Anti-suit injunction against owners’ third party proceedings against charterers and sub-charterers in Singapore.

 

The Chang Hang Guang Rong [2019] EWHC 2284 (Comm)  is an interesting, recent anti-suit injunction decision by Andrew Burrows QC, soon to become a Judge of the Supreme Court. Cargo claims arising out of the issue of switch bills were brought against the vessel’s owners in the Singapore High Court. Owners sought to pass these on to Clearlake, the charterer, and to Gunvor the sub charterers, through third party proceedings analogous to CPR Part 20 procedure in England. Both parties obtained anti-suit injunctions (ASI) from the High Court in London on the basis of an exclusive jurisdiction clause in the charter with Clearlake and in the bill of lading issued to Gunvor as shipper, although Gunvor denied being a party thereto.

Owners responded by amending their claims in the Singapore High Court, deleting all their contractual claims against Gunvor and relying on tort claims for misrepresentation, and deleting all their contractual claims against Clearlake, save for claims under a Letter of Indemnity, which contained a non-exclusive London High Court jurisdiction clause. Andrew Burrows QC held that there were two grounds for granting an ASI. First the foreign proceedings constituted a breach of the jurisdiction clause in the contract between the parties. An ASI would be granted unless there were strong reasons not to. Second, the foreign proceedings were otherwise vexatious and oppressive. The court would have to be satisfied that England was clearly the more appropriate forum for trial of the action. The ASI in respect of the proceedings against Clearlake fell within the first category and was maintained. Although the LOI provided for London arbitration for small claims this inconsistency was of no consequence as the claims here were not small.

The injunction was also maintained as regards Owners’ claims against Gunvor, now reframed solely as tort claims, which fell within the second category. The bringing of such claims was vexatious and oppressive, in that it circumvented the normal way of passing claims down a charter chain by leap-frogging Clearlake. Owners had manipulated their third party claims to avoid the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the charter. Clearlake, not Gunvor, dealt directly with the owners and the alleged misrepresentation was directly provided to them by Clearlake. There was a very good reason, so as to avoid forum-fragmentation on the same issues, to have all third party proceedings heard in the same jurisdiction (ie England). There was no obvious prejudice to owners in having all the third party proceedings heard in England rather than Singapore. It was not necessary to decide a further issue of whether Clearlake could restrain the tortious claims against Gunvor

Brussels I Recast — not as long-arm as you feared

It’s not often that what is essentially a family law case causes commercial lawyers to sigh with relief, but one suspects this may be true of yesterday’s decision of Lavender J in Gray v Hurley [2019] EWHC 1972 (QB).

Under Art.4 of Brussels I Recast, readers will recall that a UK-domiciled defendant has a prima facie right not to be sued anywhere in the EU except in the UK, unless one of the exceptions in the Regulation applies. But what if he finds himself sued in some court outside the EU? Does Art.4 extend to give him a further right not to be sued anywhere in the world except here, and thereby justify the issue by the English courts of an anti-suit injunction to stop the foreign proceedings in their tracks?

In Gray, a supposedly beautiful extra-marital relationship broke up in tears, as is so often the way with such things. There was a good deal of wealth in a number of places to argue about. She being domiciled in England and he resident here, she sued him in the English courts. Meanwhile he sued her in New Zealand, where he had close connections. Having finally established the jurisdiction of the English courts to hear her case, she asked for an anti-suit injunction to stop the New Zealand proceedings, arguing that this was necessary to vindicate her Art.4 right to be sued here, and only here — and for good measure that her human right (to protection of her possessions) would be infringed unless the order went.

Lavender J was having none of it. Art.4 of Brussels I gave her no right analogous to that derived from an exclusive English jurisdiction clause that entitled her to the courts’ intervention in the absence of strong reasons to the contrary; and being sued abroad in respect of one’s assets in an action that had no guarantee of success could not be said to be an attack on one’s possessions sufficient to engage the pretensions of A1P1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It followed that, like any other litigant, if she wanted an anti-suit injunction she had to show that England was clearly most appropriate forum and that there was no countervailing justification for him suing in New Zealand — which she could not.

With respect this seems absolutely right. For one thing there is something odd about the idea of EU law justifying the granting of a peculiarly common-law remedy that fills most EU private international lawyers with horror, and indeed is banned entirely by EU law in the case of EU courts. Admittedly this has not stopped the English courts so holding in respect of the exclusive jurisdiction over employment contracts in what is now Art.22.1 (see Petter v EMC Europe [2015] EWCA Civ 828); but that case is itself controversial, and it is good to see its spread curbed.

