Judgment in Kerr v Postnov(a): a surprisingly swift conclusion on Article 24 and ‘services’ in Brussels Ia /Rome I.

My review of Kokott AG’s Opinion C-25/18 Brian Andrew Kerr v Pavlo Postnov and Natalia Postnova (Kerr v Postnov(a)) discussed, as did the AG, the application of Brussels I Recast’s Articles 24(1) and (2) exclusive jurisdictional rules, cq the application of Article 7(1) jurisdictional rules on contracts, and applicable law consequences of same. The Court ruled on 8 May.

Coming to the first issue: Article 24(1)  – this is not properly answered by the Court.

I signalled the potential for engineering even in Article 24 cases: particularly here, the prospect of adding an enforcement claim to an otherwise contractual action. At 37-38 the Court deals most succinctly with this issue: ‘in so far as the action which gave rise to the dispute in the main proceedings does not fall within the scope of any of those actions, but is based on the rights of the association of property owners to payment of contributions relating to the maintenance of the communal areas of a building, that action must not be regarded as relating to a contract for a right in rem in immovable property, within the meaning of Article 4(1)(c) of Regulation No 593/2008.’: ‘in so far as’ – ‘dans la mesure où’: the Court would seem to dodge the issues here which the AG did discuss, in particular vis-a-vis the enforcement accessory: that discussion I feel is not over.

Note also the straight parallel which the Court makes between lex contractus under Rome I and Article 24. 

The discussion of Article 24(2) does lead to a clear conclusion: the forum societatis is not engaged, neither therefore is the lex societatis exception in Rome I. The Court follows the AG here, with specific reference to the Lagarde report (at 33-34).

As for Article 7(1) forum contractus: at 27 usual authority going back to Handte assists the Court in its conclusion that ‘even if membership of an association of property owners is prescribed by law, the fact remains that the detailed arrangements for management of the communal areas of the building concerned are, as the case may be, governed by contract and the association is joined through voluntary acquisition of an apartment together with ownership shares of the communal areas of the property, so that an obligation of the co-owners towards the association of owners, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, must be regarded as a legal obligation freely consented to’ (at 27). At 28: ‘the fact that that obligation results exclusively from that act of purchase or derives from that act in conjunction with a decision adopted by the general assembly of the association of the owners of property in that building has no effect on the application of Article 7(1)(a)’.

At 39-40 the Court then swiftly comes to the conclusion of ‘services’ under Article 4(1)(c) Rome I, without much ado at all. The AG had opined that the non-uniform nature of the contributions leads to non-application of the service rule of Article 7(1)b and therefore a resurrection of the classic Tessili formula: the CJEU itself went for the acte clair route.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, 2.2.11.1

 

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Kiobel v Shell in The Netherlands. Court confirms jurisdiction anchored unto mother holding and qualifies the suit as one in human rights: not tort. Also orders limited use of documents obtained in US discovery and limited continuation of the trial.

In January 2017 I reported that Ms Kiobel, following failure to convince the USSC of jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute, subsequently initiated proceedings in the Dutch courts to try and sue Shell over the case. (Evidently unrelated to the pursuit of Shell in The Netherlands on environmental grounds – a case which is still pending upon appeal).

The court in first instance at the Hague on 1 May accepted jurisdiction against

  • both the mother holding. That was not at all under discussion: this is done via Article 4 Brussels Ia’s domicile rule. Use of Article 33 /34’s forum non conveniens-light mechanism was not suggested;
  • two English-incorporated Shell daughters using Article 8(1) of the Brussels I a Regulation; and
  • the Nigerian daughter company. Against the Nigerian daughter company, jurisdiction needs to be anchored unto the Dutch mother holding using Article 7 of the Dutch CPR, which is a near carbon copy of Article 8(1) Brussels Ia, whose CJEU authority is followed by Dutch courts in the interpretation of the Dutch residual rule.

Coming so soon after the UKSC in Vedanta the Dutch case has received quite a bit of attention. After first not considering an English translation (not surprisingly; these are the Dutch courts, not a World Service), the clerks have now announced that there will be one, coming up some time soon.

Readers of the blog will expect me to hold the judgment against a clear jurisdictional and conflict of laws lens – in doing so, I fear I have to be a little bit less optimistic than media soundbites following the case.

