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

Vinyls Italia. A boon for conflict of laws (with a fraus component) and important findings on the insolvency Pauliana.

Another one from the exam queue. I reported earlier on Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-54/16 Vinyls Italia – readers may want to refer tot that post before reading on. The case concerns the extent to which a bona fide creditor may insulate payments made to it by the insolvent debtor, to the detriment of the collectivity of the creditors, using choice of law for its contract with the debtor away from the lex concursus. The Court held on 8 June, much along the lines of its AG and earlier precedent especially Nike with respect to anti-avoidance actions. The judgment therefore is not of great novelty for this part of the insolvency Regulation. It is on the other hand of crucial importance for the interpretation of ‘international’ in European private international law.

Firstly, whether the court hearing the insolvency proceedings can or must raise the Article 13 (now 16) even if the party profiting from the insulation of its payments from the insolvency, has failed expressly to do so in its submissions. This, the CJEU held, is a matter of procedure, not harmonised in the Insolvency Regulation and lex fori therefore, subject to the usual condition that effet utile is guaranteed and that EU law is equally applied as national law.

The Court had already held in Nike that the defendant in an anti-avoidance (Pauliana) action has to prove both the facts from which the conclusion can be drawn that the act is unchallengeable and the absence of any evidence that would militate against that conclusion (at 25). The Court in Vinyls Italia qualifies that statement: the party bearing the burden of proof must show that, where the lex causae makes it possible to challenge an act regarded as being detrimental, the conditions to be met in order for that challenge to be upheld, which differ from those of the lex fori concursus, have not actually been fulfilled. However defendant does not have to show that the lex causae does not provide, in general or in the abstract, any means to challenge the act in question: such means of challenging the act almost always exist, at least in the abstract, and such strict interpretation would therefore deprive Article 13 (now 16) of its effectiveness (at 38). Of course how wide exactly the net of voidness needs to be cast, is not entirely clear from the judgment.

The final question then deals with the possibility of relying on (now) Article 16 in the situation provided for in Article 3(3) of the Rome I Regulation, that is to say, where all the elements relevant to the situation in question between the parties to a contract are located in a country other than the country whose law is chosen by those parties. Now, the Rome I Regulation does not ratione temporis apply to the facts at issue and on the similar provisions of the Rome Convention, the referring court is not entitled to ask questions. The CJEU therefore decides to simply reply to the question of this being a purely domestic contract, by reference to Article 16 of the insolvency Regulation only. It nevertheless however uses both Regulation and Convention a contrario. Both existed at the time of adoption of the Insolvency Regulation. The latter does not include an Article 3(3) type provision. That it does not, must, the Court held, mean that the Insolvency Regulation saw no need at all to limit the use of lex contractus for insulation reasons, even in the case of purely domestic contracts.

There is however one condition: Fraus (omnia corrumpit) aka abuse of (EU) law. Here, the Court refers to its findings last summer in C‑423/15 Kratzer. EU law cannot be relied on for abusive or fraudulent ends. A finding of abuse requires a combination of objective and subjective elements. First, with regard to the objective element, that finding requires that it must be apparent from a combination of objective circumstances that, despite formal observance of the conditions laid down by EU rules, the purpose of those rules has not been achieved. Second, such a finding requires a subjective element, namely that it must be apparent from a number of objective factors that the essential aim of the transactions concerned is to obtain an undue advantage.

Here, Article 16 may be disregarded only in a situation where it would appear objectively that the objective pursued by that application, in this context, of ensuring the legitimate expectation of the parties in the applicability of specific legislation, has not been achieved (a tough condition if the lex contractus is wisely chosen), and that the contract was made subject to the law of a specific Member State artificially, that is to say, with the primary aim, not of actually making that contract subject to the legislation of the chosen Member State, but of relying on the law of that Member State in order to exempt the contract, or the acts which took place in the performance of the contract, from the application of the lex fori concursus. In this respect (at 55), choice of law of a Member State other than the Member State in which parties are established does not create any presumption regarding an intention to circumvent the rules on insolvency for abusive or fraudulent ends.

The findings on fraus amount to strong support for a wide interpretation of the concept ‘international’ in EU private international law. A development to be applauded. They also make it very difficult within the context of Article 13 (now 16) successfully to mount a challenge of payments detrimental to the collectivity. This aspect of the case is what i.a. Gilles Lindemans objects to in the judgment. However the CJEU logic I suppose lies in what the it sees firmly as the object and purpose of Article 16: it protects the legitimate expectations of the party who has benefitted from an act detrimental to all the creditors. In some way it prevents contractual sclerosis for parties suspected of being close to payment issues. Securitisation is facilitated if the lex causae is fixed, independent of the lex concursus. Not just fraus (a very improbable route now) but probably more importantly the burden of proof per C-310/14 Nike, protects the collectivity.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.7.1. Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8.1.

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More on intellectual property jurisdiction. Community designs in BMW v Acacia.

C-433/16 BMW v Acacia follows a similar pattern as yesterday’s post on the Trademark Regulation. In Community designs, too, intellectual-property specific secondary law varies the overall jurisdictional regime of Brussels I (Recast), here: Regulation 6/2002 on Community designs. Reference is best made to the judgment itself for readers to appreciate how exactly the general regime is part-incorporated.

In general, the jurisdictional rule for Community designs incorporates less of the general regime of the Brussels I (Recast) than its Trademark Regulation. (Current) Article 24(4)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for instance is made inapplicable for designs. So too is (now) Article 7(2)’s rule on tort.

Acacia brought a proactive action against BMW before the Tribunale di Napoli (District Court of Naples (Italy)) seeking a declaration of non-infringement of Community designs, of which BMW is the proprietor, for alloy rims for automobile wheels, as well as a declaration of abuse of a dominant market position and unfair competition by BMW. The action clearly anticipated counter action by BMW. Acacia also sought an injunction to prevent BMW from taking any action hindering the marketing of the replica rims. (Of note generally is that not all Member States allow for actions in non-infringement. See here for a review of the implications of same).

Regulation 6/2002 however provides that actions for declaration of non-infringement (Article 81(b) of that regulation) may be brought, where the defendant is domiciled in an EU Member State, before the Community design courts of that Member State alone. These courts are specifically assigned by the Member States. Article 7(2)’s rule on tort as noted does not apply and the CJEU does not take long to hold exactly that. Declaration of abuse of a dominant position and of unfair competition that are connected to actions for declaration of non-infringement of Community design, likewise cannot be based on Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast.

A declaration of non-infringement under Article 81(b) of the Community design Regulation must, when the defendant is domiciled in an EU Member State, be brought before the Community design courts of that Member State, except where there is choice of court or voluntary appearance (Article 25 cq 26 of the Recast), or within the rules of lis pendens and related actions. As for Article 26, voluntary appearance cannot be deduced from the fact that the defendant appears to contest jurisdiction, even if at the same time they also argue to the merits: this is held again by the CJEU in line with earlier case-law.

The Court’s judgment is neither shocking nor surprising. It is good however to be reminded of the jurisdictional rules on intellectual property.

Geert.

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‘Establishment’, jurisdiction and the EU Trademark Regulation: Hummel v Nike.

Jurisdiction in intellectual property cases is notoriously complex and frankly opaque, in the case of the EU exacerbated by the impact of secondary law. My colleague Marie-Christine Janssens has a great overview in the Belgian reports at the Congress of Washington of the International Academy of Comparative Law. Brussels: Bruylant, 611-652.

At stake in C-617/15 Hummel v Nike was Regulation 207/2009, in the meantime superseded by Regulation 2015/2424.  Article 94 of the former, entitled ‘Application of Regulation … No 44/2001’, contains rules on jurisdiction and procedure in legal actions relating to EU trade marks. It states that ‘Unless otherwise specified in this Regulation, Regulation … No 44/2001 shall apply to proceedings relating to [EU] trade marks and applications for [EU] trade marks, as well as to proceedings relating to simultaneous and successive actions on the basis of [EU] trade marks and national trade marks.’ Article 94 essentially varies, to some degree, the jurisdictional rules of the Brussels I (now Recast) Regulation.

Now, what needed specific interpretation was Article 97’s

‘1.      Subject to the provisions of this Regulation as well as to any provisions of Regulation … No 44/2001 applicable by virtue of Article 94, proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 96 shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the defendant is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment. 

2.       If the defendant is neither domiciled nor has an establishment in any of the Member States, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the plaintiff is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment.

3.      If neither the defendant nor the plaintiff is so domiciled or has such an establishment, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State where [EUIPO] has its seat.

More specifically, the notion of ‘establishment’: Under which circumstances is a legally distinct second-tier subsidiary, with its seat in an EU Member State, of an undertaking that itself has no seat in the EU to be considered as an “establishment” of that undertaking.

Nike, which has its seat in the US, is the ultimate holding company of the Nike Group, which sells sports goods across the world. Nike Retail, which has its seat in the Netherlands, also belongs to that group. Nike Retail operates the website on which Nike goods are advertised and offered for sale, in Germany in particular. In addition to online sales on that website, Nike goods are sold in Germany through independent dealers supplied by Nike Retail. Wholesale or retail sales in Germany are not directly conducted by the companies in the Nike Group.

Nike Deutschland GmbH, which has its seat in Frankfurt am Main and is not a party to the main proceedings, is a subsidiary of Nike Retail. Nike Deutschland does not have its own website and does not sell goods to end consumers or intermediaries. However, it negotiates contracts between intermediaries and Nike Retail, and supports Nike Retail in connection with advertising and the performance of contracts. Nike Deutschland also provides aftersales service for end consumers.  Hummel Holding claims that some Nike products, in particular basketball shorts, infringe its trade mark and that most of the infringements took place in Germany. It brought an action against Nike and Nike Retail before the Landgericht Düsseldorf (Regional Court, Düsseldorf, Germany), which ruled that it had jurisdiction on the ground that Nike Deutschland was an establishment of Nike, but dismissed the action on the merits. This judgment is now being appealed.

The CJEU first of all (at 22 ff) warns for caution in the conjoined application of concepts used in both the Trademark Regulation and the Brussels I (Recast). The Trademark Regulation is, so the Court says specifically, lex specialis and one cannot therefore assume the same words mean the same thing. Readers of this blog are aware that I always give the CJEU thumbs-up when it mentions this (such as in Kainz), however the Court itself very regularly ignores its own instruction when the discussion involves the application of Brussels and Rome.

The point of Article 97, the Court notes (at 37) is to ensure that a court within the EU always has jurisdiction to hear and determine cases concerning the infringement and validity of an EU trade mark. In line with the AG’s suggestion the Court consequently opts for a broad interpretation of the concept, holding that the concept requires (1) a certain real and stable presence, from which commercial activity is pursued, as manifested by the presence of personnel and material equipment. (2) In addition, that establishment must have the appearance of permanency to the outside world, such as the extension of a parent body. However what is not required is for that establishment to have legal personality. Third parties must thus be able to rely on the appearance created by an establishment acting as an extension of the parent body. Furthermore and importantly, it is, in principle, irrelevant for the purposes of Article 97(1) of Regulation No 207/2009 whether the establishment thereby determined has participated in the alleged infringement.

A word of warning evidently: given the Court’s emphasis on the context of Article 97, with a view to its wide application, readers must not be tempted to read the judgment’s view on the concept of ‘establishment’ as applying across the board in EU conflicts law, let alone EU law as a whole.

Geert.

 

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Cooper v. Tokyo Electric Power. Fukushima in the US courts.

Expect a series of blog postings in the next few weeks on developments which occurred a few weeks or even months back. I have been squirreling away a series of judgments and other developments, with a view to exam season. Some of them I did use in my exam papers – some of them I did not.

Cooper v. Tokyo Electric Power [plaintiffs in the case are a group of service members in the U.S. Navy who were deployed to Operation Tomodachi, a relief effort in the immediate aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami; they allege they were exposed to radiation during the deployment] by the US Court of Appeals, ninth circuit, is a direct (and rare in its directness) example of how jurisdictional rules are used to help co-ordinate a country’s diplomatic efforts. In this particular case, the Court gives direct support to the State Department’s view that in order for others to be encouraged to accede to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (“CSC”), its main jurisdictional rule (granting exclusive jurisdiction to the country of the locus delicti commissi) must not be achievable via an application of comity in the US courts. For further background and overview see  Elina Teplinsky, and Meghan Claire Hammond here.

That plaintiffs are US citisens plays a major role in the court ruling out forum non conveniens.

In some of the corporate social responsibility /alien tort statute cases that I have reported on in the blog (particularly, Rio Tinto), foreign policy openly plays a role, too, and in Kiobel itself, in the lower courts, the impact of jurisdiction on US foreign policy was debated, too. It is always refreshing to see courts highlight the issue openly. For in many jurisdictions, such obvious impacts are brushed under the carpet.

Geert.

 

 

 

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Assens Havn. Privity of choice of court in insurance contracts.

The European Court of Justice held last week in C‑368/16, Assens Havn. It confirmed privity of choice of court in the event of subrogation of the victim in the rights of the insured. The victim is not bound by choice of court between insurer and tortfeasor:

At 41: ‘The extension to victims of the constraints of agreements on jurisdiction based on the combined provisions of Articles 13 and 14 of Regulation No 44/2001 could compromise the objective pursued by Chapter II, Section 3, thereof, namely to protect the economically and legally weaker party.

That the CJEU confirms privity of contractual choice of court is no surprise: see most recently Leventis. In the case of insurance contracts the issue is slightly less obvious for unlike in the case of consumers and employees, the legal presumption of weakness often does not represent commercial reality.

Whether the subrogated party can make use of the choice of court clause in the underlying contract was not sub judice in the judgment.

Geert.

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

 

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Belgian Council of State highlights authorities’ duty of care in assessing BAT (Export of waste).

The Belgian Council of State (the highest administrative court) has annulled the Flemish waste agency’s export permit in the so-called ‘Slufter’ case, involving large quantities of toxic dredging spoil (for the aficionados: classified as EURAL 17 05 05*; ia with heavy doses of tributyltin – TBT) dredged from the port of Antwerp. The case made by applicants was that the waste would be disposed of in the port of Rotterdam’s ‘slufter’ by way of mere dumping, as opposed to processing ‘at home’ in the Flemish region.

At issue was Article 11 of the Waste shipments Regulation 1013/2006, which allows Member States of export to object to planned shipments of waste destined for disposal. Applicants’ case was that the Flemish waste agency – OVAM should have disallowed the shipment on the basis of the proximity and the self-sufficiency principles. OVAM however pointed out that even if in optimal circumstances, processing in Flanders could lead to higher rates of recovery of the waste, much of it would still simply have to be landfilled. Importantly, it preferred disposal in the Slufter on the basis that the logistics chain was much shorter: load up, transport, dump. As opposed to load up, transport to processing facility for partial recovery (involving three separate processes); load-up of the solid waste left; transport and dump.

The Council of State ruled at the end of May that this decision by OVAM, in particular the reliance of the extent of the logistics chain, lacks proper assessment of the Best Available Technologies for dredging spoil, hence leading to insufficient assessment of the proximity and self-sufficiency principles. The ruling is relevant also with a view to the remainder of the spoil that will continue to be dredged.

For easy of reference (for those wishing to locate copy of the ruling): case numbers are 238220 -238224 included).

Geert.

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COMI for groups of companies. The Brussels commercial court in Parfip.

Thank you to both Patrick Wauthelet and Arie van Hoe for forwarding a copy of the judgment of the Brussels commercial court in Parfip. Please pop me an e-mail should you like a copy. The judgment is textbook application of CJEU precedent, including of course Eurofood and Interedil. Fully respecting the presumption of individual COMI in the case of a group of companies, the judgment refers to ia German and French precedent in rebuking the presumption. Not only were the companies effectively run from Brussels, notwithstanding non-Belgian seat for some of them; to third parties it was also clear that this was the case.

The judgment also confirms a narrow interpretation of the exception for ‘credit institutions’.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.2.Heading 5.6.1.2.4.

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