TWR v Panasonic. Obiter consideration of A34 Brussels Ia forum non light. Hamburg court likely to have to take up that baton in some form.

TRW Ltd v Panasonic Industry Europe GmbH & Anor [2021] EWHC 19 (TCC)  adds to the slowly developing case-law on Article 34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens light, on which I have reported at each occasion the Article to my knowledge has been applied (most recently in Ness Global Services).

The defendant Panasonic companies are based in Germany. Panasonic’s Group headquarters are in Japan. TRW is the English subsidiary, based in Solihull, of a German group of companies, ZF Group. The defendants say the parties agreed to German law and exclusive jurisdiction of the Hamburg court over any claim by TRW arising from supply of the resistors. TRW says the parties agreed to English law and jurisdiction.

There are related proceedings in Michigan, with judgment expected in about April 2021.

Kerr J decides at 55 ff here was valid A25 choice of court and hence jurisdiction for the courts at Hamburg, following the usual discussion on whether and if so which choice of court has been agreed in to and fro messages, purchase orders, invoices, references to general terms and conditions and the like. The kind of housekeeping complications which I discuss ia here.

Then follows obiter the Article 34 discussion. Parties agree that if jurisdiction under A25 BIa is established by neither party, TRW was at liberty to sue in England as the place of delivery of the goods, under A7(1) BIa; and that for A34 purposes there is a related lis alibi pendens in Michigan. The discussion turned on whether the word “expedient” in A34(1)(a) bears the meaning “desirable, even if not practicable” or “both practicable and desirable”, given the inconsistent case-law in JSC Commercial Privatbank v. Kolomoisky, SCOR v Barclays, Municipio de Mariana,  Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Royal Dutch Shell plcand of course  EuroEco.

At 94 Kerr J seems to side with Kolomoisky and with not reading EuroEco as a rejection of same, however he does not take definitive sides or does not attempt to reconcile the judgments. At 95 he says he would have not exercised his discretion for a stay, for the reasons earlier listed by counsel for claimants: these were (at 92-93)

Mr Caplan strongly opposed any stay. He submitted that, assuming I have any discretion to grant a stay (contrary to his reserved position), I should not exercise it. The risk of irreconcilable judgments could not be eliminated, he argued. The Michigan case would shortly produce a judgment binding on neither party to the present claim and, probably, applying Michigan law.

There was no scope for issue estoppel or abuse of process because the parties were different and the law could be different. Neither party in this case had opted for Michigan as the chosen forum and Michigan law as the choice of law. If the outcome of the Michigan litigation helped to promote settlement of the present claim, that could happen anyway, without a stay, since this claim is still at an early stage; the first case management conference has yet to take place.

At 98 Kerr J summarises

I would refuse a stay. The first condition in article 34(1)(a) – the expediency condition – may well be met, subject to clarification of the test emerging from the case law. The second condition is met. The third is not. I am far from satisfied that a stay is necessary for the proper administration of justice.

Kerr J concludes at 99

defendants have undertaken to submit to the jurisdiction of the Hamburg court, subject to seeking a stay of proceedings in Hamburg to await the outcome of the Michigan proceedings.

The Hamburg court is likely to see A34 arguments return, lest of course the Michigan proceedings will be concluded, in which case res judicata, recognition, and irreconcilability of judgment might be a core concern.

We have fairly little, if growing (*makes a note to now really really finish that paper*) authority to work with on A34. All bits help.

Geert.

European Private International, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.3.2, para 2.539 ff

Wigmans v AMP. Abuse of process and multiplicity of proceedings.

[2019] NSWCA 243 Wigmans v AMP concerns the challenging application of fraus /abuse / vexatious and oppressive proceedings principles to multiplicity of proceedings. Fraus or abuse is not easily applied in civil procedure let alone conflict of laws context. See e.g. my critique of Pablo Star but equally other postings; search tag ‘abuse’ or ‘fraus’ should help locate them. Neither is the common law Aldi rule requiring claimants to bring grouped cases together easy to consider.

Following testimony given by executives of AMP in the (Australian) Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, five class actions were commenced within a short time of each other on behalf of shareholders in AMP who had made investments during periods of time in which it was said that AMP ought to have disclosed certain information to the market. Four of the five class actions were commenced in the Federal Court but were transferred to the Supreme Court. Two of the sets of proceedings then consolidated so that five became four. Each of the respective plaintiffs of the remaining four pending proceedings brought applications to stay each of the other sets of proceedings. AMP, whilst not filing a stay application, supported an outcome in which it would face only one set of proceedings.

Unclear principles on the issue have led to considerations of ‘beauty parades’ (which legal team might best lead the class action) as well as third party funding implications.

The primary judge ordered, pursuant to ss 67 and 183 of the Civil Procedure Act 2005 (NSW) and the inherent power of the Court, that the representative proceedings commenced by 3 of the 4 be permanently stayed. Each of these 3 fell within the definition of group member in the 4th, the ‘Komlotex’ proceedings. Ms Wigmans, one of the 3, made an application for leave to appeal that decision.

The issue in respect of which leave to appeal was granted (but appeal eventually refused) related to the principles applicable to applications to stay and counter-stay multiple open representative action proceedings.

The case therefore does not strictly relate to conflict of laws, rather to civil procedure and case management. However multiplicity of proceedings is clearly an issue viz conflicts, too (think lis alibi pendens; forum non etc.) hence I thought it worthwhile to flag the case; in which Bell P quotes conflicts handbooks; and in which 85 he expressly considers forum non and Cape v Lubbe. The House of Lords in that case had refused to stay proceedings which had been commenced in England where it was said that South Africa was the natural or more appropriate forum, in circumstances where it was held that the proceedings could only be handled efficiently and expeditiously on a group basis in England where appropriate funding was available. The lack of means available in South Africa to prosecute the claims required the application for a stay of proceedings to be refused.

An interesting case in which conflict of laws principles inspired domestic civil procedure rules, and where relevant considerations have an impact on e.g. the Article 33-34 Brussels Ia discussions.

Geert.