The ECJ has issued its ruling in Refcomp, Case C-543/10. I reported on Jaaskinen AG’s Opinion here. The Court effectively confirmed the Opinion, albeit within the boundaries of its customary judicial economy.
Like the AG, the Court first of all limits precedent value to a ‘chain of contracts under Community law’: i.e. a succession of contracts transferring ownership which have been concluded between economic operators established in different Member States of the European Union. It subsequently re-affirms the consensual nature of jurisdiction clauses as insisted on by Article 23 of the Jurisdiction Regulation, and the Brussels Convention before it. ‘It follows that the jurisdiction clause incorporated in a contract may, in principle, produce effects only in the relations between the parties who have given their agreement to the conclusion of that contract. In order for a third party to rely on the clause it is, in principle, necessary that the third party has given his consent to that effect.’
In a chain of contracts transferring ownership, the relationship of succession between the initial buyer and the sub-buyer is not regarded as the transfer of a single contract or the transfer of all the rights and obligations for which it provides – in contrast with bills of lading for which the Court had previously (Case C‑387/98 Coreck) held that a jurisdiction clause incorporated in a bill of lading may be relied on against a third party to that contract if that clause has been adjudged valid between the carrier and the shipper and provided that, by virtue of the relevant national law, the third party, on acquiring the bill of lading, succeeded to the shipper’s rights and obligations.
Basically, under French law and French law (almost) alone, the action by Doumer against Refcomp would, exceptionally, be considered contractual. In the other Member States, it would not. To refer, the court holds, the assessment as to whether the sub-buyer may rely on a jurisdiction clause incorporated in the initial contract between the manufacturer and the first buyer to national law, would give rise to different outcomes among the Member States liable to compromise the aim of unifying the rules of jurisdiction pursued by the Regulation. The concept of ‘jurisdiction clause’ referred to in that provision therefore must be interpreted as an independent concept, guided by the need to give full effect to the principle of freedom of choice on which Article 23(1) of the Regulation is based.
The ECJ therefore holds that
Article 23 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 meaning that a jurisdiction clause agreed in the contract concluded between the manufacturer of goods and the buyer thereof cannot be relied on against a sub-buyer who, in the course of a succession of contracts transferring ownership concluded between parties established in different Member States, purchased the goods and wishes to bring an action for damages against the manufacturer, unless it is established that that third party has actually consented to that clause under the conditions laid down in that article.