From Borstal boys to Parent Companies. Tort liability for the acts of third parties.

 

2017 saw three ‘anchor defendant’ cases before the High Court involving tort claims against a UK parent corporation in respect of the activities of its overseas subsidiary. The claimants sought leave to serve the subsidiary out of the jurisdiction under the ‘necessary and proper party’ gateway for service out of the jurisdiction in paragraph 3.1 of Practice Direction 6B in the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”). In two cases, AAA v Unilever and Okpabi v Shell, leave was refused but was granted in the third case, Vedanta Resources PLC and another v Lungowe. The key issue was whether there was a triable issue against the UK parent corporation. Lungowe involved alleged pollution from toxic emissions from a copper mine in Zambia owned by a Zambian company, KCM, whose ultimate parent company is Vedanta Resources Ltd which is incorporated and domiciled in the UK.

The Supreme Court, [2019] UKSC 20, in which Lord Briggs gave the lead judgment, has upheld the findings at first instance and in the Court of Appeal that there was a triable issue as regards Vedanta on the basis of a plausible case that its involvement in the activities of KCM gave rise to a duty of care to those affected by those activities.

There were four issues before the Supreme Court on which the claimants succeeded on 1,2, and 4 but not on 3.

(1) whether it is an abuse of EU law to rely on article 4 of the Recast Brussels Regulation for jurisdiction over Vedanta as anchor defendant so as to make KCM a “necessary or proper party”.

The EU case law suggests that the abuse of law doctrine is limited to situations where EU law is invoked collusively to subvert other EU provisions. In light of the decision in Owusu v Jackson (C-281/02) [2005] QB 801 (CJEU), arguments based on forum conveniens cannot justify derogating from the primary rule of jurisdiction in article 4.1 The concern about the wide effect of article 4.1 in this case is best addressed under the domestic law on the “necessary or proper party” gateway.

(2) whether the claimants’ pleaded case and supporting evidence disclose no real triable issue against Vedanta

The assertion that the negligence claim against Vedanta raises a novel and controversial legal issue was misplaced, as the liability of parent companies in relation to the activities of their subsidiaries is not, in itself, a distinct category of negligence unsuited to summary determination. The relevant principles for determining whether A owes a duty of care to C in respect of the harmful activities of B are not novel and can be traced back to the decision of the House of Lords in Dorset Yacht Co Ltd v Home Office [1970] AC 1004, the case involving Home Office responsibility for damage caused by absconding borstal boys when they boarded a yacht and collided with the plaintiff’s yacht. The duty  would arise from 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 the surrounding watercourses. This was a question for Zambian law, which it was agreed followed English tort law, but the question what that level actually was is a pure question of fact. On the facts, there was sufficient material identified by the judge in support of the view that the claimants’ case was arguable and the judge made no error of law in assessing this issue, so his decision on the negligence claim must stand.

The Judge had identified the following evidence as establishing that there was an arguable case that Vedanta owed a duty of care. There was part of the published material, namely a report entitled “Embedding Sustainability” which stressed that the oversight of all Vedanta’s subsidiaries rested with the board of Vedanta itself, and which made particular reference to problems with discharges into water and to the particular problems arising at the Mine. There was the management services agreement between Vedanta and KCM , and a witness statement of Mr Kakengela.

Lord Briggs stated[61]:

“For my part, if conducting the analysis afresh, I might have been less persuaded than were either the judge or the Court of Appeal by the management services agreement between the appellants, or by the evidence of Mr Kakengela. But I regard the published materials in which Vedanta may fairly be said to have asserted its own assumption of responsibility for the maintenance of proper standards of environmental control over the activities of its subsidiaries, and in particular the operations at the Mine, and not merely to have laid down but also implemented those Page 23 standards by training, monitoring and enforcement, as sufficient on their own to show that it is well arguable that a sufficient level of intervention by Vedanta in the conduct of operations at the Mine may be demonstrable at trial, after full disclosure of the relevant internal documents of Vedanta and KCM, and of communications passing between them.”

(3) whether England is the proper place in which to bring the claims;

The domestic law ‘proper place’ test requires a search is for a single jurisdiction in which the claims against all defendants may most suitably be tried. The courts have treated the risk of irreconcilable judgments as a decisive factor in favour of England as the proper place for the claim against the non-EU defendant as well. The judge in this case applied that approach but that was a legal error in circumstances where Vedanta had by the time of the hearing offered to submit to the Zambian jurisdiction, so that the whole case could be tried there. The risk of irreconcilable judgments would be the result of the claimants’ choice to exercise their article 4 right, rather than because Zambia is not an available forum for all the claims. The risk of irreconcilable judgments was still a relevant factor but was no longer a trump card such that the judge made an error of principle in regarding it as decisive. Looking at the relevant connecting factors in the round, Zambia would plainly have been the proper place for this litigation as a whole, provided substantial justice was available to the parties in Zambia

(4) if Zambia would otherwise be the proper place, whether there was a real risk that the claimants would not obtain access to substantial justice in the Zambian jurisdiction.

