When I flagged the Dutch SC reference to the CJEU in C‑709/19 Vereniging van Effectenbezitters, asking for clarification of the Universal Music case-law on purely economic damage, I signalled the specificities of this case: the case concerns a class action, not that of an individual shareholder; no prospectus was specifically addressed at Dutch investors, who instead feel they received incomplete and misleading information that was made public through press releases, websites and public statements by directors; finally the Dutch Supreme Court questions the CJEU on an e-Date accessibility type jurisdictional basis.
BP plc, defendant, is domiciled in the UK.
Sanchez-Bordona AG Opined last Thursday (apologies I did not make the Twitter-promised Friday review). He kicks off his Opinion with calling into question the very premise of the Universal Music case-law: at 24
the fact that the applicant’s account is located in that Member State is a relevant consideration in any non-contractual action for damage suffered by investments as a result of defective information, even when supplemented by other factors. While noting that the Court of Justice has inclined towards that view, in my opinion it is an open question.
That is a bold proposition not borne out by either CJEU or national case-law. Arguably better formulated is the position at 28 that the interest of the location of the bank account ‘should not be overstated’.
At 32 ff the AG repeats his call (joining a list of AG’s) to abandon the Bier Handlungsort Erfolgort distinction which he also expressed in his Opinion in Volkswagen. He emphasises again that in cases like these, the procedural decision on jurisdiction requires the judge too intensive an engagement with the substance of the case, consequently (at 36) ‘the very nature of the criterion may well create uncertainty among legal practitioners and encourage procedural delaying tactics, as well as divergent interpretations in Member States and further requests to the Court of Justice for preliminary rulings.’
At 37 (and with reference to national case-law) follows a repeat of the call to ‘ruling out the place where the investment account is located’. However the AG himself then acknowledges that call is likely to fall on deaf CJEU ears (at 39):
having regard to the wording of the questions referred, I shall answer them in accordance with their own premisses, that is to say, in the light of the existing case-law of the Court of Justice
hence he continues the Opinion taking Universal Music and its descendants into account:
at 46: ‘the fact that the financial damage took place in an investment account located in the Netherlands cannot be accepted as a ‘sufficient connecting factor for the international jurisdiction’ of the courts of that State.’ – I agree.
Again with reference to his Opinion in Volkswagen, and using the initial justification of the CJEU in Bier to put forward locus damni, the AG at 49-50 reiterates that
the ‘specific circumstances’ relevant to attributing jurisdiction are those which demonstrate the proximity between the action and the jurisdiction, and the foreseeability of that jurisdiction, .. Those circumstances must include: factors that facilitate the sound administration of justice and the smooth operation of proceedings; and factors that may have helped the parties to determine where they should institute proceedings or where they might be sued as a result of their actions.
He then rejects, for reasons succinctly explained in the Opinion, as being relevant: BP’s settlement with other shareholders; the status as consumer of some of the shareholders; BP’s information about its shares.
He concludes on this point at 60 ff that there simply is not a locus damni that meets with A7(2) Brussels Ia’s conditions. He refers as he did in Volkswagen pro inspiratio to the CJEU’s similar holding viz A7(1) forum contractus in C-56/00 Besix: that we are dealing with an obligation which ‘is not capable of being identified with a specific place or linked to a court which would be particularly suited to hear and determine the dispute relating to that obligation’.
Finally the AG deals with the question whether the nature of the action brought by VEB (the fact that it is a collective action) and the fact that it is purely an action for a declaratory judgment, should have an impact. The referring court fears that extending the CJEU rule of CDC, that the transfer of claims by each original creditor to the applicant does not affect the determination of the court having jurisdiction under Article 7(2), would make collective action ineffective.
The AG points out first of all that following ia Folien Fischer, the courts of the Member State in which either the causal event took place or the harm occurred or may occur may lawfully accept jurisdiction by virtue of A7(2) in actions in which specific damages have not (yet) been sought.
He then suggests at 79 that he sees ‘no difficulty in applying [A7(2)] to declaratory actions such as that brought by VEB, in advance of subsequent actions for damages which may be brought only by the individual injured parties, whose identity and residence are unknown at the time of the (first) action.’ Here I do not quite follow. The questions asked by VEB are not merely provisional in an A35 sense (indeed that Article is not discussed). VEB are asking the court to hold
that the courts in the Netherlands have international jurisdiction to hear the claims for compensation brought by the BP shareholders; that the rechtbank Amsterdam (District Court, Amsterdam) has territorial jurisdiction to hear those claims; that BP acted unlawfully towards its shareholders inasmuch as it made incorrect, incomplete and misleading statements about: (i) its safety and maintenance programmes prior to the oil spill on 20 April 2010; or (ii) the extent of the oil spill; or (iii) the role and responsibility of BP in regard to the oil spill; that, had it not been for the unlawful conduct on the part of BP, the purchase or sale of BP shares by the BP shareholders would have been effected at a more favourable market price, or not at all; that there is a conditio sine qua non link between BP’s unlawful conduct and the loss suffered by the BP shareholders due to the fall in the share price in the period between 16 January 2007 and 25 June 2010.
Surely these kinds of questions can only be entertained by court that has A7(2) jurisdiction which, the AG had just opined, is highly unlikely (although the referring court will have the last word on that). That he sees ‘no difficulty in applying [A7(2)] to declaratory actions such as that brought by VEB’ either then contradicts what he just advised (unlikely) or reinforces it cynically (as in ‘no difficulty in applying it, meaning there is no such jurisdiction’) – also perhaps unlikely. Am I missing something?
Finally at 95 the AG (not further discussing Qs 3 and 4) concurs with Bobek AG in Schrems: on the issue of assignment, it is not up to the CJEU to write the law.
EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.459.