Multimodal transport and jurisdiction for cargo claims

It’s hardly news when the ECJ follows its advocate-general. But it has just done so in Zurich Insurance and Metso Minerals [2018] EUECJ C-88/17. If goods are carried multimodally from Finland to England by an English carrier, and stolen in England (as they always seem to be), Art.7(1) of Brussels I Recast says the contract fell to be performed in either England (destination) or Finland (origin) and the owner can sue in either at his option. Just as with air transport: flightright GmbH v Air Nostrum (C-274/16) [2018] EUECJ 274/16. And … that’s it. For comment on the Advocate-General’s opinion, see our blog here.

 

No direct liability in tort for UK parent company. Third ‘anchor defendant’ decision in the Court of Appeal.

 

AAA v Unilever [2018] EWCA Civ 1532 is the third Court of Appeal decision in the trio of anchor defendant cases (the others being Lungowe v Vedanta and Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell) that came before the courts last year raising the issue of when a parent company owes a duty of care to persons affected by the activities of its overseas subsidiary. The claimants were workers on a tea plantation in Kenyan who had suffered from criminal acts following the violence that followed the 2007 elections, which was on tribal lines. The issue was whether the parent company and the subsidiary owed a duty of care to people on the estate to protect them from unlawful violence. The claimants conceded that Kenyan law applied but it was accepted that English law was very persuasive in Kenya and Kenyan law would follow English law on the imposition of a duty of care on the parent company. Elizabeth Laing J admitted the possibility of a duty of care being owed by the parent company but the claim foundered on the issue of foreseeability of the type of harm suffered by the claimants.

Last week the Court of Appeal dismissed the claimant’s appeal on the grounds that there was no arguable case that the parent company owed a duty of care to the claimants. Sales LJ, giving the judgment of the Court, held that a parent company could owe a direct duty of care to those affected by the activities of its subsidiary in two situations: (i) where the parent has in substance taken over the management of the relevant activity of the subsidiary in place of, or jointly with, the subsidiary’s own management; or (ii) where the parent has given relevant advice to the subsidiary about how it should manage a particular risk.

The appellants accepted that they could not say that their claim was within the first category as the management of the affairs of Unilever’s Kenyan subsidiary, UTKL, was conducted by the management of UTKL. Instead, they sought to bring their claim within the second category, relying upon advice which they say was given by Unilever to UTKL in relation to the management of risk in respect of political unrest and violence in Kenya.  However, the witness evidence and the documentary evidence, showed that UTKL did not receive relevant advice from Unilever in relation to such matters, and that UTKL understood that it was responsible itself for devising its own risk management policy and for handling the severe crisis which arose in late 2007, and that it did so.

So far, the three anchor defendant cases on whether a parent company owes a duty of care in respect of the activities of its subsidiary company have seen two decisions against the claimants, and one Vedanta v Lungowe in their favour. In Vedanta  permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was granted on 23 March 2018, and in Okpabi the claimants have stated their intent to apply for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. We are likely to see a lot more on this question in the coming months.

 

 

EU anti-suit injunctions don’t rule — OK?

Confirmation from Males J today in Nori Holdings Ltd & Ors v PJSC Bank Otkritie [2018] EWHC 1343 (Comm)  of what we all suspected: you can’t injunct EU / Lugano proceedings in support of arbitration. The facts aren’t that interesting. Essentially an ailing Russian bank was seeking to undo the effects of a debt restructuring agreement entered into with a number of its borrowers and their sureties, members of the O1 group. To that end it sued in Russia and Cyprus. The present claimants, borrowers and sureties, sought anti-suit injunctions on the basis that the claims were the subject of valid arbitration agreements. It got injunctions in respect of the Russian proceedings; we say no more.

