Geert van Calster

Geert is an independent legal practitioner and academic. An alumnus of the College of Europe, Bruges (promotion Stefan Zweig), Prof van Calster is the Head of Leuven Law's department of European and international law. Geert is a visiting professor at Monash University (Melbourne) and at the China-EU School of Law in Beijing, and a visiting lecturer at King's College, London. He was previously i.a. a visiting lecturer at Oxford University. He was called to the Bar in 1999 after having worked as of counsel to a City law firm since 1995, and practices in the areas of Private international law /Conflict of Laws; WTO law; (EU) environmental law; and EU economic law.

Homepage: https://gavclaw.wordpress.com

Bonnie Lackey v Mallorca Mega Resorts. High Court throws a wide net for jurisdictional privileges of consumers.

I have waited a little while to discuss (I had tweeted it earlier)  [2019] EWHC 1028 (QB) Bonnie Lackey v Mallorca Mega Resorts. It is a good case for an exam essay question and that is what I used it for this morning (albeit in simplified form, focusing on the consumer title).

Defendant is domiciled in Spain, and is hereafter referred to as ‘the Hotel’. Claimant was one of a group of friends who went on holiday to Magaluf in Mallorca, Spain. The booking was made in May 2017 by Ms Donna Bond, who was one of the party and a friend of Bonnie Lackey. The Agency’s Booking Conditions stated

‘references to “you” and “your” include the first named person on the booking and all persons on whose behalf a booking is made …’.

Section A, applicable to all bookings stated:

“By making a booking, you agree on behalf of all persons detailed on the booking that you have read these terms and conditions and agree to be bound by them”.

In my exam question I have left the agency out of the factual matrix. Its presence is immaterial for the case for the agency acts, well, as an agent: contract is between clients and the hotel direct.

The group were staying at the site owned and operated by the Hotel. It is agreed between parties that the Agency’s and Hotel’s marketing meets with the Pammer Alpenhof criteria, in other words that they direct their activity at England. Claimant, Ms Lackey, who is domiciled in England, was seriously injured in the ‘wave’ pool and is now tetraplegic. Damages application is for £9 million given the high cost of care for the now 41 year old claimant.

A first discussion concerned the insurance section (not part of the exam essay)(15 ff). Generali (of Spain) were the hotel’s insurers and had already accepted jurisdiction for the English courts. Their liability though was capped at an absolute max of 0.45 Million Euros – far off the claim. Claimant’s hope was that Article 13(3) Brussels Ia as Clyde point out, might be used for a claim anchored unto Generali. Here, the High Court followed the authority of Hoteles Pinero Canarias SL v Keefe [2015] EWCA Civ 598, see references to EU law there. That case went up to the Supreme Court and thence to the CJEU where it was taken off the roll following settlement. In any event, following Keefe, Davison M in Bonnie Lackey held that jurisdiction was conferred on the English courts by Articles 11 and 13 BIa, (contained in Section 3) which permit a claim here against the insurer and the joinder of the hotel to that claim. Master Davison rejected suggestions for the need of a CJEU reference among others because he also upheld jurisdiction under the consumer titleThe essential question here was whether there is a need for complete identity between the consumer referred to in Article 17(1) and the consumer referred to in Article 18(1) BIa.

Davison M suggests there need not, referring in particular to the Regulation’s aims to protect the weaker party, and to rule out as much as possible the risk of irreconcilable judgments.

Defendant’s reference to Schrems was considered immaterial. At 39: ‘Plainly, the consumer bringing the claim must be a beneficiary of the consumer contract or at least within its ambit. That does not mean that she personally must have concluded it. To borrow again from the judgment of Gloster LJ in Keefe, there would be no linguistic or purposive justification for such a restrictive interpretation.’ I am not sure I agree, not at any rate without proper discussion of ‘within its ambit’. The CJEU’s case-law on the protected categories does evidently aim to protect weaker categories and interpretation of same must serve that purpose. However the CJEU at the same time also emphasises the fact that these sections are an exception to the general rule and therefore must not be applied too widely, either.

