Mühlleitner: To enjoy protection as ‘consumer’ contracts, contracts need not be concluded at a distance

The Court of Justice has followed the Opinion of the Advocate General (on which I reported here) in Mühlleitner: Article 15(1)(c) of Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters must be interpreted as not requiring the contract between the consumer and the trader to be concluded at a distance.

Debate on the issue had been provoked by the factual circumstances of Alpenhof. The Court of Justice however stuck to both a literal (no mention of distance contracts in the relevant provision), teleological (protection of consumers) and historical (purpose of the change in the Regulation as compared with the previous text in the Convention) interpretation. The relevant Article now only requires that the trader pursue commercial or professional activities in the Member State of the consumer’s (‘consumer’ is separately defined) domicile or, by any means, directs such activities to that Member State or to several States including that Member State and, secondly, that the contract at issue falls within the scope of such activities.

In the case at issue, Ms Mühlleitner, domiciled in Austria, searched on the internet for a car of a German make which she wished to acquire for her private use. After connecting to the German search platform http://www.mobile.de, she entered the make and type of vehicle she wanted, thereby obtaining a list of vehicles corresponding to the characteristics specified. After selecting the vehicle which corresponded best to her search criteria, she was directed to an offer from the defendants, Mr A. Yusufi and Mr W. Yusufi, who operate a motor vehicle retail business via Autohaus Yusufi GbR (‘Autohaus Yusufi’), a partnership established in Hamburg (Germany).Wishing to obtain more information about the vehicle offered on the search platform, Ms Mühlleitner contacted the defendants, using the telephone number stated on the website of Autohaus Yusufi, which included an international dialling code. As the vehicle in question was no longer available, she was offered another vehicle, details of which were subsequently sent by email. Ms Mühlleitner then went to Germany and, by a contract of sale signed on 21 September 2009 in Hamburg, bought the vehicle, taking immediate delivery of it. The contract therefore was not concluded at a distance.

The judgment is a good illustration of the need to consult the EU’s preparatory works, with reference being made to input into the legislative process by Parliament, Council and Commission alike.

Geert.

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