers (on which The Netherlands takes an unusual (bu continental European standards) position of professional privilege). However the court also held that privilege falls away for the whole in-house legal department and all its lawyers, foreign established or not, if the head of legal is member of the Executive Committee.

Geert.

Jalla and others v Shell. High Court upholds mother holding jurisdiction, no stay granted on the basis of Brussels Ia’s Article 34 forum non conveniens-light.

Update 18 August 2020 for subsequent procedural judgment unrelated to jurisdiction see [2020] EWHC 2211 (TCC).

England remains a jurisdiction of choice for corporate social responsibility /CSR litigation, in recent parlour often referred to as corporate (human and other rights due diligence. Jalla & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Ors [2020] EWHC 459 (TCC) concerns a December 2011 oil spill which claimants allege companies forming part of the Shell group are responsible for. Anchor defendant in the UK is Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Limited – STASCO.

Stuart-Smith J on Tuesday last week upheld jurisdiction against the London-based mother holding on the basis of Article 4 Brussels Ia, and rejected an application for stay on Article 34 grounds. The judgment is lengthy, the issues highly relevant: this post therefore will be somewhat more extensive than usual.

Standard applications in cases like these now take the form of opposing jurisdiction against UK based defendants using Article 34 Brussels Ia (forum non conveniens -light; readers will remember the issues from ia Privatbank (cited by Stuart-Smith J) and other A34 postings on the blog); alternatively, resisting the case go to full trial on the basis that there is no real issue to be tried; abuse of process arguments (against such defendants: based on EU law); and case-management grounds. The latter two are of course disputed following Owusu. And against non-UK (indeed non-EU based defendants), using forum non conveniens; abuse of process; case-management and no real issue to be tried.

[A further application at issue is to amend form claims to ‘correct’ defendant companies, an application which is subject to limitation periods that are disputed at length in the case at issue. This is civil procedure /CPR territory which is less the subject of this blog].

The jurisdiction challenges are what interests us here and these discussions start at 207. The discussion kicks of with core instructions for ‘Founding jurisdiction’ in principle: the five step ladder expressed by Lord Briggs in Vedanta – which of course confusingly include many echoes of forum non as well as Article 34 analysis. Claimant must demonstrate:

(i) that the claims against the anchor defendant involve a real issue to be tried;

(ii) if so, that it is reasonable for the court to try that issue;

(iii) that the foreign defendant is a necessary or proper party to the claims against the anchor defendant;

(iv) that the claims against the foreign defendant have a real prospect of success; and

(v) that, either, England is the proper place in which to bring the combined claims or that there is a real risk that the claimants will not obtain substantial justice in the alternative foreign jurisdiction, even if it would otherwise have been the proper place, or the convenient or natural forum.

For the purposes of current application, Stuart-Smith J focuses on i, ii, and v:

  • When considering whether there is “a real issue to be tried” the test to be applied is effectively the same as the test for summary judgment: reference here is made to Okpabi. It may be important to point out that the ‘real issue to be tried’ test must not be confused as a negation of Owusu. The test effectively has a gatekeeping purpose, not unlike the similar test in e.g The Netherlands as shown in Kiobel.
  • The second condition, reasonableness to try the real issue, Stuart-Smith J concedes that this condition has been heavily debated for it is not entirely clear. He links the condition to the anchor jurisdiction issue: for Stuart-Smith J, the fact that the anchor defendant is sued for the sole or predominant purpose of bringing the foreign defendant into the action within the jurisdiction is not fatal to an application to serve the foreign defendant out of the jurisdiction. He seems to suggest therefore a light reading of the reasonableness requirement and emphasises (at 215) as Lord Briggs had done in Vedanta, that per C-281/02 Owusu, the effect of the mandatory terms of A4(1) BIa is that jurisdiction that is vested in the English Court by the article may not be challenged on arguments which in other circumstances would be forum non conveniens grounds. (This reinforces his flexible reading of the reasonableness requirement).
  • On the fifth condition, Stuart-Smith J at 217 focuses on the scenario of an A4 defendant likely to continue being sued regardless of the English PIL decision (forum non in particular) viz the non-EU defendants (an issue which was quite important in Vedanta, where no A34 arguments were raised). If that is indeed likely then in his view this must have an impact on how the court considers the application of the English rules.

As noted Stuart-Smith J lists these arguments as ‘founding jurisdiction’ and at 227 finds there is a real issue to be tried: a reliable conclusion in the other direction (that STASCO had not retained legal responsibility for the operation of the Northia) cannot be found at this jurisdictional stage.

The Abuse of EU law argument is given short, one para (at 218) shrift, with reference to Lord Briggs in Vedanta (who focused on Article 8(1) CJEU authority for there is little precedent on abuse of EU law).

Turning then to the pièce de résistance: Article 34.  Readers of the blog will have followed my regular reporting on same.