Even if the court concludes that a foreign jurisdiction is the apparently the proper place, the court may still permit service of English proceedings on the foreign defendant if cogent evidence shows that there is a real risk that substantial justice would not be obtainable in that foreign jurisdiction. In this case, the judge identified two “access to justice” issues in Zambia First, the practicable impossibility of funding such group claims where the claimants are all in extreme poverty, because they could not obtain legal aid and because conditional fee agreements (CFAs) are unlawful in Zambia. Secondly, the absence within Zambia of sufficiently substantial and suitably experienced legal teams to enable effective litigation of this size and complexity, in particular against a well-resourced opponent like KCM.

The claims will now proceed against the parent company and its Zambian subsidiary in the English High Court.

A fair cop? Transnational torts and trouble at the mine.

 

Kalma v African Minerals Ltd and others [2018] EWHC 3506 (QB) is an interesting recent decision involving transnational tort claims against a UK company in respect of events at and around its mine in Sierra Leone. It is, I believe, the first of these type of claims brought by London solicitors, Leigh Day, to go to trial.

 

The claims arose out of violent police suppression of protests in 2010 and 2012 by a local community in Sierra Leone against a mine created and operated by the defendant, a UK company, and its two Sierra Leonean subsidiaries. The protests prompted a significant overreaction from some members of the Sierra Leone Police (“SLP”) whose response to disruptive protests and threats against the personnel, property and business of AML soon degenerated into violent chaos during the course of which many villagers were variously beaten, shot, gassed, robbed, sexually assaulted, squalidly incarcerated and, in one case, killed.

 

The claimants alleged that they were among the victims of these abuses and contend that, although the SLP perpetrated the worst of these excesses, the defendants were nevertheless liable to compensate them by the application of a broad range of distinct common law remedies to the facts of this case.

 

It was accepted that the law of Sierra Leone applied to the issues both of liability and quantum. In respect of liability, it was agreed that the law of Sierra Leone could be treated, for all practical purposes, as being identical to that of England and Wales. Turner J dismissed the claims having considered seven possible grounds on which the defendants might incur liability for the acts of the Sierra Leone police towards the claimants.

 

  1. EMPLOYEE VICARIOUS LIABILITY

 

It was alleged, for example, that one employee of the defendant directly and violently assaulted some of the claimants and that others encouraged members of the SLP to use excessive force. Two criteria are involved.

(i)    as regards the sort of relationship which must be found to exist between an individual and a defendant before the defendant can be found to be vicariously liable in tort for the conduct of that individual; That was clearly satisfied here as the individuals concerned were employees

(ii)    as regards concerns the scope of the conduct of such an individual in respect of which vicarious liability is to be imposed on the defendant.

 

Applying Muhamud v Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc [2016] AC 677 if any claimants could prove that they were the victims of torts perpetrated directly upon them by an employee or employees of the defendant then the means deployed, even if seriously criminal, remain sufficiently closely connected to their employment to give rise to vicarious liability on the part of the defendant. However on the facts the claimants had not made out that the employees against whom such allegations have been raised were, themselves, guilty of free-standing tortious conduct.

 

  1. NON-EMPLOYEE VICARIOUS LIABILITY

 

The claimants contended that the defendant was vicariously liable for the torts of the SLP. Various Claimants v Catholic Welfare Society [2013] 2 AC 1 established that the relevant test is whether or not the non-employment relationship is, upon analysis, one that is “akin to that between an employer and employee”. The most important factors tending to establish a relationship akin to that between employer and employee in this context arise in the following circumstances:

(i)             the tort will have been committed as a result of activity being undertaken by the tortfeasor on behalf of the defendant;

(ii)           the tortfeasor’s activity is likely to have been part of the business activity of the defendant; and

(iii)         the defendant, by engaging the tortfeasor to carry on the activity, will have created the risk of the tort committed by the tortfeasor.

 

This claim was unsustainable. Save for the six officers permanently stationed at the mine, in respect of whom there is no evidence of wrongdoing, the officers involved were performing duties which extended far beyond the narrow parameters of the business activity of the defendant. The defendant did not exercise any significant degree of control over the SLP. The communications between employees and the police did not amount to orders or direction but comprised, at their highest, encouragement to do a robust and thorough job.

 

  1. ACCESSORY LIABILITY

 

It was alleged that the SLP’s use of unlawful force on the protesters was part of a common plan between the defendant and the SLP the execution of which rendered the defendant liable for the entirety of the injuries and harm caused.  The principle of accessory liability was reviewed and clarified by the Supreme Court in Fish & Fish v Sea Shepherd UK [2015] AC 1229 in which Lord Toulson observed at paragraph 21:

“To establish accessory liability in tort it is not enough to show that D did acts which facilitated P’s commission of the tort. D will be jointly liable with P if they combined to do or secure the doing of acts which constituted a tort. This requires proof of two elements. D must have acted in a way which furthered the commission of the tort by P; and D must have done so in pursuance of a common design.”

