Rotterdam ultimately lets Shell (and Carens) off the hook in reverse logistics v waste case.

Update 11 January 2016: Shell inform me that the DA (‘parket’ /Openbaar Ministerie) has appealed.

I have reported some time ago on the reverse logistics case involving Shell and Carens. As noted in that post, the CJEU instructed the court at Rotterdam to gauge the ‘true intentions’ of Shell vis-a-vis the contaminated fuel which it had taken back from one of its clients (Carens).

The Court at Rotterdam issued its final judgment on 23 December last, truly a christmas present for the companies involved for the accusations of illegal waste shipments were rejected. (I could not locate the judgment on ECLI yet: I have a copy for those interested).

The court first of all rejected a rather neat attempt of the Dutch prosecutor to get around the CJEU’s finding in para 46 of its judgment : ‘it is particularly important that the Belgian client returned the contaminated ULSD to Shell, with a view to obtaining a refund, pursuant to the sale contract. By so acting, that client cannot be regarded as having intended to dispose of or recover the consignment at issue and, accordingly, it did not ‘discard’ it within the meaning of Article 1(1)(a) of Directive 2006/12.‘ It was suggested that incoterm FOB (‘Free on Board’), applicable to the agreement between Carens and Shell, meant that the qualification of the payment by Shell could not have been a refund for defective goods (ownership of the goods already having been transferred prior to contamination) but rather the payment of damages for a contract not properly carried out. This, it was argued, made para 46 irrelevant for the facts of the case. The court at Rotterdam essentially argued that par 46 needs to be applied beyond the black letter of the law: in effect, in acting as they did and following their running contractual relationships, Shell and Carens had decided to annul the sale, sale price was refunded, and Carens could therefore not be seen as owner or holder of the goods.

Neither, the court held, could Shell be considered a discarding the fuel: the court paid specific attention to testimony that the fuel concerned was actually presented to market, with a view to establishing what price it could fetch. Offers were made which were not far off the initial sale price. Re-blending of the fuel was only done to obtain a higher price and was carried out in accordance with established market practices. Shell’s resale of the fuel, as holder of it, was not just a mere possibility but a certainty (language reminiscent of what the CJEU normally employs for the distinction recovery /disposal).

Final conclusion: the fuel at no stage qualified as waste and no one could have discarded it.

A very important judgment indeed – it will be interesting to see whether the prosecutor’s office will appeal.

Geert.

 

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