Belgian constitutional court’s ruling on vulture funds fails properly to answer arguments on the basis of EU law.

I have reported earlier on the action of MNL Capital against the 2015 Belgian Vulture Fund Act (my EN translation here), on which I have a paper here. I then reported on a related action (where MNL were joined by Yukos).

At the end of May the Belgian Constitutional Court, ruling 61/2018, rejected an MNL challenge to the Act, which was based inter alia on an alleged infringement of the Brussels I Recast Regulation: at A.23.2: MNL argued that Belgium cannot across the board reject vulture funds activities (I agree) based on an absolute ordre public argument against them: MNL suggested this entails a one-sided reading of ordre public in favour of foreign entities refusing to honour their debt.

Due in large part to the peculiarities of constitutional review in Belgium, the Court at B.15.4 looked at the argument purely from a non-discrimination point of view: creditors who have obtained a foreign judgment against a State are no better or worse off than those having obtained such ruling from a Belgian court.

In essence therefore the arguments on the basis of EU law are left entirely unanswered.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 2.2.16.1.4.

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Anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. The High Court in Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al.

Thank you Brick Court and Stewarts, among other, for flagging Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al in which the High Court dismissed a call for summary judgment on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction.

A classic case of follow-up damages litigation in competition law, here in the high voltage power cables cartel, fines for which were confirmed by the CJEU early July. Core to the case is the application of Article 8(1)’s anchor defendants mechanism. Only two of the defendants are UK incorporated companies – UK subsidiaries of companies that have been found by the European Commission to have infringed EU competition law.

Authority cited includes of course CDC, Roche Nederland and Painer, and Cooper Tyre (sale of the cartelised products can amount to implementation of the cartel). Vattenfall confirms that for the English courts, ‘knowingly implementing’ the cartel has a low threshold.

At 89 ff the Court refers to the pending case of (what I now know to be) C-724/17 Skanska Industrial Solutions e.a.: Finnish Courts are considering the application for cartel damages against parent companies on acquiring cartelist subsidiaries, had dissolved them. Relevance for Vattenfall lies with the issue of knowledge: the Finnish courts wonder what Article 101 TFEU has to say on the degree of knowledge of the cartelist activities, relevant for the liability of the parent company. An application of fraus, or abuse in other words. Elleray DJ however, did not consider the outcome of that reference to be relevant for the case at hand, in its current stage of procedure.

Geert.

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

 

 

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Smith v Meade. Horizontal direct effect under the spotlight yet again.

Motor insurance cases in Ireland keep on giving the CJEU opportunity to refine and re-emphasise the lack of horizontal direct effect of Directives. This time it is C-122/17 Smith v Meade.

I apologise to the readers if this sounds gobbledygook: [EU law tutorial] in short: one of the issues of the penetration of EU law into national legal orders, is whether individuals can, against other individuals (hence ‘horizontal’ relations), call upon rights given to them by EU ‘secondary’ law (as opposed to primary law, which mainly consists of the Treaties), particularly in the case of Directives, which unlike Regulations require Member States’ implementing measures.

The CJEU’s long-standing case-law answers this question in the negative (Marshall): mostly because it argues that any other conclusion would cancel out the Treaty-sanctioned difference between Regulations and Directives. The Court does do it utmost to assist individuals seeking to rely on EU law against national law: Directives can be called upon against the Member State and ’emanations from the state’ and the latter notion is stretched as much as possible (that was also the issue in Farrell); national law needs to as much as possible be interpreted to reflect the intention of the EU Directive, even if this requires setting aside long-standing interpretation of national law (Marleasing) – but this does not extend to interpretation contra legem (ex multi: Dominguez);  and if all else fails, the State owes its citisens compensation (Frankovich).  [EU law tutorial ends].

In the case at hand, the CJEU recalls all of the above succinctly, and confirms the absence of an overall possibility of relying on a directive in the sphere of relationships between private persons. EU law does not oblige a national court (question to EU institutional law experts: may a Member State ‘gold plate’ and do so anyway, even if this route might be unavailable to individuals in other Member States) to set aside in a horizontal relationship, national provisions that are incompatible with the Directive, and the contractual provisions between private individuals as a result of that national law.

