The Supreme Court deals the death blow to US Human Rights Litigation

Written by Bastian Brunk, research assistant and doctoral student at the Institute for Comparative and Private International Law at the University of Freiburg (Germany)

On April 24, the Supreme Court of the United States released its decision in Jesner v Arab Bank (available here; see also the pre-decision analysis by Hannah Dittmers linked here and first thoughts after the decision of Amy Howe here) and, in a 5:4 majority vote, shut the door that it had left ajar in its Kiobel decision. Both cases are concerned with the question whether private corporations may be sued under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Read more

No handshake, no citizenship – but with a second wife, everything’s fine?

Two recent judgments of European courts have highlighted the difficulty in finding the right balance between the cultural assimilation of Muslim immigrants demanded by national laws on citizenship and the necessary degree of tolerance towards foreign laws and customs. In a widely reported decision of 11 April 2018, the French Council of State (Conseil d’Etat) ruled that a naturalisation of an Algerian-born woman could be revoked because she had refused to shake hands with a male public servant during the naturalisation ceremony. Read more

Child Abduction and Habitual Residence in the Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada, in Office of the Children’s Lawyer v Balev (available here), has evolved the law in Canada on the meaning of a child’s habitual residence under Article 3 of the Hague Convention.  The Convention deals with the return of children wrongfully removed from the jurisdiction of their habitual residence.

A majority of the court identifies [paras 4 and 39ff] three possible approaches to habitual residence: the parental intention approach, the child-centred approach, and the hybrid approach.  The parental intention approach determines the habitual residence of a child by the intention of the parents with the right to determine where the child lives.  This approach has been the dominant one in Canada.  In contrast, the hybrid approach, instead of focusing primarily on either parental intention or the child’s acclimatization, looks to all relevant considerations arising from the facts of the case.  A majority of the court, led by the (now retired) Chief Justice, holds that the law in Canada should be the hybrid approach [paras 5 and 48].  One of the main reasons for the change is that the hybrid approach is used in many other Hague Convention countries [paras 49-50].

The dissent (three of the nine judges) would maintain the parental intention approach [para 110].  One of its central concerns is the flexibility and ambiguity of the hybrid approach [para 111], which the judges worry will lead to less clarity and more litigation.  Wrongful removal cases will become harder to resolve in a timely manner [paras 151-153].

The majority did not apply the law to the facts of the underlying case, it having become moot during the process of the litigation [para 6].  The court rendered its decision to provide guidance going forward.  The dissent would have denied the appeal on the basis that the child’s habitual residence was in Germany (as the lower courts had held).

The court briefly addresses the exception to Article 3 in what is commonly known as “Article 13(2)” (since it is not numbered as such) – a child’s objection to return – setting out its understanding of how to apply it [paras 75-81 and 157-160].

The Supreme Court of Canada has recently adopted the practice of preparing summaries of its decisions (available here for this decision) to make them more accessible to the media and the public.  These are called “Cases in Brief”.

The CJEU settles the issue of characterising the surviving spouse’s share of the estate in the context of the Succession Regulation

It has not been yet noted on this blog that the CJEU has recently settled a classic problem of characterisation that has plagued German courts and academics for decades (CJEU, 1 March 2018 – C-558/16, Mahnkopf, ECLI:EU:C:2018:138). The German statutory regime of matrimonial property is a community of accrued gains, i.e. that each spouse keeps its own property, but gains that have been made during the marriage are equalised when the marriage ends, i.e. by a divorce or by the death of one spouse. According to § 1371(1) of the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch – BGB), the equalisation of the accrued gains shall be effected by increasing the surviving spouse’s share of the estate on intestacy by one quarter of the estate if the property regime is ended by the death of a spouse; it is irrelevant in this regard whether the spouses have made accrued gains in the individual case. How is this claim to be characterized? Read more

Torture, Universal Civil Jurisdiction and Forum Necessitatis: Naït-Litman v. Switzerland before the ECtHR