Stuart-Smith’s first discusses authority in abstracto, and his points are as follows:

  • BIa’s section 9, ‘lis pendens – related actions’, harbours two twins. At 222: ‘Articles 29 and 33 apply where proceedings in different jurisdictions involve the same cause of action and are between the same parties. Articles 30 and 34 apply where proceedings in different jurisdictions are “related” without satisfying the additional prerequisites for the application of Articles 29 and 33 (i.e. the same cause of action and between the same parties).‘ The twins are of course not identical: in each set, one involves action ex-EU, the other looks to intra-EU scenarios.
  • Zooming in on the A30-34 twin: A30 defines ‘related’ and A34 does not. Under A30(3), actions are related where they are “so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from different proceedings.” (at 222) under A34(1)a, the discretion to stay an action under that article does not arise unless “it is expedient to hear and determine the related actions to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgment resulting from separate proceedings”. Semantically one might suggest the latter therefore is a subset of the former (which would also suggest not all actions that are ‘related’ under A30 are so under A34). Stuart-Smith J however proposes to focus on the commonality of both, which is the presence of expediency, ‘to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from <different: A30> <seperate: A34’ proceedings. Again at 222: ‘Although there is a semantic argument that this means that cases falling within Article 34(1)(a) are a subset of “related actions”, I cannot conceive of circumstances where this would matter: the expediency criterion is a pre-requisite for the exercise of the court’s discretion both under Article 29 and under Article 34.’
  • At 223 then follows the discussion of “risk of irreconcilable judgments”. ‘Because Articles 30 and 34 do not require the proceedings to involve the same cause of action and to be between the same parties, it is plain that the “risk of irreconcilable judgments” to which Articles 30(3) and 34(1)(a) refer cannot require that there be a risk that one judgment may give rise to an issue estoppel affecting the other.’ In other words, the test of irreconcilability is suggested to be more easily met in A30 (and 34) then it is under A29 (and 33). Nevertheless, with reference to Donaldson DJ in Zavarco, Stuart-Smith J suggests the points of difference between the judgments (whether arising from findings of fact or of law) would have to “form an essential part of the basis of the judgments” before A30 or 34 may be engaged.
  • At 225 he then refers to Privatbank, held by the Court of Appeal after proceedings in Jalla had been closed, in which the Court of Appeal held that the fact that actions could not be consolidated and heard together (much as of course such togetherness cannot be imposed upon the foreign courts) is relevant to the exercise of the Court’s discretion and, in the absence of some strong countervailing factor, will be a compelling reason for refusing a stay. At 246, that importance of the impossibility of consolidated hearings is re-emphasised.

At 228 then Stuart-Smith J arrives at the application in concretoHe starts with the defendants’ arguments: ‘In their written submissions the Defendants rely upon a number of claims brought by groups of claimants or communities before various courts in Nigeria and one action of rather different complexion, known as the Federal Enforcement Action [“FEA”]. They submit that the English proceedings against STASCO should be stayed, at least temporarily, in order to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments being reached in England and in one or more of the Nigerian proceedings by waiting for the determinations of the Nigerian Courts and then taking proper account of those determinations in disposing of the English proceedings. The Defendants submit that, by the imposition of a stay, the court would avoid “a course of conflict with the courts of a friendly state” and avoid “cutting across executive actions of the Nigerian State in relation to property situated within its territory” which the Defendants submit would be in breach of the act of state doctrine and considerations of comity.‘ He then proceeds to discuss the arguments:

  • Firstly he discusses at length the status of the FEA (which counsel for the defendants focused on) as well as a number of other actions pending in the Nigerian courts.
  • Of note is his observation at 234: ‘It is a fact material to the exercise of the court’s discretion on these applications that the Defendants in these proceedings rely upon the existence of the FEA as grounds for imposing a stay pursuant to Article 34 while at the same time SNEPCO is maintaining its root and branch opposition to the validity (as well as the factual merits) of the FEA.’
  • At 237 he notes the not carbon copy but nevertheless overlap between proceedings, at the level of claimants, defendants, and facts, but not the allegations of negligence and Rylands v Fletcher which are not directed at STASCO in the FEA proceedings. Of note is that he adds in fine that the potential problem of double recovery is simply an issue with which the English and Nigerian courts may have to grapple in due course.
  • At 241 he holds obiter that expediency is not met here for a stay would not reduce the risk of irreconcilable judgments. Here, the true nature of forum non (I realise of course A34 is only forum non light) re-emerges: the English proceedings will continue after the stay in all likelihood will have been lifted (there will continue to be a case to answer for STASCO). ‘(A)lthough the English court would afford due attention and respect to the findings of the Nigerian courts, the findings of the Nigerian courts in the FEA and the other actions would not bind the English court to make equivalent findings even on the most basic matters such as whether the December 2011 Spill reached land.’ However ‘in the light of the ruling by the Court of Appeal [in Privatbank, GAVC] that expediency is a theoretical concept, I will proceed on the assumptions (without deciding) that, for the purposes of Article 34, (a) the actions in Nigeria are related actions and (b) it is expedient to determine the related actions together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgment resulting from different proceedings.’
  • That leaves the question whether a stay is necessary for the ‘proper administration of justice.’
    • At 242 the elements of recital 24 are considered in turn. Stuart-Smith emphasises in particular that while the damage occurred in Nigeria, there is a strong international element that is alleged to give rise to a duty of care owed by STASCO to the Claimants; and he underlines the uncertainty as to the length of the Nigerian proceedings).
    • At 245 he concludes that no stay is warranted: I shall recall the para in full (underlining is mine, as is the lay-out):
      • ‘Balancing these various considerations together, I am not satisfied that a stay is necessary for the proper administration of justice.
      • I start with the fact that jurisdiction is based on Article 4 and that it is contemplated that the proceedings against STASCO may continue after a temporary stay to await the progress of the Nigerian actions.
      • Second, the length of that stay is indeterminate whether one looks at the FEA or the other actions; but on any view it is likely to be measured in years rather than months, thereby rendering these Claimants’ claims (which were issued late) almost intolerably stale.
      • Third, a stay would prevent any steps being taken towards the resolution of the difficult limitation and other issues which the earlier parts of this judgment identify; and it would prevent any other steps being taken to ensure the swift and just progression of the English action if and when the stay is removed. That is, in my judgment, a major drawback: if and to the extent that there are valid (i.e. not statute-barred) claims to be pursued, there is a compelling interest of justice in their being pursued quickly. Otherwise, as is well known, there is a risk that valid claims may fall by the wayside simply because of the exorbitant passage of time.
      • Fourth, although the factual connection with Nigeria is almost complete, the English court’s jurisdiction is not to be ousted on forum non conveniens grounds and, that being so, there is no reason to assume that imposing a stay until after the Nigerian courts have reached their conclusions will either cause the English proceedings to be abandoned or determine the outcome of the English proceedings or eliminate the risk of irreconcilable findings altogether. I am certain that the English court would and will, if no stay is imposed at this stage, remain vigilant to the need to respect the Nigerian courts and their proceedings; and I do not exclude the possibility that circumstances might arise at a later stage when a pause in the English proceedings might become desirable in the interest of judicial comity and respect for Nigeria’s sovereign legal system.
      • Fifth, I bear in mind the fact that the scope of the FEA action is not clear, so that it is not clear what issues will be determined, save that the issue of STASCO’s responsibility and actions will not be as they are not before the Nigerian Court. Turning to the other actions, STASCO is only a party to the HRH Victor Disi Action which, though technically pending, cannot be assumed to be certain to come to trial. The status of the remaining actions, where STASCO is not a party, is as set out above but does not give confidence that one or more of those actions will emerge as a suitable vehicle for determining issues relating to the spill so as to fetter the freedom and resolve of the English court to reach a different conclusion on behalf of different claimants and in an action against STASCO if that is the proper result.
      • Sixth, in my judgment, the proper administration of justice is better served by taking interim steps to bring order to the English proceedings, specifically by addressing the issues of limitation and, potentially, existence and scope of duty, which are disclosed in the earlier parts of this judgment. The outcome of those steps should determine whether and to what extent STASCO is available as an anchor defendant.’

There is an awful lot here which may prove to be of crucial relevance in the debate on the application of Article 34. Most importantly, Stuart-Smith’s analysis in my view does justice to the DNA of A34, which includes a strong presumption against a stay.

Geert.

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

Canadian Supreme Court gives go ahead for consideration of the CSR issues in Nevsun Resources.

I have reported earlier on the issues which yesterday led to the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court 2020 SCC 5 Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya, in which the Supreme Court was asked whether there should be a new tort of breach of international law, and whether the “act of state” doctrine prevents adjudication in the case at issue. The case does not have jurisdictional issues to consider so I shall leave the substantive public international law analysis (not my core area) to others: Dr Ekaterina Aristova’s Twitter feed referenced below should give readers plenty of pointers, as does (which came out just as I was finalising this post) Stephen Pitel’s analysis here.

The case does raise the kinds of questions upon which the US Supreme Court (Kiobel; Jesner) refused to be drawn, particularly issues of corporate culpability under public international law. Again, this is not my area of core expertise and my thoughts here are merely that.

Three Eritrean workers claim that they were indefinitely conscripted through Eritrea’s military service into a forced labour regime where they were required to work at a mine in Eritrea. They claim they were subjected to violent, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The mine is owned by a Canadian company, Nevsun Resources Ltd. The Eritrean workers started proceedings in British Columbia against Nevsun and sought damages for breaches of customary international law prohibitions against forced labour, slavery, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and crimes against humanity. They also sought damages for breaches of domestic torts including conversion, battery, unlawful confinement, conspiracy and negligence.

Nevsun brought a motion to strike the pleadings on the basis of the ‘act of state’ doctrine, which precludes domestic courts from assessing the sovereign acts of a foreign government. Nevsun also took the position that the claims based on customary international law should be struck because they have no reasonable prospect of success.

The act of state doctrine is “a rule of domestic law which holds the national court incompetent to adjudicate upon the lawfulness of the sovereign acts of a foreign state” (R. v. Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, Ex parte Pinochet Ugarte (No. 3), [2000] 1 A.C. 147 (H.L.), at p. 269) (Lord Millett). The doctrine exists in Australian and English common law (with plenty of discussion) but is not part of Canadian common law. At 30 Abella J for the majority explains the connections and differences with the doctrine of state immunity. [The doctrine was also at stake in [2018] EWHC 822 (Comm) Reliance v India on which I reported earlier].

