Kumlin v Jonsonn. Judge dismisses jurisdiction for most of Swedish businessman’s libel claim, defusing what is said to be a SLAPP suit.

Kumlin & Anor v Jonsson & Ors [2022] EWHC 1095 (QB) disciplines forum shopping, in this case libel tourism, in a claim that is considered a SLAPP: a Strategic Lawsuit against public participation.

First Claimant is an entrepreneur, businessman and investor in sustainable and ethical business ventures, resident in Monaco, with business interests in the UK including in the Second Claimant, of which he is the founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. He is a Swedish citizen. Second Claimant is a public limited company registered in England and Wales. Claimants’ case is that between 29 September 2020 and 2 November 2020 the Defendants, or some of them, all of whom are Swedish, published or caused to be published on the Website eight articles concerning the Claimants. There was further publication via Facebook, Twitter, etc, where links to the Articles were posted. 

The Articles are in Swedish. Knowles J [30] advances the reasoning, proposed by defendants, that jurisdiction under any of the gateways as a result of A4 BIa, locus damni or locus delicti commissi (A7(2) BIa per CJEU Bier and Shevill), or centre of interests (A7(2) BIa, per CJEU eDate and Bolagsupplysningen) only exist to the degree the case is actually actionable in those cases which, he submits, requires reference to the domestic laws of those Member States (e.g. a minimum ‘publication’ threshold). I believe this is incorrect: jurisdiction and actionability are not the same. While lex fori on threshold issues will have an immediate impact on the practical reality of a claim, it does not stand in the way of principled jurisdiction under BIa, which exists without reference to national laws.

The judge refers to much CJEU and E&W authority, all of it discussed on this blog, most recently the Court of Appeal in Mincione.

Knowles J’s discussion eg [69] ff of the intensity of publication etc required, under residual double actionability rules, in my view is a threshold question and not, as it is presented, a jurisdictional, gateway question, albeit the analysis in this section is mixed with justifiable discussion of direct v indirect damage under the CJEU Marinari rule. The judgment is much more extensive on this point than it could have been in my opinion.

[224] it is concluded that on the centre of interest issue, which is relevant for the natural person claimant only, his centre of interests is Monaco, where he is habitually resident. That is a factual assessment which is unlikely to be material for an appeal.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.439 ff.

Abusive forum shopping in defamation suits. The Parliament study on SLAPPs.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – SLAPPs (I look at them comparatively in my Monash Strategic and Public Interest Litigation Unit, LAW5478) are a well-known tool to silence critics. Based on defamation, they (or the threat with them) aim to shut down the voice of opposition. Not many find the energy, financial resources and nerves to fight a protected libel suit in court.

The EP recently published the study led by Justin Borg-Barthet and carried out by him and fellow researchers at the University of Aberdeen. At the substantive level, distinguishing between SLAPPs and genuine defamation suits is not straightforward. As Justin et al point out, there is an important private international law element to the suits, too. Clearly, a claimant will wish to sue in a claimant-friendly libel environment. Moreover, where a deep-pocketed claimant can sue in various jurisdictions simultaneously, this compounds the threat.

The Brussels and Lugano regime is particularly suited to the use of SLAPPs as a result of the CJEU case-law on Article 7(2) forum delicti. The Handlungsort /Erfolgort distinction as such already tends to add jurisdictional gateways. In more recent years this has been compounded by the additional ‘centre of interests’ gateway per CJEU e-Date and Bolagsupplysningen – even if this was recently somewhat contained by the Court in Mittelbayerischer Verlag. As I have flagged before, Brussels Ia’s DNA is not supportive of disciplining abusive forum shopping, as illustrated ia in competition law and intellectual property law cases.

For these reasons, the report (Heading 4, p.33 ff) suggests dropping the availability of Article 7(2) and sticking to Article 4 domicile jurisdiction, supplemented with (unlikely) choice of court.

The European Parliament more than the European Commission has picked up the defamation issues both for BIa and for applicable law under Rome II (from which the issue is hitherto exempt; the report reviews the applicable law issues, too). It remains to be seen whether with this report in hand, Parliament will manage to encourage the EC to pick up the baton.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.431 ff, 4.24 ff.

 

Italy’s residual private international law rules in the spotlight in Dolce & Gabbana v Diet Prada defamation suit.

I was unaware of a fashion blogosphere war of words and more between Dolce & Gabbana and the founders of Diet Prada until I was asked to comment (in Dutch) on the pending lawsuit in Italy. The suit has an echo of SLAPP – Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

Among others this post on The Fashion Law gives readers the necessary background and also links to the defendants’ lawyers reply at the jurisdictional level. It is this element of course that triggered the interview request, rather than my admittedly admirable sense of style (with sentences like these, I think I may be in need of a break).

Readers might be surprised to find the legal team discussing A7(2) Brussels Ia’s forum delicti, and CJEU authority such as Bolagsupplysningen seeing as per A6 BIa the Regulation does not apply, rather the Italian residual rules. However as Andrea Bonomi and Tito Ballarino review in the Encyclopedia of Private International Law, Italy has extended the scope of application of BIa to its internal sphere. Hence an interesting discussion of the CJEU case-law on locus damni, centre of interests etc. As well as a probably ill-fated attempt to encourage the Italian courts, in subsidiary fashion, to exercise forum non should the A7(2) arguments fall on deaf ears. Probably futile seeing as the Italian regime does not know a foum non rule, however if BIa is extended, would that not also extend to forum non-light in A33-34? As far as I could tell from the submission, however, no reference was madeĀ  to an 33-34 challenge.

Enfin, lots of interesting things to ponder at a different occasion. Happy Easter all.

Geert.

EU Private International Law 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.437 ff.

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