Jurisdictional issues were in the end dealt with fairly summarily. Most attention went to issues of evidence and discovery, as well as a first review of the substance of the case.

Of note is:

  • At 4.3: acceptance by all parties of of Nigerian law as the lex causae; if need be, choice of law by all parties for Nigerian law as the lex causae. Rome II is not applicable ratione temporis. The case has this in common with the Milieudefensie case against Shell. This being a civil law jurisdiction, ius novit curia applies. The court has taken into account parties’ submissions on Nigerian law yet has also conducted its own research. Foreign law is ‘law’ in the civil law; not ‘fact’ as in the common law.
  • Claimants suggest that in the events in Ogoniland Shell acted as one organisation and treated the issue as one engaging the Shell concern as a whole (4.7 in fine);
  • Claimants purposedly do not wish their claim to be qualified as one engaging piercing of the corporate veil; duty of care; shareholders responsibility; or tort of negligence. Rather, as one engaging the Shell concern directly in a suit on infringement of human rights included in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) and the Nigerian constitution. Tort is only suggested as an alternative should the court not follow the arguments on the basis of human rights (4.8).
  • At 4.12 the Court accepts the horizontal direct effect of human rights under Nigerian law, referring for that finding to Nigerian case-law. At 4.19 the Court notes the absence of statutes of limitation for human rights violations under Nigerian law: thus qualifying this as an issue of substance (lex causae), not procedure (lex fori). It revisits the statute of limitation issue at 4.47 ff (holding that under Nigerian law the suits can still be brought).
  • At 4.26 the court applies A8(1) BIa and A7 Dutch CPR in globo, given the same lines of interpretation, and finds succinctly that all conditions (Kalfelis; Roche Nederland; The Tatry) are met. It remarks at 4.26 in fine that given the same situation of law and fact, it was predictable for all parties that they might end up being sued in any of their corporate siblings’ domicile.
  • At 4.27 the court discussed summary dismissal. As seen in Vedanta, despite Owusu European courts are within their rights to reject the case in summary judgment if there is no ‘real issue’ to be tried against the anchor defendant. However this only applies against non-EU based defendants. Application of Article 8(1) does not allow such summary dismissal for EU-based defendants (see also C-103/05 Reisch Montage). The Hague court reviews summary dismissal only vis-a-vis the Nigerian defendant but finds succinctly that the suit is not prima facie without merit. There is a serious issue to be tried.
  • At 4.28 interestingly the Court rejects relevance of the High Court and the Court of Appeal‘s dismissal of jurisdiction in Okpabi, arguing that these courts employed ‘English law’. This underscores the argument I have made elsewhere, that there is a serious blank in the discussion on lex causae for the duty of care or, depending on the case, the piercing issue. The Dutch court here notes without hesitation that the English courts apply lex fori to that test, and so therefore, I am assuming, should they (meaning Dutch law in their case)?
  • At 4.29 it looks as if the Court considers some kind of reflexive argument which defendants seem to have made. Namely that the Dutch courts should respect the exclusive jurisdictional head under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) – FREP Rules, for the Federal High Court in cases involving alleged infringement of human rights. However the Dutch court considers this a mere internal jurisdictional distribution rule, which does not hinder the Dutch courts in their assessment of the claims. There is no written or unwritten rule in Dutch private international law which suggests such deference to a Nigerian civil procedure rule.

Importantly, a great deal of attention at 4.30 ff  goes to the debate on the use of documents obtained in US discovery, in the Dutch proceedings. A fair amount of these had to be returned following a confidentiality agreement in the US proceedings. Claimants make recourse to Article 6 ECHR to regain access for use in the Dutch proceedings however the Dutch court curtails much of that. Common law discovery rules are notoriously more claimant friendly than those of the civil law (a comment also made by Marsh CM in Glaxo v Sandoz). It leads to Shell not having to turn over quite a large part of the documents claimants had hoped to use. [Note 18 May 2019 in my original post of 17 May I had ‘common’ law and ‘civil law’ accidentally mixed up in the previous sentence].

At 4.58 ff the Court then turns to the substance of the case for case management reasons, with a view to determining which parts of the claim may be made subject to further proof. It holds in a way which I imagine must have been very disappointing for claimants. Only limited claims (of the Nigerian daughter’s involvement in the bribing of witnesses) will be allowed to continue.

