Posts Tagged Acta iure imperii
Ships classification and certification agencies: The immunity ship ain’t sailing according to Szpunar AG in Rina.
In C‑641/18 Szpunar AG opined on Tuesday and notes that the request of the referring court brings to mind the current debate about the influence of human rights on private international law. It seeks to ascertain whether and, if so, to what extent the scope of ‘civil and commercial’ in the Brussels Ia Regulation may be influenced by the interest in ensuring access to the courts, a right guaranteed by Article 47 Charter.
(The case itself is subject to Brussels I which did not yet include ‘acta iure imperii’. As the AG notes at 56, this is merely a clarification following CJEU interpretation of the previous concept.
Relatives of the victims, along with survivors of the sinking of the Al Salam Boccaccio ’98, a ship sailing under the flag of the Republic of Panama, which happened in 2006 on the Red Sea and caused the loss of more than a thousand lives, have brought an action before the District Court, Genoa against the companies Rina SpA et Ente Registro Italiano Navale. Claimants argue that the defendant’s certification and classification activities, the decisions they took and the instructions they gave, are to blame for the ship’s lack of stability and its lack of safety at sea, which are the causes of its sinking.
Defendants plead immunity from jurisdiction. They state that they are being sued in respect of certification and classification activities which they carried out as delegates of a foreign sovereign State, namely the Republic of Panama. They argue activities in question were a manifestation of the sovereign power of the foreign State and the defendants carried them out on behalf of and in the interests of that State.
The AG first of all reviews how the principle of customary international law concerning the jurisdictional immunity of States relates to the scope ratione materiae of Brussels Ia. He starts his analysis noting that in the absence of codification at international level (international conventions on the issue not having met with great success), the principle concerning the jurisdictional immunity of States remains to a large extent governed by customary international law.
There is little use in quoting large sections of the Opinion verbatim so please do refer to the actual text: the AG opines (referring ia to C-154/11 Mahamdia) that it is unnecessary to refer to the principle of customary international law concerning State immunity from jurisdiction when considering the scope ratione materiae of Brussels Ia. Those principles he suggests do play a role when it comes to enforcing any exercise of such jurisdiction against the will of the party concerned.
At 46: ‘the distinction between disputes which are civil or commercial matters and those which are not must be drawn by reference to the independent criteria of EU law identified by the Court in its case-law. Consequently, an act performed in the exercise of State authority (acta iure imperii) from the perspective of the law relating to immunity, is not necessarily the same as an act performed in the exercise of State authority according to the independent criteria of EU law.’ (The latter as readers of the blog will know, are not always clearly expressed; see ia my review of Buak).
In the second place, the AG then considers whether an action for damages brought against private-law entities concerning their classification and/or certification activities falls within the scope of BIa. At 83, following extensive review of the case-law (almost all of which I also reviewed on the blog and for earlier cases, in Chapter 2 of the Handbook), the AG opines that neither the fact that the acts in question were performed on behalf of and in the interests of the delegating State nor the possibility of the State’s incurring liability for harm caused by those acts, in itself conclusively characterises those acts as ones performed in the exercise of powers falling outside the scope of the ordinary legal rules applicable to relationships between private individuals. 814/79 Rüffer also makes a non-conclusive appearance.
At 95 then follows the core of the factual assessment: defendants’ role is limited to carrying out checks in accordance with a pre-defined regulatory framework. If, following the revocation of a certificate, a ship is no longer able to sail, that is because of the sanction which, as the defendants admitted at the hearing, is imposed by Panama law. Not acta iure imperii – the issue falls under Brussels Ia.
Finally, must as a result of a plea of immunity from jurisdiction a national court decline to exercise the jurisdiction which it ordinarily derives from the Regulation? In a section which will be interesting to public international lawyers, the AG reviews international and EU law (particularly Directive 2009/15) and concludes that there is no principle in international law which grants immunity to certification agencies in cases such as the one at hand.
To complete the analysis, the AG opines that should the Court disagree with his views on immunity, the national court’s views on jurisdiction would not be impacted by the right to court guarantees of the Charter, for there is no suggestion at all that the victims would not have proper access to Panamian courts for their action.
Note of course that the Opinion does not address lex causae.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 220.127.116.11.1.
