AB flyLAL — Lithuanian Airlines (‘flyLAL’) operated flights from Vilnius airport in Lithuania until it was put into liquidation. According to flyLAL, its demise was caused by predatory (that is, below cost) pricing by the Latvian airline Air Baltic Corporation A/S (‘Air Baltic’). That predatory pricing was, it is alleged, part of an anticompetitive strategy agreed between Air Baltic and the operator of Starptautiskā lidosta Rīga (Riga international airport in Latvia, ‘Riga Airport’). Thus, Riga Airport and Air Baltic agreed to drastically reduce the prices paid by Air Baltic for services at Riga airport. The savings were then used by Air Baltic to finance the predatory pricing that drove flyLAL out of the market in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Can Air Baltic and Riga Airport for damages before the courts in Vilnius? The national court and parties refer to three alleged infringements of competition law: (i) abuse of dominance consisting in the system of reductions implemented by Riga Airport; (ii) an anticompetitive agreement between Riga Airport and Air Baltic; and (iii) abuse of dominance in the form of predatory pricing by Air Baltic. Those infringements, it is argued, were interrelated, forming part of a strategy to oust flyLAL from the market in Vilnius and move passengers to Riga airport to the benefit of both Riga Airport and Air Baltic.
There is a lot in the Opinion – among others because as the AG points out, the referring court’s description of the alleged infringement of competition law is not entirely clear. Bobek therefore sets out a set of variables. The Court itself is bound not to distinguish among quite so many. Of note are the AG’s suggestions
- that locus damni here is not place of financial loss, rather the place within the markets affected by the competition law infringement where the claimant alleges loss of sales.That suggestion in my view is helpful for neither the Regulation’s aim of predictability, nor the protection of those damaged by infringement of competition law (the latter not however a stated aim of the Regulation). Put differently: damage located in a Mozaik fashion assists the tortfeasor. The Advocate General reaches this conclusion after a thorough revisit of the initial Bier judgment (and Capotorti AG’s Opinion in same), ditto Marinari and Dumez France. Yet the continuing need to conceptualise the Court’s Bier rule illustrates again in my view the mistake made in that original judgment, to introduce a forum damni despite the utter lack of textual support for same.
- for locus delicti commissi with full jurisdiction, the AG distinguishes between Article 101 TFEU (as regards the alleged anticompetitive agreement between Air Baltic and Riga Airport, the place of the event giving rise to the harm (that is, the loss of sales by flyLAL), is the place of the conclusion of the agreement) and 102 TFEU (alleged predatory pricing by Air Baltic, the place of the event giving rise to the harm is the place where the predatory prices were offered and applied). With respect to Article 101 TFEU, Bobek AG suggests this is identical to the Court’s judgment in CDC . I am not too sure but I am biased. As I noted above, in my view the Court should steer clear of an application of Article 7(2) which allows those infringing competition law to forum shop by manipulating the place of decision-making. In CDC the Court held that ‘the identification, in the jurisdiction of the court seised of the matter, of a specific event during which either that cartel was definitively concluded or one agreement in particular was made which was the sole causal event giving rise to the loss allegedly inflicted on a buyer’ cannot be ruled out. That implies that in other cases the identification of such singular event can be ruled out and that many places may be consider locus delicti commissi.
- finally with respect to (now) Article 7(5), the activities of a branch. The AG does not specify what must be meant by a ‘branch’ – for the national court has already concluded there is such branch. The Advocate General here is perhaps unusually deferential to the factual finding. Whether there is a sufficient nexus between the activities of the branch and the dispute, in the case of tort-based claims requires the branch participate in at least some of the actions constituting the tort (at 137). Offering the fixed prices or otherwise having been instrumental in concluding contracts for services at those prices suffices. In such cases, the branch has again participated in the commission of an act that constitutes a necessary precondition for the abuse (at 142).
A lengthy opinion. And it all started with the fairly straightforward facts of Bier…
(Handbook of) EU private international law), 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52