Adams v Cape Industries plc: CA 2 Jan 1990

Proper Use of Corporate Entity to Protect Owner

The defendant was an English company and head of a group engaged in mining asbestos in South Africa. A wholly owned English subsidiary was the worldwide marketing body, which protested the jurisdiction of the United States Federal District Court in Texas in a suit by victims of asbestos. The defendant took no part in the United States proceedings and default judgments were entered. Actions on the judgment in England failed.
Held: The court declined to pierce the veil of incorporation. It was a legitimate use of the corporate form to use a subsidiary to insulate the remainder of the group from tort liability. There was no evidence to justify a finding of agency or facade.
There is an exception to the general rule, that steps which would not have been regarded by the domestic law of the foreign court as a submission to the jurisdiction ought not to be so regarded here, notwithstanding that if they had been steps taken in an English Court they might have constituted a submission to jurisdiction.
Slade LJ said: ‘Two points at least are clear. First, at common law in this country foreign judgments are enforced, if at all, not through considerations of comity but upon the basis of the principle explained thus by Parke B. in Williams v Jones
Secondly, however, in deciding whether the foreign court was one of competent jurisdiction, our courts will apply not the law of the foreign court itself but our own rules of private international law . .’ and ‘First, in determining the jurisdiction of the foreign court in such cases, our court is directing its mind to the competence or otherwise of the foreign court ‘to summon the defendant before it and to decide such matters as it has decided:’ see Pemberton v Hughes [1899] 1 Ch. 781, 790 per Lindley M.R. Secondly, in the absence of any form of submission to the foreign court, such competence depends on the physical presence of the defendant in the country concerned at the time of suit.
. . we would, on the basis of the authorities referred to above, regard the source of the territorial jurisdiction of the court of a foreign country to summon a defendant to appear before it as being his obligation for the time being to abide by its laws and accept the jurisdiction of its courts while present in its territory. So long as he remains physically present in that country, he has the benefit of its laws, and must take the rough with the smooth, by accepting his amenability to the process of its courts.’
‘[Counsel for Adams] described the theme of all these cases as being that where legal technicalities would produce injustice in cases involving members of a group of companies, such technicalities should not be allowed to prevail. We do not think that the cases relied on go nearly so far as this. As [counsel for Cape] submitted, save in cases which turn on the wording of particular statutes or contracts, the court is not free to disregard the principle of Salomon v Salomon and Co Ltd [1897] AC 22 merely because it considers that justice so requires. Our law, for better or worse, recognises the creation of subsidiary companies, which though in one sense the creatures of their parent companies, will nevertheless under the general law fall to be treated as separate legal entities with all the rights and liabilities which would normally attach to separate legal entities.’

Slade, Mustill and Ralph Gibson LJJ
[1990] Ch 433, [1991] 1 All ER 929, [1990] 2 WLR 657, [1990] BCLC 479, [1990] BCC 786
England and Wales
CitedPemberton v Hughes CA 1899
Lindley MR said: ‘There is no doubt that the courts of this country will not enforce the decisions of foreign courts which have no jurisdiction in the sense explained above – i.e., over the subject matter or over the persons brought before them . . . .
CitedWilliams v Jones 22-Jan-1845
An action of debt lies upon a judgment of a county court. And the declaration need not state that the defendant resided within the jurisdiction of the county court, or was liable to be summoned to that court for the debt ; it is enough to state that . .
AppliedWoolfson v Strathclyde Regional Council HL 15-Feb-1978
The House considered the compensation payable on the compulsory purchase of land occupied by the appellant, but held under a company name.
Held: The House declined to allow the principal shareholder of a company to recover compensation for the . .
Appeal fromAdams v Cape Industries plc ChD 1990
The piercing of the veil argument was used to attempt to bring an English public company, which was the parent company of a group which included subsidiaries in the United States, within the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States. Where a . .

Cited by:
AppliedRakusens Ltd v Baser Ambalaj Plastik Sanayi Ticaret AS CA 11-Oct-2001
A company had sought and obtained leave to serve proceedings on a foreign based company, by serving documents on a local agent. The local agent was an independent contractor, who received and transmitted orders to the company, but who, themselves, . .
CitedMotorola Credit Corporation v Uzan and others (No 2) CA 12-Jun-2003
World-wide freezing orders had been made under the 1982 Act. The defendants were members of a Turkish family with substantial business interests in the telecommunications industry. In breach of orders made in the US some defendants had sought to . .
CitedHarding v Wealands HL 5-Jul-2006
Claim in UK for Accident in Australia
The claimant had been a passenger in a car driven by his now partner. They had an accident in New South Wales. The car was insured in Australia. He sought leave to sue in England and Wales because Australian law would limit the damages.
Held: . .
CitedRubin and Another v Eurofinance Sa and Others SC 24-Oct-2012
The Court was asked ‘whether, and if so, in what circumstances, an order or judgment of a foreign court . . in proceedings to adjust or set aside prior transactions, eg preferences or transactions at an undervalue, will be recognised and enforced in . .
CitedRubin and Another (Joint Receivers and Managers of The Consumers Trust) v Eurofinance Sa and Others CA 30-Jul-2010
. .
CitedPrest v Petrodel Resources Ltd and Others SC 12-Jun-2013
In the course of ancillary relief proceedings in a divorce, questions arose regarding company assets owned by the husband. The court was asked as to the power of the court to order the transfer of assets owned entirely in the company’s names. The . .
CitedBen Hashem v Ali Shayif and Another FD 22-Sep-2008
The court was asked to pierce the veil of incorporation of a company in the course of ancillary relief proceedings in a divorce. H had failed to co-operate with the court.
After a comprehensive review of all the authorities, Munby J said: ‘The . .
CitedPublic Joint Stock Company (‘Rosgosstrakh’) v Starr Syndicate Ltd and Others ComC 17-Jun-2020
Reserved judgment on the claimant’s application for summary judgment on its claim for recognition and enforcement of three judgments obtained in its favour in the Russian courts . .
CitedFetch.AI Ltd and Another v Persons Unknown Category A and Others ComC 15-Jul-2021
Cryptocurrency Action
The claimants sought damages and other remedies saying that the unknown defendants had obtained access to the private key guarding their crypto currency assets, and then sold them at an undervalue, acquiring substantial profits for themselves in . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Jurisdiction, Company

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.179853