Posts Tagged 1980 Rome Convention on the law applicable to contractual obligations
The Portuguese claimant’s vehicle was damaged in an accident in Spain in August 2015. He issued proceedings in Portugal in November 2016 to recover his uninsured losses. Under Portuguese law, the lex fori, the limitation period is 3 years. Under Spanish law, the lex causae per Rome II, limitation is fixed at 1 year.
The Court first of all re-emphasises the importance of co-ordinated interpretation of Rome I and II, here with respect to the terminology of the two Regulations which in the French version in particular differs with respect to the use of the term ‘lois de police’ (Article 9 Rome I) and ‘dispositions impératives dérogatoires’ (Article 16 Rome II). The lois de police of Rome I (albeit with respect to the Rome Convention 1980) had already been interpreted in Unamar, leading to the first of the two conditions discussed below.
The Court effectively held there is little limit content-wise to the possibility for courts to invoke the lois de police /overriding mandatory law provision of Article 9 Rome II. Despite Article 15 Rome II verbatim mentioning limitation periods as being covered by the lex causae (but see the confusion on that reported in my post on Kik this week), limitation periods foreseen in the lex fori may be given priority.
This is subject to two conditions:
firstly, the national court cannot interpret any odd lex fori provision as being covered by the lois de police exception: here the Court re-emphasises the Rome I /II parallel by making the Unamar test apply to Rome II: at 31: ‘the referring court must find, on the basis of a detailed analysis of the wording, general scheme, objectives and the context in which that provision was adopted, that it is of such importance in the national legal order that it justifies a departure from the applicable law.’ Here, the fact that limitation periods are mentioned in so many words in Article 15, comes into play: at 34: given that express reference, the application of the overriding mandatory law exception ‘would require the identification of particularly important reasons, such as a manifest infringement of the right to an effective remedy and to effective judicial protection arising from the application of the law designated as applicable pursuant to Article 4 of the Rome II Regulation.’
secondly, and of course redundantly but worth re-emphasising: the rule at issue must not have been harmonised by secondary EU law. As Alistair Kinley points out, the Motor Insurance Directive (MID) 2009/103 is currently being amended and a limitation period of minimum 4 years is being suggested – subject even to gold plating. That latter prospect of course opens up all sorts of interesting discussions particularly viz Article 3(4) Rome I.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 18.104.22.168.
KA Finanz. The CJEU finds it does not need to entertain the corporate exception in European PIL and turns to EU corporate law instead.
Thank you, Matthias Storme, for alerting me late last night that judgment was issued in Case C-483/13 KA Finanz AG. The CJEU is asked to clarify the ‘corporate exception’ to the Rome Convention and subsequent Regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations. The two main questions ask whether the ‘company law’ excepted area includes (a) reorganisations such as mergers and divisions, and (b) in connection with reorganisations, the creditor protection provision in Article 15 of Directive 78/855 concerning mergers of public limited liability companies, and of its successor, Directive 2011/35. I have a little more on the background in previous posting and I expressed my disappointment with Bot AG’s Opinion here.
The Court, like the AG, justifiably rejects a great deal of the questions as inadmissible, mainly due to the secondary law, interpretation of which is sought, not applying ratione temporis, to the facts at issue. It then in essence simply turns to European company law, in particular Directive 2005/56, to settle the issue. Why exhaust oneself with analysis of the corporate exception, if a different piece of EU law exhaustively regulates the issue? At 56 ff
It is stated in Article 2(2)(a) of Directive 2005/56 that a merger by acquisition is an operation whereby one or more companies, on being dissolved without going into liquidation, transfer all their assets and liabilities to another existing company, namely the acquiring company.