The court held that claims of controlling meddling in the Nigerian court proceedings were not proven with sufficient force for these claims to continue – instead it held that Shell’s policy of silent diplomacy, in line with its business policies, had been consistently carried out.

All in all I would suggest claimants have scored clear points on jurisdiction, minor points on discovery and a disappointing outcome for them on substance. Albeit that the witness bribe leg may still lead to a finding of human rights infringement.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2.

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Bitcoin online resolution award refused recognition and enforcement at Amsterdam (ordre public exception of New York Convention).

I tweeted it earlier yet was asked to put a review up on the blog (which also suits my archiving purposes) of ECLI:NL:GHAMS:2019:192 X v Y (I know that does not help much) at the Amsterdam Court of Appeal, 29 January 2019. The case came to me courtesy of Freshields who have review here.

The case illustrates some of the issues involving online alternative dispute resolution, including those manned by artificial intelligence (albeit the latter was not directly at stake here).

Using an online trading platform, X provided three loans to Y, all in bitcoins at an interest rate of 5% per month. To borrow these bitcoins, Y had to agree on the conditions of the online bitcoin-trading platform applicable to the loans. These conditions included the following dispute resolution mechanism clause:

If you fail to pay principal and/or interest on the date on which the loan falls due, you will be considered in default of the Registration Agreement… Should your loan become 90 days past due (“Defaulted”) the loan will be sent to Dhami Law Firm (“Arbitrator”), an independent, international arbitration firm whose awards are recognized internationally under The United Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.

I understand that in the event that I want to appear in the arbitration by email to contest the potential issuance of an award in favor of the lenders, I must send a written request to support@btcjam.com and pay a $ 99.00 fee. Such request must be within 7 calendar days from the date of the Notice of Default. The Arbitrator’s decision shall be final and legally binding. In the event that the Arbitrator issues an award in favor of the investor, an investor may enforce that judgment in a court of competent jurisdiction.

The conditions further contained the following arbitration clause:

All claims and disputes arising under or relating to this agreement are to be settled by binding arbitration in the state of California or another location mutually agreeable to the parties. An award of arbitration may be confirmed in a court of competent jurisdiction.

Default ensued, as did ADR, and Y sought enforcement in The Netherlands. The Courts have now refused proprio motu (Y had signalled he had no objection), for the following reasons summarised by Freshfields: First, the court took issue with the circumstance that – in its view – online arbitral proceedings automatically become pending after 90 days. Second, a defendant wishing to defend itself in these arbitral proceedings had been required to write an email within seven days from receiving a notice of default. Third, the arbitral tribunal had failed to inform Y that a dispute was pending against him or of the legal grounds of the action.

At 3.5 is it is clear that the principle of audi alteram partem is the main stumbling block for the Dutch Courts. Ordre public violated. A clear flashpoint for ADR, including of the algorithmic variety.

Geert.

 

 

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Stand alone cartel damages suits: The High Court in Media Saturn Holding v Toshiba on anchoring jurisdiction.

In [2019] EWHC 1095 (Ch) Media Saturn Holding v Toshiba et al, Barling J is concerned with stand-alone damages suits following the European Commission decision in COMP/39437 – TV and Monitor TubesNone of the Defendants was an addressee of the Decision (some of their parent companies were). The claims are, therefore, “standalone” rather than “follow-on” actions, and the Decision is not binding on the court so far as the claims against the Defendants are concerned, as it would have been had the Defendants been addressees. Nevertheless, Claimants place considerable reliance upon the evidential effect of the Decision.

Claims are strike out and summary judgment application, intertwined with challenges to jurisdiction. These essentially relate to there being no arguable claim against the “anchor” defendants, particularly Toshiba Information Systems UK ltd – TIS.

At 114: Claimants refute the suggestion that the claim has been brought against TIS on a speculative basis in the hope that something may turn up on disclosure and/or simply to provide an anchor defendant for jurisdictional purposes. They point to the Commission’s finding, at Recital 595, that the cartel was implemented in the EEA through sales of cartelised CPTs that had been integrated into the finished products.

The substantive law issue of implementation of the cartel therefore is brought in not just to argue (or refute) summary dismissal, but also to shore (or reject) the jurisdictional claim under Article 8(1) Brussels 1a.

