Bot AG in Zulfikarpašić: Are notaries ‘courts’ and do they issue ‘judgments’?

In Zulfikarpašić Case C-484/15, Bot AG opined on 8 September. At issue is the intepretation of ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ in the European enforcement order Regulation. Mutatis mutandis therefore the case has implications for most other EU private international law instruments, which employ similar terms. In all of these Regulations, the terms ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ are under- or not at all defined.

The question was submitted in the context of a dispute between Ibrica Zulfikarpašić, a lawyer established in Croatia, and Slaven Gajer, who is also domiciled in Croatia, regarding the certification as a European Enforcement Order, of a writ of execution issued by a notary based on an authentic document.  The referring court essentially inquires whether a notary who, in accordance with Croatian law, has issued a definitive and enforceable writ of execution based on an authentic document has the power to certify it as a European Enforcement Order where it has not been opposed. If the answer is no, the referring court asks whether a national court can carry out that certification where the writ of execution concerns an uncontested claim.

Article 4(1) of Regulation 805/2004 defines ‘judgment’ as ‘any judgment given by a court or tribunal of a Member State, whatever the judgment may be called, including a decree, order, decision or writ of execution, as well as the determination of costs or expenses by an officer of the court’. Article 2(a) of the Brussels I Recast Regulation now includes exactly the same definition. Yves Bot himself summarised the CJEU’s case-law on the notion of ‘judgment’ in the Brussels I Regulation in Gothaer. He reiterates that Opinion here and I should like to refer readers to my earlier summary of the Opinion in Gothaer.

After a tour de table of the various opinions expressed ia by the EC and by a number of Member States, the Advocate General submits that the concept of ‘court’ should be interpreted, for the purposes of Regulation No 805/2004, as covering all bodies offering guarantees of independence and impartiality, deciding on their own authority by a judgment which, first, was or may be subject to an exchange of arguments before being certified as a European Enforcement Order and, second, may be challenged before a judicial authority (at 108). A functional approach, therefore (at 109).

Advocate General Bot submits therefore that an enforcement title such as a writ of execution issued by a notary based on an authentic document constitutes a judgment within the meaning of Article 4(1) of Regulation No 805/2004, provided that the notary with power to issue that writ adjudicates, in the exercise of that specific function, as a court, which requires him to offer guarantees as to his independence and impartiality and to decide on his own authority by a judgment which, first, was or may be subject to an exchange of arguments before being certified as a European Enforcement Order and, second, may be challenged before a judicial authority. 

Whether these conditions are fulfilled is for the national courts to assess.

This Opinion and the eventual judgment by the Court will also be relevant for the application of the Succession Regulation, 650/2012. In matters covered by that Regulation, notaries throughout the EU have an important say and may quite easily qualifies as a ‘court’. Bot AG refers to the Regulation’s definition of ‘court’ at 71 ff of his current Opinion.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Trusts (Stiftung) and estate planning. You cannot have your cake, and eat it.

One cannot have one’s cake and eat it. Meaning once the cake has been eaten, it is gone and you no longer have it. (Apologies but this saying is so often misunderstood I thought I should clarify).

Anyways, the Flemish tax administration had something along these lines in mind when it recently ruled in a case involving a Liechtenstein Stiftung. Many thanks to De Broeck & Van Laere for bringing the ruling to my attention. The Inland Revenue generally employ quite a lot of deference towards trusts and Stiftungs of all kind. In the case at hand however it requalified the transfer of means from the Stiftung to the heirs of the deceased, as being of a contractual nature. That is because the deceased, upon creation of the Stiftung, had issued such precise instructions in the Stiftung’s by-laws, that the hands of the trustees (or equivalent thereof) had been tied.  This essentially takes away a crucial part of the Stiftung’s nature, and no longer shields the assets from the (Flemish) taxman. The cake has been eaten.

Geert.

 

, , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

VKI v Amazon. Readers who read this item should also read plenty of others.

C-191/15 Verein für Konsumenteninformation v Amazon SarL is one of those spaghetti bowl cases, with plenty of secondary law having a say on the outcome. In the EU purchasing from Amazon (on whichever of its extensions) generally implies contracting with the Luxembourg company (Amazon EU) and agreeing to Luxembourg law as applicable law. Amazon has no registered office or establishment in Austria. VKI is a consumer organisation which acted on behalf of Austrian consumers, seeking an injunction prohibiting terms in Amazon’s GTCs (general terms and conditions), specifically those which did not comply with Austrian data protection law and which identified Luxembourg law as applicable law.

