Posts Tagged Advocate General

Disciplining abuse of anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases exceedingly difficult. Borgarting Court of Appeal (Norway) applies CDC in Posten /Bring v Volvo.

After the French Cour de Cassation in MJI v Apple Sales, the Brussels Court of Appeal in FIFA/UEFA, and the Court at Amsterdam in Kemira, (as well as other courts undoubtedly, too; and I have highlighted more cases on the blog), Ørjan Salvesen Haukaas has now reported an application of CDC in a decision of December 2018 by a Norwegian Court of appeal, LB-2018-136341 Posten /Bring v Volvo. The court evidently applies Lugano (Article 6), not Brussels Ia, yet the provision  is materially identical.

Norwegian and foreign companies in the Posten/Bring group (mail services) had sued companies in the Volvo group for alleged losses incurred when purchasing trucks from Volvo after certain companies in the Volvo group had been fined for participating in a price-fixing cartel. Posten/Bring also sued a Norwegian company in the Volvo group, which had not been fined for participating in the price-fixing cartel.

Borgarting Court of Appeal held that Norwegian courts have jurisdiction pursuant to Article 6(1) Lugano even if the anchor defendant is sued merely to obtain Norwegian jurisdiction. The court solely had to determine whether the claims were so closely connected that there was a risk of irreconcilable judgments, in the absence of any suggested collusion between the anchor defendant and claimants per CDC.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law. 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12, Heading 2.2.12.1.

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Universal Music: Szpunar AG suggests the Bier case-law does not apply to purely economic loss under Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast.

 

I have earlier reported on the referral in Universal Music, Case C-12/15. Szpunar AG opined today, 11 March (the English text of the Opinion is not yet available at the time I write this post) and suggests (at 37) that the Court not apply its Erfolgort /Handlungsort distinction per Case 21/76  Bier /Minnes de Potasse. He reminds the Court of Bier’s rationale: a special link between the Erfolgort and the case at hand, so as to make that place, the locus damni, the place where the damage arises, well suited to address the substantive issues raised by the claim. (He also reminds the Court, at 30, that the language of what is now Article 7(2) only refers to the harmful event; not in the slightest to damage).

In cases where the only damage that arises is purely economic damage, the locus damni is a pure coincidence (in the case of a corporation suffering damage: the seat of that corporation), bearing no relation to the facts of the case at all (lest it be entirely coincidental). The Advocate General skilfully distinguishes all relevant CJEU precedent and in succinct yet complete style comes to his conclusion.

The Court itself embraces its Bier ruling more emphatically than its AGs do (see the similar experience of Cruz Villalon AG in Hejduk).  That Universal Music is quite clearly distinguishable from other cases may sway it to follow the AG in the case at issue. However its fondness of Bier (judgment in 1976; it had been a hot summer that year) may I fear lead it to stick to its fundamental twin track of Erfolg /Handlungsort no matter the circumstances of the case.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 2.2.11.2, 2.2.11.2.7

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Anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. Amsterdam applies CDC in Kemira.

Update 23 October 2015 As Reported by Emmanual Guinchard, the French Cour de Cassation also applied CDC in MJI v Apple Sales.

Towards the end of July, the Court at Amsterdam applied the recent CJEU judgment in CDC, on the application of (now) Article 8’s rule on anchor defendants. The case also involved CDC – busy bees on the competition enforcement front, this time pursuing inter alia Kemira, a Finnish company, using Akzo Nobel NV, domiciled in The Netherlands, as anchor defendants.

The court referred in extenso to the CJEU’s CDC case, noting inter alia that it is not up to CDC to show that the suit was not just introduced to remove Kemira from the Finnish judge: that Kemira suggests that introduction of the suit in The Netherlands is not very logical given the absence of factual links to that Member State, does not suffice. The court also adopted the CJEU’s finding on choice of court and liability in tort. In the absence of specific proviso in a standard contractual choice of court, the application of such choice of court to extracontactual liability [such as here, for infringement of competition law] cannot be assumed.

Finally, at 2.18, the Court also referred to argument made by Kemira that Finish and Swedish law ought to apply to the interpretation (not: the validity) of the choice of court agreement. That would have been an interesting discussion. However in light of the court’s earlier judgment on the irrelevance of the court of choice, the court did not entertain that issue.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law. 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12, Heading 2.2.12.1.