As for the Cypriot proceedings, the bank understandably invoked West Tankers Inc v Allianz SpA (Case C-185/07) [2009] ECR I-00663 and its holding that any intra-EU anti-suit proceedings unacceptably infringed EU full faith and credit under the then Brussels I, not to mention EU courts’ powers to decide on their own jurisdiction. The claimants countered, as might be expected, with the slightly curious remarks of the Advocate-General in the Gazprom OAO case (Case C-536/13) that suggested Recital (12) in Brussels I Recast had cast doubt on the West Tankers holding. Males J subjected the reasoning of the Advocate-General to searching scrutiny at [84]-[99]. His conclusion, though judicious, was pretty blunt: the Advocate-General was simply wrong. There was no room for any inference of an intent to depart from West Tankers.

So now we know. Professors may have lost a useful examination question: but for the rest of us, we know where we stand. And a good thing too.

Foreign banks breathe easier in the US after Supreme Court’s decision on scope of the Alien Tort Statute.

 

 

The US Judiciary Act of 1789, 28 U. S. C. §1350. which is now known as the Alien Tort Statute, provides: “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” For nearly forty years it has been used as the gateway to bring suits in the US District Courts against individuals and corporations based on alleged violations of norms of international law. The Supreme Court has twice considered the scope of the ATS, in Sosa in 2004, and in Kiobel in 2013, each time limiting its scope. It has now spoken for a third time in Jesner v Arab Bank when it gave judgment last Tuesday, in a majority decision that foreign corporations could not be subject to liability under the ATS.

In Jesner v Arab Bank  foreign plaintiffs sued a Jordanian bank, Arab Bank, alleging that it had helped facilitate financial transactions to terrorist organisations which had then committed attacks in Israel, West Bank and Gaza Strip between 1995 and 2005 during which plaintiffs or their family members were injured. It was alleged that Arab Bank had used its New York branch to clear US dollar transactions which had led to money being sent to the terrorist organisations.

The question framed before the Supreme Court was whether corporations could be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute. The Second Circuit in 2010 in Kiobel had found that corporations could not be held liable under the ATS, and the question was referred to the Supreme Court. However, in 2013 the Supreme Court left the question unanswered and affirmed the Second Circuit’s dismissal by reference to a new question it had raised during argument before it in 2012 concerning the extra-territorial scope of the ATS. The Supreme Court concluded that the presumption that US statutes should not have extra-territorial effect applied to the ATS and would only be rebutted if the claim were to ‘touch and concern the territory of the United States…with sufficient force’.

In Jesner, the Supreme Court gave a partial answer to the question initially framed in Kiobel. The Supreme Court referred to its 2004 decision on the scope of the ATS in Sosa  which set out a two part test. First, was the alleged violation of the law of nations a violation of a norm that  is ‘specific, universal and obligatory’?  Second, would allowing the case to proceed be an appropriate exercise of judicial discretion?

On the first question of whether there is a specific, universal and obligatory norm that corporations are liable for violations of international law, Justice Kennedy expressed the view that there was not such norm, citing the fact that international criminal tribunals had never been given jurisdiction over corporations, but only over natural persons. Justice Roberts and Thomas concurred but this view did not obtain majority support.

The case was decided on the basis of the application of the second Sosa test. By a 5-4 majority the Supreme Court concluded that extending liability under the ATS to foreign corporations should be a matter for Congress to decide, rather than the judiciary. Congress’s intent could be deduced from the fact that a similar statute, the 1991 Torture Victims Protection Act, had been specifically limited to suits against ‘individuals’.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Second Circuit’s dismissal of the suit under the ATS against Arab Bank, a foreign corporation.

The upshot of the decision is that the scope of the Alien Tort Statute has been further restricted in that it no longer permits claims against foreign corporations. The decision may put the final nail in the ATS coffin. However, claims against US corporations, and foreign and US natural persons, could still be made, although the ‘touch and concern’ requirement set out in Kiobel means that there must be a strong link to the US for the claim to proceed. Some Circuits have interpreted the ‘touch and concern’ requirement to mean that the primary violation of international law must have taken place within the US, so excluding claims based on secondary violations for aiding and abetting by US corporations. The Supreme Court has twice denied certiorari to clarify this issue.