Barling J establishes as common ground (at 90) that ‘as a matter of law an entity can infringe Article 101(1) TFEU and Article 53 EEA if it participates in relevant cartel activity, in the sense of being a party to an agreement or concerted practice which falls within that Article, or if it knowingly implements a cartel to which it may not have been a party in that sense. [counsel for defendants] submitted that there is no arguable case that TIS had the requisite knowledge. However, what is sufficient knowledge for this purpose is not common ground’.

At 300 ff the most recent CJEU authority is discussed: C-724/17 Vantaan kaupunki v Skanska of March 2019.

This leads to a relevant discussion on ‘implementation’ of the cartel, which mutatis mutandis is also relevant to Article 7(2) (locus delicti commissi). At 117-118:

‘TIS [similar arguments are discussed viz other defendants, GAVC] was involved in activities which were important to the operation of the cartel from the Toshiba perspective. These included the manufacture of CTVs using the cartelised product acquired from an associated company which itself was one of the established cartelists, and the onward sale of the transformed product. TIS also had direct commercial dealings with the Claimants relating to bonuses on sales of, inter alia, the transformed products. In my judgment there is an arguable case that those activities amounted to the actus reus of participation in and/or implementation of the cartel. The available material is sufficient to preclude the summary disposal of that issue.’ 

At 139 ff much CJEU and national authority is discussed, viz a variety of the defendants, on the issue of ‘implementation’ for summary dismissal on substantive grounds, a discussion which then at 259 ff is applied to the jurisdiction issue. Reference is made to Brownlie v Four Seasons, to C-103/05 Reisch Montage and of course to C-352/13 CDC. At 273 Barling J distinguishes excellently in my view between predictability as part of the DNA of CJEU Brussels Ia case-law on the one hand, and its treatment (and rejection) as a stand-alone criterion on the other hand:

‘[argument of counsel] is in danger of treating the statement of the CJEU in Reisch Montage as adding a free-standing and distinct criterion of foreseeability to the preconditions of application expressly set out in Article 8(1). If that criterion were to be applied generally, and without reference to those express pre-conditions, there would be a risk of the EU law principle of legal certainty being compromised, instead of respected as Reisch Montage expressly requires. That case states that the special rule in Article 8(1) must be interpreted so as to ensure legal certainty. The special rule’s express precondition is that “the claims are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments…” Therefore, by virtue of Reisch Montage, it is those words that must be interpreted strictly so as to respect legal certainty and thereby ensure foreseeability. In other words, foreseeability is inextricably linked to the closeness of the connection between the two sets of claims, and the criterion will be satisfied if a sufficiently close connection of the kind described in Article 8(1) exists.’

And at 276

‘It is correct that the anchor defendants were not addressees of the Decision and that there were no UK addressees. However, there is no reason why this should be significant. Article 8(1) is capable of applying in a competition claim regardless of whether a Commission infringement decision exists. What matters is that there is a claim that the anchor defendant is guilty of an infringement, and that the case against the non-anchor defendant is sufficiently “closely connected” to that claim within the meaning and for the purposes of Article 8(1). The fact that neither entity is an addressee of a Commission decision (if there is one) and that neither is the subject of any other regulatory process or civil claim relating to the cartel, is, if not immaterial, then of marginal relevance.’

For all anchor defendants the conclusion is that there is an arguable claim that they participated in and/or knowingly implemented the cartel. That strongly militates against the sole purpose of the (two sets of) proceedings being to oust the jurisdiction of the other EU courts. No abuse has occurred.

At 316 a final postscript is added suggesting summarily that the Supreme Court’s Vedanta might have an impact on the ‘abuse’ issue. The judgment concerned inter alia an alleged abuse of EU law in the context of the predecessor provision to Article 8(1). The Court gave consideration to the test for the “sole purpose” issue. At 317: Barling J: ‘I can see no basis on which my conclusions in that regard are affected by this decision.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1.

 

 

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Six useful Google ‘hacks’ to make your research more efficient. Brought to you by Leuven Law Library.

Many thanks to the staff at Leuven’s law library for writing up six extremely useful Google ‘hacks’ for legal research, which I am pleased to post as a guest blog.

 

As law librarians of KU Leuven, we help students and professionals with their research on a daily basis. A big part of research is – of course – Google, but for some topics and broad searches, Google will come up with 2 million relevant results, making it hard to see the forest for the trees. These six hacks will help you Google more efficiently and find what you’re looking for quicker.

