Vereniging van Effectenbezitters. Prospectus liability, purely financial damage and collective actions. The CJEU reigns in jurisdiction using statutory reporting obligations, at odds with its approach in Volkswagen.

As I suggested when I reviewed the Advocate-General’s Opinion in C‑709/19 Vereniging van Effectenbezitters, the CJEU was likely to be much more succinct, which has proven true with the judgment this morning (no English version available as yet).

The CJEU ignored of course the AG’s calls fundamentally to reconsider the locus damni introduction in Bier. Yet it re-emphasised its willingness to reign in the repercussions of Bier, insisting places of jurisdiction under Article 7(2) Brussels Ia need to correspond to those with a certain link to the case. Its core reference throughout is its judgment in Lober, itself an odd case for the court did not assign territorial jurisdiction (an issue also sub judice in Volvo Trucks). Clearly Universal Music features heavily, too.

The Court’s instruction in Universal Music, that the mere presence of a bank account in which damages materialise, does not suffice to establish jurisdiction, is expanded in Vereniging van Effectenbezitters with the use of statutory reporting requirements: [35] For listed companies (clearly, an entry for distinguishing: how about those unlisted?), only the courts of the Member States in which they are under a statutory reporting duty with a view to its listing, are reasonably foreseeable to it, as places in which a market in its financial instruments may emerge.

The Court also adds [36] that the collective action nature of the suit is of no relevance. The referring court had asked whether in such suits the domicile of the aggrieved could be dropped as being relevant, however the CJEU insisted that domicile has no stand-alone relevance in purely financial damage at all, even in non-collective action.

To the degree that the existence of such statutory obligations is not exhaustively harmonised across the EU (on that subject, I am no expert), this opens op possibilities of course for Member States to assist its consumers with forum shopping, by expanding reporting requirements. (Albeit such extra requirements may themselves by vulnerable under free movement of establishment and /or services; but now my mind is racing ahead).

The Court’s limiting approach here is in stark contrast with the much wider consequences of its findings on jurisdiction viz material consumer products in  Volkswagen.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.459

LugaNON. My brief thoughts on the European Commission’s refusal to support the UK’s accession to Lugano 2007, and a clarification of the procedure and required majorities.

This post is my tuppenny worth on the European Commission’s Assessment on the application of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to accede to the 2007 Lugano Convention. These are my considered but of course not my exhaustive initial thoughts. For excellent review of the legal status quo, see Andrew Dickinson’s ‘Realignment of the Planets – Brexit and European Private International Law’ in IPRax 2021/3.

The background. 

In June 2020, Michel Barnier reportedly commented ‘Do we really want the UK to remain a centre for commercial litigation for the EU, when we could attract these services here?’. This illustrated what has been clear now for quite a while: legal services contribute directly to GPD, mostly as a result of law firms’ turnover and, more recently,  via the financial performance of third-party financing. More importantly, they have an impact on the reputation of a country. Courts’ know-how, speed and general performance are a particularly relevant factor here. Therefore the legal sector acts as one factor in attracting foreign direct investment, as the rise of  international commercial courts shows.

The quote also illustrates however that the European Commission and the Member States were keenly aware of the impact of Brexit on judicial co-operation. Throughout the process, this included early EU flags that, should judicial co-operation fail to be included in the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement – TCA, it should not be assumed that the EU would support UK Lugano membership. Scholarship, too, warned of the inferiority of Lugano viz Brussels IA, and the particular weakness of Lugano States only having to take  ‘due account’ (Article 1 Protocol 2 Lugano 2007) of CJEU case-law on Lugano.

As readers will be aware, the TCA as eventually negotiated includes precious little on judicial co-operation in civil and commercial matters. A Hard Brexit in this area, therefore. Amidst the many issues that needed to be discussed in the TCA, judicial co-operation did not make the grade. This was not a big surprise. As Peter Bert signalled from the start, judicial co-operation barely featured in the negotiation mandate on the EU side, and on the UK side the Government kept largely schtum about the issue.

