No Harry, don’t look at the light! The CJEU in Sharewood on Rome I’s rei sitae exception to consumer protection.

In C-595/20 Sharewood, the CJEU last week held on the extent of Rome I’s rei sitae exception to consumer contracts. In essence, as a result of Article 6 Rome I, for consumer contracts, choice of law is free (in the case at issue this lex voluntatis was Swiss law) except the consumer may always fall back on the mandatory laws of his habitual residence (here, Austrian law).

For a limited selection of contracts, including (A6(4)c) ‘a contract relating to a right in rem in immovable property or a tenancy of immovable property other than a contract relating to (timeshares)’, party  autonomy is restored in full under the terms of Articles 3 and 4 Rome I, hence the consumer loses his protection.

The contract at issue is a tree purchase, lease and service agreement. The trees at issue are grown in Brasil. The ground rent for the lease agreement, which granted the right to grow the trees in question, was included in the purchase price of those trees. The service agreement provided that ShareWood would manage, administer, harvest and sell the trees and would remit the net return on the timber to UE, the (anonymised) consumer. The difference compared to the gross return, expressed as a percentage of the return, was retained by ShareWood as its fee for the provision of those services.

The question in the case at issue is essentially how intensive the link to (foreign) soil needs to be for it to fall under the rei sitae carve-out for consumer contracts. The CJEU does refer to some of its Brussels Ia case-law, including Klein and Kerr, for the ‘tenancy’ element of the question, but not for the ‘rights in rem’ part of the discussion, where it more straightforwardly concludes on the basis of the contractual arrangements that the trees [28]

must be regarded as being the proceeds of the use of the land on which they are planted. Although such proceeds will, as a general rule, share the same legal status as the land on which the trees concerned are planted, the proceeds may nevertheless, by agreement, be the subject of personal rights of which the owner or occupier of that land may dispose separately without affecting the right of ownership or other rights in rem appertaining to that land. A contract which relates to the disposal of the proceeds of the use of land cannot be treated in the same way as a contract which relates to a ‘right in rem in immovable property’, within the meaning of Article 6(4)(c) of the Rome I Regulation

and [37]

the main purpose of the contract at issue in the main proceedings is not the use, in the context of a lease, of the land on which the trees concerned are planted, but… to generate income from the sale of the timber obtained following the harvest of those trees. As is apparent from the order for reference, the lease provided for in that agreement, which includes only the right to allow those trees to grow and has no purpose other than the acquisition of those trees, is intended merely to enable the sales and services elements provided for in the contract to be carried out.

Not caught therefore by the rei sitae exception.

I often refer my students to Harry, in A Bug’s Life, to make the point that both for jurisdictional and for applicable law purposes, the mere presence of real estate does not lead to the rei sitae jurisdictional and governing law implications being triggered. CJEU Sharewood is a good illustration of same.

Geert.

 

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