 

The central issue was whether or not the defendant was at the material times assisting the police in their tortious conduct to a more than minimal degree in pursuance of a common design. Where the parties to an alleged common design include corporate bodies, the requisite design must be common to individuals whose acts and knowledge are legally attributable to such bodies by the application of the approach of Lord Hoffmann in the Privy Council decision of Meridian Global Funds Management Asia Limited v Securities Commission [1995] 2 AC 500.

 

Here the defendant’s provision of vehicles and drivers to the SLP was sufficient to facilitate the tortious conduct of the SLP to an extent that was more than de minimis. However, it was not the case that the defendant intended the police to act tortiously at any stage. Those in authority in the defendant’s organisation were understandably concerned that the disruptions to their undertaking were potentially extremely damaging to their prospects of commercial success. However, at all relevant times the solutions they proposed were directed at conciliation and not at the deployment of unlawful means. In particular, it would have been perfectly possible for the SLP to deploy the defendants’ vehicles lawfully and it was no part of the defendant’s plans that they should do otherwise. Similarly, the provision of cash, food, accommodation and drink although alien to what would be expected in the UK were pragmatic incentives and not bribes to achieve tortious ends.

 

  1. PROCUREMENT LIABILITY

Procurement liability is a further manifestation of joint liability whereby a defendant might incur liability by procuring the commission of a tort by, for example, “inducement, incitement or persuasion” of the primary tortfeasor. If the torts, including battery and false arrest, perpetrated by the SLP were pursuant to “some direction, or procuring or direct request, or direct encouragement” from the defendant then the defendant would be liable as a joint tortfeasor for the loss and damage sustained as a result.

 

On the facts here, the defendant neither incited or procured the SLP to act tortiously. Its employees on the ground were anxious that the police should deal with the protesters robustly and not tolerate the construction and manning of unlawful roadblocks or any other form of unlawful protest. However, they had not exhorted them to unlawful behaviour including false arrest, battery or tortious damage to property.

 

  1. MALICIOUS PROSECUTION

 

The ingredients of the tort of malicious prosecution are set out in Clerk and Lindsell on Torts 22 nd Ed. (2018) at paragraph 16-12:

“In an action for malicious prosecution the claimant must show first that he was prosecuted by the defendant, that is to say, that the law was set in motion against him by the defendant on a criminal charge..; secondly, that the prosecution was determined in his favour; thirdly, that it was without reasonable and probable cause; fourthly, that it was malicious. The onus of proving every one of these is on the claimant. Evidence of malice of whatever degree cannot be invoked to dispense with or diminish the need to establish separately each of the first three elements of the tort.”

Following the incident in 2010, members of the local population were rounded up and later prosecuted for various criminal offences alleged to have been committed during the disturbances. The claimants in this case fell at the first hurdle as those who were prosecuted in the aftermath of the 2010 incident faced charges which were set in motion by the police.

 

  1. NEGLIGENCE

 

The claimants alleged the defendant owed them a duty of care in three ways.

 

(i)                   There was an obligation on the Defendants when operating in a country such as Sierra Leone to ensure clear protocols and procedures were adopted and implemented so as to ensure the use of public and private security forces did not lead to abuses of the rights of those affected by the Defendants’ operations;

(ii)                 Further or alternatively, there was an assumption of responsibility by the Defendants towards the Claimants via their commitments to abide by the international standards and in the course of their use and control of the Claimants’ land and their coordinated response to the protests;

(iii)               Alternatively, if and in so far as the Defendants were operating as a separate entities, in the case of the First Defendant, there was an assumption of responsibility towards the Claimants via its commitments to abide by the international standards and its full effective control over the subsidiaries in respect of operational risk management and health and safety, to advise and direct its subsidiaries to take steps to prevent human rights abuses by their servants, agents and/or the police did not lead to abuses of the rights of those affected by the Defendants’ operations.

Turner J found that no duty of care arose on any of these pleaded grounds.

 

The defendant at senior management level was aware both in 2010 and 2012 that there was a risk that the police might react to protest with disproportionate violence. The generic danger of the police causing injury and loss was not, however, one which was “created” by the defendant. The proclivities of the police were, unhappily, an institutional fact long before the arrival of the defendant and, although not mitigated by the defendant’s failures to follow the active steps advocated by the relevant international standards, were not thereby exacerbated.

 

Nor could it be said that the defendant created the danger simply by calling the police. In both 2010 and 2012, dangerous situations were already developing which called for an effective response. In particular, the defendant undoubtedly owed a duty of care to its own employees to take reasonable care for their safety. The only sense in which it could realistically be argued that the defendant created the danger is with respect to the provision of vehicles, food, and financial or other support to the police. But the defendant was providing no more than that which the Sierra Leonean state, itself, ought to have provided to maintain an efficient police force in the first place. Suitable vehicles, proper remuneration, food and water are prerequisites to the proper functioning of any force.