The motion was dismissed by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in majority has now agreed, arguing  (ia at 44-45)

The act of state doctrine and its underlying principles as developed in Canadian jurisprudence are not a bar to the Eritrean workers’ claims. The act of state doctrine has played no role in Canadian law and is not part of Canadian common law. Whereas English jurisprudence has reaffirmed and reconstructed the act of state doctrine, Canadian law has developed its own approach to addressing the twin principles underlying the doctrine: conflict of laws and judicial restraint. Both principles have developed separately in Canadian jurisprudence rather than as elements of an all‑encompassing act of state doctrine. As such, in Canada, the principles underlying the act of state doctrine have been completely subsumed within this jurisprudence. Canadian courts determine questions dealing with the enforcement of foreign laws according to ordinary private international law principles which generally call for deference, but allow for judicial discretion to decline to enforce foreign laws where such laws are contrary to public policy, including respect for public international law.

Nor has Nevsun satisfied the test for striking the pleadings dealing with customary international law. Namely it has not established that it is “plain and obvious” that the customary international law claims have no reasonable likelihood of success.

Of note is at 50 the insistence with reference to authority that ‘deference accorded by comity to foreign legal systems “ends where clear violations of international law and fundamental human rights begin” ‘, and the majority’s opinion’s references to the stale nature of the established concept that public international law exists for and between States only.

Clearly the case is not home and dry for the lower courts will now have to address the substantive issues and may still hold for Nevsun. Moreover claimant’s case is based on parts of international law traditionally considered ius cogens – of less use in other corporate social responsibility cases involving environmental issues or more ‘modern’ social rights other than the hard core ius cogens category. Hence in my initial view the precedent value of the case may not be as wide as one might hope. However the clear rejection of the act of state attempt is significant.

Of interest finally is also the judgment at 75 and at 109 citing Philippe Sands’ (KU Leuven doctor honoris causa) formidable East West Street in support.

Geert.

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

 

 

Agbara et al v Shell. Recognition /enforcement, ordre public and natural justice. Shell Nigeria ruling refused registration in the High Court.

[2019] EWHC 3340 (QB) Agbara et al v Shell Nigeria et al (thank you Adeole Yusuf for flagging) illustrates what many a conflict teacher initiates classes with. There is some, but often limited use in obtaining a judgment which subsequently cannot be enforced where the defendant’s funds are. Coppel DJ refused to enter registration of a 2010 Nigerian judgment by which claimants were awarded 15,407,777,246 Naira (approximately £33 million today) in damages in respect of the pollution of land occupied by them following the rupture of a pipeline maintained by Shell in 1969 or 1970.

Brussels Ia does not apply to recognition and enforcement of an ex-EU judgment hence the common law was applied (clearly with due deference to international comity yet the standards of natural justice nevertheless being determined by lex fori, English law). Natural justice was found to have been infringed by the proceedings at issue. This included an impossibility for Shell to cross-examine witnesses and an unusually swift completion of proceedings following the dismissal of a procedural argument made by Shell. Shell’s subsequent bumbling of the appeal via procedural mistake was not found by Coppel DJ to alter the findings of infringement of natural justice.

Obiter the factual mistakes made in the calculation of damages leading to the award and the opaque inclusion of punitive damages were also found to stand in the way of recognition and enforcement.

The ruling has some relevance for Article 33/34 BI1’s Anerkennungsprognose.

Geert.

 

Tronex. Determining ‘waste’ in reverse logistics chains. CJEU supports holders’ duty of inspection, rules out consumer return under product guarantee as ‘discarding’.

I reviewed Kokott AG’s Opinion in C-624/17 OM v Tronex here. The Court yesterday essentially confirmed her Opinion – readers may want to have a quick read of my previous posting to get an idea of the issues.

The Court distinguishes between two main categories. First, redundant articles in the product range of the retailer, wholesaler or importer that were still in their unopened original packaging. The Court at 32: ‘it may be considered that those are new products that were presumably in working condition. Such electrical equipment can be considered to be market products amenable to normal trade and which, in principle, do not represent a burden for their holder.’ However (at 33) that does not mean that these can never be considered to be ‘discarded’: the final test of same needs to be done by the national court.

The second category are electrical appliances returned under the product guarantee. At 43: goods that have undergone a return transaction carried out in accordance with a contractual term and in return for the reimbursement of the purchase price cannot be regarded as having been discarded. Where a consumer effects such a return of non-compliant goods with a view to obtaining a reimbursement of them under the guarantee associated with the sale contract of those goods, that consumer cannot be regarded as having wished to carry out a disposal or recovery operation of goods he had been intending to ‘discard’ within the meaning of the Waste Framework Directive. Moreover per C-241/12 and C-242/12 Shell, the risk that the consumer will discard those goods in a way likely to harm the environment is low.