The Irish Court’s referral to Luxembourg may seem odd given the established principles. Yet the Court of Justice does stretch its own case-law on these issues, ever so slowly while sticking to the Marshall principle. As a result national courts feel encouraged to ask the Court just where the boundaries lie.

Geert.

The answer of the Court in full:

EU law, in particular Article 288 TFEU, must be interpreted as meaning that a national court, hearing a dispute between private persons, which finds that it is unable to interpret the provisions of its national law that are contrary to a provision of a directive that satisfies all the conditions required for it to produce direct effect in a manner that is compatible with that provision, is not obliged, solely on the basis of EU law, to disapply those provisions of national law and a clause to be found, as a consequence of those provisions of national law, in an insurance contract.

In a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings, a party adversely affected by the incompatibility of national law with EU law or a person subrogated to the rights of that party could however rely on the case-law arising from the judgment of 19 November 1991, Francovich and Others (C‑6/90 and C‑9/90, EU:C:1991:428), in order to obtain from the Member State, if justified, compensation for any loss sustained.

 

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Yukos v Merinson: A Brussels I jurisdictional bonanza. Particularly the issue of ‘after the issue has arisen’ for protected categories.

I have been posting a series of comments in recent weeks, with more on the way, on cases that caught my attention pre-exam period. They were all candidates for exam questions except much as I would want to, I can only subject my students to that many developments in conflict of laws. Another one in this series of ‘overdue’ postings: [2018] EWHC 335 (Comm) Yukos v Merinson. 

From Salter DJ’s summary of the facts: (excuse their length – this is rather necessary to appreciate the decision)

_____________The defendant was employed by the first claimant under a contract of employment governed by Dutch law. Various proceedings were commenced before the Dutch courts by the defendant and entities within the claimant group in relation to the defendant’s employment. The parties reached terms of settlement of those proceedings, which were embodied in a settlement agreement executed by the parties and subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Dutch courts. The settlement agreement was in turn approved by the Dutch courts, with the effect that it became a “court settlement” within the meaning of article 2 of Brussels I Recast. Subsequently, upon certain additional facts as to the defendant’s conduct being learnt by the claimants, they brought a claim against the defendant in England, where the defendant was then domiciled, seeking damages for losses allegedly suffered as a result of the defendant’s breach of duties under his employment contract (“the damages claims”) and a declaration that the settlement agreement did not bar the damages claims, alternatively an order that the settlement agreement should be annulled under Dutch law on the grounds of error and/or fraud (“the annulment claims”). The defendant applied for a declaration that the courts of England and Wales had no jurisdiction to try the claims brought and an order that the claim form be set aside, on the grounds that all of the claims fell within the settlement agreement conferring exclusive jurisdiction on the Dutch courts, which therefore had exclusive jurisdiction by operation of Article 25 Brussels I Recast, and (1) in respect of the annulment claims, Article 25 could not be overridden by Articles 20(1) and 22(1) requiring proceedings to be brought in the courts of the state of the defendant’s domicile at the time of issue of the claim form, since those claims were not “matters relating to [an] individual contract of employment” within the meaning of Article 20(1); (2) in respect of all claims, Article 23(1) allowed the rule in Articles 20(1) and 22(1) to be departed from, since the settlement agreement had been entered into after the dispute had arisen; and (3) the settlement agreement being a juridical act of the Dutch courts, the English courts were precluded by Article 52 from reviewing its substance in respect of the annulment claims and, the settlement agreement also being a court settlement, the English courts were required by Articles 58 and 59 to recognise and enforce it unless it was manifestly contrary to public policy._______________

All in all, plenty of issues here, and as Salter DJ was correctly reassured by counsel for the various parties, not any that the CJEU has had the opportunity to rule on. Four issues were considered:

1. Are the Damages Claims and/or the Annulment Claims “matters relating to [an] individual contract of employment” within the meaning of Article 20(1)?>>>Salter DJ’s Answer: 25 ff: YES. His main argument: the Settlement Agreement set out the terms on which Mr Merinson’s contract of employment came to an end. In so doing, it also varied the terms of that contract of employment. The terms of the Settlement Agreement now form part of the contractual terms on which Mr Merinson was employed, and which govern the rights and liabilities arising out of the employment relationship between him and the Yukos Group. In my view this finding should not have been made without considering the lex causae of the employment contract: Rome I in my view should have been engaged here.

