Dutch draft bill on collective action for compensation – a note on extraterritorial application

As many readers will know, the Dutch collective settlement scheme – laid down in the Dutch collective settlement act (Wet collective afhandeling massaschade, WCAM) – has attracted a lot of international attention in recent years as a result of several global settlements, including those in the Shell and Converium securities cases. Once the Amsterdam Court of Appeal (that has exclusive competence in these cases) declares the settlement binding, it binds all interested parties, except those beneficiaries that have exercised the right to opt-out. When the WCAM was enacted almost ten years ago, the Dutch legislature deliberately choose not to include a collective action for the compensation of damages to avoid some of the problematic issues associated with US class actions and settlements.

However, following a Parliamentary motion, this summer the Dutch legislature published a draft proposal for public consultation (meanwhile closed, public responses available here) to extend the existing collective action to obtain injunctive relief to compensation for damages. As the brief English version of the consultation paper states, the draft bill aims to:

“enhance the efficient and effective redress of mass damages claims and to strike a balance between a better access to justice in a mass damages claim and the protection of the justified interests of persons held liable. It contains a five-step procedure for a collective damages action before the Dutch district court.
Legal entities which fulfill certain specific requirements (expertise regarding the claim, adequate representation, safeguarding of the interests of the persons on whose behalf the action is brought) can start a collective damages action on behalf of a group of persons. The group of persons on whose behalf the entity brings the action must be of a size justifying the use of the collective damages action. Those persons must not have other efficient and effective means to get redress. The entity must have tried to obtain redress from the person held liable amicably.”

A point of particular interest is a provision regarding the extraterritorial application of the proposed act. The Amsterdam Court of Appeal has been criticized by both Dutch and other scholars for adopting a wide extraterritorial jurisdiction in the WCAM procedure, on the basis of the Brussels Regulation, the Lugano Convention and domestic international jurisdiction rules. The application of the European jurisdiction rules is challenging in view of the particular procedural design of the WCAM scheme (a request to declare a settlement binding between a responsible party and representative organisations/foundations on behalf of interested parties). This draft bill does not introduce separate international jurisdiction rules, but proposes a ‘scope rule’ to ensure that the case is sufficiently connected to the Netherlands. The draft explanatory memorandum (in Dutch) states that a choice of forum of two foreign parties in relation to an event occurring outside the Netherlands will not suffice to seize the Dutch court for a collective compensatory action, even if parties have made a choice of law for Dutch law (yes, we see similarities to the US Supreme Court case Morrison v. National Australia Bank). It is required that either the party addressed has its domicile or habitual residence in the Netherlands (a), or that the majority of the interested parties have their habitual residence in the Netherlands (b), or that the event(s) on which the claim is based occurred in the Netherlands. Needless to say that these rules leave the application of the jurisdiction rules of Brussels and Lugano unimpeded. It is clear that the proposed provision limits the possibility for foreign parties to seek collective compensatory relief in the Netherlands. The risk of the Netherlands becoming a ‘magnet jurisdiction’ for collective redress as put forward by some commentators seems therefor absent.
See for two recent English publications on the Dutch collective settlements act, published in the Global Business & Development Law Journal 2014 (volume 27, issue 2) devoted to Transnational Securities and Regulatory Litigation in the Aftermath of Morrison v. Australia National Bank: Bart Krans (University of Groningen), The Dutch Act on Collective Settlement of Mass Damages, and Xandra Kramer (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Securities Collective Action and Private International Law Issues in Dutch WCAM Settlements: Global Aspirations and Regional Boundaries.

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