The lack of provision in the TCA put back into the spotlights the UK’s April 2020 application to join Lugano. Of note is as I have signalled before, that the UK could accede to Lugano, bypassing EU approval , if it were to become a fully fledged EFTA Member State (A70(1)a Lugano). That of course is not the route the UK has followed in its disentanglement from the EU. Under A72 Lugano therefore accession requires consent from the current Lugano States, consent which they ‘endeavour to give’ at the latest within one year after the invitation to do so by the Depository (i.e., Switserland). 

The flip-flop? 

It is reporting in the Financial Times which subsequently put things into a bit of a spin, whether as a result of misinformation or lobbying, I cannot say. On the day of an important meeting of the relevant Working Party, the FT first reported the EC would support Lugano Membership – contrary to what the vast majority of observers had assumed. By the afternoon a U-turn in reporting was made, suggesting additionally that a split had emerged among the Member States. That split is simply not there, or not to a sufficient degree (see below re the voting procedure).

The morning’s reporting of white smoke made the lack of EC support look like a surprise or indeed a disappointment. Clearly it could not have been the former: most of us had assumed the EC would not support the application.

That leaves the feeling of disappointment. Quite aside from one’s view on Brexit as a whole, for legal practice clearly a continuing umbilical cord between the UK and the Brussels Regime in its widest form (BIa, Rome I and II etc etc) would have been most preferable. Lugano would have been a second best. I remind readers that Lugano not only lacks a unified solid judicial oversight. It also lags behind Brussels Ia in important aspects (Lugano 2007 instead mirrors Brussels I, Regulation 44/2001).

The reasoning.

In its Communication to the EP and the Member States, as Peter Bert reports, the EC’s core reasoning is

“For the European Union, the Lugano Convention is a flanking measure of the internal market and relates to the EU-EFTA/EEA context. In relation to all other third countries the consistent policy of the European Union is to promote cooperation within the framework of the multilateral Hague Conventions. The United Kingdom is a third country without a special link to the internal market. Therefore, there is no reason for the European Union to depart from its general approach in relation to the United Kingdom. Consequently, the Hague Conventions should provide the framework for future cooperation between the European Union and the United Kingdom in the field of civil judicial cooperation.”

The Commission specifically refers to the example of Poland as the direction of travel (closer integration with the EU), and to Lugano being a flanking measure of the Internal Market. The 1968 Brussels Convention quite clearly shows the DNA and the narrative of market integration. The development of the EU judicial area in the meantime has moved along in the direction of the EU citisen, rather than merely corporations, as consumers of EU judicial co-operation. Yet without Lugano States being part of the much wider judicial co-operation agenda of the EU proper, it is not absurd to suggest that Lugano 2007’s narrative is more closely aligned with market  integration than it is with ever deeper integration.

At the time of Poland‘s accession to Lugano, this was indeed clearly also linked to its impending membership of the EU, as also noted by David Lock QC, relevant UK Minister at the time. For current candidates, one could think e.g. of Georgia, and the Balkan countries, as stronger candidates for Lugano membership than the UK. Clearly, however, they may bump into opposition by the non-EU Lugano States.

The victims.

The general narrative, to which I subscribe, is that it is not Business to Business contracts, and the litigation by big business cases that will be much hit by this hard Brexit in judicial co-operation. They will turn to arbitration, they will agree exclusive choice of court (covered by the 2005 Hague Convention), and if need be they will simply absorb being litigated in, or having to litigate in the EU. Likewise, many UK judgments in standard business cases will find little difficulty, if some delay, in enforcement in the EU.

Rather: SMEs (lest they too enter into exclusive choice of court agreements per Hague 2005; and they will be less likely to be able to absorb the cost of parallel litigation), consumers and employees, travellers (including in direct action versus the insurer), and claimants in corporate due diligence cases will find it much harder to have a smooth judicial process between the UK and the EU. Consumers domiciled in the EU will still be able to sue UK corporations in the EU, provided they meet the Pammer Alpenhof criteria under the relevant Section of Brussels Ia; and employees carrying out their duties here, likewise will be able to sue a UK employer in the EU. Yet with the distinct possibility of parallel UK proceedings, and subsequent difficulties in having a European judgment enforced, there will be many a freezing effect on proactive judicial action by these protected groups. Clearly and mutatis mutandis, the same categories in the UK will see a major judicial protection avenue fall away, as non-EU cq non-Lugano domiciled consumers, employees and small insureds do not enjoy the protection of the relevant Sections in BIa cq Lugano.