As regards the effects of such an operation, it is stated in Article 14(2)(a) of Directive 2005/56 that a cross-border merger brings about, from the date when the merger takes effect, the transfer of all the assets and liabilities of the company being acquired to the acquiring company.A merger by acquisition therefore entails the acquisition by the acquiring company of the company being acquired in its entirety, without extinguishing the obligations that a winding-up would have brought about, and, without novation, has the effect of substituting the acquiring company for the company being acquired as party to all of the contracts concluded by the latter. Consequently, the law which was applicable to those contracts before the merger continues to be applicable after the merger. It follows that EU law must be interpreted as meaning that the law applicable following a cross-border merger by acquisition to the interpretation of a loan contract taken out by the acquired company, such as the loan contracts at issue in the main proceedings, to the performance of the obligations under the contract and to how those obligations are extinguished is the law which was applicable to that contract before the merger.
(here: German law).
I appreciate the narrow set of facts upon which the CJEU holds allows one to distinguish. The spirit of the Court’s judgment in my view must however be what I have advocated for some time. Other than for a narrow set of issues immediately surrounding the very creation, life and death of the merged company, for which lex societatis applies, European private international law upholds lex contractus (often: lex voluntatis: the law so chosen by the parties) for the considerable amount of contractual satellites involving a merger and similar operations. Rome I is fully engaged for these contracts, including its provisions on third party impact of a change in governing law (this is relevant where the parties to the merger, decide to amend applicable law of the inherited contracts).
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.2 .
In Case C-483/13 KA Finanz AG, the CJEU is asked to clarify the ‘corporate exception’ to the Rome Convention and subsequent Regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations. The two main questions ask whether the ‘company law’ excepted area includes (a) reorganisations such as mergers and divisions, and (b) in connection with reorganisations, the creditor protection provision in Article 15 of Directive 78/855 concerning mergers of public limited liability companies, and of its successor, Directive 2011/35. I have a little more on the background in previous posting. The Opinion itself has a complete overview of the issues at stake.
I suggested in my previous posting that lest the complete file posted with the Court give more detail, quite a few of the preliminary questions might be considered inadmissible due to a lack of specification in the factual circumstances.
Bot AG, who opined yesterday (at the time of posting, the English version of the Opinion was not yet available), has considerably slimmed down the list of questions eligible for answer, due to the (non-) application ratione temporis of secondary EU law at issue: this includes the Rome I Regulation. However he also, more puzzlingly, skates around the question concerning the application of the corporate exception of the 1980 Rome Convention, despite the judgment which is being appealed with the referring court, having made that exception the corner piece of its conflicts analysis. In particular, it considered that the consequences of a merger are part of the corporate status of the company concerned and that the transfer of assets within the context of a merger consequently need to be assessed viz-a-viz the company’s lex societatis: Austrian law, and not, as suggested by claimants, German law as the lex contractus relevant to the assets concerned (bonds issued by the corporate predecessor of the new corporation).
The AG focuses his analysis entirely on the specific qualification of the contract at issue (conclusion: sui generis), and on Directive 2005/56. In paras 47-48, he suggests that contractual obligations of the bank’s predecessor, per Directive 2005/56, are transferred to the corporate successor, including the lex contractus of those agreements. One can build an assumption around those paras, that the AG suggests a narrow interpretation of the corporate exception to the Rome Convention, etc. However it is quite unusual for one to have to second-guess an AG’s Opinion. Judicial economy is usually the signature of the CJEU itself, not its Advocate Generals.
I am now quite curious what the CJEU will make of it all.
Hague principles on Choice of law in international commercial contracts. A quick and dirty comparison with Rome I.
I have delayed reporting on the Hague Principles on choice of law in international commercial contract for exam reasons. The principles (and accompanying commentary) have not taken the form of a classic Hague convention, rather, it is hoped that they inspire practice. Bottom-up harmonisation, in other words. For the EU, the Rome I Regulation evidently already harmonises choice of law hence the principles must not be followed where Rome I applies. However in particular given the principles’ ambition to be applied by arbitral tribunals, they may have some effect in the EU, too.
I asked my students to compare the Principles with the Rome I Regulation. Such quick and dirty scan, without wishing to be complete, reveals the following: (I take a bullet-point approach such one might follow in an exam setting. = refers to similarities; ≠ to differences
- ≠ The Hague principles concern choice of law principles only. Rome I covers applicable law in the wider sense (it also determines applicable law if no choice of law has been made).