On March 15 the ECtHR, sitting as the Grand Chamber,decided on the Naït-Litman v. Switzerland case (application no. 51357/07), against the applicant and his claim of violation of Article 6 ECHR. Independently on whether one agrees or not  with the final outcome, for PIL lawyers and amateurs the judgment (for very busy people at least the press release) is certainly worth reading. Read more

The Pitfalls of International Insolvency and State Interventionism in Slovenia

Written by Dr. Jorg Sladic, Attorney in Ljubljana and Assistant Professor in Maribor (Slovenia)

The most interesting development in European private international law and European insolvency law seems the Croatian AGROKOR case. Rulings of English courts have been reported (see e.g. Prof. Van Calster’s blog, Agrokor DD – Recognition of Croatian proceedings shows the impact of Insolvency Regulation’s Annex A.)[1] However, a new and contrary development seems to be an order by the Slovenian Supreme Court in case Cpg 2/2018 of 14 March 2018.[2] Read more

Krombach: The Final Curtain

Readers of this blog may be interested to learn that the well-known (and, in many ways, quite depressing) Krombach/Bamberski saga appears to have finally found its conclusion with a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (Krombach v France, App no 67521/14) that was given yesterday. Read more

Cross-border Human Rights and Environmental Damages Litigation in Europe: Recent Case Law in the UK

Over the last few years, litigation in European courts against gross human rights violations and widespread environmental disasters has intensified. Recent case law shows that victims domiciled in third States often attempt to sue the local subsidiary and/or its parent company in Europe, which corresponds to the place where the latter is seated. In light of this, national courts of the EU have been asked to determine whether the parent company located in a Member State may serve as an anchor defendant for claims against its subsidiary – sometimes with success, sometimes not:

For example, in Okpabi & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Anor, the English High Court, Queen’s Bench Division, by its Technology and Construction Court, decided that it had no international jurisdiction to hear claims in tort against the Nigerian subsidiary (SPDC) of Royal Dutch Shell (RDC) in connection with environmental and health damages due to oil pollution in the context of the group’s oil production in Nigeria. To be more specific, Justice Fraser concluded that the Court lacked jurisdiction over the action, inasmuch as the European parent company did not owe a duty of care towards the claimants following the test established in Caparo Industries Plc v Dickman. Under the Caparo-test, a duty of care exists where the damage was foreseeable for the (anchor) defendant; imposing a duty of care on it must be fair, just, and reasonable; and finally, there is a certain proximity between the parent company and its subsidiary, which shows that the first exercises a sufficient control over the latter.

On 14 February 2018, the Court of Appeal validated the first instance Court’s reasoning by rejecting the claimants appeal (the judgment is available here). In a majority opinion (Justice Sales dissenting), the second instance Court confirmed that the victims’ claims had no prospect of success. Nevertheless, Justice Simon provided a different assessment of the proximity requirement: after analysing the corporate documents of the parent company, he observed that RDS had established standardised policies among the Shell group. According to the Court, however, this did not demonstrate that RDS actually exercised control over the subsidiary. At paragraph 89 of the judgment, Justice Simon states that it is “important to distinguish 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 (…). The issuing of mandatory policies plainly cannot mean that a parent has taken control of the operations of a subsidiary (…) such as to give rise to a duty of care”. Therefore, the Court of Appeal set a relatively high jurisdictional threshold that will be difficult for claimants to pass in the future.

Conversely, in Lungowe v Vedanta, a case that involved a claim against a parent company (Vedanta) seated in the UK and its foreign subsidiary for the pollution of the Kafue River in Zambia, as well as the adverse consequences of such an occurrence on the local population, the Court of Appeal concluded that there was a real issue to be tried against the parent company. Moreover, the Court considered that the subsidiary was a necessary and proper party to claim and that England and Wales was the proper place in which to bring the claims. Apparently, this case involved greater proximity between the parent company and its subsidiary compared to Okpabi. In particular, the fact that Vedanta hold 80% of its subsidiary’ shares played an important role. The same can be said as regards the degree of control of Vedanta’s board over the activities of the subsidiary (see the analysis of Sir Geoffrey Vos at paragraph 197 of the Okpabi appeal).