A distinct category of claimants that will be hit, are those which recently have enjoyed the reigning in of forum non conveniens in business and human rights cases particularly under Lugano (where Owosu’s rejection of forum non rules) and even under Brussels Ia (where A33-34 does create some obstacles). Without Lugano, forum non in these cases will once again come to the fore, although recent Court of Appeal and Supreme Court authority on duty of care may alter that fear. 

The voting procedure and future options.

Greg Callus suggests a number of future options here. I have made the following admittedly lame football comparison: If BIa is the Champions League, then Lugano is the Premier League and the Hague Judgments Convention the Ruritanian Boy Scouts football conference. That is because the 2019 Convention does not impact on forum non theories of the signatory States; is a long, long way off entry into force (albeit as noted the EC signals it might speed up the accession process); has such a huge amount of exceptions, reservations and open questions, counsel will drive an entire tank company through it; and, like all Hague instruments, lacks a harmonising court with authority over interpretation.

The Lugano Convention encourages consent within a year of notification. Absence of an answer in other words simply continues a status of lack of consent.

An important final word on the voting procedure: it is NOT the case that the final word on the current initiative lies with the Member States under qualified majority – QMV voting. An EU yes to Switserland, the depository, requires a Council Decision with QMV. However that requires a COM proposal for such decision. This, the European Commission clearly is not willing to put forward. Article 241 TFEU enables Council to request the EC to put forward a proposal for decision. Yet to amend that proposal (which would have to be the case here, seeing as the EC will not propose consent), unanimity is required.

In conclusion

I return to my Barnier quote above: ‘Do we really want the UK to remain a centre for commercial litigation for the EU, when we could attract these services here?’ Free movement of judgments simply is too big a cherry to have the UK pick it in the absence of a more overall framework for judicial co-operation in civil and commercial matters. I fear the fall-out for the categories listed above, might not be enough to make the EC and indeed enough Member States deviate from the Brexit negotiation mandate, which continues to cast a long shadow over this particular initiative.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 1.7.

Skatteforvaltningen v Solo Capital Partners. Unfinished business on endangering Brussels Ia’s effet utile, ‘civil and commercial’ in revenue matters, enforcing foreign public law and Dicey Rule 3.

At issue in Skatteforvaltningen (The Danish Customs And Tax Administration) v Solo Capital Partners LLP & Ors [2021] EWHC 974 (Comm)  is ‘Dicey Rule 3’ which states that “English courts have no jurisdiction to entertain an action: (1) for the enforcement, either directly or indirectly, of a penal, revenue or other public law of a foreign State; or (2) founded upon an act of state“. The assertion of such claims is an extension of a sovereign power of taxation and, per Lord Keith of Avonholm in Government of India v Taylor [1955] A.C. 491, 511: “an assertion of sovereign authority by one State within the territory of another, as distinct from a patrimonial claim by a foreign sovereign, is (treaty or convention apart) contrary to all concepts of independent sovereignties“.

By its claims, SKAT (Danish customs and excise) seeks the return of amounts it says it was wrongly induced to pay out as tax refunds.

Brussels Ia and Lugano (the latter viz a number of defendants domiciled in Lugano States) feature in the discussion because SKAT argue that [22] ‘: (i) this is a ‘civil and commercial matter’, not a ‘revenue, customs or administrative matter’, under A1(1) BIa; and (ii) it is therefore not possible to invoke Dicey Rule 3 to dismiss its claims against Brussels-Lugano defendants, because to do so would be to decline to exercise a jurisdiction conferred by the Brussels-Lugano regime otherwise than in accordance with its rules.’