Rather than untangle the bowl for you here myself, I am happy to refer to masterchef Lorna Woods who can take you through the Court’s decision (with plenty of reference to Saugmandsgaard Øe’s Opinion of early June). After readers have consulted Lorna’s piece, let me point out that digital economy and applicable EU law is fast becoming a quagmire. Those among you who read Dutch can read a piece of mine on it here. Depending on whether one deals with customs legislation, data protection, or intellectual property, different triggers apply. And even in a pure data protection context, as prof Woods points out, there now seems to be a different trigger depending on whether one looks intra-EU (Weltimmo; Amazon) or extra-EU (Google Spain).

The divide between the many issues addressed by the Advocate General and the more narrow analysis by the CJEU, undoubtedly indeed announces further referral.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.5.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

CJEU finds Aarhus does not add value in Belgian VAT case.

As a practising lawyer registered to the Belgian Bar I had more than a passing interest in C‑543/14 Orde van Vlaamse Balies v Ministerraad. The case was held on 28 July. At issue is the reversal of the Belgian exemption of legal services from value-added tax (VAT). Of interest for this blog was the Bar Council’s argument that making legal services subject to VAT endangers access to court for individuals. Corporations recover said VAT from the tax their own sales incur. For them, making legal services subject to VAT has zero impact on their books.

The Bar Council sought support among others in the Aarhus Convention, particularly Article 9(4) and (5) on access to court:

‘3.       In addition and without prejudice to the review procedures referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 above, each Party shall ensure that, where they meet the criteria, if any, laid down in its national law, members of the public have access to administrative or judicial procedures to challenge acts and omissions by private persons and public authorities which contravene provisions of its national law relating to the environment.

4.       In addition and without prejudice to paragraph 1 above, the procedures referred to in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 above shall provide adequate and effective remedies, including injunctive relief as appropriate, and be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive. Decisions under this article shall be given or recorded in writing. Decisions of courts, and whenever possible of other bodies, shall be publicly accessible.

5.       In order to further the effectiveness of the provisions of this article, each Party shall ensure that information is provided to the public on access to administrative and judicial review procedures and shall consider the establishment of appropriate assistance mechanisms to remove or reduce financial and other barriers to access to justice.’

Perhaps taking inspiration from the Grand Chamber’s approach in Vereniging Milieudefensie, and consistent with the suggestion of Sharpston AG, the five judges Chamber dismissed direct effect for Articles 9(4) and (5) of Aarhus, mostly because of the Conventions deference in Article 9(3) to ‘national law’.

Given the increasing (but as noted recently qualified; see also here) cloud the CJEU’s Grand Chamber had been given Aarhus, this finding by a five judge chamber that Aarhus Articles 9(4) and (5) do not have direct effect is a little awkward. It also puts the Grand Chamber itself in a challenging position. There are quite a number of Aarhus-related cases pending. Will this chamber’s view on 9(4) and (5) be followed by the assembled top dogs? And if it is not, can the Grand Chamber overrule or distinguish without embarrassment?

Geert.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Quattuor, not trias politica. Delegation of legislative power to agencies. Gorsuch addresses the Montesquieuan elephant in the room.

Thank you Alison Frankel at Reuters for bringing to my attention Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch. An immigration case which triggered a delightfully written judgment by Gorsuch CJ on the delegation of power to agencies. In particular the founding fathers’ intention, against the background of separation of powers,  with agencies room for statutory interpretation.

Both Ms Frankel’s article and judge Gorsuch’s pieces do much more justice to the debate than I can do in a blog post so I will leave readers first of all to read both. Judge Gorsuch, referring to precedent (Chevron in particular), notes

‘There’s an elephant in the room with us today. We have studiously attempted to work our way around it and even left it unremarked. But the fact is Chevron and Brand X permit executive bureaucracies to swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power and concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design. Maybe the time has come to face the behemoth.’

Ms Frankel notes that Chevron directed courts defer to executive-branch agencies in the interpretation of ambiguous statutes. Justice Gorsuch reviews what exactly was intended by Chevron and points to the difficulty in excessive deferring to agencies’ interpretation of statutes.