- ≠: The Principles apply to courts and arbitral tribunals. General consensus is that arbitral panels subject to the laws of an EU Member State as the lex curia are not bound by Rome I.
- ≠The Hague principles only apply B2B, not B2C. They deal with international ‘commercial’ contracts only. Famously Rome I includes and indeed pampers B2C contracts.
- Purely domestic contracts are covered by Rome I, with choice of law being corrected to a considerable degree. ≠ Hague principles: these do not cover purely domestic contracts because they are not ‘international’.
- = party autonomy and depecage are supported in both.
- = universal character: Parties may choose any law, they or the contract need not have any material link with that law.
- ≠ rules of law. Rome I probably allows choice of State law only (its recitals are inconclusive, as is its legislative history). Hague Principles: allows parties to opt for non-State law.
- Tacit choice of law is effectively dealt with the same in both.
- Scope of the chosen law: while more or less similar, one obvious ≠ is that the Hague Principles cover culpa in contrahendo. In the EU, this is subject to the Rome II Regulation.
- Article 11 of the Hague Principles allow for a wider remit for courts and tribunals to apply overriding mandatory law that is not that of the forum.
- Article 9(2): formal validity of the contract may be established by many a law that might have a bearing on it. Favor negoti, in other words: as in Rome I.
A fun exercise, all in all. I for one am curious how arbitral tribunals will approach the principles.
In Case C-483/13 KA Finanz AG, the ECJ is asked to clarify the ‘corporate exception’ to the Rome Convention and subsequent Regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations. The two main questions ask whether the ‘company law’ excepted area includes (a) reorganisations such as mergers and divisions, and (b) in connection with reorganisations, the creditor protection provision in Article 15 of Directive 78/855 concerning mergers of public limited liability companies, and of its successor, Directive 2011/35.
(Creditor protection, incidentally, was also addressed in C-557/13 Lutz, judgment held last week, within the context of insolvency proceedings. I shall have a posting on that case soon).
Reuters tells me ‘KA Finanz was split off from nationalised lender Kommunalkredit in an attempt to secure a sustainable future for the rest of the public sector finance specialist firm following the global financial crisis’. KA Finaz therefore is what is generally referred to as a ‘Bad Bank’.
The referring court, Austria’s Oberster Gerichtshof, would seem to be hedging its bets on whether the Rome Convention or the Regulation applies to the contract, and ditto for the 1978 Directive or the 2011 Directive aforementioned. The file may reveal more factual detail than the application as published, however the questions as phrased (namely quite speculatively rather than file related) probably will run into trouble on the admissability front, I imagine.
At the time of adoption of the convention, the Giuliano Lagarde Report went into a bit more detail as to what is and is not excluded:
Confirming this exclusion, the Group stated that it affects all the complex acts (contractual administrative, registration) which are necessary to the creation of a company or firm and to the regulation of its internal organization and winding up, i. e. acts which fall within the scope of company law. On the other hand, acts or preliminary contracts whose sole purpose is to create obligations between interested parties (promoters) with a view to forming a company or firm are not covered by the exclusion.
The subject may be a body with or without legal personality, profit-making or non-profit-making. Having regard to the differences which exist, it may be that certain relationships will be regarded as within the scope of company law or might be treated as being governed by that law (for example, societe de droit civil nicht-rechtsfahiger Verein, partnership, Vennootschap onder firma, etc.) in some countries but not in others. The rule has been made flexible in order to take account of the diversity of national laws.
Examples of ‘internal organization’ are: the calling of meetings, the right to vote, the necessary quorum, the appointment of officers of the company or firm, etc. ‘Winding-up’ would cover either the termination of the company or firm as provided by its constitution or by operation of law, or its disappearance by merger or other similar process.
At the request of the German delegation the Group extended the subparagraph (e) exclusion to the personal liability of members and organs, and also to the legal capacity of companies or firms. On the other hand the Group did not adopt the proposal that mergers and groupings should also be expressly mentioned, most of the delegations being of the opinion that mergers and groupings were already covered by the present wording.