If the argument were upheld, any claims falling within Dicey Rule 3 would proceed against Brussels-Lugano defendants while being dismissed against other defendants. 

Dicey Rule 3 is not a jurisdictional rule: it is a substantive rule of English law. Yet SKAT’s argument in my view essentially means that an application of Dicey Rule 3 to the matter, would deprive A1(1) BIa of its effet utile.

Logically the BIa /Lugano argument would have had to have been considered first. Baker J does the opposite (his thinking process, unlike writing up, may of course first have considered the BIa argument) and holds at 120 after thorough consideration of the authorities on Dicey Rule 3, that the rule applies: SKAT’s claims seek indirectly to enforce in E&W, Danish revenue law.

In an interesting Coda at 121 ff, he also considers obiter the argument that, in essence, was that in line with a long public international law history, the cross-border recovery of tax refunds wrongfully procured is seen as or assumed to be a matter of revenue law requiring to be dealt with (if at all) by supranational legal instrument. Refence here is made ia to 1925 League of Nations reports.

Justice Baker starts [132] the BIa /Lugano argument along familiar lines: need for autonomous interpretation. QRS 1 ApS et al v Frandsen [1999] EWCA Civ 1463 is English authority under the Brussels Convention, and CJEU C-49/12 Sunico (to which both the AG and the CJEU refer in C-73/19 Belgische Staat v Movic BV et al) CJEU authority.

[142] In Sunico, the CJEU considered claims brought by HMRC alleging missing trader VAT carousel frauds. The substantive claims, for damages at common law for an alleged tortious conspiracy to defraud, were pursued in E&W against defendants domiciled in Denmark. HMRC also brought ancillary  proceedings in Denmark to attach assets with a view to enforcing any damages judgment obtained in England. Those Danish proceedings were objected to on the basis that they were a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ excluded from BI.

[144] The CJEU concluded at [41]-[43], essentially, that because the claim was framed in tort and not as a claim under a tax law, the proceedings were a ‘civil and commercial matter’ and not a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ for the purpose of Article 1(1) of the Brussels Regulation, so long as “the commissioners were in the same position as a person governed by private law in their action against Sunico and the other non-residents sued in the High Court of Justice” (ibid at [43]).

At 149 Baker J concedes that the decision of the Court of Appeal in Frandsen was incorrect per Sunico, however then holds that the result would be the same: the classification of proceedings as a ‘civil and commercial matter’ or a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ for the purpose of applying the Brussels-Lugano regime does not touch the question whether Dicey Rule 3 applies so as to defeat the claim. He suggests [149] a search for the lex causae under Rome II would be largely irrelevant for per A16 Rome II Dicey Rule 3 qualifies as lois de police, and finds support for his view that despite scholarly suggestion (i.a. by prof Briggs), Frandsen must not be displaced, in The Law Debenture Trust Corporation [2017] EWHC 655 (Comm) [and in Andrew Dickinson’s reporting on same], in which the English Act of State doctrine was upheld despite Rome II’s classification of the matter as civil and commercial.

At 165 ff he, somewhat superfluously still considers the more recent CJEU authority of Buak and the aforementioned Movic, and decides at 174 that per BUAK and Movic (on the use of evidence etc.) that SKAT was neither attempting nor able to change the rules of the litigation game, either as to the substantive rules of law that would apply in determining its claims, or as regards the procedural rules applicable in the litigation, or as regards the status or effect of any of the evidence it might deploy or disclose. SKAT was not by this litigation pursuing public law proceedings, in which liabilities are determined as if this were a judicial review of SKAT’s actions, decisions or exercise of public law powers.

Yet that the matters are of a civil and commercial nature, in the end does not matter at all: [176]

To the extent that SKAT relied on the Brussels-Lugano regime as the basis for this court having jurisdiction over the Brussels-Lugano defendants that have been sued, including it may be for serving proceedings out of the jurisdiction, in my judgment it was right to do so. But its having been entitled to do so did not oust or disapply Dicey Rule 3 in respect of those defendants.

