Defining ’employment’. CRUZ VILLALÓN AG in Holterman on applying Brussels I to defendant with dual director/employee capacity

CRUZ VILLALÓN AG Opined yesterday in C-47/14 Holterman (no EN version of the Opinion was available at the time of writing). What if a defendant is pursued both on the basis of his capacity as a director of the company, and for alleged failure properly to have carried out his duties as employee?

Applicant Holterman is incorporated in The Netherlands. Defendant is Mr Spies, a German national, domiciled in Germany. He was employed by applicant between 2001 and 2005/06, first as employee, subsequently also as director of Holterman’s establishments in Germany. Applicant alleges that defendant has caused damage as a result of improper fulfillment of his duties, indeed intentional recklessness, as director. Application is made at the court at Arnhem, where Spies successfully argues that the court has no jurisdiction on the basis that application has to be made of the protective category of ‘individual contracts of employment’.

Questions referred, were

1.    Must the provisions of Section 5 of Chapter II (Articles 18-21) of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 1 be interpreted as precluding the application by the courts of Article 5(1)(a) or of Article 5(3) of that Regulation in a case such as that at issue here, where the defendant is held liable by the company not only in his capacity as director of that company on the basis of the improper performance of his duties or on the basis of unlawful conduct, but quite apart from that capacity, is also held liable by that company on the basis of intent or deliberate recklessness in the execution of the contract of employment entered into between him and the company?

2    (a) If the answer to question 1 is in the negative, must the term ‘matters relating to a contract’ in Article 5(1)(a) of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 then be interpreted as also applying to a case such as that at issue here, where a company holds a person liable in his capacity as director of that company on the basis of the breach of his obligation to properly perform his duties under company law?

(b) If the answer to question 2(a) is in the affirmative, must the term ‘place of performance of the obligation in question’ in Article 5(1)(a) of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 then be interpreted as referring to the place where the director performed or should have performed his duties under company law, which, as a rule, will be the place where the company concerned has its central administration or its principal place of business, as referred to in Article 60(1)(b) and (c) of that Regulation?

3    (a) If the answer to question 1 is in the negative, must the term ‘matters relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict’ in Article 5(3) of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 then be interpreted as also applying to a case such as that at issue here, where a company holds a person liable in his capacity as director of that company on the basis of the improper performance of his duties under company law or on the basis of unlawful conduct?

(b) If the answer to question 3(a) is in the affirmative, must the term ‘place where the harmful event occurred or may occur’ in Article 5(3) of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 be interpreted as referring to the place where the director performed or should have performed his duties under company law, which, as a rule, will be the place where the company concerned has its central administration or its principal place of business, as referred to in Article 60(1)(b) and (c) of that Regulation?

Spies essentially argues that the employment section of the Regulation trumps concurrent jurisdiction on the basis of contract. ‘Contract of employment’ so far has not been addressed in the abstract by the ECJ, other than incompletely in Shenavai Case 266/85, where it referred to the need for a durable relation between individual and company. In particular of course, a contract for employment needs to be distinguished from a contract for the provision of services. The Advocate General takes inspiration from the protective intent of the employment contracts heading, to suggest that supervision and instruction, jointly summarised as ‘subordination’, are determining factors for positions of employment. Even higher management can find itself in such position, given that and provided its actions, notwithstanding a wide independent remit, are subject to control and direction of the companies’ bodies. Review of the company’s by-laws should reveal the existence of such control vis-a-vis higher management, read together with the terms and conditions of the contract of employment at issue (at 32). It is only, per Asscher, C‑107/94, if management itself through its shareholding, exercises control over those bodies, that the position of subordination disappears.

Once the national court, on the basis of ad hoc analysis, holds that there is a position of employment, the national court has to apply Brogsitter per analogia: namely whether the action concerned follows from an alleged improper fulfillment of that agreement (as opposed to an improper fulfillment of duties as a director).

In subsidiary fashion only, does the AG entertain the questions relating to Article 5(1) and 5(3) (now 7(1) and 7(2) respectively). Spies’ duties as a director (again, should the ECJ find against applicability of the employment section) have to be considered ‘contractual’ within the meaning of the Regulation. The place of performance of the obligation in the view of the AG needs to be determined using Article 7(1)b, ‘the place in a Member State where, under the contract, the services were provided or should have been provided;’. Using Car Trim and Wood Floor Solutions and quoting Stephanie Francq, the AG suggests the national court identify the location where the service was mainly provided.

The AG’s views on the employment heading, however, seem solid and I would be surprised were the ECJ to have to go into the subsidiary questions.

Geert.

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