Master Davison cuts short too extensive a discussion of the ‘ambit’ issue, by referring to the General Terms and Conditions – GTCS: the consumer who booked, accepted these GTCS ‘on behalf of all persons detailed in the booking’. At 40: ‘The hotel deployed no evidence of any kind to displace the effect of these terms, (which, I would add, are standard terms to be expected in a contract of this kind). A person who contracts through an agent has still “concluded” a contact. Thus, all argument about the need for complete identity between the consumer referred to in Article 17.1 and the consumer referred to in Article 18.1 is redundant. In each case it was the claimant, Ms Lackey.’ Whether counsel should have made more noise about this issue I do not know, however I would have expected discussion here of the general respect the Regulation has for privity of contract (which I discuss repeatedly on the blog).

I do not think this case will settle the matter. Its outcome evidently is positive (particularly considering that for Ms Lackey it will really not be straightforward to attend trial in Spain). However its legal reasoning cuts a few corners.

I would expect my students to discuss the need for effective protection of consumers ‘v’ the exceptional character of the section; and privity of contract which the CJEU flags on several occasions. Each with proper case-law references.

Geert.

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Merinson v Yukos: Dutch settlement following employment contract. Appeal denied. England has full jurisdiction as domicile of the defendant.

In [2019] EWCA Civ 830 the Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal against Yukos v Merinson which I reviewed here – review which readers may need to appreciate the judgment. Three issues were considered by Gross LJ at the Court of Appeal:

1. Are the Damages Claims and/or the Annulment Claims “matters relating to [an] individual contract of employment” within the meaning of Article 20(1)?>>>Salter DJ’s answer at the High Court was YES. I suggested in my review that that finding should not have been made without considering the lex causae of the employment contract: Rome I in my view should have been engaged here. Both Salter DJ and Gross LJ (at 27 ff) were persuaded however by the highly material nexus between the annulment claims – whether considered together with or separately form the damages claims (Gross LJ distinguished Aspen Underwriting in the process).

2. If so, is the Settlement Agreement “an agreement .. entered into after the dispute has arisen” within the meaning of Article 23(1)?>>>Salter DJ’s answer was negative, on the basis of extensive reference to the Jenard Report and Convention and Regulation scholarship. Gross LJ agrees – I continue to find that conclusion unconvincing.

3. Further, is the English court, in any event, precluded from entertaining the Annulment Claims by Chapter IV of the Recast Judgments Regulation? >>>Here the Court of Appeal made the High Court’s reasoning its own, much more succinctly than its entertaining of the other questions.

Plenty to discuss here for the 3rd ed of the Handbook.

Geert.

 

 

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Bobek AG in Salvoni v Fiermonte. Brussels Ia’s Article 53 certificate and consumer protection.

Bobek AG Opined early May (excuse posting delay) in Case C-347/18 Salvoni v Fiermonte. The referring court enquires whether the court of origin tasked with issuing the Article 53 Certificate (issued with a view to enabling swift recognition and enforcement) may, of its own motion, seek to ascertain whether the judgment whose enforcement is sought was issued in breach of the rules on jurisdiction over consumer contracts, so that it may, where appropriate, inform the consumer of any such breach and enable her to consider the possibility of opposing enforcement of the judgment in the Member State addressed.

A related issue therefore to the CJEU judgment in Weil last week.

Mr Alessandro Salvoni, a lawyer based in Milan, asked the Tribunale di Milano (District Court, Milan) to issue Ms Anna Maria Fiermonte (who resides in Hamburg) with a payment order for an amount owed to him as consideration for the professional services rendered by him in connection with legal proceedings concerning a will. Payment order was granted, no challenge was made by Ms Fiermonte (at 24 the AG emphasises that evidently, the court needs to check whether proper service was made). Mr Salvoni then requested the same court to issue the Article 53 Certificate with respect to that order. However this time the same court (with the AG at 22 one can assume that composition was different) proprio motu (and belatedly: see at 15) classified the relationship as B2C under the relevant provisions of Brussels Ia. Ms Fiermonte should have been sued in Hamburg.