This explanation does not necessarily of course clarify all. For instance, the Report would seem to suggest that ‘mergers and groupings’, at issue in KA Finanz, are covered by the exception. Presumably, given the nature of the remainder of the exception, this is limited to the actual final agreement creating the JV or merged company, and not to the complex set of agreements leading up to such creation, such as Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Along those lines and without at this time having revisited relevant scholarship outside my own, I would suggest creditor protection is not covered by the exception.
The Gerichtshof also seeks clarification on whether there are ‘any requirements concerning the treatment of mergers in relation to conflict of laws to be inferred from European primary law such as the freedom of establishment under Article 49 TFEU, the freedom to provide services under Article 56 TFEU and the free movement of capital and payments under Article 63 TFEU, in particular as to whether the national law of the State of the outwardly merging company or the national law of the target company is to be applied?’ Again, without having seen more reference to fact in the actual referral, this question to me seems far too academic to prompt the ECJ into entertaining it.
The Court’s ledger shows the application as having been lodged on 31 October 2014. That means some movement on it ought to be expected soon.
Fern v Intergraph: High Court takes a narrow view of mandatory requirements on choice of law and court viz Commercial Agents Directive
In  EWHC 2908 (Ch) Fern v Integraph, Mann J was asked whether a clear Texas governing law and Texas jurisdiction clause should be set aside, jurisdiction upheld by the English courts and applicable law to be held to be English law, on the basis of an alleged infringement of the UK implementation of the Commercial Agents Directive. (The procedural context is one of permission to ‘serve out of the jurisdiction’).
Fern was the agent of Intergraph in the EU. Fern claims compensation for breach of the Commercial Agents Regulations (UK), which implement the Commercial Agents Directive. Some core EU law considerations pass before the High Court, including Marleasing, Faccini Dori, von Colson and Inter-Environnement. The High Court’s main pre-occupation would seem to have been with the rescue of choice of court and of governing law as much as possible, even within the constraints of the ECJ’s decision in Ingmar. In that judgment (which was confined to choice of law; the jurisdiction of the English courts was not sub judice), the ECJ held
‘It must therefore be held that it is essential for the Community legal order that a principal established in a non-member country, whose commercial agent carries on his activity within the Community, cannot evade those provisions by the simple expedient of a choice-of-law clause. The purpose served by the provisions in question requires that they be applied where the situation is closely connected with the Community, in particular where the commercial agent carries on his activity in the territory of a Member State, irrespective of the law by which the parties intended the contract to be governed.’ (in the case at issue, a choice of law clause had been inserted which made the contract applicable to the laws of California).
However, the operative part of the ECJ’s decision in Ingmar focussed on the compensation element only: ‘Articles 17 and 18 of Council Directive 86/653/EEC of 18 December 1986 on the coordination of the laws of the Member States relating to self-employed commercial agents, which guarantee certain rights to commercial agents after termination of agency contracts, must be applied where the commercial agent carried on his activity in a Member State although the principal is established in a non-member country and a clause of the contract stipulates that the contract is to be governed by the law of that country.’
In the case at issue, the High Court seems to have leapt at the more narrow operative part in Ingmar (and its non-consideration of choice of court) in an effort to uphold the choice of court and governing law agreement: the right to compensation derives from statutory law, not from contractual obligations. Whence it does not affect aforementioned clauses. In reaching that conclusion, however, Mann J effectively refused to consider effet utile of the Commercial Agents Directive when interpreting English rules of civil procedure for serving out of jurisdiction. Effet utile does resurface, however, for parties have been given time to submit their views on whether the right to compensation as a statutory right, infringement of which would amount to a tort, would fall outside the scope of the relevant contractual clauses and would lead to jurisdiction in the English courts.
Even if this will be the eventual decision of the High Court after re-submission of arguments, it is likely that the confines of that jurisdiction in England will be narrowly defined. (Viz the right to compensation only). This is a striking difference with e.g. the German courts. (I have previously posted on the view of the Bundesgerichtshof: a much swifter and absolute rejection of choice of court and governing law ex-EU in the context of the commercial agents Directive).
A rather complex and as yet unfinalised ruling.