Jurisdiction in EU multimodal transport cases

Goods are carried multimodally from Finland to England by an English carrier, and stolen in England. If the owner wants to sue the carrier, where is the contract performed within Art.7(1) of Brussels I Recast: England, Finland or both? The Advocate-General has just given an opinion in Zurich Insurance v ALS Ltd (area of freedom, security and justice) [2018] EUECJ C-88/17: it is the place of loading or discharge, at the claimant’s election. Hence the claimant there had the right, whatever the English defendant said, to sue in Finland.

This must be right. It has always been accepted that the place of discharge is competent. In Rehder v Air Baltic Corp (C‑204/08) [2009] E.C.R. I-6073; [2009] I.L.Pr. 44 and flightright GmbH v Air Nostrum (C-274/16) [2018] EUECJ 274/16 this was held to be the position as regards transport of passengers; and understandably the view was expressed that there was no reason to regard the transport of things any differently.

Good, but not surprising, news for cargo owners and insurers. Still, it’s nice to know.

Direct actions against liability insurers. Port of Assens v Navigators Management (UK) Ltd – the sequel.

 

Following the Court of Justice’s interpretation of art. 13(5) of the Brussels I Regulation, reported in this blog on July 13 2017, the matter came back before the Danish Supreme Court. The CJEU had found that an agreement on jurisdiction in an agreement between an insurer and a policyholder is not binding on an injured party who wishes to bring an action directly against the insurer before its home court or before the courts for the place where the harmful event occurred. On 9 October 2017 the Danish Supreme Court found that the CJEU judgment did not contain any reservations to the effect that, for this to apply, the injured party must be regarded as an economically or legally weaker party in this particular case.

Accordingly, under the Brussels I Regulation the Port of Assens would be entitled to bring an action before the Danish courts, if it was permitted to bring an action directly against the insurance company under the national rules applicable to the case. The claim was most closely linked to Denmark so this issue was to be settled under Danish law. Section 95(2) of the Danish Insurance Contracts Act thus applied and the Port of Assens was correct in bringing the action in Denmark. The Supreme Court remitted the case to be heard on its merits before the Maritime and Commercial Court.

Judgment creditors can celebrate in England — UK Supreme Court.

English courts are not very keen on judgment debtors who spirit assets away out of sight of our enforcement officers. The Supreme Court today showed they meant business when faced with this scenario. They confirmed in JSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov [2018] UKSC 19 that anyone who in England does anything to help a debtor do this can find himself at the receiving end of a civil claim from the judgment creditor.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, a colourful Kazakh politician, dissident and businessman who used to run the biggest bank in Kazakhstan, was successfully sued here by the bank for the moderate sum of US$4.6 billion. The court issued the usual congeries of worldwide freezing orders in aid of enforcement, which were disobeyed. In 2012 Mr Ablyazov, facing the prospect of time inside for contempt, fled England and continued with a large degree of success to move his assets around to make them inaccessible.

The Ablyazov cupboard being bare, the bank then turned to an associate, one Ilyas Khrapunov, who had allegedly agreed in England to help Mr Ablyazov to cause his assets to vanish and later done just that. It sued Mr Khrapunov in tort, alleging that the above acts amounted to an unlawful means conspiracy. Mr Khrapunov applied to strike, arguing that if (as is clear) contempt of court cannot give rise to damages, the bank shouldn’t be allowed to plead conspiracy to get a similar remedy by the back door. He also argued that in any case he was safely tucked up in Switzerland; that the assets were outside England; and that the mere fact that he had conspired in England to make those assets disappear did not take away his right under the Lugano Convention to be sued in his country of domicile.

Mr Khrapunov lost all the way in the Supreme Court. There was no reason why the fact that he had acted in contempt of court should not count as unlawful means for the purposes of conspiracy. Furthermore, the jurisprudence under the Brussels I / Lugano system made it clear that for the purpose of non-contractual liability, where jurisdiction laywas “either in the courts for the place where the damage occurred or in the courts for the place of the event which gives rise to and is at the origin of that damage”, an agreement amounted to an ” event which gives rise to and is at the origin of that damage.”