Bobek AG courteously calls the court’s initiative ingenious and well-intended (at 29) but has no choice but to conclude that the Regulation simply has no tool for the Court somehow to mitigate let alone correct its earlier mistake. In a gesture effectively of public service (at 34; this rescues something useful from the otherwise fairly futile exercise; I doubt the CJEU will do something similar), the AG then rephrases the question into a more general one, which is detached from the specific course of action apparently contemplated by the national court: Is a national court, when issuing the Article 53 Certificate, entitled (or even obliged), under EU law, to ascertain whether the judicial decision that is to be certified was issued in breach of the rules on jurisdiction over consumer contracts?

At 44 ff the AG delightfully side-steps the chicken and hen issue of the C-54/96 Dorsch criteria (is an A53 court a ‘court’ entitled to preliminary review under Article 267 TFEU) and eventually concludes that there is no room for the A53 Court to assess the application of the consumer title. At 54: ‘

The interpretation of [A53] proposed by the referring court cannot easily be reconciled with the above considerations [speed; simplicity: GAVC]. In particular, that interpretation would in effect back-pedal on one of the main features of the new system introduced by Regulation No 1215/2012. Indeed, the checks that were previously made in the Member State addressed when issuing the exequatur would not be eliminated, but merely shifted to the certification stage carried out in the Member State of origin. That reading of the provision would thus run against the logic and spirit of Regulation No 1215/2012.’

At 81 and 82 the likely outcome of course is pointed at by the AG: Article 45(1)(e)(i) and Article 46 BIa grant consumers a special ground of refusal of recognition and enforcement in cases where the judgment in question conflicts with the jurisdictional rules for the protected categories. This ground has now been handed Ms Fiermonte on a plate – leaving the Milan courts with red cheeks.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.16.

 

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The internet’s not written in pencil, it’s written in ink. Szpunar AG in Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook, re i.a. jurisdiction and removal of hate speech. (As well as confirming my reading of his Opinion in Google).

Case C-18/18 Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook as I noted in my short first review of the case, revolves around Article 15 of the E-Commerce Directive. Does Article 15 prohibit the imposition on a hosting provider (Facebook, in this case) of an obligation to remove not only notified illegal content, but also identical and similar content, at a national or worldwide level?

Szpunar AG kicks off with a memorable Erica Albright quote from The Social Network:  The internet’s not written in pencil, [Mark], it’s written in ink’. 

His Opinion to a large degree concerns statutory interpretation on filtering content, which Daphne Keller has already reviewed succinctly here and which is not the focus of this blog. The jurisdictional issues are what interest me more: the territorial scope of any removal obligation.

Firstly, Szpunar AG matter of factly confirms my reading, against that of most others’, of his Opinion in C-505/17 Google: at 79:

‘in my Opinion in that case I did not exclude the possibility that there might be situations in which the interest of the Union requires the application of the provisions of that directive beyond the territory of the European Union.’

Injunctions (ordering removal) are necessarily based on substantive considerations of national law (in the absence of EU harmonisation of defamation law); which law applies is subject to national, residual conflicts rules (in the absence of EU harmonisation at the applicable law, level, too): at 78. Consequently, a Court’s finding of illegality (because of its defamatory nature) of information posted may well have been different had the case been heard by a court in another Member State. What is however harmonised at the EU level, is the jurisdiction for the civil and commercial damage following from defamation: see e-Date, in particular its centre of interests rule which leads to an all-encompassing, universal’ jurisdiction for the damages resulting from the defamation.

Separate from that is the consideration of the territorial extent of the removal obligation. Here, the AG kicks off his analysis at 88 ff by clearly laying out the limits of existing EU harmonisation: the GDPR and data protection Directive harmonise issues of personal data /privacy: not what claimant relies on. Directive 2000/31 does not regulate the territorial effects of injunctions addressed to information society service providers. Next, it is difficult, in the absence of regulation by the Union with respect to harm to private life and personality rights, to justify the territorial effects of an injunction by relying on the protection of fundamental rights guaranteed in Articles 1, 7 and 8 of the Charter: the scope of the Charter follows the scope of EU law and not vice versa. In the present case, as regards its substance, the applicant’s action is not based on EU law. Finally, Brussels Ia does not regulate the extra-EU effects of injunctions.