I would summarise his views as ‘Congress meant trias, not quattuor politica.’

My knowledge of US civil procedure does not stretch to understanding what impact Gorsuch CJ’s views have on current US administrative /public law. Anyone out there who can tell me please do. At any rate, the judgment is great material for comparative constitutional law classes, the CJEU’s ECB (C-270/12) case being an obvious port of call.

Geert.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Szpunar AG in Mulhaupt: national law determines what rights in rem are under the Insolvency Regulation. However EU law does constrain national room for manouvre.

In C-195/15 Mulhaupt, the question referred reads 

Does the term ‘right in rem’ in Article 5(1) of (…) Regulation (…) 1346/2000 (…) on insolvency proceedings include a national rule such as that contained in Paragraph 12 of the Grundsteuergesetz (Law on real property tax, ‘GrStG’) in conjunction with the first sentence of Paragraph 77(2) of the Abgabenordnung (Tax Code, ‘AO’), pursuant to which real property tax debts are by operation of law a public charge on real property and the property owner must accept enforcement against the property in that respect?

Applicant is the trustee in bankruptcy of Société civile immobilière Senior Home, a French registered company. Gemeinde Wedemark is forcing the sale of real estate belonging to Senior home, linked to arrays in real estate tax. It is suggested by the referring court that the qualification under German law, of real property tax (also known as ‘stamp duties’ or ‘estate taxes’), owed to public authorities, as rights in rem, mean that the forced sale of the site at issue, as a result of Article 5(1) of Regulation 1346/2000, is covered by German law and is therefore not subject to French law, which in the case at issue is the lex concursus of the insolvency proceedings that have been opened. Regulation 1346/2000 in the meantime has been replaced by Regulation 2015/848 however the provisions at issue have not materially changed.

Szpunar AG Opined end May (other than a Tweet I have kept schtum about the Opinion so far, for exam reasons).The Opinion is as yet not available in English.

In terms of applicable law, Article 4 of the Regulation is the general rule: unless otherwise stated by the Regulation, the law of the State of the opening of proceedings is applicable.

The general rule of Article 4 inevitably had to be softened for quite a number of instances. As noted in the introduction, insolvency proceedings involve a wide array of interests. The expediency, efficiency and effectiveness craved inter alia by recital 2 (old; now 3) of the Regulation, has led in particular to the automatic extension of all the effects of the application of the lex concursus by the courts in the State of opening of the proceedings. That could not be done without there being exceptions to the general rule:

In certain cases, the Regulation excludes some rights over assets located abroad from the effects of the insolvency proceedings (as in Articles 5, 6 and 7). In other cases, it ensures that certain effects of the insolvency proceedings are governed not by the law of the State of the opening, but by the law of another State, defined in the abstract by Articles 8, 9, 10, 11, 14 and 15. In such cases, the effects to be given to the proceedings opened in other States are the same effects attributed to a domestic proceedings of equivalent nature (liquidation, composition, or reorganization proceedings) by the law of the State concerned. Of particular note are precisely Article 5 on third parties’ rights in rem, but also Article 10 on employment contracts, and Article 13 on ‘detrimental acts’.

The precise demarcation of rights in rem hovers between the classic interpretative rule of EU private international law, namely the principle of autonomous interpretation, and the lack of a European Ius Commune on what rights in rem are. The Advocate General completes his already extensive analysis in Lutz, with a combined reference to the recitals of the Regulation, and the Virgós/Schmit Report.

In particular, Article 5(2) does serve as something of a straightjacket, leading to the conclusion that rights in rem require restrictive interpretation: once the first hurdle of qualification using national law (of the rei sitae) is passed, the right also needs to  meet with the fundamentals of what the Virgos-Schmit report defines as rights in rem (at 41-45 of the Opinion): these are (at 103 of the Report): a right in rem basically has two characteristics

(a) its direct and immediate relationship with the asset it covers, which remains linked to its satisfaction, without depending on the asset belonging to a person’s estate or on the relationship between the holder of the right in rem and another person;

(b) the absolute nature of the allocation of the right to the holder. This means that the person who holds a right in rem can enforce it against anyone who breaches or harms his right without his assent (e.g. such rights are typically protected by actions to recover); that the right can resist the alienation of the asset to a third party (it can be claimed erga omnes, with the restrictions characteristic of the protection of the bona fide purchaser); and that the right can thus resist individual enforcement by third parties and in collective insolvency proceedings (by its separation or individual satisfaction).