Using prof Dickinson’s words (26-27), there is a dissonance here between Brussels Ia and the applicable law. One that, I would suggest, endangers the effet utile of Brussels Ia. Dicey Rule 3’s character as a substantive rather than a jurisdictional rule, does not to my mind save that.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.28 ff.

Begum v Maran. A hopeful Court of Appeal finding on duty of care; however open issues on its engagement with Rome II’s environmental heading.

I am late in reporting  Begum v Maran (UK) Ltd [2021] EWCA Civ 326, in which the Court of Appeal rejected an application for strike-out. I reported on the High Court judgment here and I should add I am instructed for claimant in the case. Oliver Holland, the lead Leigh Day solicitor in the case, discusses its implications together with Rachel Bonner (who was led by Richard Hermer) here.

Coulson LJ held that it is at least arguable (reminder: the specific action that was being discussed was an application for strike-out) that Maran does have a duty of care. His analysis essentially leans heavily on the fact that Maran availed itself of a disposal route, the consequences of which it was much aware of. It is clear that the well-known Bangladesh route to escape health, safety and environmental standards for the dismantling of ships, is questionable under the Basel Convention on Hazardous wastes and their disposal, and that shipowners have been using privity of contract in an attempt to shield themselves from any liability for consequences which are neither unexpected nor infrequent.

Others have written on the duty of care issue and I will focus on the A7 Rome II discussion: the lex specialis for environmental damage – on which I have a paper forthcoming (but to find more time!).  At 78 ff Coulson LJ firstly links the requirement of causality (the use of the flimsy ‘arising out of’) to the non-contractual obligation claimed (here: corporate duty of care), rather than the one immediately following the damage (here: negligence, recklessness causing death). That duty of care does not, it was held, ‘arise out of’ environmental damage. [82]: ‘In essence, it is the duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the sale of the vessel for demolition purposes did not endanger human life or health. That duty did not arise out of environmental damage; it had nothing to do with environmental damage at all. It arose out of the complete absence of workplace safety.’ And at 86: ‘even if the court had to consider whether the death (rather than the duty) arose out of environmental damage, the result would be the same…the death arose out of the absence of safe working practices and, in particular, the absence of a safety harness.’ Support is found in scholarly sources suggesting a narrow interpretation of A7; other sources are not discussed (despite having been submitted) and I continue to be convinced such limiting interpretation is not supported by the travaux. Males J, in his mostly concurring opinion, agrees that the last thing on A7 is far from said although he, too, holds that A7 is not engaged in casu.

Lord Justice Coulson obiter considers locus delicti commissi (which would be  the alternative lex causae under A7) and at 91 succinctly holds (pro memoria: obiter) that this would not have been England. There is authority I would suggest for the opposite finding and the judge’s interpretation of Arica Victims, I submit,  leaves room for discussion: at 91 he correctly refers to the Ovre Norrland Court of Appeal having pointed to ‘key decisions’ having been made in Sweden. These to me seem present in current case, too (and here: located in England).

At 110 ff the ordre public argument under A26 Rome II, which could displace the shorter statute of limitation of the Bangladeshi lex causae, for the longer English one, is succinctly dismissed as not meeting A26’s high hurdle. This leaves a narrower (and perhaps curiously indirect) ‘undue hardship’ argument under the E&W Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984 to be discussed as a preliminary issue at the remanded trial in the High Court.

A most relevant case, also highlighting the many unresolved issues under A7 Rome II.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 4.54 ff.

Johnson v Berentzen. The doubtful Pandya conclusions on service as lex causae confirmed.

Cressida Mawdesley-Thomas has overview of the facts and issues in Johnson v Berentzen & Anor [2021] EWHC 1042 (QB) here. Stacey J essentially confirms the conclusions of Tipples J in Pandya.