However such a return operation under the product guarantee does not provide certainty that the electrical appliances concerned will be reused. At 35: ‘It will therefore be necessary to verify, for the purposes of determining the risk of the holder discarding them in a way likely to harm the environment, whether the electrical appliances returned under the product guarantee, where they show defects, can still be sold without being repaired to be used for their original purpose and whether it is certain that they will be reused.’

At 36: if there is no certainty that the holder will actually have it repaired, it has to be considered a waste. At 40 ff:  In order to prove that malfunctioning appliances do not constitute waste, it is therefore for the holder of the products in question to demonstrate not only that they can be reused, but that their reuse is certain, and to ensure that the prior inspections or repairs necessary to that end have been done.

The Court ends at 42 with the clear imposition of a triple duty on the holder (who is not a consumer, per above): a duty of inspection,  and, where applicable, a duty of repair and of packaging.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, Oxford, OUP, Chapter 1, 1.149 ff.

Kiobel v Shell in The Netherlands. Court confirms jurisdiction anchored unto mother holding and qualifies the suit as one in human rights: not tort. Also orders limited use of documents obtained in US discovery and limited continuation of the trial.

Update 26 July 2019 the English version of the judgment is now available here.

In January 2017 I reported that Ms Kiobel, following failure to convince the USSC of jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute, subsequently initiated proceedings in the Dutch courts to try and sue Shell over the case. (Evidently unrelated to the pursuit of Shell in The Netherlands on environmental grounds – a case which is still pending upon appeal).

The court in first instance at the Hague on 1 May accepted jurisdiction against

  • both the mother holding. That was not at all under discussion: this is done via Article 4 Brussels Ia’s domicile rule. Use of Article 33 /34’s forum non conveniens-light mechanism was not suggested;
  • two English-incorporated Shell daughters using Article 8(1) of the Brussels I a Regulation; and
  • the Nigerian daughter company. Against the Nigerian daughter company, jurisdiction needs to be anchored unto the Dutch mother holding using Article 7 of the Dutch CPR, which is a near carbon copy of Article 8(1) Brussels Ia, whose CJEU authority is followed by Dutch courts in the interpretation of the Dutch residual rule.

Coming so soon after the UKSC in Vedanta the Dutch case has received quite a bit of attention. After first not considering an English translation (not surprisingly; these are the Dutch courts, not a World Service), the clerks have now announced that there will be one, coming up some time soon.

Readers of the blog will expect me to hold the judgment against a clear jurisdictional and conflict of laws lens – in doing so, I fear I have to be a little bit less optimistic than media soundbites following the case.

Jurisdictional issues were in the end dealt with fairly summarily. Most attention went to issues of evidence and discovery, as well as a first review of the substance of the case.

Of note is:

  • At 4.3: acceptance by all parties of of Nigerian law as the lex causae; if need be, choice of law by all parties for Nigerian law as the lex causae. Rome II is not applicable ratione temporis. The case has this in common with the Milieudefensie case against Shell. This being a civil law jurisdiction, ius novit curia applies. The court has taken into account parties’ submissions on Nigerian law yet has also conducted its own research. Foreign law is ‘law’ in the civil law; not ‘fact’ as in the common law.
  • Claimants suggest that in the events in Ogoniland Shell acted as one organisation and treated the issue as one engaging the Shell concern as a whole (4.7 in fine);
  • Claimants purposedly do not wish their claim to be qualified as one engaging piercing of the corporate veil; duty of care; shareholders responsibility; or tort of negligence. Rather, as one engaging the Shell concern directly in a suit on infringement of human rights included in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) and the Nigerian constitution. Tort is only suggested as an alternative should the court not follow the arguments on the basis of human rights (4.8).
  • At 4.12 the Court accepts the horizontal direct effect of human rights under Nigerian law, referring for that finding to Nigerian case-law. At 4.19 the Court notes the absence of statutes of limitation for human rights violations under Nigerian law: thus qualifying this as an issue of substance (lex causae), not procedure (lex fori). It revisits the statute of limitation issue at 4.47 ff (holding that under Nigerian law the suits can still be brought).
  • At 4.26 the court applies A8(1) BIa and A7 Dutch CPR in globo, given the same lines of interpretation, and finds succinctly that all conditions (Kalfelis; Roche Nederland; The Tatry) are met. It remarks at 4.26 in fine that given the same situation of law and fact, it was predictable for all parties that they might end up being sued in any of their corporate siblings’ domicile.
  • At 4.27 the court discussed summary dismissal. As seen in Vedanta, despite Owusu European courts are within their rights to reject the case in summary judgment if there is no ‘real issue’ to be tried against the anchor defendant. However this only applies against non-EU based defendants. Application of Article 8(1) does not allow such summary dismissal for EU-based defendants (see also C-103/05 Reisch Montage). The Hague court reviews summary dismissal only vis-a-vis the Nigerian defendant but finds succinctly that the suit is not prima facie without merit. There is a serious issue to be tried.
  • At 4.28 interestingly the Court rejects relevance of the High Court and the Court of Appeal‘s dismissal of jurisdiction in Okpabi, arguing that these courts employed ‘English law’. This underscores the argument I have made elsewhere, that there is a serious blank in the discussion on lex causae for the duty of care or, depending on the case, the piercing issue. The Dutch court here notes without hesitation that the English courts apply lex fori to that test, and so therefore, I am assuming, should they (meaning Dutch law in their case)?
  • At 4.29 it looks as if the Court considers some kind of reflexive argument which defendants seem to have made. Namely that the Dutch courts should respect the exclusive jurisdictional head under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) – FREP Rules, for the Federal High Court in cases involving alleged infringement of human rights. However the Dutch court considers this a mere internal jurisdictional distribution rule, which does not hinder the Dutch courts in their assessment of the claims. There is no written or unwritten rule in Dutch private international law which suggests such deference to a Nigerian civil procedure rule.