In conclusion therefore EU law does not regulate the question of extraterritorial reach in casu.

For the sake of completeness, the AG does offer at 94 ff ‘a few additional observations’ as regards the removal of information disseminated worldwide via a social network platform. At 96 he refers to the CJEU’s judgment in Bolagsupplysningen which might implicitly have acknowledged universal jurisdiction, to conclude at 100 (references omitted)

the court of a Member State may, in theory, adjudicate on the removal worldwide of information disseminated via the internet. However, owing to the differences between, on the one hand, national laws and, on the other, the protection of the private life and personality rights provided for in those laws, and in order to respect the widely recognised fundamental rights, such a court must, rather, adopt an approach of self-limitation. Therefore, in the interest of international comity…, that court should, as far as possible, limit the extraterritorial effects of its junctions concerning harm to private life and personality rights. The implementation of a removal obligation should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the protection of the injured person. Thus, instead of removing the content, that court might, in an appropriate case, order that access to that information be disabled with the help of geo-blocking.

There are very sound and extensive references to scholarship in the footnotes to the Opinion, including papers on the public /private international law divide and the shifting nature of same (the Brussels Court of Appeal recently in the Facebook case justifiably found jurisdictional grounds in neither public nor private international law, to discipline Facebook Ireland and Facebook Inc for its datr-cookies placed on Belgian users of FB).

I find the AG’s Opinion convincing and complete even in its conciseness. One can analyse the jurisdictional issues until the cows come home. However, in reality reasons of personal indemnification may argue in specific circumstances for universal jurisdiction and ditto reach of injunctive relief. However these bump both into the substantial trade-off which needs to be made between different fundamental rights (interest in having freedom removed v freedom of information), and good old principles of comitas gentium aka comity. That is not unlike the US judicial approach in similar issues.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.8.2.5.

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The CJEU in Weil: assessment of the scope of application of Brussels Ia at the A53 certificate stage; and a narrow reading of the matrimonial exception.

The CJEU this morning held (without AG Opinion) in C-361/18 Ágnes Weil v Géza Gulácsi.

Overall context is that Brussels Ia does not apply to ‘the status or legal capacity of natural persons, rights in property arising out of a matrimonial relationship, wills and succession’.

Ms Weil and Mr Gulácsi were unregistered partners. Mr Gulácsi was ordered by Hungarian court order to pay Ms Weil approximately EUR 2 060, together with interest for late payment, by virtue of the settlement of rights in property arising out of their de facto (unregistered) non-martial partnership. Ms Weil later applied to the same court to have it issue the Article 53 certificate which would facilitate her enforcement in the UK (where Mr Gulácsi lives and has a regular income). Questions raised, were

‘(1)      Is Article 53 of Regulation … No 1215/2012 to be interpreted as meaning that, if requested by one of the parties, the court of the Member State that delivered the decision must issue the certificate relating to the decision automatically, without examining if [the case] falls within the scope of Regulation … No 1215/2012?

(2)      If the answer to the first question is in the negative, is Article 1(2)(a) of Regulation … No 1215/2012 to be interpreted as meaning that a repayment action between members of an unregistered non-marital [de facto] partnership falls within the scope of the rights in property arising out of a relationship deemed … to have comparable (legal) effects to marriage?’

The  Court answers the first question in the negative: at the recognition and enforcement stage, things must go very swift indeed. The mutual trust required of courts must be backed up by proper consideration of the Regulation by the courts of the Member State of initial adjudication: at 33:

‘the need to ensure the swift enforcement of judgments, while preserving the legal certainty on which the mutual trust in the administration of justice in the European Union is based, justifies, in particular in a situation such as that of the main proceedings — where the court which gave the judgment to be enforced did not adjudicate, when giving that judgment, on whether [Brussels I and Ia] was applicable — that the court hearing the application for the certificate ascertains, at that stage, whether the dispute falls within that regulation.’

