Archive for category EU law – General

Lloyd v Google. High Court rejects jurisdiction viz US defendant, interprets ‘damage’ in the context of data protection narrowly.

Warby J in  [2018] EWHC 2599 (QB) Lloyd v Google (a class action suit with third party financing) considers, and rejects, jurisdiction against Google Inc (domiciled in the US) following careful consideration (and distinction) of the Vidal Hall (‘Safari users) precedent.

Of note is that the jurisdictional gateway used is the one in tort, which requires among others an indication of damage. In Vidal Hall, Warby J emphasises, that damage consisted of specific material loss or emotional harm which claimants had detailed in confidential court findings (all related to Google’s former Safari turnaround, which enabled Google to set the DoubleClick Ad cookie on a device, without the user’s knowledge or consent, immediately, whenever the user visited a website that contained DoubleClick Ad content.

In essence, Warby J suggests that both EU law (reference is made to CJEU precedent under Directive 90/314) and national law tends to suggest that “damage” has been extended in various contexts to cover “non-material damage” but only on the proviso that “genuine quantifiable damage has occurred”.

Wrapping up, at 74: “Not everything that happens to a person without their prior consent causes significant or any distress. Not all such events are even objectionable, or unwelcome. Some people enjoy a surprise party. Not everybody objects to every non-consensual disclosure or use of private information about them. Lasting relationships can be formed on the basis of contact first made via a phone number disclosed by a mutual friend, without asking first. Some are quite happy to have their personal information collected online, and to receive advertising or marketing or other information as a result. Others are indifferent. Neither category suffers from “loss of control” in the same way as someone who objects to such use of their information, and neither in my judgment suffers any, or any material, diminution in the value of their right to control the use of their information. Both classes would have consented if asked. In short, the question of whether or not damage has been sustained by an individual as a result of the non-consensual use of personal data about them must depend on the facts of the case. The bare facts pleaded in this case, which are in no way individualised, do not in my judgment assert any case of harm to the value of any claimant’s right of autonomy that amounts to “damage”…”

The judgment does not mean that misuse of personal data cannot be disciplined under data protection laws (typically: by the data protection authorities) or other relevant national courses of action. But where it entails a non-EU domiciled party, and the jurisdictional gateway of ‘tort’ is to be followed, ‘damage’ has to be shown.

Geert.

 

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Unstunned slaughter and organic labelling. Wahl AG opines in light of scope of harmonisation.

Wahl AG advised  last week in Case C-497/17, Oeuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs. In this case an NGO requests a certification body to stop certifying as ‘organic’, products obtained from religious slaughter, even though neither Council Regulation 834/2007 nor the Commission implementing Regulation 889/2008 on organic production and labelling of organic products with regard to organic production, labelling and control, mention stunned or unstunned slaughter.

I suggested earlier that the case turns around scope of application, albeit that the shadow of the human rights implications hangs over it. The Advocate General agrees: at 33: ‘the Court is therefore not strictly speaking required to rule on a question of interference with the freedom to manifest one’s religion’. In essence, what is not forbidden is allowed: the legislation on organic farming is silent on the question of ritual slaughter; (at 91) this silence on the matter is not the result of oversight for the ‘slaughter’ of animals is mentioned on several occasions in the legislation – is it just simply not regulated.

I believe the AG is right. I also, on substance, believe that unstunned slaughter, properly carried out, meets with the ethos of organic farming.

Geert.

 

 

 

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Fremoluc: CJEU adopts a lenient (from MS standpoint) view on ‘purely internal’ measures. (External element easy to engineer, though).

In C-343/17 Fremoluc the CJEU held last week. It features as counsel no less than 4 fellow faculty at Leuven Law: 5 if one counts prof Elke Cloots whom we foolishly let escape to elsewhere – and who was the most vociferous (and, it would seem, persuasive) at the hearing, I understand. Had we had either one of my two collegae proximi who serve as judges on the CJEU assigned to the case, there would have been more residents of Collegium Falconis at Kircherg on the day of the hearing then there have recently been at Faculty meetings. But I digress.

The case essentially concerns services of general economic interests (SGEIs), as applied to the social housing sector: what kind of measures may a Member State roll-out to support the provision of such housing, in light of the free movement of not just persons but also services and capital. By extension, the case-law is also relevant to property rights restrictions across the EU.

In the case at issue applicant had seen a purchase of land torpedoed by the right of pre-emption of a relevant agency, relating to building land situated in areas earmarked for house renovation and house-building in 26 municipalities in its operating area. Fremoluc suggested the condition in the underlying decree that ‘as regards the provision of homes or land in a social housing project…, absolute priority must be given, at any stage of the project, to prospective tenants, leaseholders or buyers who have strong social, economic or socio-cultural ties with the operating area in question’, constitute an illegal condition under EU law. Consequently, it argued, the right of pre-emptive purchase itself was illegal.

The CJEU however, with reference to relevant case-law (please refer to the text of the judgment for same), held that the case was inadmissible, for it is purely internal: at 28-29: ‘it is not sufficient for the referring court to state that it is not inconceivable that nationals established in other Member States were or are interested in making use of Union provisions on fundamental freedoms to carry out activities in the territory of the Member State which enacted the national legislation in question and, consequently, that that legislation, applicable without distinction to nationals and to nationals of other Member States, is capable of producing effects which are not confined to that Member State.’ ‘The request for a preliminary ruling must clearly set out specific factors, that is, not hypothetical considerations but specific evidence, such as complaints or applications brought by operators situated in other Member States or involving nationals of those Member States, on the basis of which the required connecting link may be positively established. More particularly, the referring court may not merely submit to the Court evidence suggesting that such a link cannot be ruled out or which, considered in the abstract, could constitute evidence to that effect, and must, on the contrary, provide objective and consistent evidence enabling the Court to ascertain whether such a link exists.’

Such evidence of course in practice is easily engineered. A similar case therefore is bound to return to Luxembourg at some point soon.

Geert.

 

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Wahl AG in Workplace Relations Commission: Member States procedural autonomy in light of primacy of EU law.

Wahl AG’s Opinion in C-378/17 Workplace Relations Commission provides a great tutorial on the principles of primacy, and Member States’ duty to ensure equivalence and effectiveness in the implementation of EU law.

At issue is the compatibility with the principle of the primacy of EU law of a rule dividing jurisdiction in specific cases between the High Court and a statutory body, the Workplace Relations Commission (‘the WRC’). The latter has no jurisdiction and has to yield to the High Court, when the case requires disapplication of a provision of national (primary or secondary) legislation.

Wahl advises that the rule does not infringe the primacy of EU law, and in doing so runs us through the principles of primacy and its implications on national procedural autonomy.

Note the Advocate-General’s remark (at 87) that ‘It is increasingly common that the resolution of conflicts arising from day-to-day life, such as consumer disputes and conflicts in the workplace, are ‘out-sourced’ from courts to specialised bodies with (limited) powers to mediate and/or adjudicate expediently such disputes (FN omitted). It is equally commonplace that, as is the case of adjudication officers at the WRC, persons resolving conflicts in such bodies do not necessarily have a legal qualification. Arguably, such bodies are better placed than courts to provide low-cost, speedy and effective solutions to conflicts of that kind.

At 89: ‘jurisdiction in a specific field of EU law may be divided between different bodies, provided that the rights in question are adequately protected’: an important precondition of course is that the national system guarantees that cases where national or EU legislation needs to be disapplied where they would clash with citisens’ rights, are properly adjudicated by the courts who are empowered to set aside the law: and not just swept under the carpet under the guise of the assessment being ‘factual’ only.

Geert.

 

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Access to information: The Court of Justice acts to prevent water under the bridge in Client Earth.

Access to information ironically is subject to a myriad of rules and regulations at the EU level: some of a general nature (particularly: Regulation 1049/2001), some lex specialis (such as Directive 2003/35 and Regulation 1367/2006), but with a complex relationship between lex generalis and lex specialis. Add to the mix in the environmental field, public international law in the form of the Aarhus Convention and, well, what you get is an awful lot of regulatory intransparency. Leonie and I have made an attempt succinctly to summarise same in Chapter 5 of our Handbook on EU environmental law.

In C‑57/16 P Client Earth v EC, the CJEU’s Grand Chamber set aside a General Court judgment which had earlier sided largely with the EC viz two requests of information: the first of those requests sought access to the impact assessment report drawn up by the Commission on the implementation of the ‘access to justice’ pillar of the Aarhus Convention, while the second sought access to the impact assessment carried out by the Commission on the revision of the EU legal framework on environmental inspections and surveillance at national and EU level. Both were refused on the ground for exception provided in Regulation 1049/2001, that ‘access to a document, drawn up by an institution for internal use or received by an institution, which relates to a matter where the decision has not been taken by the institution, shall be refused if disclosure of the document would seriously undermine the institution’s decision-making process, unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.’

The Grand Chamber essentially held that access should be granted: core of its reasoning is at para 92: ‘Although the submission of a legislative proposal by the Commission is, at the impact assessment stage, uncertain, the disclosure of those documents is likely to increase the transparency and openness of the legislative process as a whole, in particular the preparatory steps of that process, and, thus, to enhance the democratic nature of the European Union by enabling its citizens to scrutinise that information and to attempt to influence that process. As is asserted, in essence, by Client Earth, such a disclosure, at a time when the Commission’s decision-making process is still ongoing, enables citizens to understand the options envisaged and the choices made by that institution and, thus, to be aware of the considerations underlying the legislative action of the European Union. In addition, that disclosure puts those citizens in a position effectively to make their views known regarding those choices before those choices have been definitively adopted, so far as both the Commission’s decision to submit a legislative proposal and the content of that proposal, on which the legislative action of the European Union depends, are concerned.

Essentially: a true transparent policy process requires citisens to be able to impact the flow of the water before it disappears under the bridge.

EC Institutions continue to fight rearguard actions against transparency, which subsequently have to be addressed by the likes of Client Earth. The CJEU could not be clearer in highlighting the patch access to EU policy should continue to follow.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Environmental Law, first ed.2017, Chapter 5. (With Leonie Reins).

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Climate change litigation reaches the CJEU’s desk.

One can say many things about climate change litigation by individuals. (See my earlier piece on the Dutch Urgenda case). Many argue that the separation of powers suggest that governments, not judges, should be making climate policy. Or that international environmental law lacks the type of direct effect potentially required for it to be validly invoked by citisens. Others point to the duty of care of Governments; to binding – even if fluffy – climate change obligations taken on since at least the 1990s, and to the utter lack of progress following more than 25 years of international climate change law.

It is therefore no surprise to see that this type of litigation has now also reached the European Court of Justice: the text of the application is here, see also brief legal (by Olivia Featherstone) and Guardian background.

Like cases before it, colleagues shy of preparation materials for an international environmental law course, with comparative EU law thrown in, can use the case to hinge an entire course on.

As Olivia reports, the legal principles involved are the following:

The claimants state that EU emissions leading to climate change are contrary to:

  • The principle of equality (Articles 20 and 21, EU Charter)
  • The principle of sustainable development (Article 3 TEU, Article 11 TFEU)
  • Article 37 EU Charter
  • Article 3 UNFCCC
  • The no harm principle in international law
  • Article 191 ff TFEU (the EU’s environmental policy

One to watch.

Geert.

EU Environmental Law, with Leonie Reins, Edward Elgar, 1st ed. 2017, part I Chapter 2 in particular.

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Anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. The High Court in Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al.

Thank you Brick Court and Stewarts, among other, for flagging Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al in which the High Court dismissed a call for summary judgment on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction.

A classic case of follow-up damages litigation in competition law, here in the high voltage power cables cartel, fines for which were confirmed by the CJEU early July. Core to the case is the application of Article 8(1)’s anchor defendants mechanism. Only two of the defendants are UK incorporated companies – UK subsidiaries of companies that have been found by the European Commission to have infringed EU competition law.

Authority cited includes of course CDC, Roche Nederland and Painer, and Cooper Tyre (sale of the cartelised products can amount to implementation of the cartel). Vattenfall confirms that for the English courts, ‘knowingly implementing’ the cartel has a low threshold.

At 89 ff the Court refers to the pending case of (what I now know to be) C-724/17 Skanska Industrial Solutions e.a.: Finnish Courts are considering the application for cartel damages against parent companies on acquiring cartelist subsidiaries, had dissolved them. Relevance for Vattenfall lies with the issue of knowledge: the Finnish courts wonder what Article 101 TFEU has to say on the degree of knowledge of the cartelist activities, relevant for the liability of the parent company. An application of fraus, or abuse in other words. Elleray DJ however, did not consider the outcome of that reference to be relevant for the case at hand, in its current stage of procedure.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

 

 

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