 

The defendant exercised no supervision or control over the SLP. Individual employees did not give directions to the police and the responses of the police to the incidents which they were called upon to deal with were operationally entirely of its own choosing.

 

The claimants were members of the general public who lived near the mine and were policed by officers who, for the most part, would not have been there but for the activities of the defendant. This fell far short of establishing that the defendant had assumed a responsibility for the actions of the police. The circumstances in which the police are to be held to have assumed responsibilities for the acts of third parties is heavily circumscribed. The circumstances in which a party ought reasonably to be found to have assumed a responsibility for the police could hardly be less so. A finding to the contrary would open up the defendant to almost unlimited liability to a broad swathe of potential claimants within a class almost impossible to define or circumscribe with any clarity.

 

 

  1. BREACH OF A NON-DELEGABLE DUTY

 

The claimants sought to amend their pleadings to allege that if the SLP were operating, not in a relationship akin to employment but as independent contractors to the defendant, then they were engaged in an extra-hazardous activity the negligent performance of which exposed the defendant to liability As a general rule, liability does not generally attach to a defendant in respect of the tortious conduct of his independent contractors, although there is an exception which concerns extra-hazardous activities. In Honeywill & Stein Ltd v Larkin Bros (London’s Commercial Photographers) Ltd [1934] 1 KB 191. The scope of this exception was severely restricted by the Court of Appeal in Biffa Waste Services Ltd v Maschinenfabrik Ernst Hese GmbH [2009] QB 725.

 

The claimants needed to prove (i) that the police officers who caused them injury, loss and damage were acting as independent contractors for the defendant and (ii) that the activities they were undertaking were exceptionally dangerous whatever precautions were taken.

 

They failed on both elements. First, with the possible exception of the officers stationed at the mine itself, the police were acting at any time as independent contractors of the defendant. The payments made to the police did not provide the defendant, either in form or substance, with any degree of significant control over what the police did or in what numbers. Similarly, the provision of vehicles, food and water was on an ad hoc basis and brought with it no corresponding contractual obligation on the part of the police to carry out its duties in a particular way which departed from those which they owed to the public at large to maintain the peace.

 

Second, although what many officers did was dangerous in both 2010 and 2012 the task in hand was not inherently and exceptionally dangerous if proper precautions had been taken. Honeywill liability arises where the work is extra-hazardous in itself not where the contractor’s performance makes it so.

 

Who is your neighbour? Corporate social responsibility and the tort of negligence.

In Das v. George Weston Limited, claims were made against a Canadian garment retailer, Loblaws, whose sub-suppliers, New Wave, had occupied premise in the Rana Plaza Building at the time of its collapse on  24 April 2013, and Bureau Veritas who had been employed to audit the corporate social responsibility code that Loblaws had inserted into its contracts with its suppliers and sub-suppliers. On April 23, 2013, cracks were discovered in three pillars of the structure of Rana Plaza. Local police evacuated the site and workers were sent home. Later that day, however, managers at New Wave ordered New Wave employees to return to work the following day. The next morning, April 24, 2013, New Wave advised workers that the building was safe and threatened to terminate their employment if they did not return to work.

That same morning, as a result of a power outage, the large back-up generators on the upper floors of Rana Plaza began to operate, causing substantial vibration. Around 9 a.m., Rana Plaza collapsed, killing 1,130 people and injuring 2,520 others. Those injured or killed included employees of New Wave, employees of other garment businesses operating out of Rana Plaza, and other people who happened to be in or around the building at the time of the collapse. The claimants were workers in and relatives of workers who had been killed or injured in the collapse . the action not only on behalf of employees of New Wave and their survivors, but on behalf of all persons who were in Rana Plaza at the time of the collapse and survived, the estates of all persons who died as a result of the collapse, and the family members and dependents of those who died or were injured. Claims were brought in 2015 shortly before the second anniversary of the collapse.

In 2017 Perell J dismissed the action 2017 ONSC 4129. The claims for death and personal injury were a time barred, save for claimants born after 22 April 1996, under the law of Bangladesh which was the governing law, as the lex loci delecti. There was no plausible case for liability in tort on either party under either the law of Bangladesh (effectively English tort law) and that of Ontario.

Shortly before Christmas 2018 the Court of Appeals in Ontario upheld the decision,  2018 ONCA 1053 (CanLII).