Importantly, a great deal of attention at 4.30 ff  goes to the debate on the use of documents obtained in US discovery, in the Dutch proceedings. A fair amount of these had to be returned following a confidentiality agreement in the US proceedings. Claimants make recourse to Article 6 ECHR to regain access for use in the Dutch proceedings however the Dutch court curtails much of that. Common law discovery rules are notoriously more claimant friendly than those of the civil law (a comment also made by Marsh CM in Glaxo v Sandoz). It leads to Shell not having to turn over quite a large part of the documents claimants had hoped to use. [Note 18 May 2019 in my original post of 17 May I had ‘common’ law and ‘civil law’ accidentally mixed up in the previous sentence].

At 4.58 ff the Court then turns to the substance of the case for case management reasons, with a view to determining which parts of the claim may be made subject to further proof. It holds in a way which I imagine must have been very disappointing for claimants. Only limited claims (of the Nigerian daughter’s involvement in the bribing of witnesses) will be allowed to continue.

The court held that claims of controlling meddling in the Nigerian court proceedings were not proven with sufficient force for these claims to continue – instead it held that Shell’s policy of silent diplomacy, in line with its business policies, had been consistently carried out.

All in all I would suggest claimants have scored clear points on jurisdiction, minor points on discovery and a disappointing outcome for them on substance. Albeit that the witness bribe leg may still lead to a finding of human rights infringement.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2.

Modern Families. UK Supreme Court confirms CSR jurisdiction against mother and daughter in Lungowe v Vedanta and Konkola – yet with one or two important caveats.

Update 26 May 2020 for an application of the Vedanta summary of the rules to be followed when deciding service out of jurisdiction see Marsh CM in Satfinance Investment Ltd v Inigo Philbrick & Ors [2020] EWHC 1261 (Ch), concerning a valuable painting entitled ‘Humidity’ by the New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Note at 9 the ‘art and the law’ issue of the lex situs: ‘The principal pointer to a legal system other than England is that the Painting was in New York at the time the agreement was made and the lex situs would naturally govern the transfer of title and the manner in which the title was held.’). Do bear in mind that the judgment, setting aside an earlier order giving permission to serve out of jurisdiction, only concerns a defendant resident in New York. Against the English-domiciled anchor defendant, no such permission is needed.

Update 10 June 2019 for an update of Canadian case-law developments see here.

Update 30 April 2019 I cannot possibly keep up with all emerging scholarship on the issue yet this review by Penelope Bergkamp most complete and worthwhile.

Update 17 April 2019 Opinio Juris have relevant review here.

Update 16 April 2019 Nick Lees and Tim Pickworth have similar caution for overenthusiastic reaction to the UKSC judgment here.

The SC this morning held in [2019] UKSC 20 Vedanta and Konkola v Lungowe, confirming jurisdiction in England for a human rights /environmental claim against a Zambia-based defendant, Konkola Copper Mines or ‘KCM’, anchored unto an EU-based defendant, Vedanta resources, the ultimate parent company of KCM. Both High Court and Court of Appeal had upheld such jurisdiction (the links lead to my blog post on both).

Of note are:

1. First of all

Lord Briggs’ emphatic rebuke of parties (and courts, one assumes) having disproportionately engaged with the issue of jurisdiction. With reference to ia VTB Capital he underlines that jurisdictional dispute should be settled in summary judgment alone, and should not lead to a mini trial. Reference is made to the size of the bundles etc. A bit of an unfair comment perhaps given that clearly there was a need for SC intervention. At any rate, one imagines that current judgment settles a number of issues and that in future litigation therefore these at least will have to be met with less arguments; lest, as his lordship notes at 14, the Supreme Court’ will find itself in the unenviable position of beating its head against a brick wall.’

2. As noted by Coulson J at 57 in the High Court judgment, neither Vedanta nor KCM pursue an Article 34 Brussels Ia argument of lis alibi pendens with proceedings in Zambia. As I signalled in my succinct review of recent study for the EP yesterday, the A34 defence is likely to be important in future litigation.

3. Applicants’ arguments that pursuing the case against them is an abuse of EU law, were advanced and equally rejected at both the High Court and the Court of Appeal stage. They are pursued again with the SC (at the latter’s express instruction).