2. If so, is the Settlement Agreement “an agreement .. entered into after the dispute has arisen” within the meaning of Article 23(1)?>>>Answer (on the basis of extensive reference to Brussels Convention and Regulation scholarship):  a dispute will have “arisen” for the purposes of these Articles only if two conditions are satisfied: (a) the parties must have disagreed upon a specific point; and (b) legal proceedings in relation to that disagreement must be imminent or contemplated. Salter DJ correctly emphasises the protective policy which underlies these provisions, however I am not confident he takes that to the right conclusion. Common view on the protective regime is that when parties have had the privilege of legal advice, they can be assumed to have been properly informed: the position of relative weakness falls away.

3. Further, is the English court, in any event, precluded from entertaining the Annulment Claims by Chapter IV of the Recast Judgments Regulation? >>>The issue of court settlements was specifically considered in the Brussels Convention, and the Jenard Report, given their importance in Dutch and German practice. In C-414/92 Solo Kleinmotoren the CJEU (at 17) held ‘to be classified as a “judgment” within the meaning of the Convention, the act must be that of the court belonging to a Contracting State and ruling on its own authority on points in dispute between the parties.’: considering Dutch expert evidence on the issue, the decision here is that despite the limited authority under Title III Brussels I Recast for other Courts to refuse to recognise a court settlement (ordre public in essence), it is not a ‘judgment’. Salter DJ concludes on this point that normal jurisdictional rules to challenge the settlement apply. At 81 he suggests, provisionally, that ‘it would nevertheless be open to this court in those circumstances to case manage the enforcement application and the set-aside action, so that they are dealt with together, the result of the action determining the enforcement application. Fortunately, I am not required to wrestle with those practical complexities in order to determine the present application, and I make no decision one way or another on any of these matters. There is no application before me to enforce the Dutch Court Settlement, merely an application for a declaration that the court “has no jurisdiction to try the Claimants’ claims”.

This insight into the case-management side of things, however, does highlight the fact that the findings on the jurisdiction /enforcement interface appear counterintuitive. Particularly in cases where the English courts would not have jurisdiction viz the settlement, but would be asked to enforce it – which they can only refuse on ordre public grounds, the solution reached would not work out at all in practice.

4. And finally what are the consequences, as regards jurisdiction, of the decisions on the first three of these issues?>>>Held: the English court, as the court of the Member State in which Mr Merinson was domiciled at the date this action was commenced, has jurisdiction in relation to all of the claims made in the present action.

There is much more to be said on each of the arguments – but I must not turn the blog into a second Handbook, I suppose.

Geert.

 

 

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Docherty: Asbestos litigation and the application ratione temporis of Rome II.

Thank you Brodies for flagging [2018] CSOH 25 George Docherty et al a while ago – I was not sure whether I might use the case for exam purposes. C-350/14 Lazar was among the precedents cited by  Lord Tyre to decide the application ratione temporis of the Rome II Regulation.

Article 31 Rome II states that the Regulation applies to “events giving rise to damage which occur after its entry into force”. The date of entry into force, according to article 32, was 11 January 2009. The reference in article 31 to “events giving rise to damage” is not necessarily easy to determine. Lord Tyre at 31 clarifies things by suggesting the Article is ‘clearly linked to the distinction drawn in article 4(1) between three separate concepts, namely (i) the event giving rise to the damage; (ii) the damage; and (iii) the indirect consequences of the event. In the present case, the damage consisted of the deceased’s illness and death. The indirect consequences are the losses suffered by the deceased’s relatives. The event giving rise to all of this was exposure to asbestos’: this occurred before the entry into force of the Regulation.

Had it occurred after, the Court would have applied Rome II for the UK has opted to apply the Regulation’s Article 25(2) provision for Member States with internal conflicts of laws, to apply the Regulation to these conflicts: The Law Applicable to Non-Contractual Obligations (Scotland) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/404) provide (reg 3) that the Regulation shall apply in the case of conflicts between the laws of different parts of the UK as it applies in the case of conflicts between the laws of other countries. SI 2008/2986 contains an equivalent provision for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Accordingly what the applicable law would be under the Regulation is not addressed, neither is the pursuers’ submission that any choice of English law by virtue of article 4(1) should be displaced by applying article 4(3) and holding that the delict is manifestly more closely connected with Scotland.