Non multa, sed multum. Sovereign debt litigation in Kuhn leads to surprising final (?) curtain in Vienna.
In C-308/17 Leo Kuhn the CJEU held that Brussels Ia was not engaged for the matter is acta iure imperii. I suggested in my review of the judgment that in solely emphasising context, the Court casts the net too wide. I also emphasised that Greece’s sovereign immunity defense, lonely an argument as it may be, is a strong argument (I referred to the German approach to same): non multa sed multum.
Thank you Stephan Walter for alerting us to, and analysing the final judgment in Vienna: Greece enjoys immunity; and even if it had not (this is how I understand Stephan’s analysis – I trust he will correct me should I be wrong), the court would have declined jurisdiction given that the ‘assets held in Austria’ head of jurisdiction, was not mentioned in the particulars of claim.
Stephan clearly is not happy with the judgment: the Supreme Court not only reverses its earlier stance on immunity; it also could be argued it should be estopped as it were (my words, not Stephan’s) from disciplining a claimant’s absence of reference to residual private international law rules, given that hitherto the Supreme Court had never strayed from steering the course of Brussels Ia applying.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.
Sovereign debt litigation in Kuhn: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. CJEU holds litigation falls outside of Brussels I Recast. Pays lip-service only to Fahnenbrock.
Update 22 November 2018 see yesterday’s comments by prof Mankowski here. He is right to point out that defence mechanisms available to Greece, are effeitvely limited to sovereign immunity. However that defence is of course a strong one, as I pointed out here, given that even the German courts have acepted it.
I had earlier reviewed Bot AG’s Opinion in C-308/17 Leo Kuhn, in which the Court held on Thursday. The case concerns the retrofit introduction of CACs – Collective Action Clauses, in Greek bonds, allowing the amendment to the initial borrowing terms by decisions adopted by a qualified majority, of the remaining capital owed and applying also to the minority.
Along the lines suggested by the AG, the Court finds the litigation not to relate to civil and commercial matters (likely also leading to a finding on the basis of national law, of sovereign immunity).
Extensive reference is made of course to Fahnenbrock , among others. Yet the Court pays lip service only to Fahnenbrock: in that judgment, it launched the ‘direct and immediate’ formula: in that case it found it was the bondholders’ vote, which led directly and immediately to changes to the financial conditions of the securities in question, not the public authorities’ actions essentially dictating it: therefore that litigation was held not to be actum iure imperii, and it was found to be subject to the service of documents Regulation.
In Kuhn, Brussels I Recast is engaged and here the Court would seem to be inclined to follow (also) Bot AG’s Opinion in Fahenbrock (where he was not so followed): there, Bot AG had opined that the Greek State’s intervention in the contracts was direct and not at a distance from the contract. His focus was more on the circumstances of the case than on the legal nitty-gritty. There are certainly many similarities between Fahnenbrock and Kuhn: in the latter, the crammed-down haircut was formally the result of a majority decision of bondholders to accept the restructuring offer made by the Greek State. Not unlike Fahnenbrock were as noted it was also a bondholders’ vote which was the formal trigger.
In Kuhn, the Court emphasises the context, like Bot to no avail had done in Fahnenbrock: after a succinct tour d’horizon of the debt crisis leading to the CACs, the Court concludes ‘It follows that, having regard to the exceptional character of the conditions and the circumstances surrounding the adoption of Law 4050/2012, according to which the initial borrowing terms of the sovereign bonds at issue in the main proceedings were unilaterally and retroactively amended by the introduction of a CAC, and to the public interest objective that it pursues, the origin of the dispute in the main proceeding stems from the manifestation of public authority and results from the acts of the Greek State in the exercise of that public authority, in such a way that that dispute does not fall within ‘civil and commercial matters’ within the meaning of Article 1(1) of Regulation No 1215/2012.’
I suggested at the time that ‘direct and immediate effect’ is not a criterion which is easy to handle. Yet in solely emphasising context, the Court now casts the net too wide in my view, and at the very least leads to more speculation (pun intended) in the litigation context of sovereign debt.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.
Kuhn: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. Bot AG applies Fahnenbrock’s ‘direct and immediate effect’ and distinguishes Kolassa.