  • At 29 Lord Briggs agrees with the HC and the CA and decides that the point that there has been no such abuse of EU law, is acte clair – no reference to the CJEU therefore.
  • At 31 ff he discusses the limited authority (all of it discussed at the HC and the CA) on abuse of Brussels I (a), particularly abuse of the anchor defendant mechanism of (now) Article 8(1), including of course CDC and at 37 raises the interesting issue of remedy: if abuse is found, is it to be disciplined under a European remedy or rather using the common law instrument of forum non conveniens?
  • And at 39: appellants argue that in CSR cases like these, Owusu has the almost inevitable effect that, providing a minimum level of triable issue can be identified against an English incorporated parent, then litigation about environmental harm all around the world can be carried on in England, wherever the immediate cause of the damage arises from the operations of one of that group’s overseas subsidiaries. With the case against the England-based defendant going ahead at any rate, per Owusu, the risk or irreconcilable judgments should jurisdiction against the subsidiaries be vacated, simply becomes to great. Not so hands tied behind the back, appellants argue, but forum non paralysis.
  • At 40 Lord Briggs suggests an adjustment of the English forum non conveniens doctrine for cases like these: namely to instruct claimants of the need to avoid irreconcilable judgments, where the anchor defendant is prepared to submit to the jurisdiction of the domicile of the foreign defendant in a case where, as here, the foreign jurisdiction would plainly be the proper place, leaving aside the risk of irreconcilable judgments

 

4. Despite Owusu, the English courts are still within their rights to reject the case in summary judgment if there is no ‘real issue’ to be tried against the anchor defendant. Here, discussion turned at 42 ff as to whether one should merely apply Chandler v Cape [2012] EWCA Civ 525, or whether this case involves the assertion of a new category of common law negligence liability.

  • This was rejected, like it was by Sales LJ in AAA v Unilever plc [2018] EWCA Civ 1532, which I review here.
  • Lord Briggs 54 concludes that viz the common law of liability there is neither anything special nor conclusive about the parent /subsidiary relationship, and
  • at 53 flags what instantly has become a favourite among commentators on the case: ‘Even where group-wide policies do not of themselves give rise to such a duty of care to third parties, they may do so if the parent does not merely proclaim them, but takes active steps, by training, supervision and enforcement, to see that they are implemented by relevant subsidiaries. Similarly, it seems to me that the parent may incur the relevant responsibility to third parties if, in published materials, it holds itself out as exercising that degree of supervision and control of its subsidiaries, even if it does not in fact do so. In such circumstances its very omission may constitute the abdication of a responsibility which it has publicly undertaken.’

4bis This part of course inevitably may give parent companies a means to prevent such liability (do not proclaim group-wide policies, let alone train or enforce them – as Gabrielle Holly also immediately noted here). However a variety of mechanisms may prevent this becoming a cheap trick to avoid liability: such compliance programs are often required under competition law, financial law etc., too; are relevant for directors’ liability; and of course may already (such as in the French devoir de vigilance) or in future (as mooted ia by the EC and the EP) be statutorily prescribed.

At 60: in the case at issue, the SC finds that the High Court with sufficient care examined and upheld the essence of the claimants’ case against Vedanta, that it exercised a sufficiently high level of supervision and control of the activities at the Mine, with sufficient knowledge of the propensity of those activities to cause toxic escapes into surrounding watercourses, as to incur a duty of care to the claimants. At 61 Lord Briggs adds obiter that not all the material (particularly services agreements) would have persuaded him as much as they did the HC or the CA, however at 62 he emphasis again that the HC and CA’s judgment on same was not vitiated by any error of law.

5. At 66 ff then follows the final issue to be determined: forum non conveniens and the further advancement of the issue already signalled above: it troubles Lord Briggs at 75 that the trial judges did not focus upon the fact that, in this case, the anchor defendant, Vedanta, had by the time of the hearing offered to submit to the jurisdiction of the Zambian courts, so that the whole case could be tried there. (An argument which was considered by Leggatt J in VTB).

  • Evidently the A4 BruIa case would have had to continue per Owusu, yet the reason why the parallel pursuit of a claim in England against Vedanta and in Zambia against KCM would give rise to a risk of irreconcilable judgments is because the claimants have chosen to exercise that right to continue against Vedanta in England, rather than because Zambia is not an available forum for the pursuit of the claim against both defendants: claimant-inflicted forum non.
  • Why, at 75 in fine, (it may be asked) should the risk of irreconcilable judgments be a decisive factor in the identification of the proper place, when it is a factor which the claimants, having a choice, have brought upon themselves?
  • Lord Briggs’ argument here is complex and I need to cross-refer more to the various authorities cited however the conclusion seems to be that Lord Briggs rejects the argument of Leggatt J in VTB and he finds that ! provided the ex-EU forum is a suitable forum, under English private international law claimants do have to make a choice: either only sue the A4 defendant in the EU but not the ex-EU subsidiaries; or sue all in the forum where they may all be sued (if there is such a forum), here by virtue of submission to the non-EU forum. The alternative would allow claimant to profit from self-inflicted risks of irreconcilable judgments.
  • In the end the rule is of no impact in the case for Zambia was found not to be an appropriate forum, for reasons of ‘substantial justice’: among others because of the absence of Conditional Fee Agreements, and given the unavoidable scale and complexity of this case (wherever litigated), the trial judge was right that it could not be undertaken at all with the limited funding and legal resources which the evidence led him to conclude were available within Zambia.