The case concerns the extent of the ‘evidence and procedure’ exclusion from the Rome II Regulation on applicable law in the event of non-contractual obligations.  For the reasons I outlined in my review of the latter (readers please refer to same), I continue to disagree. With counsel for claimant I would suggest Pandya wrongly interpreted A15(h) Rome II in concluding that the provisions of A15 (‘scope of the law applicable) are to be construed widely , and the evidence and procedure exclusion (not: ‘exception’), narrowly.

Something for the Court of Appeal to look into, I would suggest.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 4.79 ff.

 

WWWRT v Tyshchenko. Interesting if contestable engagement with Brussels IA’s Article 34’s forum non-light regime.

In WWRT Ltd v Tyshchenko & Anor [2021] EWHC 939 (Ch) and following an earlier Worldwide Freezing Order, Bacon J engages with Article 34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens ‘light’ regime.

The proceedings are brought by WWRT ltd against Mr Serhiy Tyshchenko and his ex-wife, Mrs Olena Tyshchenko. The claim is founded on an allegation that the Defendants carried out an extensive fraud on the Ukrainian bank, JSC Fortuna Bank during which time the bank was (it is claimed) ultimately owned by Mr Tyshchenko. The bank was subsequently declared insolvent and was liquidated, in the course of which a package of its assets, including the disputed loans, was sold to Ukrainian company Star Investment One LLC.  Star in turn sold those rights and assets to WWRT in March 2020. WWRT’s case is that following those two assignments it has now acquired the rights to bring the claim relied upon in the present proceedings, which is one in tort under Article 1166 of the Ukrainian Civil Code.

In current proceedings, defendants contest jurisdiction, on the basis of 3 alternative grounds:

Firstly, the principle of ‘modified universalism’ (which I have discussed ia here) which should ground a stay under common law so as to prevent WWRT from bypassing the Ukrainian insolvency proceedings. The suggestion is that CJEU Owusu did not deal with a potential stay to allow the judge in one EU Member State to stay proceedings so as to support insolvency proceedings in another Member State. Bacon J held [57], in my view justifiably, that even if indeed the CJEU in Owusu did not specifically deal with this issue, its reasoning (particularly the insistence on predictability and legal certainty) extends to the current scenario. Insolvency proceedings may well (and indeed clearly) fall outside BIa’s scope, however the claim at issue is one in tort, which falls squarely within it. At 62 ff he discusses obiter that even if such stay would have been theoretically possible, he would not have exercised his discretion to grant it.

Secondly, at 89 ff, a stay by analogy with A34 BIa. It is seemingly common ground between the parties and the judge that the bankruptcy exclusion in A1 BIa precludes the express application of A34 if the pending action in the third State is in the nature of bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings. Support is found in Baker J’s views in BB Energy. This is not a settled issue. Neither is much discussion, pro or contra, of the in my view unjustifiable finding of reflexive application of A28 Lugano in JSC Commercial Bank v Kolomoisky [2019] EWCA Civ 1708. The more sound rejection of an A34 stay in the case at issue  in my view lies in the judge’s obiter finding at 95 that the proceedings in E&W are not ‘related’ to those in the Ukraine.

Thirdly, a more straightforward argument of lack of domicile of one of the defendants in the UK, hence room for a forum non conveniens stay. This argument was in fact dealt with first, at 38 ff, with Bacon J  holding on the basis of a pattern of settled residence that domicile was in fact established. At 98 ff he holds obiter that even if A4 hence BIa had not been engaged, he would not have allowed a stay on forum non grounds.

In conclusion, the freezing orders were continued.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, para 2.539 ff

Advocate General Richard de la Tour in Volvo Trucks on the location of damage, in competition law follow-on damages suits, and on national CPR rules varying Brussels Ia.

I apologise I could not find a snappier title to this post however Richard de la Tour AG’s Opinion in C-30/20 Volvo Trucks yesterday (no English version had been published at the time of writing) does cover a lot of issues.

Applicant ‘RH’ brings a follow-on action, based on the EC finding of a cartel in the truck manufacturers market. Volvo contest Spain as the locus delicti commissi under A7(2) BIa, however that element is neither referred to the CJEU nor picked up by the AG. That is unfortunate for there is in my view most certainly scope for clarification as I discuss here.

