Those of us who are familiar with the issue of multilingualism and international courts, will enjoy the discussion of contractual terms in Wahl AG’s Opinion in C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss. Not only does the issue entre around the precise implications of the wording of a choice of court provision. The Opinion (not yet available in English) also highlights the difficulty of translating the original English of the contractual term, into the languages at the Court.
Current litigation is a continuation of the earlier spats between Apple and eBizcuss, which led to the Cour de Cassation’s 2015 reversed stance on the validity of unilateral choice of court – which I discussed at the time.
The 2002 Apple Authorized Reseller Agreement (in fact the 2005 version which applied after continuation of the contract) included a governing law and choice of court clause reading
„This Agreement and the corresponding relationship between the parties shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Ireland and the parties shall submit to the jurisdiction of the courts of the Republic of Ireland. Apple reserves the right to institute proceedings against Reseller in the courts having jurisdiction in the place where Reseller has its seat or in any jurisdiction where a harm to Apple is occurring.” (emphasis added)
Footnote 3 displays the translation difficulty which I refer to above: parties disagree as to the translation of the contractual clause in French: applicant suggest this should read „et la relation correspondante”, defendant proposes „et les relations en découlant”. The AG suggest to include both for the purposes of his analysis „Le présent contrat et la relation correspondante (traduction de la requérante)/et les relations en découlant (traduction de la défenderesse) entre les parties seront régis par et interprétés conformément au droit de l’Irlande et les parties se soumettent à la compétence des tribunaux de l’Irlande. Apple se réserve le droit d’engager des poursuites à l’encontre du revendeur devant les tribunaux dans le ressort duquel est situé le siège du revendeur ou dans tout pays dans lequel Apple subit un préjudice.” In Dutch: „De door partijen gesloten onderhavige overeenkomst en de bijbehorende betrekking (vertaling van verzoekster)/de hieruit voortvloeiende betrekkingen (vertaling van verweerster) tussen partijen zullen worden beheerst door en worden uitgelegd volgens het Ierse recht, en partijen verlenen bevoegdheid aan de Ierse rechter. Apple behoudt zich het recht voor om vorderingen jegens de wederverkoper aanhangig te maken bij het gerecht in het rechtsgebied waar de wederverkoper is gevestigd of in een land waar Apple schade heeft geleden.”
This translation issue however highlights precisely the core of the discussion: ‘the corresponding relationship’ suggest a narrow reading: the relationship corresponding to the contractual arrangements. Infringement of competition law does not correspond, in my view. ‘La relation correspondante’ displays this sentiment. ‘(L)es relations en découlant’ suggests a wider reading.
In 2012 eBizcuss started suing Apple for alleged anti-competitive behaviour, arguing Apple systematically favours its own, vertically integrated distribution network.
The Cour de Cassation had rebuked the Court of Appeal’s finding of lack of jurisdiction. In its 2015 decision to quash, (the same which qualified the Court’s stance on unilateral jurisdiction clauses) it cited C-352/13 CDC, in which the CJEU held that choice of court clauses are not generally applicable to liability in tort (the clause would have to refer verbatim to tortious liability): the specific para under consideration is para 69 of that judgment in CDC:
‘the referring court must, in particular, regard a clause which abstractly refers to all disputes arising from contractual relationships as not extending to a dispute relating to the tortious liability that one party allegedly incurred as a result of its participation in an unlawful cartel’.
At issue in Apple /eBizcuss is essentially what kind of language one needs for choice of court to include infringement of competition law (for Dutch readers, I have an earlier overview in Jacques Steenbergen’s liber amicorum here).
Wahl AG emphasises (at 56) that it would not be in the spirit of Article 25 Brussels I Recast (which he analyses in extenso in the previous paras) to require parties to include the exact nature of the suits covered by the choice of court agreement. He is right of course – except those suits in my view do need to be contractual unless non-contractual liability has been clearly included: that in my view is the clear instruction of the CJEU in CDC.
The AG then continues the discussion (which will be redundant should the CJEU not follow his lead) as to whether the clause covers both follow-on (a suit for tort once a competition authority has found illegal behaviour) as well as stand-alone (private enforcement: a party claiming infringement of competition law in the absence of an authority’s finding of same) suits. He suggests there should be no distinction: on that I believe he is right.