It adds at 35 that

the enforcement procedure, under Regulation No 44/2001, precludes, like enforcement under Regulation No 1215/2012, any subsequent review on the part of a court of the Member State addressed of whether the action giving rise to the judgment for which enforcement is sought falls within the scope of Regulation No 44/2001, the grounds for challenging the declaration that a judgment is enforceable being exhaustively laid down by that regulation.

This I find interesting for unless I missed it, there has not yet been a CJEU decision holding this much and as I discuss on pp 191-192 of the Handbook, there is scholarly discussion on same.

With respect to the matrimonial property exception, the CJEU after of course emphasising the need for a restrictive interpretation of the exceptions, acknowledges that Brussels Ia has extended this but only to relationships deemed comparable to marriage (at 44). Unregistered partnerships do not qualify.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.1.2, Heading 2.2.16.1.2 .

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CeDe Group v KAN. Bobek AG on the intricate applicable law provisions of the Insolvency Regulation (here: concerning set-off).

Bobek AG opined end of May in C-198/18 CeDe Group v KAN. I am posting a touch late for well, readers will know I have not been fiddling my thumbs. The Opinion concerns the lex causae for set-off in accordance with the (2000) Insolvency Regulation – provisions for which have not materially changed in the current version of the EIR (Regulation 2015/848). At stake are Articles 4 cq 6 and 7 cq 9 in the two versions of the Insolvency Regulation.

The liquidator of PPUB Janson sp.j. (‘PPUB’), a Polish company the subject of insolvency proceedings in Poland, lodged before the Swedish courts an application against CeDe Group AB (‘CeDe’), a Swedish company, claiming payment for goods delivered under a pre-existing contract between PPUB and CeDe, which is governed by Swedish law. In the course of those proceedings, CeDe claimed a set-off in respect of a larger debt owed to it by PPUB. The liquidator had previously refused that set-off within the framework of the Polish insolvency proceedings. During the course of the procedure before the Swedish courts, PPUB’s liquidator assigned the claim against CeDe to another company, KAN sp. z o.o. (‘KAN’), which subsequently became insolvent. However, KAN’s liquidator refused to take over the claim at issue, with the result that KAN (in insolvency) is now party to the litigation

The Supreme Court, Sweden) doubts the law applicable to such a set-off claim. Before the referring court, KAN claimed that the set-off claim should be heard under Polish law, whereas CeDe submitted that that issue should be examined under Swedish law. Both of course reverse-engineered their arguments to support opposing views.

The Advocate General in trademark lucid style navigates the facts and issues (not helped by the little detail seemingly given by the referring court). Complication is of course that the general Gleichlauf rule of the EIR is repeatedly tempered by ad hoc regimes for specific claims or claimants. Like the Commission, Bobek AK focuses on the Regulation’s stated aim (recital 26 of the 2000 EIR; recital 70  in the 2015 EIR) of having the set-off regime fulfill its role as a guarantee for international commercial transactions: at 74: ‘adopting an approach focused on the concrete outcomes produced by the respective applicable laws in conflict in a given case, the test to be applied must zero in on the specific solution that would be arrived at by the law applicable to the main claim’.

An Opinion very much soaked in commercial reality.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.7.

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Call for papers with tight deadline. Macao Writers’ Workshop for Early-Career Environmental Law Scholars.

I shall be spending a few weeks as a distinguished (yes, me!) visiting scholar at University of Macau in September. As part of my commitments there I shall be joining

  • Professor Paulo Canelas de Castro (University of Macau)
  • Professor Qin Tianbao (Wuhan University)
  • Professor Ben Boer (Wuhan University)
  • Professor Alexander Zahar (Wuhan University)
  • Professor Benoit Mayer (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

in the committee for a workshop on the writing of academic articles in the environmental law area. That’s quite a committee if you ask me.

We shall be assisting around twelve early-career environmental law scholars to publish an original research article on environmental law in English in an international top-tier journal.

At this moment we are looking in particular for a number of scholars based outside PRC to join the excellent Chinese candidates. All info is here. Deadline is tight: initial short abstract and CV are due Friday next, 7 June.

Geert.

 

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