There is also discussion whether A7(2) assigns international jurisdiction only, or also territorial jurisdiction. The referral decision in the end only refers the latter question to the Court. The Advocate General engages with quite a few more and I am not sure the CJEU itself will be inclined to entertain them all.

On that issue of territorial jurisdiction, the AG refers in particular to CJEU Wikingerhof to confirm with some force that A7(2) assigns both international and territorial jurisdiction. Other cases (and in particular AG Opinions) eg in CJEU Löber v Barclays already suggested the same and the overwhelming majority of scholarship has the same view, even if not always explicitly expressed. The AG in current Opinion refers ia to ratio legis, and the clear contrast in formulation between eg A4 and A7.

Next the AG discusses at length locus damni. CDC and Tibor-Trans (markets affected) are the core judgments which the discussion is anchored upon. The discussion here is  rounded up at 94 with the suggestion by the AG that in principle it is the location where the goods (here: the trucks) are purchased, which qualifies as the locus damni. He then revisits the awkward (see my handbook at 2.458) identification of registered office as locus damni, as it has been put forward by the CJEU in CDC. flyLAL further picked up on that discussion and the AG here, too, reviews that judgment. He concludes in the case at issue at 110 that the place of registered office of the claimant should be a fall-back option in case the locus damni does not correspond to the place where that claimant carries out its activities. None of this makes the application of A7(2) any more straightforward, of course.

Finally, the AG concurs with the view expressed by a number of Member States and the EC that the Member States should be able to employ their internal CPR rules to vary the principled territorial consequence of A7(2), which could to lead to a specialised court in the specific case of competition law. Here I disagree, despite the suggested limitation of not endangering effet utile (ia per CJEU Joined Cases C‑400/13 and C‑408/13 Sanders and Huber) and I do not think the justification (at 127 ff) for competition law specifically, justifies special treatment different from say intellectual property law, consumer law, environmental law etc. Claimants will be encouraged to dress up claims as relating to competition law if the centralised court is their court of choice, which will further endanger predictability.

A most rich Opinion and as noted I wonder how much of it the CJEU will be happy to engage with.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.8.

Oeltrans Befrachtungsgesellschaft v Frerichs: the CJEU on the reach of lex contractus as a shield against the lex concursus’ pauliana (avoidance action).

Update 28 April 2021 see Giles Cuniberti’s critique of the implications of A13 EIR (contract law trumps insolvency law) here.

In C-73/20 Oeltrans Befrachtungsgesellschaft v Frerichs the CJEU held yesterday – no AG Opinion had been requested.

Applicant ZM has been the liquidator in the insolvency of Oeltrans Befrachtungsgesellschaft, established in Germany. Insolvency proceedings had been opened in April 2011. The Oeltrans group includes Tankfracht GmbH, also established in Germany. An inland waterway contract (a charter party) existed between Tankfracht and Frerich, established in the Netherlands, under which Tankfracht owed Frerich EUR 8 259.30. Frerich was to transport goods by vessel for Tankfracht from the Netherlands to Germany. In November 2010, Oeltrans paid Frerich the sum owed by Tankfracht,  ‘on the order of Tankfracht’. The application does not give any detail as to the circumstances of that ‘order’.

The liquidator seeks the repayment of that sum on the basis of the lex concurcus’, German law, insolvency pauliana. Frerichs contend that on the basis of A16 European Insolvency Regulation (‘EIR’) 2015 (in fact, the A13 almost identical version of the EIR 2000), such as applied ia in C-54/16 Vinyls Italia), Dutch law, the charter party’s lex contractus per the Rome I Regulation, shields it from the German Pauliana.

The core question is whether the impact of that lex contractus extends to payments made by third parties. In technical terms: whether effective contractual performance by third parties, is part of A12(1)b Rome I’s concept of ‘performance’ of the contract being within the scope of the lex contractus.