Residual conflict of laws applies and at 17 ff the judge applies pre-1995 common law, leading to the lex loci delicti. However these rules do not provide a clear identification of the lex loci delicti where the harmful event occurs in one jurisdiction (Scotland) but the harm, consisting of physical injury, occurs in another (England). Reviewing authority, Lord Tyre eventually holds (at 23) that the presence of asbestos dust in an employee’s lungs does not of itself constitute injury, and (subject to the Scottish statutory provisions regarding pleural plaques) no cause of action arising out of negligent exposure arises until it does. At 24:  since injury is an essential ingredient of an actionable wrong, and since injury obviously cannot take place until after the breach of duty has occurred, the place of the harmful event (or locus delicti) is where the injury takes place and not, if different, where the antecedent negligent act or omission occurred.

Conclusion: lex causae is English law. The case is a good illustration of the difficulties that remain in applying what seem prima facie fairly understandable concepts to the average lawyer.

Geert

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A quick update on the Hague Judgments project.

A post more meant to refer the readers to resources rather than to add much analysis myself. I have of course earlier posted on the ‘Hague Judgments Convention’. Things have not stood still since.

A first interesting resource is the April 2018 study prepared for the European Parliament. I am pleased the stellar team of colleagues who compiled the study, although overall (in my view a tad too) optimistic on the project, did not whitewash the difficulties involved in the process. The additional layer of complexity, were the EU to accede to the eventual (if any) Convention, was highlighted as a cause for concern. Also in April: the Australian Government consultation paper on the Hague process.

Next up, the May 2018 documents published on the HCCH gateway, including a new draft Convention and a preliminary draft explanatory report. Each and every one of the articles of the Draft can be the subject of very extensive analysis indeed – one need only look at the Chapters on jurisdiction in the books on EU private international law, to appreciate the level of complexity; and of course the every so slight or not so slight differences between the ‘Brussels regime’ and the ‘Hague process’. I trust one or two of my colleagues are devoting their summer writing up just such an analysis.

The process is to be continued for we are not there just yet.

Geert.

 

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Protreat: The end of Waste status of Waste lubricating oil; the waste hierarchy; and the absence of duty for Member States to issue regulatory guidance.

Does a Member State have any obligation at all, either generally or in case-specific circumstances, to provide guidance as to when a product derived from Waste lubricating oil – ‘WLO’ has or has not achieved end-of-waste status through either re-refining or reprocessing? And in the case at issue, was the UK’s Environment Agency correct in its classification of the treated WLO as still being waste, specifically: did the Agency unfairly favour waste oils recovery over material recycling?  These were the issues in [2018] EWHC 1983 (Admin) Protreat v Environment Agency in which Williams J evidently looked primarily to EU Waste law, the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98 in particular.

Among the many points of factual discussion is a review of the Member States’ duties under the Waste hierarchy: Protreat argue (at 67) that the Environment Agency, ‘as an emanation of the State, is under a duty proactively to direct its resources and use its powers to seek to ensure the result required by the Waste Directive. It is submitted, too, that the result required includes “the management of waste in accordance with the waste hierarchy set out in Article 4 of the Waste Directive”. According to the Claimant, this requires the Defendant to perform its functions, so far as possible, to ensure that waste oil treatments higher in the waste hierarchy “are more attractive than treatments lower in the hierarchy”‘.

Williams J is entirely correct at para 71 ff to hold that the hierarchy does not imply that its strict application in all circumstances is not always justified: indeed the hierarchy instruct first and foremost the best environmental outcome in specific circumstances.

That in and of itself makes regulatory guidance difficult to issue – and EU law in general does not impose any obligation to do so: at 81: ‘the terms of Article 6 and, in particular, paragraph 4 thereof, do not support the contention that the Directive imposes upon Member States a specific obligation to provide end-of-waste guidance whether in relation to the products of re-refining or the products of any other process of conversion of waste. The power to decide end-of-waste status “case by case in accordance with the case-law” would, no doubt, permit a regulator to issue guidance. I am not persuaded, however, that this language can be the vehicle for the creation of a specific obligation to issue guidance.’ (Sir Wyn also referred to Article 4 and Article 21 to support that analysis).

Reference to Luxembourg was requested but declined.

Geert.

 

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