Good news, in other words, for judgment creditors: bad news for friends of fugitive tycoons.

Non-exclusive jurisdiction under Brussels I Recast: a logical but odd result.

Cockerill J’s decision last month in UCP Plc v Nectrus Ltd [2018] EWHC 380 (Comm) may well encourage some lawyers to groan further about the effects of EU law on questions of jurisdiction. The background was a corporate dispute of spectacular dreariness: suffice it to say Nectrus alleged UCP owed it several million, while UCP had a claim for damages against Nectrus arising out of the same events. The relevant contract contained a non-exclusive English jurisdiction clause. Nectrus sued in the Isle of Man: a month or so later UCP sued in England. Nectrus sought to argue forum non conveniens to remove the hearing to Douglas. UCP argued that the English court not only should not but could not decline jurisdiction. It observed that the court had jurisdiction under Art.25 of Brussels I Recast, and that the limited lis alibi pendens provisions in Arts.33 and 34 were not applicable (since they only affected jurisdiction under Arts.4, 7, 8 and 9 and not jurisdiction by virtue of agreement). Cockerill J agreed, following dicta from Popplewell J in IMS SA v Capital Oil & Gas Industries [2016] 4 WLR 163  and the IISTL’s own Peter Macdonald-Eggers QC in Citicorp Trustee Company Ltd v Al-Sanea [2017] EWHC 2845 (Comm). Logical, certainly, in the light of the acepted interpretation of Brussels I. But it does have the effect that a non-exclusive jurisdiction clause now means not so much “You can, but don’t have to, sue in England” as “You can sue me outside England, but if you do I can still insist on proceedings taking place here.” Not quite the same thing, most lawyers will (one suspects) conclude.

“Everywhere you go, you can be sure with Shell.” No arguable duty of care in respect of Nigerian oil pollution leaks.

 

The issue of a parent company’s potential direct liability in tort in respect of acts of one of its subsidiary companies has recently come before the Court of Appeal in Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd , [2018] EWCA Civ 191. The Nigerian claimants suffered from harm from pollution arising from oil leaks from Nigerian land pipelines due to the illegal process of “bunkering” by which oil is stolen by tapping into the pipelines.

The claimants wanted to sue  Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary SPDC, who operated the pipelines, in the English courts rather than in Nigeria. To this end they sued the English holding company, Royal Dutch Shell (‘RDS’), in the English courts. RDS would now serve as an ‘anchor defendant’ and the claimants obtained leave to serve SPDC out of the jurisdiction under para 3.1 of Practice Direction 6B, on the ground that there was between the claimant and RDS a real issue which it was reasonable for the court to try and the claimant wished to serve SPDC as a necessary or proper party to that claim.

RDS applied under CPR Part 11(1) for orders declaring that the court had no jurisdiction to try the claims against it, or should not exercise such jurisdiction as it had. At first instance Fraser J found that there was no arguable duty of care owed by the parent company Royal Dutch Shell Plc to those affected by the operations of its subsidiary in Nigeria.( [2017] EWHC 89 (TCC), noted in this blog on 2 February 2017. The governing law would be that of Nigeria, but the issue was decided under English law, because the legal experts for the parties were agreed that the law of Nigeria would follow, or at least include as an essential component, the law of England in this respect.

The Court of Appeal has now upheld the decision by a 2-1 majority, Sales LJ dissenting. The Court of Appeal applied the three stage Caparo Industries v Dickman test for assessing novel duties of care[1990] 2 AC 605 (HL) which set out three requirements, all of which had to be satisfied. (1) Was it foreseeable that if the defendant failed to take reasonable care, the plaintiff would be injured by the acts or omissions of the defendant (the foreseeability factor)? (2) Was there a relationship between the plaintiff the defendant characterized by the law as one of “proximity” or of being “neighbours” one to another (the proximity factor)? (3) as a matter of legal policy it would be fair and just to impose a duty of care on the defendant (the policy factor)? The duty of care argued for by the claimants foundered on the proximity requirement.