Unsatisfied with the current landscape, some States adopted –or are in the process of adopting– legislations that establish or reinforce the duty of care or vigilance of parent companies directly towards victims. In particular, France adopted the Duty of Vigilance Law in 2017, according to which parent companies of a certain size have a legal obligation to establish a vigilance plan (plan de vigilance) in order to prevent human rights violations. The failure to implement such a plan will incur the liability of parent companies for damages that a well-executed plan could have avoided. In Switzerland, a proposal of amendment of the Constitution was recently launched, the goal of which consists in reinforcing the protection of human rights by imposing a duty of due diligence on companies domiciled in Switzerland. Notably, the text establishes that the obligations designated by the proposed amendment will subsist even where conflict of law rules designate a different law than the Swiss one (overriding mandatory provision). Finally, some other States, such as Germany, propose voluntary measures through the adoption of a National Action Plan, as this was suggested by the EU in its CSR Strategy.

For further thoughts see Matthias Weller / Alexia Pato, “Local Parents as ‘Anchor Defendants’ in European Courts for Claims against Their Foreign Subsidiaries in Human Rights and Environmental Damages Litigation: Recent Case Law and Legislative Trends forthcoming in Uniform Law Review 2018, Issue 2, preprint available at SSRN.

Draft Withdrawal Agreement, Continued

It is not quite orthodox to follow on oneself’s post, but I decided to make it as a short answer to some emails I got since yesterday. I do not know why Article 63 has not been agreed upon, although if I had to bet I would say: too complicated a provision. There is much too much in there, in a much too synthetic form; per se this does not necessarily lead to a bad outcome , but here… it looks like, rather. Just an example: Article 63 refers sometimes to provisions, some other to Chapters, and some to complete Regulations. Does it mean that “provisions regarding jurisdiction” are just the grounds for jurisdiction, without the lis pendens rules (for instance), although they are in the same Chapter of Brussels I bis?

One may also wonder why a separate rule on the assessment of the legal force of agreements of jurisdiction or choice of court agreements concluded before the end of the transition period in civil and commercial matters (Regulation 1215/2912) and maintenance (Regulation 4/2009): does the reference to “provisions regarding jurisdiction” not cover them already? Indeed, it may just be a reminder for the sake of clarity; but taken literally it could lead to some weird conclusions, such as the Brussels I Regulation taken preference over the 2005 Hague Convention “in the United Kingdom, as well as in the Member States in situations involving the United Kingdom”, whatever these may be. Of course I do not believe this is correct.

At any rate, for me the most complicated issue lies with the Draft Withdrawal Agreement provisions regarding time. As I already explained yesterday, according to Article 168 “Parts Two and Three, with the exception of Articles 17a, 30(1), 40, and 92(1), as well as Title I of Part Six and Articles 162, 163 and 164, shall apply as from the end of the transition period”, fixed for December 31st, 2020 (Article 121). In the meantime, ex Article 122, Union Law applies, in its entirety (for no exception is made affecting Title VI of Part Three). What are the consequences? Following an email exchange with Prof. Heredia, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, let’s imagine the case of independent territorial insolvency proceedings – Article 3.2 Regulation 2015/848: if opened before December 31st, 2020, they shall be subject to the Insolvency Regulation. If main proceedings are opened before that date as well, the territorial independent proceedings shall become secondary insolvency proceedings – Article 3.4 Insolvency Regulation. If the main proceedings happen to be opened on January 2nd, 2021, they shall not – Article 63.4 c) combined with Article 168 Draft Withdrawal Agreement (I am still discussing Articles 122 and 168 with Prof. Heredia).