More to the point, however, if this claim had succeeded, the effects on comity would have been considerable. Courts in countries outside the EU would not have been gratified to see the English courts issuing anti-suit injunctions almost as a matter of course telling litigants not to proceed there in commercial claims against English-based defendants for no better reason than that the EU, an organisation they were not a member of and owed no allegiance to , disapproved of the proceedings being brought there.

As we said before, we suspect much gentle relief in the commercial legal community, which can now be allowed to get on with business as usual.

Brandt v Liverpool implied contract falls outside art. 25 of Brussels Regulation (Recast).

 

In Pan Ocean Co. Ltd v China-Base Group Co. Ltd & Anor [2019] EWHC 982 (Comm) (16 April 2019) Christopher Hancock QC (Sitting as a Judge of the High Court) has held that an implied contract arising out of the conduct of the parties at the port of discharge did not fall within art.25 of the Brussels Regulation (Recast) 2012.

A cif contract was concluded between Gunvor and China-Base, loadport to be any port in Indonesia, Malaysia, or the Philippines with delivery in China.  A bill of lading was issued recording the loading of about 36,360 mt of light cycle oil and gas oil at Zhoushan, China and Taichung, Taiwan. Pan Ocean, the demise charterer of the vessel voyage chartered the vessel to Clearlake shipping a company said to be associated with Gunvor. The charterparty provided for English law and Jurisdiction. Pan Ocean issued bills of lading which accurately reflected the loadports and nature of the cargo and the vessel then loaded further cargo of gasoil in the Philippines. No bills of lading were issued for this cargo but in accordance with Clearlake’s instructions, it is said that an agent of Pan Ocean issued switch bills of lading falsely naming the loadport for the entire cargo as Subic Bay, Philippines and mis-describing the entire cargo as light cycle oil. The Vessel discharged the cargo into bonded shore tanks in Nansha, China. China-Base/Beihai neither presented any bills of lading nor gave any letter of indemnity to Pan Ocean or their agents. The cargo was impounded by the Chinese authorities on grounds of customs irregularities.

The buyers arrested the vessel in Singapore claiming damages for alleged misrepresentations in the cargo documentation. The demise charterers sought an anti-suit injunction in the English High Court to prevent the buyers proceeding with their claim in Singapore and claimed that the English court had exclusive jurisdiction over their claim under art. 25(1) of the Brussels Regulation (Recast) which provides

  1. If the parties, regardless of their domicile, have agreed that a court or the courts of a Member State are to have jurisdiction to settle any disputes which have arisen or which may arise in connection with a particular legal relationship, that court or those courts shall have jurisdiction, unless the agreement is null and void as to its substantive validity under the law of that Member State. Such jurisdiction shall be exclusive unless the parties have agreed otherwise. The agreement conferring jurisdiction shall be either:

(a) in writing or evidenced in writing;

(b) in a form which accords with practices which the parties have established between themselves; or

(c) in international trade or commerce, in a form which accords with a usage of which the parties are or ought to have been aware and which in such trade or commerce is widely known to, and regularly observed by, parties to contracts of the type involved in the particular trade or commerce concerned.”

The demise charterers argued that an implied contract had come into existence between themselves and the buyers at the discharge port on the terms of the bill of lading. The Judge addressed this issue on the assumption that there was an implied contract between the parties. He held that although the bill of lading which would constitute the terms of the putative implied contract was in writing, the agreement itself had to be in writing in accordance with Art 25(1)(a) ““The agreement conferring jurisdiction shall be … (a) in writing or evidenced in writing”).” This was not the case where the agreement contended for was an implied contract based on the actions of the parties in taking delivery of the cargo at the port of discharge.

Had it been established that the English court had exclusive jurisdiction, the court, applying the approach laid down in Ecobank v. Tanoh [2016] 1 WLR 2231. would not have granted an interim anti-suit injunction. The application for an injunction had neither been sought promptly, nor before the proceedings were too far advanced. Over 9 months had passed since the warrant of arrest in Singapore was served, with several hearings in Singapore during that period.

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.

No absolute immunity for international organisations before US courts.

 

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) makes loans to private businesses to finance projects in developing countries. In 2008, it lent $450 million to finance a coal-fired power plant in India. Local residents complained of harm suffered as a result of pollution from the plant and sued the IFC before a federal court in Washington, D.C., where it is headquartered, claiming, inter alia, that the the IFC had violated provisions of the loan agreement that were included to protect the local community. The International Organizations Immunities Act 1945 gives international organizations “the same immunity from suit” as “as is enjoyed by foreign governments.”