The claimants’ based their case on the duty of care owed by RDS to them on the fact that

“… [RDS] exerts significant control and oversights over [SPDC’s] compliance with its environmental and regulatory obligations and has assumed responsibility for ensuring observance of proper environmental standards by [SPDC] in Nigeria. [RDS] carefully monitors and directs the activities of [SPDC] and has the power and authority to intervene if [SPDC] fails to comply with the Shell Group’s global standards and/or Nigerian law.”

The claimants relied on five main factors to demonstrate RDS’s arguable control of SPDC’s operations: (1) the issue of mandatory policies, standards and manuals which applied to SPDC, (2) the imposition of mandatory design and engineering practices, (3) the imposition of a system of supervision and oversight of the implementation of RDS’s standards which bore directly on the pleaded allegations of negligence, (4) the imposition of financial control over SPDC in respect of spending which, again, directly relevant to the allegations of negligence and (5) a high level in the direction and oversight of SPDC’s operations.

Having reviewed the evidence submitted by the claimants Simon LJ concluded that none of the claimants’ five factors, either individually or cumulatively demonstrated a sufficient degree of control of SPDC’s operations in Nigeria by RDS to establish the necessary degree of proximity. There was no arguable case that RDS controlled SPDC’s operations, or that it had direct responsibility for practices or failures which were the subject of the claim. Simon LJ noted an important distinction between a parent company which controls, or shares control of, the material operations on the one hand, and a parent company which issues mandatory policies and standards which are intended to apply throughout a group of companies in order to ensure conformity with particular standards. “The issuing of mandatory policies plainly cannot mean that a parent has taken control of the operations of a subsidiary (and, necessarily, every subsidiary) such as to give rise to a duty of care in favour of any person or class of persons affected by the policies. [88]”.

A similar point was made by Sir Geoffrey Vos. The issue of mandatory policies, standards and manuals were of a highlevel nature and did not indicate control; control rested with SPDC which was responsible for its own operations.

“The promulgation of group standards and practices is not, in my view, enough to prove the “imposition” of mandatory design and engineering practices. There was no real evidence to show that these practices were imposed even if they were described as mandatory. There would have needed to be evidence that RDS took upon itself the enforcement of the standards, which it plainly did not. It expected SPDC to apply the standards it set. The same point applies to the suggested “imposition” of a system of supervision and oversight of the implementation of RDS’s standards which were said to bear directly on the pleaded allegations of negligence. RDS said that there should be a system of supervision and oversight, but left it to SPDC to operate that system. It did not have the wherewithal to do anything else.[205]”

 

Opkabi is one of three transnational tort claims involving attempts to sue a foreign subsidiary company using the English parent company as an ‘anchor’ defendant. In Lungowe v Vedanta and AAA v Unilever the court accepted that there was an arguable case that the anchor defendant owed a duty of care, although in AAA the claim foundered on the lack of foreseeability of the harm suffered by the claimants at the hands of third parties in the post-election violence in Kenya after the 2007 elections. An appeal is due to be heard later this year.

As a sidenote, in similar proceedings brought against SPDC in the Netherlands, using RDS as an ‘anchor defendant’, the Dutch Court of Appeal in December 2015 concluded that the claims against RDS were not bound to fail. They reasoned.

“Considering the foreseeable serious consequences of oil spills to the local environment from a potential spill source, it cannot be ruled out from the outset that the parent company may be expected in such a case to take an interest in preventing spills (or in other words, that there is a duty of care in accordance with the criteria set out in Caparo v Dickman [1990] UKHL 2, [1990] 1 All ER 56), the more so if it has made the prevention of environmental damage by the activities of group companies a spearhead and is, to a certain degree, actively involved in and managing the business operations of such companies, which is not to say that without this attention and involvement a violation of the duty of care is unthinkable and that culpable negligence with regard to the said interests can never result in liability.”

 

The claimants’ solicitors in Opkabi, Leigh Day, have indicated their intention to apply for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.