Another not so easy task is to explain Article 63.1 in the light of Articles 122 and 168. The assessment of jurisdiction for a contractual claim filed before the end of the transition period will be made according to Union Law, if jurisdiction is contested or examined ex officio before December 31st, 2020; and according  to the provisions regarding jurisdiction of Regulation 1215/2012 (or the applicable one, depending on the subject matter, see Article 63.1 b, c, d) Draft Withdrawal Agreement, if it -the assessment- happens later. Here my question would be, what situations does the author of the Draft have in mind? Does Article 63.1 set up a kind of perpetuatio iurisdictionis rule, so as to ensure that the same rules will apply when jurisdiction is contested at the first instance before the end of the transition period, and on appeal afterwards (or even only afterwards, where it is possible)? Or is it a rule to be applied at the stage of recognition and enforcement where the application therefor is presented after the end of the transition period (but wouldn’t this fall under the scope of Article 63.3)?

That is all for now – was not a short answer, after all, and certainly not the end of it.

(Addenda:  as for the UK, on 13 July 2017, the Government introduced the Withdrawal Bill to the House of Commons. On 17 January 2018, the Bill was given a Third Reading and passed through the House of Commons. Full text of the Bill as introduced and further versions of the Bill as it is reprinted to incorporate amendments (proposals for change) made during its passage through Parliament are available here.  The Bill aims at converting existing direct EU law, including EU regulations and directly effective decisions, as it applies in the UK at the date of exit, into domestic law.)

Draft Withdrawal Agreement 19 March 2018: Still a Way to Go

Today, the European Union and the United Kingdom have reached an agreement on the transition period for Brexit: from March 29 of next year, date of disconnection, until December 31, 2020. The news are of course available in the press, and the Draft Withdrawal Agreement of 19 March 2018 has already been published… coloured: In green, the text is agreed at negotiators’ level and will only be subject to technical legal revisions in the coming weeks. In yellow, the text is agreed on the policy objective but drafting changes or clarifications are still required. In white, the text corresponds to text proposed by the Union on which discussions are ongoing as no agreement has yet been found. For ongoing judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters (Title VI of Part III, to be applied from December 31, 2020: see Art. 168), this actually means that subject to “technical legal revisions”, the following has been accepted:

  • Art. 62: The EU and the UK are in accordance as to the application by the latter (no need to mention the MS for obvious reasons) of the Rome I and Rome II regulations to contracts concluded before the end of the transition period, and in respect of events giving rise to damage, and which occurred before the end of the transition period.
  • Art. 64: There is also agreement as to the handling of ongoing cooperation procedures, whereby requests for service abroad, the taking of evidence and in the frame of the European Judicial Network are meant.
  • Art. 65: There is agreement as well as to the way Council Directive 2003/8/EC (legal aid), Directive 2008/52/EC on certain aspects of mediation in civil and commercial matter, and Council Directive 2004/80/EC (relating to compensation to crime victims) will apply after the transition period.

Conversely, no agreement has been found regarding Art. 63, i.e., how to deal with jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judicial decisions, and related cooperation between central authorities (but whatever is agreed will also be valid in respect of the provisions of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 as applicable by virtue of the agreement between the European Community and the Kingdom of Denmark, see Art. 65.2, in green).

In the light of this it may  be not really worth to start the analysis of the Title as a whole: Art. 63 happens to be the less clear provision. Some puzzling expressions such as “as well as in the Member States in situations involving the United Kingdom” are common to approved texts, but may change in the course of the technical legal revision. So, let’s wait and see.

NoA: Another relevant provision agreed upon – in green-  is Art. 124, Specific arrangements relating to the Union’s external action. Title X of Part III, on pending cases and new cases before the CJEU, remains in white.

And: On the Draft of February 28, 2018 see P. Franzina’s entry here. The Draft was transmitted to the Council (Article 50) and the Brexit Steering Group of the European Parliament; the resulting text was sent to the UK  and made public on March 15.