Advocate-General Bot opined on 4 July 2018 in the case of C-308/17 Leo Kuhn, domiciled at Vienna, who had purchased through an Austrian bank, Greek sovereign bonds. Pursuant to a forced exchanged /haircut carried out by Greece in March 2012, the bonds were replaced with new bonds with a lower nominal value. Mr Kuhn sued to have the initial borrowing terms enforced.
The Advocate-General is of course aware of the similarities with Fahnenbrock – in which he himself had also opined but was not followed by the Court. He first of all points out the similarities between the service Regulation and the Brussels I Recast (both e.g. limiting their scope of application to ‘civil and commercial’ matters), however also flags the specific recitals (in particular: recital 12) suggesting that in the context of the services Regulation the analysis needs to be done swiftly hence only cases which prima facie fall outside the scope of application (including where they manifestly (see the dictum of Fahnenbrock and para 50 of the AG’s Opinion in Kuhn) are not covered by that Regulation.
Coming next to the consideration of the application of ‘civil and commercial’, the facts of this case reflect very much the hybrid nature of much of sovereign debt litigation. In my view yes, the haircut took place within the wider institutional nature of Greece’s debt negotiations with the EU. Yet the ‘collective action clause’ (CAC) which was not part of the original terms and conditions (there was no CAC in the original lex causae, Greek law, but there is one in the newly applicable lex causae, English law: at 63 of the Opinion), was negotiated with the institutional holders of the bond and crammed down the minority holders like Mr Kuhn (at 66). The AG suggest that this does not impact on the qualification of the changes being ‘immediate and direct’, this being the formula employed by the Court in Fahnenbrock.
I am not so sure of the latter but it will be up to the CJEU to decide.
The Advocate General note bene subsequently ‘completes the analysis’ in case the CJEU disagrees with this view, and finds that if the issue is civil and commercial, it can be litigated under Article 7(1)’s rule on special jurisdiction for contractual obligations (the AG at para 88 ff distinguishes the case from C-375/13 Kolassa (in which the CJEU saw no contractual bond between the issuer of the bonds and the acquirer on the secondary market), the obligation at issue, he suggests, having to be performed in Greece. As for the latter element, the Advocate General does refer for the determination of the place of performance to the initially applicable law: Greek law, leaving the later lex causae, English law, undiscussed.
Whether the Court will follow the AG remains of course to be seen.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.
I applied for funding 2 years back to have someone conduct a thorough review of recent development in State Immunity. Funding was not granted: quelle horeur!. Reviewers suggested there was no need to revisit an area where law and practice is settled: quelle erreur!
Needless to say both statutory and case-law developments have proven reviewers wrong since. I would still be happy by the way to supervise research in the area (happier still for someone to fund it).
Now, coming to the point: in 16-22.494 Congo v Commisimpex the French Supreme Court essentially held that the French Sapin II law applies retroactively. State assets employed iure imperii are only available for seizure following express and property-specific waiver. The Court’s decision does not reflect unisono developments in other States (neither indeed, I agree with Victor Aupetit), does it help France with regulatory competition in civil procedure: quite a few jurisdictions have taken a more relaxed and wide approach to contractual waiver of State immunity.
Postscript 4 July 2018. The Supreme Court this morning dismissed the appeal – the Court of Appeal’s judgment stands. In essence, the ruling held that an English court is required by article 3 of the Recognition Directive to recognise the December decision, and must therefore treat the Oak liability as never having been transferred to Novo Banco. Novo Banco was therefore never party to the jurisdiction clause in the facility agreement.
Postscript 6 June 2019 Winterbrook v NB Finance, Novo Banco and Bank of New York Mellon  EWHC 737 (Ch) applies the SC’s judgment. The administrative proceedings in Portugal, seeking review of the Portuguese authorities’ decision, are not a matter of fact (as being foreign law) but rather of foreign judicial adjudication; they cannot therefore as yet (if ever) have an impact on the earlier decisions on privity.
Postscript 8 November 2016 the Court of Appeal held differently – thank you Maria Joao de Matias Fernandes for flagging: with more emphasis laid on the reorganisation Directive, the Court of Appeal held that the choice of court clause had not been transferred and that no prorogation of jurisdiction to the English courts could otherwise be established. The Court of Appeal’s decision has no impact on the High Court’s discusison with respect to ‘civil and commercial’.
In Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco SA, the High Court first of all had to consider the scope of the Brussels I Regulation on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’. This issue came up following the restructuring of a Portuguese Bank and the role of the Portuguese Central Bank, under its statutory powers, in the transfer of liabilities to a Bridge Bank, ‘Novo Banco’. [For the facts of the case see the judgment itself and see also Christopher Bates’ review, which first alerted me to the case. Mr Bates also reviews the issue of mutual recognition under the Bank Recovery Directive].
Hamblen J (soon to move to the Court of Appeal) in my view justifiably rejected Novo Banco’s arguments that the claim was not civil and commercial, given the statutory intervention of the Central Bank. With reference to the traditional line-up of CJEU precedent (see most recently Fahnenbrock, absent from the High court’s judgment; and Sapir, which does feature heavily) he held that the nature of the claim, in spite of the factual intervention of the Central Bank, is one in debt, which is a claim based on private law rights conferred by the relevant Facility Agreement and a civil and commercial matter. A novation of the Facility Agreement would not change the nature of that claim; nor does a statutory transfer.
Having decided that the claim falls under the Regulation, the High Court subsequently had to decide whether Novo Banco was subject to the choice of court, in favour of the English court, part of the Facilities Agreement. As this is a transfer of claims and not a contractual chain, Refcomp does not apply (Hamblen J did not refer to it). The matter needs to be decided by the lex causae, here the lex contractus: English law. Upon consideration of the various arguments, the High Court held that the choice of court clause had so been transferred together with the original claims.
The case shows how some of the core considerations of Brussels I can create a lot of argument, indeed.
Fahnenbrock: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. ECJ puts forward ‘direct and immediate effect’.
[Postscript 11 March 2016. The decision of the Bundesgerichtshof on 8 March 2016 is at odds with the CJEU’s finding. Peter Bert has background. The German Court declared action by German bondholders against the Greek State inadmissable on grounds of sovereign immunity: if the case were admissible, the German courts would have to assess the merits of Greek acta iure imperii].
Within the context of the service of documents Regulation (1393/2007) but with no less relevance for the Jurisdiction Regulation, the Court held last week on the qualification of an action by (German) holders of Greek bonds, against the Greek State, for the involuntary shave they took on those bonds. I reviewed Bot AG’s Opinion here. He had suggested that in the case at issue, the Greek State, with its retroactive insertion of the collective action clause in the underlying contract, exercised acta uire imperii with direct intervention in the contract itself. Not an abstract, general regime (such as a change in overall tax) which only has an impact on said contract at arm’s length.
The ECJ disagreed. Its finding may be distinguishable, in that it emphasises (at 40 and 44 in particular) that for the service of documents Regulation, things need to move fast indeed and hence interpretation even of core concepts of the Regulation needs to proceed swiftly: ‘in order to determine whether Regulation No 1393/2007 is applicable, it suffices that the court hearing the case concludes that it is not manifest that the action brought before it falls outside the scope definition of civil and commercial matters.‘ (at 49) However in the remainder of the judgment it does refer to precedent in particular under the Brussels I Regulation, hence presumably making current interpretation de rigueur for European civil procedure generally.
As noted in my earlier review, Bot AG opined that the Greek State’s intervention in the contracts was direct and not at a distance from the contract. The Court on the other hand essentially emphasised (at 57) that even though the Greek State, with its retroactive insertion of the collective action clause in the underlying contract, enabled the subsequent vote by the majority of the bondholders (to the dismay of the outvoted applicants), it was the vote, which led directly and immediately to changes to the financial conditions of the securities in question and therefore caused the damage alleged by the applicants – not the Act which enabled it. Not acta iure imperii therefore and hence European civil procedure is applicable.
I need to ponder this a bit further however at first sight the ‘direct and immediate’ effect test brings back soar memories of the ‘primarily aimed at’ test in WTO law, which took some time for the Appellate body to shake off. A bit of a leap, I know, but the trade lawyers among you will know what I mean. Applicants in the case at issue may be left arguing that identifying the Greek State’s intervention as the cause of the change in law, is no application of the butterfly effect (an extremely remote event which is being blamed for downstream effects) but rather an elephant in the Greek bond market room.
‘Direct and immediate effect’ may become an important consideration in the ECJ’s application of ‘civil and commercial’ in EU civil procedure law.