 

6. By way of my conclusion so far: (update 11 April 2019: in the meantime echoed by Robert McCorquodale’s analysis here; and here; he was counsel for interveners in the case hence was able to refer to insight gained from having seen parties’ submissions)

The group policy direction, enforcement, compliance and communication of same -issue is an important take away from this case. Particularly as it may be expected that holding companies will not find it that straightforward simply to do away with such policies. Of great impact too will be the choice now put upon claimants in the forum non conveniens issue: suing nondom companies by virtue of anchoring unto the A4 mother company in England at least will be less straightforward (many usual suspects among the competing jurisdictions do have CFAs, allow for third party funding  etc.). Yet the two in my view dovetail: the reason for bringing in the ex-EU subsidiaries often is because the substantial case against them tends to serve the case against the mother. With a tighter common law neglicence liability the need to serve the daughter may be less urgent.

Geert.

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

Tronex. Circular economy, reverse logistics qualifying as wastes return to the CJEU. Kokott AG suggests a duty of prompt inspection.

Kokott AG Opined in C-624/17 OM v Tronex end of February (I had flagged the case summarily earlier): whether consumer returns of electrical appliances some of which are no longer usable because defective, and residual stock are to be regarded as waste that may be exported only in accordance with the Waste Shipment Regulation. – Reminiscent of the issues in Shell: in that case in a B2B context.

Tronex’ export consignment that was stopped, consisted of appliances which had been returned by consumers under a product guarantee, on the one hand, and goods which, because of a change to the product range, for example, were or could no longer be sold (normally), on the other. A number of the boxes in which the appliances were packaged carried a notice stating their defects. The glass in some of the glass kettles was damaged. The shipment was to take place without notification or consent in accordance with the Waste Shipment Regulation.

The AG takes a sensible approach which distinguishes between consumer and collector. At 31 ff: The mere fact that objects have been collected for the purpose of reuse does not in itself necessarily support the assumption that they have been discarded. Indeed, it seems sensible, both economically and from the point of view of the efficient use of resources, to make appliances which can no longer be sold on the market for which they were originally intended available on other markets where they may still sell. Particularly in the case of residual stock which is still in its unopened original packaging, therefore, the request for a preliminary reference contains insufficient evidence to support the conclusion that there has been any discarding.

Returned appliances which, on account of serious defects, are no longer usable and can no longer be repaired at reasonable cost, on the other hand, must unquestionably be regarded as waste. Kokott AG suggests waste classification as the default position. At 39: in so far as there are doubts as to the reuse of the goods or substance in question being not a mere possibility but a certainty, without the necessity of using any of the waste recovery processes referred to in the Waste Directive prior to reuse, only the possibility of ‘prompt’ dispelling of the doubt by an inspection of the appliances, can shift the presumption of it being waste.

‘Repair’ is what the AG proposes as the distinctive criterion: at 40: if the inspection shows that the item is still capable of functional use, its status as waste is precluded. The same is true of goods with minor defects which limit functionality only negligibly, meaning that these goods can still be sold without repair, in some cases at a reduced price. At 41: ‘In so far as the inspection identifies defects which need to be repaired before the product is capable of functional use, however, that product constitutes waste, since there is no certainty that the retailer will actually carry out the repair. Whether the repair is less or more expensive cannot be decisive in this regard, since a product that does not work constitutes a burden and its intended use is in doubt.’ The same goes for goods (other than those in the original packaging, per above) which have not been inspected at all.

At 45 ff the AG supports this conclusion with reference to instruction in Annexes to the WEEE Directive. She also suggests that her interpretation, given the criminal law implications, be limited to those instances occurring after the eventual CJEU judgment.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, Oxford, OUP, Chapter 1, 1.149 ff.

Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Gize Yebeyo Araya, et al. Some of the unanswered Kiobel and Jesner Bank issues now at the Canadian Supreme Court.

Plenty of goings-on in the Corporate Social Responsibility /mass torts category, as regular readers of the blog and /or my Twitter-feed will know. Thank you Jutta Brunnée for alerting us to Nevsun Resources v Gize Ybeyo et al, currently making its way through the Canadian Supreme Court. Thank you also Cory Wanless for pointing out the core of the issue: Nevsun are not contesting jurisdiction (its existence is secure; much like in the EU context) e.g. on forum non conveniens grounds. Rather, the Supreme Court is asked whether there should be a new tort of breach of international law, and whether the “act of state” doctrine prevents adjudication.

The first question undoubtedly will lead to a discussion of similar issues raised in Kiobel, where they were not discussed by the USSC, and in Jesner Bank, where the USCC refused to be the dealmaker on public international law. The second issue is likely to imply consideration of the very foreign poicy considerations which featured heavily in circuit considerations prior to Kiobel.

Geert.

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