The Virgos-Schmit report in this respect cross-refers to the 1968 Brussels Convention however it is noteworthy that the CJEU, in defining rights in rem under the now Brussels I recast Regulation, does not in turn refer to the Virgos-Schmit report.

In conclusion therefore the AG suggests that the right at issue is indeed a right in rem under Article 5. Finally, that it benefits a public authority (the inland revenue) rather than a private individual or legal person, does not impact upon that qualification: Szpunar AG correctly highlights that the public character of the creditor is not a determining criteria in either the recitals of the Regulation or the Virgos-Schmit report.

A prima facie straightforward question met by complete analysis of the AG which in passing solves more issues than those raised by the referring court: this Opinion may well become an important part of authoritative sources in applying the Insolvency Regulation..

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.7.1 ).

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Forum non conveniens and Brussels IIa. Wathelet AG in Child and Family Agency v J.D.

I have included Article 15 of the Brussels IIa or IIbis Regulation, 2201/2003, in full below. It allows a court to relinquish a case to another court, if that is in the best interest of the child. I once referred to it in an exam, asking students to discuss Zwiefka MEP’s proposal at the time to introduce an Article 15-type exception in what is now the Brussels I Recast Regulation. Those discussions in the meantime have led in particular to Articles 33-34 of the Recast, on lis alibi pendens with courts in third States and the potential for EU courts to relinquish their jurisdiction.

The question I asked students was how they would rate Article 15 (which incidentally does not require the case to be pending in the alternative court to which the case is being deferred) against classic forum non conveniens provisions. The point being that the former puts courts very much in a straightjacket, which the CJEU was bound to have to untangle. That is exactly what is at stake in C-428/15 Child and Family Agency v JD in which Wathelet AG opined Mid June.

Agne Limante has full listing of the AG’s arguments in CJEL,  I should like to add that the Irish courts were particularly concerned with forum shopping: at 22:

In that regard, it (the referring court, GAvC) considers that the settling in Ireland of United Kingdom nationals who wish to conceal their children from the competent child protection authorities must not be encouraged and, more broadly, that opportunities for forum shopping must not be created or tolerated. However, it asks to what extent such considerations may be taken into account in the implementation of Article 15 of Regulation No 2201/2003.

Interesting case and ditto Opinion.

Geert.

Article 15

Transfer to a court better placed to hear the case

1. By way of exception, the courts of a Member State having jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter may, if they consider that a court of another Member State, with which the child has a particular connection, would be better placed to hear the case, or a specific part thereof, and where this is in the best interests of the child:

(a) stay the case or the part thereof in question and invite the parties to introduce a request before the court of that other Member State in accordance with paragraph 4; or

(b) request a court of another Member State to assume jurisdiction in accordance with paragraph 5.

2. Paragraph 1 shall apply:

(a) upon application from a party; or

(b) of the court’s own motion; or

(c) upon application from a court of another Member State with which the child has a particular connection, in accordance with paragraph 3.

A transfer made of the court’s own motion or by application of a court of another Member State must be accepted by at least one of the parties.

3. The child shall be considered to have a particular connection to a Member State as mentioned in paragraph 1, if that Member State:

(a) has become the habitual residence of the child after the court referred to in paragraph 1 was seised; or

(b) is the former habitual residence of the child; or

(c) is the place of the child’s nationality; or

(d) is the habitual residence of a holder of parental responsibility; or

(e) is the place where property of the child is located and the case concerns measures for the protection of the child relating to the administration, conservation or disposal of this property.

4. The court of the Member State having jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter shall set a time limit by which the courts of that other Member State shall be seised in accordance with paragraph 1.

If the courts are not seised by that time, the court which has been seised shall continue to exercise jurisdiction in accordance with Articles 8 to 14.

5. The courts of that other Member State may, where due to the specific circumstances of the case, this is in the best interests of the child, accept jurisdiction within six weeks of their seisure in accordance with paragraph 1(a) or 1(b). In this case, the court first seised shall decline jurisdiction. Otherwise, the court first seised shall continue to exercise jurisdiction in accordance with Articles 8 to 14.

6. The courts shall cooperate for the purposes of this Article, either directly or through the central authorities designated pursuant to Article 53.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: