Posts Tagged 1215/2012

Feniks: Bobek AG rejects forum contractus for Actio Pauliana and defends predictability of the Brussels regime.

Is the actio pauliana by a Polish company against a Spanish company, which had bought immovable property from the former’s contracting party, one relating to ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast?

Bobek AG Opined in C-337/17 Feniks v Azteca on 21 June. His Opinion features among others a legal history class on the action pauliana, and eventually a justifiable conclusion: the action is not one in contract. In C-115/88 Reichert I the Court held that the French civil law actio pauliana does not fall within exclusive jurisdiction concerning rights in rem in immovable property (Article 24(1). Soon afterwards, the Court added in C-261/90 Reichert II that the same actio pauliana was neither a provisional measure nor an action bringing proceedings concerned with the enforcement of a judgment. It was also not a matter relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict.

That left only the potential for a forum contractus to be decided.

The AG reviews a number of arguments to come to his decision. One of those I find particularly convincing: at 62: assuming that the applicability of the head of jurisdiction for matters relating to a contract were to be contemplated, the question that immediately arises is which of the two contracts potentially involved should be taken as relevant? To which of the two contracts would an actio pauliana in fact relate? Among others (at 69-70) Sharpston AG’s Opinion in Ergo is discussed in this respect and the AG in my view is right when he dismisses the contractual relations at issue as an anchor point.

At 69 the AG also adds a knock-out point which could logically have come at the very beginning of the Opinion:

‘it should also be added and underlined that both approaches outlined above fail to satisfy the requirement of ‘obligation freely assumed by one party towards another’, [the AG refers to Handte, GAVC] that is by the Defendant towards the Applicant. Even if the case-law of this Court does not require that there is identity between the parties to the proceeding and to the respective contract, it appears difficult to consider that the mere filing of an actio pauliana creates a substantive-law relationship between the Applicant and the Defendant resulting from, for example, some kind of legal subrogation founded by an act of COLISEUM (as the Applicant’s initial debtor).’

Readers further may want to take note of para 92: the AG’s view to treat the power of recitals with caution. The AG ends at 97-98 with a robust defence of the Brussels regime, with specific reference to the common law (footnotes omitted):

‘What has to be sought is a principled answer that applies largely independently of the factual elements in an individual case. While fully acknowledging and commending the attractive flexibility of rules such as forum(non) conveniens that allow for derogation in the light of the facts of a specific case, the fact remains that the structure and the logic of the Brussels Convention and Regulations is indeed built on different premises. What is understandably needed in a diverse legal space composed of 28 legal orders are ex ante reasonably foreseeable, and thus perhaps somewhat inflexible rules at times, and less of an ex post facto explanation (mostly as to why one declared oneself competent) heavily dependent on a range of factual elements.

All in all, in the current state of EU law, actio pauliana seems to be one of the rare examples that only allows for the applicability of the general rule and an equally rare confirmation of the fact that ‘… there is no obvious foundation for the idea that there should always or even often be an alternative to the courts of the defendant’s domicile’. ‘

 

A solid opinion with extra reading for the summer season (on the Pauliana).

Geert.

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National Bank of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon. Branches’ activities, Article 7(5) Brussels I Recast and engagement of Article 30.

In [2017] EWHC 3512 (Comm)  National Bank of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon, Article 7(5) makes a rarish appearance, as does (less rarely) Article 30. Popplewell J summarises the main facts as follows.

‘The Second Claimant is the Republic of Kazakhstan (“ROK”). The First Claimant is the National Bank of Kazakhstan (“NBK”). The Defendant is a bank incorporated in Belgium with a branch in, amongst other places, London. Through its London branch it provides banking and custody services to NBK in respect of the National Fund of Kazakhstan (“the National Fund”), pursuant to a Global Custody Agreement dated 24th December 2001, (“the GCA”). The National Fund has been the target of proceedings brought by Mr. Anatolie Stati and others, (“the Stati Parties”), who are seeking to enforce a Swedish arbitration award against ROK for a sum, including interest and costs, in excess of US$ 500 million. The Stati Parties obtained attachment orders from the Dutch court and the Belgian court, which were served on the Defendant (“BNYM”). BNYM, after taking legal advice, decided to freeze all the assets comprising the National Fund, which it holds under the GCA, on the basis that it was bound to comply with the Belgian and Dutch orders, breach of which would expose it to the risk of civil liability for the amount of the Stati Parties’ claims and criminal liability in Belgium and the Netherlands.’

Effectively therefore the London Branch of a Belgian domiciled bank, has frozen claimant’s assets which it holds in London (although the exact situs is disputed), on the basis that it wishes to prevent exposure to BE and NL criminal proceedings.

Parties arguments on jurisdiction are included at 41 and 42 of the judgment. Core to the Brussels I Recast jurisdictional discussions is Article 7(5) which provides

“A person domiciled in a Member State may be sued in another Member State: […]

(5) as regards a dispute arising out of the operations of a branch, agency or other establishment, in the courts for the place where the branch, agency or other establishment is situated;’

Beyond Case 33/78 Somafer, to which the High Court refers, there is little CJEU precedent – C‑27/17 flyLAL is currently underway. Popplewell J at 53 refers to Lord Phillips’ paraphrasing of Somafer in [2003] EWCA Civ 147  as a requirement of ‘sufficient nexus’ between the dispute and the branch as to render it natural to describe the dispute as one which has arisen out of the activities of the branch.

At 54 he holds there is such nexus in the case at issue, particularly given the management of the frozen assets by the London branch, and the very action by that branch to freeze them. This is quite a wide interpretation of Article 7(5) and not one which I believe is necessarily supported by the exceptional nature of Article 7.

As to whether the English and Belgian proceedings are ‘related’, providing an opportunity for the English proceedings to be halted under Article 30 of the Recast (lis alibi pendens), the High Court refers at 57 ff to C-406/95 The Tatry to hold that there is no risk of conflicting decisions in this case: the argument specifically being that even if the issues addressed are the same, they are addressed in the respective (English, Dutch, Belgian) proceedings under different applicable laws (in each case the lex fori on sovereign immunity). I do not find that very convincing. The risk of irreconcilable outcome is the issue; not irreconcilability or not of reasoning. In the same para 60 in fine in fact Popplewell J advances what I think is a stronger argument: that the issue whether the National Fund was used or intended to be used for commercial purposes, requires to be determined or addressed in the English proceedings, with the result that there is no risk of conflict.

Article 30 not being engaged for that reason, obiter then follows an interesting discussion on whether there can be lis alibi pendens if the court originally seized had no jurisdiction under the Regulation: here: because the Belgian and Dutch proceedings are arbitration proceedings.

Does Article 30 apply to Regulation claims where there was a related action in a Member State in which the related action did not itself come within the Regulation? Referring to the new Article 34 lis alibi pendens rule for proceedings pending ex-EU, ex absurdum, would there not be an odd lacuna if Article 34 required a stay where there were related non-Regulation foreign proceedings in a third party State and the position were not to be the same for equivalent foreign proceedings in a Member State? I do not believe there would be such lacuna: the Article 34 rule applies to concurrent proceedings which are in fact in-Regulation, except international comity requires the EU to cede to foreign proceedings with a strong (typically exclusive) jurisdictional call. For intra-EU proceedings, the comity argument holds no sway – mutual trust does.

Like Poplewell J however I reserve final judgment on that issue for another occasion.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11, Heading 2.2.14.

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Hofsoe: Scope ratione personae of Brussels I’s protected categories in cases of assignment (specifically: insurance).

In C‑106/17 Hofsoe, the CJEU held late January that the Brussels I Recast Regulation jurisdictional rules for jurisdiction in matters relating to insurance, do not apply in case of assignment to a professional party. A B2C insurance contract assigned to a professional party therefore essentially turns into a B2B contract: the rules for protected categories are meant to protect weaker parties only. The Court also rejects a suggestion that the assignee ought to be able to prove that in fact it merits the forum actoris protection (on account of it being a sole insurance practitioner with little practice): the weakness is presumed and not subject to factual analysis.

Conclusion: at 43: ‘a person such as Mr Hofsoe, who carries out a professional activity recovering insurance indemnity claims against insurance companies, in his capacity as contractual assignee of such claims, should not benefit from the special protection constituted by the forum actoris.’

Predictability, and restrictive interpretation of the Regulation’s exceptions to the actor sequitur forum rei rule, are the classic lines along which the CJEU holds the case.

I for one continue to find it difficult to get my head round assignment not leading to the original obligation being transferred full monty; including its jurisdictional peculiarities.  The referring court in this respect (at 28) refers to the applicable national law which provides for as much:

‘In that regard, the referring court points out, under Article 509(2) of the Civil Code, ‘all rights associated with the claim …shall be transferred with the claim’. In those circumstances, the assignment of the claim should include that of the benefit of jurisdiction.’

Indeed in Schrems the Court emphasises the impact of the assignor’s rights on the rights of the assignee. By contrast in Hofsoe, the assignee’s qualities (here: as a professional) call the shots. The Court essentially pushes an autonomous and not necessarily consistent EU law on assignment here. In Rome I, the issue has triggered all sorts of discussions – not least the relevant BICL study and the EC 2016 response to same. Under Brussels I Recast, the discussion is more silent.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.

 

 

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Belo Horizonte: Court at Rotterdam (using English as language of the oral procedure): Access to seized documents is no provisional measure under Brussels I Recast.

Arnold van Steenderen and Milan Simić have complete and concise review here of judgment of the Rotterdam court of December 2017 in re the Belo Horizonte (officially Cefetra et al v Ms ‘IDA’ Oetker Schiffahrtsgesellschaft MbH & Co KG et al). The case is a follow-up to 2015 proceedings. In these the Rotterdam court had first sanctioned seizure, and then rejected further action for claimant had not formally requested access to the documents.

Arnold and Milan summarise the facts very very helpfully – I am much obliged for the judgment is in Dutch (although as the judgment shows, the proceedings were actually conducted in English: a nice example of the use of regulatory competition in civil procedure) and their efforts have saved me a lot of translation time:

The decisions of the Rotterdam Court are a result of the carriage under bill of lading of soya beans on behalf of Cefetra B.V. (Netherlands based) on board of the “Belo Horizonte” from Argentina to the United Kingdom. Cefetra supplies raw materials to the feed, food, and fuel industries. Cefetra Ltd. (UK based) was the holder of the b/l’s and English law applied to the b/l’s. The vessel is owned by MS ‘IDA’ Oetker and is time chartered by Rudolf A Oetker (both German based, together addressed as Oetker). MS ‘IDA’ Oetker is the carrier under the b/l’s. London arbitration is agreed upon for any dispute rising from the contract of carriage and the b/l’s.

Following engine failure, ‘(d)uring the voyage, experts commissioned by both Cefetra and Oetker visited the “Belo Horizonte” to preliminary assess the condition of the vessel and its engines. Further investigation was conducted upon arrival in England. Oetker, however, only granted permission for inspection of the engine room and refused to disclose the documents on board. Crew interviews were not allowed as well. Subsequently, Cefetra obtained leave to attachment for the purpose of preserving evidence in the Netherlands on 27 October 2015. The leave was effected by the bailiff on 28 October 2015 on board of the “Belo Horizonte”. Several documents were seized and handed over to a sequestrator. Cefetra initiated proceedings’ to gain access to the seized documents.

The dispute in the main is arbitrable in London.

Oetker disputes jurisdiction of the court at Rotterdam on the basis of defendants’ domicile in Germany. Cefetra argue in favour of jurisdiction on the basis of Article 7(1), alternatively 7(2) or indeed Article 35 Brussels I Recast:

  • 7(1) forum contractus: for, it is argued, the main agreement between the two parties implies an obligation to provide any relevant evidence; the place of performance for that ‘obligation in question’ lies in The Netherlands since that is where the sequestrator holds them.
  • 7(2) forum delicti: Oetker’s obstruction of truth finding is a tort which is located (locus delicti commissi) at Rotterdam since that is where Oetker opposes disclosure.
  • 35 provisional, including protective measures.

The Court does not at all entertain Cefetra’s arguments on the basis of 7(1) or 7(2). Wrongly so: plenty of not at all obvious contracts or torts could qualify as same under these provisions. To not address them at all does not make them simply go away.

The court first of all (5.7 in fine) rejects relevance of the arbitration exclusion on the basis of C-391/95 Van Uden Deco-Line. It then sticks to a very restrictive approach to Article 35, with the classic provisionary (not covered by Article 35) v provisional (covered) nature of measures, as also discussed in C-104/03 St. Paul Dairy/Unibel (to which the Court refers). In the words of the court: seizure of evidence is provisional; actual access, copy or extract is not (5.8): the court suggests this is not provisional since it allows the party to gauge the evidentiary position of the party and hence is irreversible.

I disagree -and I have at least a shelf in my library to support the discussion.

Ireversibility in fact (once the evidence seen, the party can never wipe it from its memory, so to speak) does not equate ireversibility in law. The court takes a very limited view of Article 35 and I do not believe it is the right one.

There are not that many national judgments covering Article 35 quite so expressly. This is one to treasure.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.15.

 

 

 

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Close, but no sigar. The CJEU on libel, internet and centre of interests in Bolagsupplysningen.

The Court held some weeks ago in C-194/16 Bolagsupplysningen OÜ on the application of the Shevill rule, as supplemented by e-Date advertising, to infringements of a company’s personality rights over the internet. I held back reporting on the case for exam reasons – yep, some of the places I teach at already have exams.

Judgment was issued in Grand Chamber. There can be no clearer indication of the relevance the Court attaches to the question. The CJEU introduces in my view further complication in the Article 7(2) rule (jurisdiction for torts) by requiring the court seized carry out analysis of ‘main economic activity’ with those same courts being told not to get carried away however in that analysis. The judgment does not I believe offer a solid conclusion for the issues of removal and rectification.

An Estonian company operating in Sweden was blacklisted for its allegedly questionable business practices on the website of a Swedish employers’ federation. The website attracted a number of hostile comments from its readers. The Estonian company brought an action before the Estonian courts against the Swedish federation. It complained that the published information has negatively affected its honour, reputation and good name. It asked the Estonian courts to order that the Swedish federation rectify the information and remove the comments from its website. It also requested damages for harm allegedly suffered as a result of the information and comments having been published online.

Can the Estonian courts assert jurisdiction to hear this action on the basis of the claimant’s ‘centre of interests’, a special ground of jurisdiction that the Court previously applied to natural persons, but so far not legal persons? If they can, then second, how should the centre of interests of a legal person be determined? Third, if the jurisdiction of the Estonian courts were to be limited to situations in which the damage occurred in Estonia, the referring court wonders whether it can order the Swedish federation to rectify and remove the information at issue.

I reviewed Bobek AG’s Opinion here – let me recap core issues: Bobek AG suggested there are two novelties in the questions referred: a legal person (not a natural one) is primarily asking for rectification and removal of information made accessible on the internet (and only secondarily for damages for the alleged harm to its reputation). This factual setting, the AG suggests, leads to the question of how far the seemingly quite generous rules on international jurisdiction previously established in Shevill with regard to libel by printed media, and then further extended in eDate to the harm caused to the reputation of a natural person by information published on the internet, may be in need of an update.

At the real root of course of the generous rules on jurisdiction for tort, lies the Court’s judgment in Bier. Bobek AG joined Szpunar AG in severely questioning the wisdom of the Bier rule (both locus delicti commissi and locus damni lead to jurisdiction) in the age of internet publications. Not unexpectedly, the Court of Justice further refined Bier, but did not overrule it.

It held first of all that legal persons like natural persons can claim for damages in their centre of interests (at 38): the split in Bier was introduced for reasons of judicial suitability (‘sound administration of justice’), not personal interest of the plaintiff hence the qualification of that plaintiff has no bearing on the rule.

Following e-Date, the national court therefore needs to determine a centre of interests for a legal person just as it would for a natural person. At 41: for legal persons, this centre of interests ‘must reflect the place where its commercial reputation is most firmly established and must, therefore, be determined by reference to the place where it carries out the main part of its economic activities. While the centre of interests of a legal person may coincide with the place of its registered office when it carries out all or the main part of its activities in the Member State in which that office is situated and the reputation that it enjoys there is consequently greater than in any other Member State, the location of that office is, not, however, in itself, a conclusive criterion for the purposes of such an analysis.’ As one knows from the definition of ‘domicile’ under the Brussels I Regulation, leading to positive jurisdictional conflicts (it is perfectly possible for more than one Member State considering itself the domicile of a corporation), it is far from self-evident to determine where a company’s ‘main’ economic activities are located.

At 43 the Grand Chamber reminds the national courts that their role in the application of the Brussels I Recast is limited to the jurisdictional stage: they must not go into the merits (yet), hence if it is ‘not clear from the evidence that the court must consider at the stage when it assesses whether it has jurisdiction that the economic activity of the relevant legal person is carried out mainly in a certain Member State’, the Court must conclude that the Article 7(2) locus damni for the full damage is not available to that claimant.

 

The Court then distinguishes actions for rectification of false information and removal of comments: there is no jurisdiction before the courts of each Member State in which the information published on the internet is or was accessible. The Court follows Bobek AG’s Opinion on this point (although the AG also employed it to support his view on withdrawal of Bier altogether) at 48: ‘in the light of the ubiquitous nature of the information and content placed online on a website and the fact that the scope of their distribution is, in principle, universal …an application for the rectification of the former and the removal of the latter is a single and indivisible application and can, consequently, only be made before a court with jurisdiction to rule on the entirety of an application for compensation for damage [the Court refers to Shevill and e-Date] and not before a court that does not have jurisdiction to do so.’

On this latter point, the judgment is bound to create a need for further clarification: Shevill and e-Date confirm full jurisdiction for the courts of the domicile of the defendant, and of the locus delicti commissi, and of the centre of interests of the complainant. These evidently do not necessarily coincide. With more than one court having such full jurisdiction I do not see a solution in the Court’s approach.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.

 

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E-date Advertising for companies. Libel, internet and centre of interests. Bobek AG in Bolagsupplysningen OÜ.

Bobek AG opined mid July in C-194/16 Bolagsupplysningen OÜ on the application of the Shevill rule, as supplemented by e-Date advertising, to infringements of a company’s personality rights over the internet.  This is one of those Opinions where summaries fall much, much short of the contents of the original document and I should urge readers to consult the Opinion in full.

An Estonian company operating in Sweden was blacklisted for its allegedly questionable business practices on the website of a Swedish employers’ federation. The Advocate General dryly notes ‘(a)s inevitably happens in the era of anonymous internet bravery, universally known for its genteel style, subtle understanding, and moderation, the website attracted a number of hostile comments from its readers. The Estonian company brought an action before the Estonian courts against the Swedish federation. It complained that the published information has negatively affected its honour, reputation and good name. It asked the Estonian courts to order that the Swedish federation rectify the information and remove the comments from its website. It also requested damages for harm allegedly suffered as a result of the information and comments having been published online.

Can the Estonian courts assert jurisdiction to hear this action on the basis of the claimant’s ‘centre of interests’, a special ground of jurisdiction that the Court previously applied to natural persons, but so far not legal persons? If they can, then second, how should the centre of interests of a legal person be determined? Third, if the jurisdiction of the Estonian courts were to be limited to situations in which the damage occurred in Estonia, the referring court wonders whether it can order the Swedish federation to rectify and remove the information at issue.

The Advocate General suggests there are two novelties in the questions referred: a legal person (not a natural one) is primarily asking for rectification and removal of information made accessible on the internet (and only secondarily for damages for the alleged harm to its reputation). This factual setting, the AG suggests, leads to the question of how far the seemingly quite generous rules on international jurisdiction previously established in Shevill with regard to libel by printed media, and then further extended in eDate to the harm caused to the reputation of a natural person by information published on the internet, may be in need of an update. At the real root of course of the generous rules on jurisdiction for tort, lies the Court’s judgment in Bier. Bobek AG joins Szpunar AG in severely questioning the wisdom of the Bier rule in the age of internet publications.

Now, human rights scholars will enjoy the Advocate General’s tour d’horizon on whether and to what extend companies may enjoy human rights. On the whole I believe he is absolutely right in suggesting that there ought to be no difference between legal persons and natural persons when it comes to the very possession of personality rights (such as the right not to be libelled) and that neither is there any ground to distinguish between natural persons and legal persons when it comes to the jurisdictional consequences of upholding these rights.

Then, to the jurisdictional consequences (para 73 onwards): the AG suggests that ‘putting Shevill online’ (the AGs words) essentially means granting the forum to a large number of jurisdictions simultaneously, 28 within the European Union. That is because allegedly false or libelous information on the internet is instantly accessible in all Member States.

Bobek AG suggests such multiplicity of fora stemming from the distribution criterion is very difficult to reconcile with the objective of predictability of jurisdictional rules and sound administration of justice enshrined in recital 15 of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, and does not serve the interests of claimant (although the AG concedes that in litigation practice, sending the defendant on a goose chase throughout the EU may be an attractive proposition). Now, in Bier the CJEU upheld jurisdiction for both locus damni and for locus delicti commissi on the grounds that this was attractive from the point of view of evidence and conduct of proceedings: this gives both the ‘special link’ which the special jurisdictional rules require. Whether the Court will be swayed by the argument that in the internet context, neither is of relevance, remains to be seen. It is true that number of clicks, which presumably is the relevant criteria to establish ‘damage’ in the context of Article 7(2), can be established just as well outside the jurisdiction as inside it (Google Analytics being used in a variety of national proceedings). It is also true however that Bier and Shevill are dogma for the Court and it is unlikely that it will simply abandon or even vary them.

Variation is all the more unlikely in the direction of the alternative suggested by the AG: locus delicti commissi relates to whoever is in charge of publishing and altering the content of the online information. So far so good: this is a useful clarification of Shevill in the internet age and one that has as such been so applied by national courts.

Harm then would in the AG’s view have to be defined as solely being the place where the reputation of the claimant was most strongly affected. That is the place of his centre of interests. The AG further suggests (at 104 ff) that in the case of a profit-making legal person, that is, a company, the jurisdiction is likely to correspond to the Member State where it attains the highest turnover. In the case of non-profit organisations, it is likely to be the place where most of its ‘clients’ (in the broadest sense of the word) are located. In both cases, such a Member State is likely to be the one where the damage to reputation and therefore to its professional existence is going to be felt the most. However in all cases, assessments needs to be fact-specific, and moreover, more than one centre of interests could potentially be established (at 116); that latter concession of course is not likely to endear the AG to the Court, given the requirement of predictability.

Answering then the query re injunctions (under the assumption that is an injunction sought by way of final remedy, not an interim measure), the AG employs the possibility of conflicting directions issued by courts with jurisdiction as to the merits of the case, as further argument, ad absurdum, to support his view on locus damni. This issue could raise interesting discussions on the usefulness of directions to remove internet content from particular websites only.

All in all, there is an awful lot of to the point analysis by the AG in this opinion. However the Court’s repeated reluctance to vary Bier and Shevill, a formidable obstacle.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.

 

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