The most commonly known hack – but also one of the most useful ones to alleviate research frustration – is the ‘search within a site’ hack. By typing site:[the website you want to search in] before or after your keywords, you will only get results from within that particular site. This is especially useful for websites with limited or difficult native search tools.

As for our second hack, we would like to remind you of the wildcard: *. Using the asterisk to find missing words is useful if you would like to look up a quote but do not remember the exact wording. The wildcard has another great use: you can easily include words in two different spellings in your search results by searching, for example, organi*ations.

Another way to look up quotes, this time if you do have the exact wording and are trying to find out the source, is by putting your words between quotation marks. This hack will make sure you only get results that quote the exact phrase you’re searching.

Our fourth Google hack is one to help you filter out particular words. By using the or hyphen symbol directly in front of said word, you will get results that do not include it. The hyphen symbol is essentially the same as the Boolean “NOT”.

Let’s say you know a specific file is available online, but your basic keyword search does not turn it up? To solve this problem, use our fifth hack: the filtype:[filetype you’re looking for, eg. doc] string in combination with your keywords.

Last but not least, our final hack will make it easier to search for different aspects of law from a specific country. By using the site:[country code] string, you only turn up results with URL’s that have the specific country code you are looking for as a domain extension. This works, for example, to help you search more efficiently for fields of law in the Netherlands vs Belgium.

These six hacks are easy tricks to level up your research skills and make sure you do not spend as much time combing through pages of Google results. There is definitely more where this came from! For specific questions, involving Google or not, the librarians at the KU Leuven Libraries Law are always at your service.

(These hacks were originally posted in the context of a “Google hacks week” on the KU Leuven Libraries Law’s different social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.)

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Ramona Ang v Reliantco: On bitcoins, choice of court, complex financial markets and ‘consumers’. As well as a first vindication of my GDPR jurisdictional prediction.

As noted, I have come up for some air after a few hectic weeks – next case to report on is [2019] EWHC 879 (Comm) Ramona v Reliantco, held 12 April. (A similar case is pending with the CJEU against Reliantco as Case C-500/18).

Defendant (‘Reliantco’) is a company incorporated in Cyprus offering financial products and services through an online trading platform under the ‘UFX’ trade name. Claimant, Ms Ang, is an individual of substantial means who invested in Bitcoin futures, on a leveraged basis, through the UFX platform. She claims, essentially and primarily, that Reliantco wrongfully blocked and terminated her UFX account and should compensate her for the loss of her open Bitcoin positions, or at a minimum should refund her cash value invested. She also makes claims for relief in respect of what she says have been breaches of data protection obligations owed by Reliantco in connection with her UFX account.

The judgment does not concern the merits of Ms Ang’s claims but rather an application by Reliantco challenging jurisdiction. Reliantco contends that Ms Ang is bound by its standard terms and conditions, clause 27.1 of which provides that the courts of Cyprus are to have exclusive jurisdiction over “all disputes and controversies arising out of or in connection with” her customer agreement. Reliantco therefore relies on Article 25 Brussels Ia.

Ms Ang says that clause 27.1 is ineffective to require her to bring her claim in Cyprus, either because she is a consumer within Section 4 of Brussels (Recast) or because clause 27.1 was not incorporated into her UFX customer agreement with Reliantco in such a way as to satisfy the requirements of Article 25. Ms Ang says, in the alternative, that her data protection claims may be brought here notwithstanding Article 25 Brussels Ia even if Article 25 applies to her primary substantive claims.

All in all a nice set of jurisdictional issues and no surprise to have prof Jonathan Harris QC involved as counsel.

At all times material to her claim, Ms Ang was not employed or earning a living in any self-employed trade or profession (unless, which is contentious between the parties and considered below, her activity as a customer of Reliantco via the UFX platform is itself to be so classified). Ms Ang worked in money markets for two months as a trainee, observing US$/DM currency swaps. Other than that, she has no professional currency trading or money market experience (again, that is, unless her use of the UFX platform to invest in Bitcoin futures itself counts as such).

At 9, s little bit of Bitcoin drame enters the scene: Ms Ang’s husband, Craig Wright, is a computer scientist with cybersecurity and blockchain expertise who works as Chief Scientist for nChain Ltd, a blockchain technology company with a corporate vision “to transform how the world conducts all transactions – using the blockchain’s distributed, decentralised ledger that chronologically records transactions in an immutable way“. As a researcher, he publishes prolifically and has developed innovations for which patent protection has been sought. He is the same Craig Wright who has identified himself publicly as being ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’, the online pseudonym associated with the inventor (or a co-inventor) of Bitcoin. Baker J holds that he need not consider whether that claim is true, and on the evidence for this application I would not be in any position to do so.

 

Was Ms Ang a ‘consumer’? At 52 ff the arguments of Reliantco are summarised; at 55 ff those of Ms Ang.

CJEU precedent discussed by Baker J is C-89/91 Shearson; C-269/95 Benincasa; C-464/01 Gruber; C-498/16 Schremsand the pending cases C‑208/18 Petruchová [I reviewed the AG’s Opinion (issued a day before the High Court’s judgment) yesterday] and C-500/18 Reliantco Investments and Reliantco Investments Limassol Sucursala Bucureşti.

Baker J concludes at 34 ‘the ECJ/CJEU has not decided whether contracts entered into by a wealthy private individual for the purpose of investing her wealth, or particular types of such contract, are not (or can never be) consumer contracts.’

Reference is then made to English precedent along the very lines of the precedent dismissed by Tanchev AG in Petruchová: including AMT Futures v Marzillier, and at 35 ff Standard Bank London Ltd v Apostolakis both through the English and the Greek courts – with differing results. At 44: ‘the disagreement between the English and Greek decisions in Apostolakis turns upon and is constituted by a difference of view as to whether investing private wealth for gain, if it takes the form of buying and selling foreign currency, is by nature a business activity so that an individual investing their wealth in that way cannot when doing so be a ‘consumer’ under Brussels (Recast). Longmore J thought there was no such proposition of law; the Greek court took the contrary view.’ German case-law is also discussed.

At 63 Baker J comes to the core of his reasoning: ‘In my judgment, the investment by a private individual of her personal surplus wealth (i.e. surplus to her immediate needs), in the hope of generating good returns (whether in the form of income on capital, capital growth, or a mix of the two), is not a business activity, generally speaking. It is a private consumption need, in the sense I believe intended by the ECJ in Benincasa, to invest such wealth with such an aim, i.e. that is an ‘end user’ purpose for a private individual and is not exclusively a business activity. That means, as was also Popplewell J’s conclusion in AMT v Marzillier, that it will be a fact-specific issue in any given case whether a particular individual was indeed contracting as a private individual to satisfy that need, i.e. as a consumer, or was doing so for the purpose of an investment business of hers (existing or planned).’

And at 65 in fine: the ‘question of purpose is the question to be asked, and it must be considered upon all of the evidence available to the court and not by reference to any one part of that evidence in isolation.’

At 68 he concludes ‘the purpose of her contract with Reliantco therefore was outside any business of hers’.

Baker J notes that he was not asked to defer any decision in C‑208/18 Petruchová. I believe it would have been of help to determine the issue before him. Tanchev AG (as noted, in an Opinion not available to Baker J at the time of his drafting his judgment) suggests that ‘to determine whether a person must be regarded as a consumer, reference must be made to the nature and objective of the contract, not to the subjective situation of the person concerned.’ 

 

Obiter, he then reviews Article 25, where CJEU authority discussed is ia Colzanni and Cars on the Web. Ms Ang contended that she was not able to access the standard terms web page at the time she opened her account, and therefore clause 27.1 did not comply with Article 25 B1a. At 78 extensive technical detail is discussed and at 80 Baker J finds that the Cars on the Web criterion of accessibility and durability were met; and at 81 that in any case, the current issue is not one of a click-wrap agreement for a signed hard copy of the GTCs with choice of court in it, had also been sent.

Equally obiter, at 83 ff Baker J summarily discussed the GDPR jurisdictional arguments which would have been more relevant had he not accepted jurisdiction under the consumer title. The brief discussion entirely fulfills my summer 2018 prediciton here: Article 79 GDPR will create a lot of issues at the level of jurisdiction.

A very relevant case.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

 

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Tanchev AG in C‑208/18 Petruchová. On FOREX traders as ‘consumers’ for jurisdictional purposes.

Tanchev AG Opined mid last month in C-208/18 Jana Petruchová v FIBO Group Holdings, essentially on the issue whether Article 17(1) Brussels Ia is to be interpreted as covering an individual who engages in trade on the international currency exchange market through a third party professionally engaged in that trade.

