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ENGLISH HIGH COURT STRIKES OUT GROUP LITIGATION CLAIM OVER 2015 BRAZILIAN DAM DISASTER (B1+)

In November 2015, the Fundao Dam in Brazil collapsed. 40 million litres of waste and toxic water and sediment were released. 19 people were killed and the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people was polluted. It was Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster.


In early November 2020, the English High Court struck out a claim by over 200,00 claimants against two companies in the multinational Anglo-Australian BHP group. The High Court judge, Mr Justice Turner (Turner J), struck out the group litigation as an abuse of process.


Following the disaster, legal proceedings were commenced in Brazil. At the same time, legal proceedings were also brought in the English High Court by a group of affected individuals, companies, and public bodies. The case has been described as an example of ‘class action tourism’ where group claims are brought against multinational companies with subsidiaries domiciled in England.


Turner J held that the proceedings in the High Court were an abuse of process and struck them out. The defendants made four main arguments:


1. That the claim was an abuse of process

2. That the claim should be stayed under Article 34 of the Brussels Recast Regulations (a jurisdictional argument)

3. That the principal of forum non conveniens applied (that England was not the correct forum for the claim)

4. That if the claims were not struck out, they should be stayed under the English Civil Procedure Rules (case management) until issues of jurisdiction had been resolved.


In striking the proceedings out, Turner J said that allowing them to continue would “foist upon the English courts the largest white elephant in the history of group actions”. The decision highlights that English courts will not easily allow legal proceedings to continue against foreign multinational companies with English subsidiaries if there is a concurrent claim proceeding in a foreign jurisdiction involving the same issues and the same claimants.


The claimants are appealing against the decision.




GLOSSARY

to foist [something] upon [someone] – to force someone to accept something that they do not want.

a white elephant – A white elephant is a possession or something you are responsible for that is difficult to deal with or control


EXERCISE

Choose the correct word or phrase from the text to complete the meanings in the sentences below.


1. To ……………………… ………. a claim means to dismiss it without hearing all the evidence.

2. Natural or legal persons who bring cases against somebody else are called ………………………..

3. If someone brings legal proceedings which are unjustified or unreasonable in some way, a court may consider it to be an ……………………

…… …………………………………….

4. ………………………………….. are companies which are owned or controlled by a parent company or holding group.

5. If two things – such as legal proceedings – are happening at the same time, they are said to be ………………………………




ANSWER KEY

1. strike out

2. claimants

3. abuse of process

4. subsidiaries

5. concurrent


[Note: This article is intended to be a legal English study resource only. It is not intended to provide legal advice or guidance. If you need legal advice, you should always consult an appropriate lawyer).


© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2020



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