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Anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. The ECJ in CDC confirms AG’s view on joinders. Sticks to Article 5(3 /7(1). Locus damni for purely economic loss = registered office.

Update 29 May 2018 on economic loss: Bobek AG would seem to take a similar view (that the CJEU’s finding on registered office is at odds with its case-law on Article 7(2) in his Opinions in Barclays and  flyLAL.

Update November 2017. For a contrary ruling on the scope of arbitration agreement, see Dortmund 13 September 2017, reviewed here.

In Case C-352/13 CDC, in which the ECJ held last week, at issue is among others the use of Article 6(1) of the Brussels I-Regulation (8(1) in the recast) when the claim against the anchor defendant has been settled before the trial is well and truly underway.

I reviewed JÄÄSKINEN AG’s opinion here.  The ECJ’s overall approach to Article 6 is not to take into account the subjective intentions of plaintiff, who often identify a suitable anchor defendant even if is not the intended target of their action. Like its AG, the Court does make exception for one particular occasion, namely if it is found that, at the time the proceedings were instituted, the applicant and that defendant had colluded to artificially fulfil, or prolong the fulfilment of, Article 6’s applicability. I had expressed reservation vis-a-vis this suggestion, obviously in vain. In cases such as these, where tort is already clearly established (via the European Commission’s cartel finding), the intention of ECJ and AG seem noble. Collusion to defraud is disciplined by the non-applicability of Article 6. However this arguably serves the interests of the parties guilty of the other type of collusion involved: that of defrauding not procedural predictability, but rather consumers’ interest. 

Next, the referring court enquired about the application of Article 5(3)’s special jurisdictional rule in the event of infringement of competition law, where that infringement concerns a complex horizontal agreement, spread over a long period of time, and with varying impact in various markets. The AG had suggested dropping application of Article 5(3) (now 7(1)) altogether, both with respect to locus delicti commissi and locus damni. Here the Court disagreed. Difficult as it may be, it is not to be excluded that locus delicti commissi can be established. At 50: one cannot rule out ‘the identification, in the jurisdiction of the court seised of the matter, of a specific event during which either that cartel was definitively concluded or one agreement in particular was made which was the sole causal event giving rise to the loss allegedly inflicted on a buyer.’

For locus damni, the Court again has no sympathy for either mozaik effect of Article 5(3), or indeed the often great difficulties in establishing locus damni, flagged by the AG. At 52: ‘As for loss consisting in additional costs incurred because of artificially high prices, such as the price of the hydrogen peroxide supplied by the cartel at issue in the main proceedings, that place is identifiable only for each alleged victim taken individually and is located, in general, at that victim’s registered office.

Registered office as the locus damni for purely economic loss, lest my memory fails me, has not been as such confirmed by the ECJ before. It is also currently pending in Universal. The Court is in my view a bit radical when it comes to justifying registered office as the Erfolgfort: at 53: ‘That place fully guarantees the efficacious conduct of potential proceedings, given that the assessment of a claim for damages for loss allegedly inflicted upon a specific undertaking as a result of an unlawful cartel, as already found by the Commission in a binding decision, essentially depends on factors specifically relating to the situation of that undertaking. In those circumstances, the courts in whose jurisdiction that undertaking has its registered office are manifestly best suited to adjudicate such a claim.‘ Update 29 May 2018 Bobek AG would seem to take a similar view (that the CJEU’s finding on registered office is at odds with its case-law on Article 7(2) in his Opinions in Barclays and  flyLAL.

Finally, on the issue of choice of court in the agreements between the victims of the cartel, and those guilty of the cartel, the Court follows the AG’s lead. Such clauses are not generally applicable to liability in tort (the clause would have to refer verbatim to tortious liability). Neither do they in principle bind third parties, lest of course there be subrogration (Refcomp). (The referring national court has given very little detail on the clauses at issue and hence the ECJ notes that it could not reply to all questions referred).

In the end, it is the finding with respect to economic loss for which the judgment may be most remembered.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law. 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12, Heading 2.2.12.1.

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The use of anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. JÄÄSKINEN AG in CDC questions i.a. arbitration clauses in competition cases.

Postscript 5 July 2016  Rotterdam held in DGL (involving the lift cartel) that arbitration clauses do indeed in general not apply in follow-up damages cases. Thank you Stibbe for reporting.