With respect to Loblaws’ liability, the Court found that it was plain and obvious that a negligence claim against Loblaws would fail under Bangladeshi law. The facts did not amount to the type of relationship or control over New Wave’s operations by Loblaws that has been found in English law to be sufficient to establish proximity or assumption of responsibility, and to thereby impose a duty of care to protect against harm by third parties. Loblaws was not directly involved in the management of New Wave, nor in the process of manufacturing the products. Loblaws did not have control over where the manufacturing operation took place. Loblaws’ only means of controlling New Wave was through cancellation of its product orders from Pearl Global for non-compliance with the CSR Standards. Nor was there any pleaded history of Loblaws using that lever to enforce any change in New Wave’s operations. The social audits required by Loblaws the limited social audits did not and were not intended to cover any structural issues in the New Wave factories and there was therefore no basis for any reliance on Loblaws or Bureau Veritas with respect to the structure of the Rana Plaza premises.

Similarly, the Court held that the judge correctly held that it was plain and obvious that the appellants’ pleaded claim in negligence against Bureau Veritas would fail under Bangladeshi law.

The vicarious liability claim also failed. It had not been pleaded that New Wave was acting as agent for, or on behalf of, Loblaws in conducting its operations. The exceptional circumstances in which an enterprise can be vicariously liable for the misdeeds of independent contractors were not present here. Loblaws was a retailer not a garment manufacturer and was not an enterprise engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous industry. It had no control over how its supplier and the sub-supplier carried on their manufacturing business or treated their employees.

Two other interesting cases on corporate liability for the acts of third parties were heard last month before the Supreme Court in Canada and the UK.

The former is the appeal in Araya v Nevsun Resources Ltd, 2017 BCCA 401, a claim against a Canadian company in respect of alleged slavery at a mine in Eritrea operated by the Eritrean government under a joint venture with it. The two issues under appeal were (a) whether the claim was barred by the Act of State doctrine and (b) whether there was a cause of action against the company for participating in a violation of customary international law.

The latter is the Vedanta Resources Plc v Lungowe noted here https://iistl.blog/2018/07/10/no-direct-liability-in-tort-for-uk-parent-company-third-anchor-defendant-decision-in-the-court-of-appeal/

This involved claims against the UK parent company and its Zambian subsidiary for environmental damage and personal injury in respect of the operation of a copper mine in Zambia. There were five issues: (i)  The proper approach to the “real issue”/”proper party” test under Practice Direction 6B para. 3.1, where a claimant seeks to sue a foreign subsidiary and a UK-domiciled parent company.

(ii) The proper approach to the exercise of discretion under CPR r.6.37(3) in mass tort claims, particularly the weight to be given to the prospect of parallel foreign proceedings as against the prejudice caused to a foreign defendant in defending mass tort claims in England and Wales.

(iii) The proper approach when determining whether there is a real risk that a claimant cannot obtain substantial justice in a foreign jurisdiction.

(iv)  The proper application of EU law principles and cases to claims brought against an English domiciled parent company, where the non-EU claimant sues both an EU-domiciled parent company and its non-EU subsidiary company.

(v) Whether to refer point (4) above to the EU Court of Justice.

 

 

International insolvency — English law rights confirmed protected

Shortly after New Year 2018, Hildyard J decided that when an Azeri bank went bust and was put into reconstruction in Baku, the Azeri administrator could not use the Cross-Border Insolvency Regulation to freeze out a couple of creditors in England and Russia whose bond debts were governed by English law. They had refused to have anything to do with the reconstruction, smugly sat back and waited for the reconstruction to finish, knowing that the bank still had English assets that could potentially be seized. (See our blogpost here).

The Court of Appeal has now agreed, in Bakhshiyeva (Foreign Representative of the Ojsc International Bank of Azerbaijan) v Sberbank of Russia & Ors [2018] EWCA Civ 2802 (18 December 2018) . It might or might not be a good idea for England to adopt modified universalism in insolvency and accept, in essence, that the law of a corporation’s home jurisdiction should be controlling in all questions of the enforceability of obligations against it, wherever situated and whatever the law governing them. Indeed, it does just this in EU insolvencies, courtesy of the EUInsolvency Regulation 2015. But established common law authority said that an English court would ignore laws cancelling debts that did not emanate from the state whose law governed them. Further, the CBIR was best read as legislation with procedural, not substantive, aims. It would suspend enforcement of obligations while the reconstruction was going ahead, but would not actually destroy them. Any attempt to use a foreign reconstruction for anything more than that would not be countenanced.

Whether this is the last word we will see. There may be an appeal to the Supremes: the two creditors clearly have the money, and quite a lot rides on the result. However, the view of this blog, for what it is worth, is that this is a delicate matter best left to careful legislative reform, if indeed reform is needed at all. And that’s a bigger if than it looks. Money-men aren’t popular these days, but there is something to be said for the position of the two creditors. No-one has to issue English-law bonds, nor to leave assets in England that can be seized to support the obligations contained in them. And, one strongly suspects, the interest rate on the English-law debt was lower than on Azeri-law debt precisely because of the perceived lower solvency risk. The ability to take the benefit of this and then tell foreign creditors to go fish isn’t, perhaps, something we should be promoting.