The CJEU, referring to Lutz and Nike, confirms the restrictive scope of A16 EIR. At 31-32 however it upholds the effet utile of A16, which as ia confirmed in Vinyls Italia, is to protect the legitimate expectations of a party contracting with a counterparty who subsequently enters insolvency proceedings, that the contract will continue to be governed by the lex contractus, not the lex concursus. ‘Performance’ per A12 Rome I is held to include performance by a third party. Many scholarly sources support the same conclusion, and e.g. Plender and Wilderspin, as well as McParland refer in support to the Guiliano-Lagarde report to the Rome Convention. I realise the CJEU does not refer to scholarly sources yet surely it could have referred to the Giuliano-Lagarde report to shore up its conclusions so succinctly formulated.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 3.98, paras 5.132 ff.

Vestel v Philips. Court of Appeal rejects attempt to ground jurisdiction on a claim requalified from abuse of dominance to patent DNI.

In Vestel Elektronik Sanayi Ve Ticaret A.S. & Anor v Access Advance LLC & Anor [2021] EWCA Civ 440 – also known as Vestel v Philips, the Court of Appeal has rejected an attempt to establish jurisdiction for the Courts of England and Wales in a stand-alone competition law damages case.

Hacon J had earlier rejected jurisdiction in the claim which at first instance was formulated as an abuse of dominance claim. That claim was now reformulated with Birss LJ’s permission [30], with the relevant tort being the tort of patent infringement, and in effect the claim a negative declaration relating to that patent. That a claim for declaration of non-liability in tort (‘a ‘negative declaration’) may be covered by A7(2) BIa, was confirmed by the CJEU in C-133/11 Folien Fischer. In the case art issue, it would require Vestel to show it had not infringed a valid IP right. However Birss LJ holds that Vestel’s claim, aimed at obtaining a FRAND declaration for the patented technology (Vestel needs a licence for the technology patented by Philips, and wants it at FRAND terms: Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory).

The declarations sought by Vestel, after dropping the abuse of dominance plea, are in this form [49]: i) A declaration that the terms offered are not FRAND; ii) A declaration that the terms of Vestel’s counter-offer are FRAND; and  iii) Alternatively, a declaration as to the terms which would be FRAND. these, is it held, are not declarations of non-liability in tort. Vestel have not been given right to access the IPRs. They seek that right in specified terms. They cannot claim that a hypothetical right of entry can proactively ground jurisdiction on the ground that the non-existing access has not been transgressed. As Birss LJ puts it: ‘Vestel’s position is like that of a trespasser with no right to enter the property claiming that if they had permission then it would not be a trespass.’

This was a creative jurisdictional attempt. I think it justifiably failed.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.198; para 2.454.

COMI for natural persons and the EIR. The High Court unconvincingly in Lin v Gudmondsson.

Lin v Gudmundsson & Ors [2021 EWHC 820 (Ch) is an application to annul the bankruptcy of Mr Gudmundsson by his ex-wife. She argues inter alia that the bankruptcy order should not have been made because England was not Mr Gudmundsson’s COMI.

At 54, Briggs J (presumably so led by counsel) oddly holds that the EU Insolvency Regulation (‘EIR’) 2015/848 only defines COMI in its recital 13. Odd, for that was the case under the previous Regulation, 1346/2000, not the current one which does define COMI in the text of the Regulation proper (Article 3(1) – see Heading 4 of my overview here). However that issue is of minor importance for the real hesitation I have with the judgment is

that the judge despite the EIR’s specific instruction that COMI needs to be determined proprio motu, retreats to the default adversarial nature of common law proceedings and defers to the claimant’s concession ‘that even if the court were to find that Mr Gudmundsson did not have his COMI in England and Wales it should not exercise its discretion to annul the bankruptcy order’ [57]; and

that the judge resorts to section 265(2) of the Insolvency Act 1986’s jurisdictional anchor (“in the period of three years ending with the day on which the petition is presented …a place of residence in England and Wales”) instead of the autonomous concept of ‘habitual residence’ in the Regulation. The meaning of that concept was recently discussed by the CJEU in C-253/19 Novo Banco.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, Chapter 5, para 5.95.