Or, as the AG himself puts it at 3, whether a natural person which engages in trade on the FOREX market must be regarded as a consumer or whether, by reason of the knowledge and expertise required to engage in that trade, of the complex and atypical nature of the contract at issue, and of the risks incurred, that person cannot be considered a consumer, so that he falls outside the scope of the section affording protection referred to above.

Under consideration is inter alia the impact of Rome I and of Directive 2004/39 – the relation in other words between applicable law and jurisdiction, and between substantive law and jurisdiction – see also my review of Pillar Securitisation here.

Ms Petruchová, residing in Ostrava (Czech Republic), and FIBO Group Holdings Ltd (‘FIBO’), a brokerage company established in Limassol (Republic of Cyprus), entered into a contract entitled ‘Terms of Business’ (‘the Framework Agreement’ – with choice of court for Cyprus). The purpose of the Framework Agreement was to enable Ms Petruchová to make transactions on the FOREX market by placing orders for the purchase and sale of the base currency, which FIBO would carry out through its online trading platform.

At 29, the AG suggests in my view correctly (Handbook p.106 2nd full para) that for choice of court under Article 19 B1a to be valid, it must allow the consumer to bring proceedings in courts in addition to those identified by Article 18.

Article 17(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation applies if three conditions are met: first, a party to a contract is a consumer who is acting in a context which can be regarded as being outside his trade or profession; second, the contract between such a consumer and a professional has actually been concluded; and, third, such a contract falls within one of the categories referred to in Article 17(1)(a) to (c) of that regulation.

The question referred to the Court in the present case relates to the first condition. The AG refers in particular to C-269/95 Benincasa; and C-498/16 SchremsAt 46, referring to these cases: to determine whether a person must be regarded as a consumer, reference must be made to the nature and objective of the contract, not to the subjective situation of the person concerned. 

(at 40) The question before the Court of Justice is whether a person who carries out transactions on the FOREX market may be denied the status of a consumer by reason of the knowledge and the expertise required to engage in such trades, the value of the transaction, the fact that the person is actively placing his own orders, the risks incurred on the FOREX market, and the number and frequency of the transactions carried out.’

In essence therefore, do the sophistication of the market and the intensity of the individual’s voluntary engagement with it, impact on their qualification as a consumer? The AG opines they do not, and I am minded to agree given CJEU authority, in my view most correspondingly C-218-12 Emrek – which the AG does not refer to. In that case the CJEU emphasised the objective charachter of the Pammer /Alpenhof criteria, decoupled from the consumer’s actual introduction to the business via word of mouth rather than the website.

The AG also refers to Schrems, where the Court held that the notion of a consumer is ‘distinct from the knowledge and information that the person concerned actually possesses’.

At 48 the AG finds additional support in Directive 93/13/EECon unfair terms in consumer contracts – although as we know e.g. from Pillar Securitisation, such support has now become less substantial.

At 51 the AG also emphasises the predictability of the Brussels regime – a classic interpretative tool which was bound to make an appearance. At 54 he adds that the risks involved in the conclusion of CfDs cannot preclude classification as a consumer. Quite the reverse: because of the risks, consumers need to be protected. At 59 he rejects [2014] EWHC 1085 (Comm) AMT Futures v Marzillier as relevant (national) precedent, although I do not think that either he or the Commission properly presented Popplewell J’s views on the issue. As I noted in my review at the time, ‘I do not think too much should be read in these examples – more so, the insistence that circumstances of the case do have an impact on the qualification as ‘consumer’.

At 69 on the issue of consumers, the AG concludes that ‘in order to determine whether a person who engages in trade on the FOREX market should be regarded as a consumer within the meaning of Article 17(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation, no account should be taken of that person’s knowledge; of the value of the contract; of the fact that the person actively places his own orders; of the risks incurred; or of the number and frequency of the transactions.’

That leaves the questions

  • whether A17(1) BIa should be interpreted in a manner consistent with Article 6 Rome I, given that financial instruments such as CfDs are excluded from the scope of the rules applicable to consumer contracts laid down in Article 6(1) and (2) of the Rome I Regulation). Suggested answer: No: per Kainz, and now also I would suggest, Pillar Securitisation; and
  • whether account should be taken of the fact that the person is a retail client within the meaning of Directive 2004/39: for similar reasons: ditto answer.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

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