Relective loss and the unsecured creditor.

 

Garcia v Marex Financial Ltd [2018] EWCA Civ 1468 is a cautionary tale of a creditor with a judgment against two companies being thwarted by their beneficial owner removing their assets from the jurisdiction before the judgments could be enforced. The creditor decided to sue the wrongdoer for the torts of knowingly inducing and procuring the two companies to act in wrongful violation of your and causing loss to you by unlawful means. But not so fast, what about the rule against recovery of ‘reflective loss’ established by the House of Lords in Johnson v Gore Wood [2002] 2 AC 1? The rule states that where a company suffers loss caused by a breach of duty owed to it, only the company may sue in respect of that loss. A claim is barred if the loss suffered by the claimant would have been made good by restoration of the company’s assets. The rule is subject to an exception in Giles v Rhind [2003] Ch 618, where as a consequence of the actions of the wrongdoer, the company no longer has a cause of action and it is impossible for it to bring a claim or for a claim to be brought in its name by a third party. Here, there was a clear breach of duty owed to the company by the beneficial owner who had  asset stripped them.

But does the rule also apply to unsecured creditors of the company who are not its shareholders? Until now this question was undecided, but not any longer. In Garcia v Marex Financial Ltd [2018] EWCA Civ 1468, the Court of Appeal have decided that the rule does apply to unsecured creditors of the company who are not its shareholders. On the facts the rule barred the action against the tortfeasor and the Giles v Rhind exception did not apply as the wrongdoing had not made it impossible for the companies to pursue a claim against the wrongdoer.

 

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.

 

 

Midsummer blues (if you’re a judgment creditor)

Imagine your clients have just got judgment for zillions against a company. You then find that the man behind it, or one of his pals, has quietly siphoned off the company’s assets to some entity in the back of beyond to make sure your clients never see their money. What can you do? Unfortunately one remedy, a suit against the person responsible for diverting the assets, now seems largely closed off. At least that seems to be the result of an important Court of Appeal decision today, Garcia v Marex Financial Ltd [2018] EWCA Civ 1468.

Foreign exchange brokers Marex had a judgment for a cool $5 million, give or take a few thousand, against a couple of BVI companies owned by one S. Hey presto, when it came to enforcement the cupboard was bare, save for a measly $4,392.48, having (on Marex’s case) been deep-cleaned by S. Marex sued S for dishonestly asset-stripping the BVI companies of something over $9 million, alleging correctly that this amounted to the tort of causing loss by unlawful means.

At this point they were met with a plea that their action was barred by the principle of reflective loss stated in Johnson v Gore Wood [2002] 2 AC 1. Marex’s claim was based on the companies’ loss through the defendants’ wrong of the assets that would have been used to pay  their debt: it was thus the companies’ claim and no-one else could be allowed to piggy-back on it. The defence did not convince Knowles J (see [2017] EWHC 918 (Comm) , noted here in this blog); but it did impress the Court of Appeal. The bar on reflective loss extended to any claim based on a wrong causing loss to the company that had a knock-on effect of causing loss to a third party: it did not matter whether the claimant was a shareholder, a stockholder, a  creditor or anyone else. Nor could the rule be sidelined where (as here) it was practically impossible for the company to sue the wrongdoer: the exception in Giles v Rhind [2003] Ch 618 applied only in rare cases where it was not only factually but legally impossible for the company to sue.

How far this decision generally eviscerates the tort of causing loss by unlawful means where the immediate victim is a company remains to be explored. The fact remains, however, that since today an English judgment against a corporate, as against an individual, defendant has become that less valuable as the ability of third parties to frustrate it with relative impunity has grown. Moral: get that freezing relief as soon as possible. It may be all you have to rely on at the end of the day.

Ultra vires or ineffective: a no-nonsense approach to contractual effectiveness

A short technical point of interest especially to those dealing with foreign state or semi-state entities arises out of a decision of Andrew Baker J a week ago in Exportadora De Sal SA De CV v Corretaje Maritimo Sud-Americano Inc [2018] EWHC 224 (Comm).

The power of a Ruritanian state corporate entity  to conclude a contract is governed by the law of the place of incorporation, i.e. Ruritania. The validity of the contract, and whether anything has happened which has the effect of preventing the parties being liable, or discharging an existing duty, is controlled by the governing law of the contract: if there’s an English law and jurisdiction clause, this means English law, to the exclusion of Ruritanian. But where is the boundary between the two?

A Mexican 51/49 state/private entity contracted for the building of a self-unloading salt barge (don’t say you don’t learn about interesting gadgets on Maricom) for about $27 million. The contract specified English law and London arbitration. The Mexican entity broke its contract, and following arbitration went down for about $7 million.  However the builders, when they tried to enforce the award, encountered a plea that the Mexican entity concerned had had no power under Mexican law to contract for the barge except through a specified tender process; that this hadn’t happened, that there had indeed been a Mexican administrative decision to cancel the contract on that basis, and that this nullified not only the contract but any submission to the arbitral process contained within it.