At the time foreign governments enjoyed virtually absolute immunity and the IFC claimed immunity from suit. Since then s1605(2)(a) of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act 1976, s1605(2)(a) U.S.C., has lifted the immunity of foreign governments in respect of suits based on their commercial activities, but the Act made no reference to the immunity of international organisations. In Jam et al v International Finance Corporation 586 U.S _ (2019) the US Supreme Court held on 27 Feb, Justice Breyer dissenting, that the immunity of international organisations is co-equivalent with that of foreign governments and the IFC is not absolutely immune from suit. The case was remanded for further hearing consistent with this opinion.

However under s.1605(2)(a) there are three alternative conditions for the lifting of immunity: (i) the action arises out of commercial activity in the US, or (ii) the action arises out of an act in the US in connection with commercial activity elsewhere, or (iii) the action arises out of an act outside the US in connection with commercial activity elsewhere  and the act causes a direct effect in the US. In many cases against international organisations based in the US these criteria will not be satisfied and this may prove to be the case with the further hearings in the instant case.

Anti-suit injunction against non-party to contract

Qingdao Huiquan Shipping Company v Shanghai Dong He Xin Industry Group Co Ltd  QBD [2018] EWHC 3009 (Comm) involved a claim for an anti-suit injunction against a non-party to a contract containing a submission to English law and London arbitration. Owners concluded a settlement with cargo receivers whereby the latter paid for the lifting of a lien over cargo which the owners had exercised following time charterers’ default in paying h ire. The agreement was subject to English law and provided for London arbitration. The settlement provided that the receivers authorised agent, SDHX, which was not a party to the agreement, would make the payment. Three years later SDHX sued owners in a Chinese court claiming repayment of those sums. It alleged that there was an oral agreement between itself and the owners. In December 2017 the Qindao Shinan District Court decided that the dispute constituted a maritime dispute, and that the matter should be transferred to the Qingdao Maritime Court to decide on the validity of the London arbitration clause. SDHX’s appeal was dismissed by the Qindao Intermediate Maritime Court which stated that one of the foundations of SDHX’s claim was the settlement agreement between owners and the receivers.

In August 2018 owners applied for an interim anti-suit injunction. Bryan J held that this was an appropriate cased where such an injunction could be obtained against a non-party to the contract. SDHX had sought to rely upon the terms of the Settlement Agreement in advancing its claims in the Chinese proceedings. In doing so, therefore, it had to take the burden of the arbitration clause. For the purpose of the interim relief claim the issue of whether there was an oral agreement with the owners did not need to be considered. SDHX were unable to show that there had been such excessive delay by owners in commencing proceedings that the court should not exercise its discretion. This was not a case involving considerations of comity or where there had been substantive proceedings in China which would lead to the English court second-guessing an existing ruling of a Chinese court. There was also some benefit from the clarity that had been provided by the Chinese appellate court.

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.

 

 

No deal and jurisdiction

 

A few interesting developments on jurisdiction in the event of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March.

  1. On 1st April 2019, the UK would become a contracting party to the Hague Convention on Choice of Courts Agreement 2005 in its own right (it currently participates through the EU’s ratification). The UK government deposited its instrument of ratification on 28 December 2018 – while still a member of the EU, which has exclusive competence over jurisdiction.
  2. The European Commission set out its position in a notice on 18 January. EU rules on enforcement of UK judgments in the EU under the Brussels Regime will no longer apply even where the judgment was handed down before the withdrawal date, or the enforcement proceedings were commenced before the withdrawal date. Enforcement of such a judgment in a Member States will be subject to its national law. However, where the instrument concerned requires exequatur, a UK court’s judgment which has been exequatured but not yet enforced in a Member State before the exit date, will still be enforced under the Brussels Regime.
  3. The draft Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 would see the end of the Brussels Regime and the Lugano Conventions. These regimes and the domestic legislation that implements them will, for transitional purposes, continue to apply in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to determine jurisdiction for proceedings commenced in the UK before exit day. Judgments obtained in EU and EEA States will continue to be enforced under these regimes where proceedings were initiated before the withdrawal date.

 

The Sun newspaper reported today that Ladbrokes has put the odds at 3/1 that the UK will leave the EU without a deal before April 1, 2019, although it is not clear whether or not this was before the passage in the House of Commons tonight of two resolutions, Sir Graham Brady’s and Dame Caroline Spelman’s.