A particularly sticky point in competition cases, are follow-up suits for damages. I have already reported on (private international law aspects of) the issue of the piercing of the corporate veil, and on the use of a related undertaking as an anchor. [I report more extensively on competition law and conflicts in Jacques Steenbergen’s liber amicorum here. I hope to translate it into English some time soon].

In Case C-352/13 CDC (Cartel Damage Claims, in effect private anti-trust enforcement), at issue is among others the use of Article 6(1) of the Brussels I-Regulation when the claim against the anchor defendant has been settled before the trial is well and truly underway.

JÄÄSKINEN AG [whose Opinion at the time of writing was not available in English; indeed the absence of English translation of quite a few important Opinions is becoming a bit of a pattern. (That’s an observation. not an accusation)] suggests in his Opinion that only the time of service of the suit is relevant to assess the criteria of Article 6(1). This suggestion in my view finds support in the ECJ’s overall approach to Article 6: the subjective intentions of plaintiff, who often identify a suitable anchor defendant even if is not the intended target of their action, does not feature in the application criteria of Article 6. While this may lead to abuse of procedural power, establishing malicious intent is all but impossible. All but impossible: but not totally excluded. For that reason the AG does suggest that if one can prove that plaintiff and anchor defendant (in the case at issue: Evonik Degussa) had secretly agreed to settle, prior to the introduction of the suit, such collusion should be punished by non-applicability of Article 6(1), for in that case the conditions of Article 6 arguably are no longer met.

I am not sure the ECJ should follow the latter suggestion, particularly not in cases such as the one at issue, where defendants have been found to have acted illegally under EU competition law. (Misdemeanor or indeed criminal act therefore has already been established). In a way it would be an application of nemo auditur propriam turpitudinem allegans not to reward those who infringe EU competition law in the way the AG suggests. (This may be different in the event of as yet unsubstantiated claims of tort, in which case one may argue the defendant should not routinely have to defend the claims in a court other than the one identified by Article 2).

Next, the referring court enquired about the application of Article 5(3)’s special jurisdictional rule in the event of infringement of competition law, where that infringement concerns a complex horizontal agreement, spread over a long period of time, and with varying impact in various markets. One can probably not at all establish a locus delicti commissi for the tort as a whole: for such behaviour often takes shape in a variety of meetings, electronic correspondence et al. For locus damni, too, the picture would be one of a complex patchwork. Predictability and manageability of the ensuing suits would be impossible to establish in some coherent way, thus endangering some of the very foundations of the Brussels regime. In conclusion therefore the AG suggests not to apply Article 5(3) at all to current scenario, and to stick with application of Article 2, often then in conjunction with Article 6.

Although the last word on Article 6 needs to be said by the national court who alone is the judge of the risk of irreconcilable judgments, clearly in the AG’s mind there is a strong likelihood of such risk in the event of follow-up damages in the case of a cartel which has been found to be illegal by the European Commission and where all members to it have acted within one and the same intent (again, as established by the EC). Article 6(3) b Rome II [not applicable in the case but the AG suggests it would not hurt looking ahead] hints at such scenario where many defendants are sued in one and the same court.

Finally, the Court is asked to give input on the issue of choice of court, and arbitration clauses, in the agreements between the victims of the cartel, and those guilty of the cartel: do such clauses have any impact on the legal position of CDC, who has acquired the rights to seek damages for the cartel infringement? The AG suggests, in line with most national case-law (see more on this in my Steenbergen chapter, linked above), that such clauses cannot include follow-up damages for cartel infringement: for the latter is arguably not within the legitimate contractual expectations. This would be different for such clauses concluded after the tort has been committed: for Article 23 of the Regulation allows parties to agree on a different forum than those identified in the special jurisdictional rules. The AG finds additional support for this argument in the overall objectives of the very recent Directive 2014/104, the damages Directive. He takes the opportunity to argue that in the case of arbitration clauses, these may hinder the effet utile of Article 101 TFEU, just as choice of court clauses might, unless parties are shown beyond doubt to have consented to the clause, and provided the tribunal or court at issue, is under an obligation to apply EU competition law as matter of public policy. (Whether that is the case is subject to national law).

(It is quite likely that the Court itself will not review the last question for as the AG indicates, the referring national court has given very little detail on the clauses at issue).

This case could turn out to have quite a wide relevance for a large part of commercial practice. Or not: that depends on how far the ECJ itself will decide to entertain it.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law. 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12, Heading 2.2.12.1.