Andrew Baker J gave the buyers short shrift for a number of reasons we need not go into here. As regards the no-power argument, however, he made the important point that it was a non-starter. Although possibly dressed up as an ultra vires point, it was really nothing of the sort: viewed as a matter of substance it was a question of substantive validity. Substantive validity being governed by English law, the fact that under Mexican law the contract had been declared entirely ineffective was simply beside the point. As his Lordship observed, this decision was merely a mirror-image of the earlier Haugesund Kommune et al. v Depfa ACS Bank [2012] QB 549, where an ostensibly validity-orirnted rule had been held on a proper construction actually to go to the vires of a contracting party. But  the Exportadora de Sal case is none the less a useful weapon in the armoury of an English international commercial lawyer faced with an impressive-sounding plea that an apparently English contract was ultra vires under the laws of Backofbeyondia.

 

 

Parent company liability for subsidiary operations abroad.  

 

An interesting new Court of Appeal decision on transnational litigation in the  English courts concerning alleged torts committed overseas. Lungowe v Vedanta and Konkola Copper Mines [2017] EWCA Civ 1528 involved claims by Zambian citizens against the defendants alleging personal injury, damage to property and loss of income, amenity and enjoyment of land, due to alleged pollution and environmental damage caused by discharges from the Nchanga copper mine since 2005. Konkola Copper Mines (‘KCM’), a Zambian company, owned and operated the mine. Vedanta, a UK company, is a holding company for various metal and mining companies, of which KCM is one.

The claim was served on Vedanta by virtue of its domicile in the UK and permission was granted for the claim form and particulars of claim to be served out of the jurisdiction on KCM. Vedanta and KCM both applied for declarations that the High Court had no jurisdiction to hear the claims. In June 2016 Coulson J dismissed the challenges. The Court of Appeal has now upheld the dismissal.

  1. Vedanta’s position.

Under art. 4 of the Recast Brussels Judgments Regulation 2012 the claimants were entitled to sue Vedanta in the UK by virtue of its domicile. The Court of Appeal held that following the ECJ’s decision in Owusu v Jackson [2005] QB 801, it was clear that there was no scope for staying proceedings on the grounds of forum non conveniens where jurisdiction was established on the grounds of the defendant’s domicile under art. 4. Although in principle it might be possible to argue that invoking the rules in the Recast Regulation amounted to an abuse of EU law, there would have to be sufficient evidence to show that the claimant had conducted itself so as to distort the purpose of that rule of jurisdiction. The present case did not meet the high threshold for an abuse argument to succeed.

  1. KCM’s position

The application to serve KCM out of the jurisdiction in Zambia was based on para 3.1 of Practice Direction 6B on the ground that there was between the claimant and Vedanta a real issue which it was reasonable for the court to try and the claimant wished to serve KCM as a necessary or proper party to that claim. If the claimants could satisfy these conditions, the court still retained a discretion and CPR 6.37(3) provide that: “The court will not give permission unless satisfied that England and Wales is the proper place in which to bring the claim.”

An important issue in this analysis was whether there was a real issue between the claimants and Vedanta. This raised the question of whether a parent company could owe a duty of care to those affected by the operations of a subsidiary. Following the Court of Appeal’s decision in Chandler v Cape such a duty towards the employee of a subsidiary could arise where the parent company (a) has taken direct responsibility for devising a material health and safety policy the adequacy of which is the subject of the claim, or (b) controls the operations which give rise to the claim. The parent must be well placed, because of its knowledge and expertise to protect the employees of the subsidiary. If both parent and subsidiary have similar knowledge and expertise and they jointly take decisions about mine safety, which the subsidiary implements, both companies may (depending on the circumstances) owe a duty of care to those affected by those decisions. This type of duty may also be owed in analogous situations, not only to employees of the subsidiary but to those affected by the operations of the subsidiary. The Judge had decided on the basis of the pleaded case that it was arguable that such Vedanta did owe such a duty of care to those affected by KCM’s operations. The Court of Appeal concluded that the Judge had been entitled to reach that conclusion. There was a serious question to be tried which could not be disposed of summarily, notwithstanding that it went to the Court’s jurisdiction.

The Court of Appeal also upheld the finding that it was reasonable to try the issue between Vedanta and the claimants. Vedanta was sued within the jurisdiction pursuant to a mandatory jurisdictional rule and the claimants had an interest in suing Vedanta other than for enabling them to bring KCM within the jurisdiction. The claimants were suing Vedanta as a company with sufficient funds to meet any judgment of the English court, whereas they had grounds to believe, and evidence to show, that KCM might be unable or unwilling to meet such a judgment. KCM was a necessary and proper party to the Vedanta claim because the claims against the two defendants were based on the same facts and relied on similar legal principles and the Judge was entitled to conclude that Vedanta and KCM could be regarded as broadly equivalent defendants.

As to whether England and Wales was the proper place in which to bring the claim, the Court of Appeal again upheld the Judge’s finding that it was. Although, absent the claim against Vedanta, it would be clear that England would not be the appropriate forum for the claims – that would be Zambia, the position change once the claim against Vedanta was taken into account. It would be inappropriate for the litigation to be conducted in parallel proceedings involving identical or virtually identical facts, witnesses and documents, in circumstances where the claim against Vedanta would in any event continue in England.

The case can be contrasted with the earlier decision of Fraser J in Okpabi and others v. Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd [2017] EWHC 89 (TCC), noted in this blog on 2 February 2017.  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. He declined to follow Coulson J’s decision in the instant case, identifying facts that distinguished the two cases. The decision is under appeal.

Parents and subsidiaries. No liability in tort for Nigerian pipeline pollution.

When will a parent company be liable in tort in respect of acts of one of its subsidiary companies? Fraser J has provided some answers to this question in Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd,  [2017] EWHC 89 (TCC). The case involved pollution claims 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 principal target was Shells’ Nigerian subsidiary SPDC who operated the pipelines but the claimants wanted the case to be heard in the English courts rather than in Nigeria. To do this they brought proceedings against the English holding company, Royal Dutch Shell, which would serve as an “anchor defendant” to allow claims against SPDC to be joined to those proceedings. In a jurisdictional challenge by the two defendants the issue arose as to whether there was an arguable duty of care on the part of RDS to the claimants under Nigerian law which for these purposes was the same as English common. If not, there would be no ‘anchor defendant’ and SPDC’s applications challenging jurisdiction would succeed, due to the lack of connection of the claims against SPDC with this jurisdiction.

The claimants argued that Royal Dutch Shell owed a direct duty of care to them, relying heavily on the Court of Appeal’s decision in Chandler v Cape [2012] 1 WLR 3111, in which a parent company was found to owe such a duty to employees of its subsidiary company. They alleged that RDS had failed to ensure that repeated oil leaks from SPDC’s infrastructure were expeditiously and effectively cleaned up so as to minimise the risk to the claimants’ health, land and livelihoods and, further, had failed to take appropriate measures to address the well-known systemic problems of its operations in Nigeria which led to repeated oil spills.

Fraser J applied the threefold Caparo test to finding the existence of a duty of care.

1. The damage should be foreseeable; 2. There should exist between the party owing the duty and the party to whom it is owed a relationship of proximity or neighbourhood; 3. The situation should be one in which it is “fair, just and reasonable” to impose a duty of a given scope upon the one party for the benefit of the other.

The second and third of these limbs were problematic for the claimants. The evidence from those at SPDC’s evidence was to the effect that it, rather than RDS, took all operational decisions in Nigeria, and RDS performed nothing by way of supervisory direction, specialist activities or knowledge, that would put RDS in any different position than would be expected of an ultimate parent company. It was SPDC that had the specialist knowledge and experience – as well as the necessary licence from the Nigerian authorities – to perform the relevant activities in Nigeria that formed the subject matter of the claim.

Nor could a duty of care be said to arise from public statements by made both by the Shell Group and by RDS about the Group’s commitment to environmental issues, and the organisation of the Shell Group, such statements being a function of the listing regulations of the London Stock Exchange.  First these statements were qualified by the following wording “Royal Dutch Shell plc and the companies in which it directly and indirectly owns investments are separate and distinct entities. But in this publication, the collective expressions “Shell” and “Shell Group” may be used for convenience where reference is made in general to those companies. Likewise, the words ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’ and ‘ourselves’ are used in some places to refer to the companies of the Shell Group in general. These expressions are also used where no useful purpose is served by identifying any particular company or companies.” Second, it was highly unlikely that compliance with such disclosure standards mandated for listing on the London Stock Exchange could of itself be characterised as an assumption of a duty of care by a parent company over the subsidiary companies referred to in those statements.

As regards Chandler v Cape, the claimant there was a former employee, which, by definition, involved a closer relationship than parties affected by operational activities. A duty of care was more likely to be found in respect of employees, a defined class of persons, rather than others not employed who are affected by the acts or omissions of the subsidiary.  None of the four factors identified by Arden LJ in Chandler as leading to a duty of care on the parent company was present here. 1. RDS was not operating the same business as SPDC. 2. RDS did not have superior or specialist knowledge compared to the subsidiary SPDC. 3. RDS could have only a superficial knowledge or overview of the systems of work of SPDC.  4. RDS could not be said to know that SPDC was relying upon it to protect the claimants.

Accordingly, there was no arguable duty of care on the part of RDS and with the disappearance of the anchor defendant the claims against SPDC could not proceed in England. The claimants’ solicitors, Leigh Day, have stated that they will appeal.