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‘Sale of Goods’ or ‘delivery of services’? Jaaskinen AG in Corman-Collins

In Case C-9/12 Corman-Collins, the questions referred are as follows:

Should Article 2 of Regulation No 44/2001,where appropriate in conjunction with Article 5(1)(a) and (b), be interpreted as precluding a rule of jurisdiction, such as that set out in Article 4 of the Belgian Law of 27 July 1961, which provides for the jurisdiction of Belgian courts where the exclusive distributor has its registered office in Belgian territory and where the distribution agreement covers all or part of that territory, irrespective of where the grantor of the exclusive distribution rights has its registered office, where the latter is the defendant?
Should Article 5(1)(a) of Regulation No 44/2001 be interpreted as meaning that it applies to an exclusive distribution of goods agreement, pursuant to which one party purchases goods from another party for resale in the territory of another Member State?
If Question 2 is answered in the negative, should Article 5(1)(b) of Regulation No 44/2001 be interpreted as meaning that it refers to an exclusive distribution agreement, such as that at issue between the parties?
If Questions 2 and 3 are answered in the negative, is the contested obligation in the event of the termination of an exclusive distribution agreement the obligation of the seller-grantor or that of the buyer-distributor?

Corman-Collins is registered in Belgium; La Maison du Whisky in France.  Jaaskinen AG justifiably replies to the first question in succinct fashion: where defendant is domiciled in a Member State other than the Member State of the forum, the Brussels I Regulation has priority over national jurisdictional rules (such as here: the 1961 Act on ‘concession’ agreements).

The 2nd and 3rd question are rephrased by the AG however also re-ordered: Article 5(1) b) of the Regulation, being the more specific, has priority over Article 5(1) a). Jaaskinen then points to an important difficulty: ‘concession’ agreements are not a concept known in EU law (in contrast, for instance, with ‘agency’). In view of the need for autonomous interpretation by the ECJ, the qualification or not of a contract as a ‘sale of goods’ cq ‘provision of services’ (two distinct categories employed by the Regulation), must not be left to national law (and ditto courts) to decide. The AG opts for ‘services’: sale of ‘goods’ is not the core distinguishing element in a ‘concession’ agreement – it is more than that: the holder of the concession rights is explicitly allowed by the other party, to distribute their goods in a given territory, indeed often this right is an exclusive right; holder and grantor often agree common sales techniques (indeed in the case at issue, use by the holder of a domain name indicating the grantor’s trading name); the concession agreement usually is a framework agreement, followed by individual sales agreements. Moreover, the holder commits to holding stock; to having an after sales service; frees the grantor from the requirement to have to establish their own distribution network in the territory; the grantor organises specific training sessions for the holder’s staff, etc. The holder therefore effectively provides a ‘service’, and jurisdiction has to be determined by Article 5(1) b), second indent.

Proof of whether such elements are present in the contractual relationship between parties, needs to be furnished by the party invoking the jurisdictional rule based on ‘services’; qualifications in accordance with lex fori are not relevant for such determination (European Law in other words harmonises qualification).

The final question, which the AG only entertains in subsidiary fashion, concerns the issue of what part of the contractual relationship needs to be withheld as ‘the obligation in question’ of Article 5(1)(a): ‘in matters relating to a contract, in the courts for the place of performance of the obligation in question;’ The concession holder in the case at issue (Corman-Collins) argues that where the grantor’s obligation entails delivery of the exclusive right for the holder to exercise an exclusive right of sale in a given territory, the suit for damages needs to be introduced in that territory.

‘The obligation in question’ was left undefined in both the Brussels Convention and the preparatory works. Indeed the Jenard Report is very brief on the special jurisdictional clause for contracts. In De Bloos the Court specified ‘For the purpose of determining the place of performance within the meaning of Article 5 (…) the obligation to be taken into account is that which corresponds to the contractual right on which the plaintiff’s action is based’. Plantiff’s suit inevitably leans upon defendant’s contractual obligations: it is the latter which determines ‘the obligation in question’. Where that place of performance lies, however, remains subject to national law: the Court in Tessili v Dunlop held that it was in no position to impose a European definition. Jaaskinen AG does not venture to give one, either: outside of the specific categories of Article 5(1)(b), European conflicts law has no grip on the qualification of contracts and their ‘place of performance’ by national courts.

Geert.

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