KMG v CHEN. The common law reflective loss rule held as being substance, not procedure, and not qualifying as either lois de police or ordre public under Rome II.

KMG International NV v Chen & Anor [2019] EWHC 2389 (Comm)  entertains a claim made in tort, based on a breach of duties allegedly owed as a matter of Dutch or alternatively English law. The wrongful acts of the Defendants are said to have resulted in a diminution of the assets of DPH, against which KMG had won a substantial arbitration award. It is asserted that the Defendants caused the DP Group to part with a valuable asset, namely the shares in a German company, which company was part of the DP Group. It is asserted that the purpose of the transfer was to disable DPH from satisfying the arbitration award.

The core legal issue that would apply under English law are the principles of reflective loss (‘RL’). Defendants argue that the English law rules as to reflective loss barred the Claimant’s claims, even under Dutch law, because: (1) The RL rule was a rule of procedure and not substance and was accordingly governed by the lex fori and not the lex causae; (2) The RL rule was a mandatory overriding rule of English law within the meaning of Article 16 of Rome II; (3) Any derogation from the RL rule would be manifestly incompatible with English public policy within the meaning of Article 26 of Rome II.

A first issue is whether the English RL rule is one of procedure that would fall outside the scope of Rome II. Reference is made on this issue to Actavis v Eli Lilly, with Hancock J at 36 deciding the RL rule is one of substance. I would agree with his suggestion that unlike the discussion of DNI requirements in Actavis, the RL ‘is not a precondition to an action, but is a bar to recovery of a particular type of loss. In my judgment, the RL rule is clearly one which affects the substantive rights and remedies of the Claimant and is not a procedural rule.’ However I disagree with his suggestion (for which he finds support in EC suggestions made in the travaux) that the procedural provision in A1(3) needs to be applied restrictively: A1(3) is not an exception: it is a determination of scope.

Attention then turns at 45 ff to whether the RL could count as overriding mandatory law under A16 Rome II. At 50 Hancock J holds that there is simply no support in any authority for holding that that the RL would meet the high bar of qualifying as lois de police. At 57 he then judges that the RL rule does not meet the requirements to qualify as ordre public either, with due refence to CJEU authority on the exceptional nature of ‘ordre public’ under EU conflict of laws.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.8, Heading 4.10.

Do single internet transactions lead to multiple jurisdictions for consumer contracts? The ECJ in Maletic

In Case C-478/12 Maletic, plaintiffs (the Maletics) are domiciled in Bludesch (Austria), which lies within the jurisdiction of the Bezirksgericht Bludenz (District Court, Bludenz, Austria). They had booked and paid for themselves, as private individuals, a package holiday to Egypt on the website of lastminute.com. On its website, lastminute.com, a company whose registered office is in Munich (Germany), stated that it acted as the travel agent and that the trip would be operated by TUI, which has its registered office in Vienna (Austria). The booking was made for a particular hotel, the name of which was correctly communicated to TUI by lastminute.com, however the former had mismanaged the booking. Upon their arrival in Egypt, the Maletics discovered the mix-up, stayed at the hotel which they had intended, and subsequently sued for the recovery of the extra costs. They brought an action before the Bezirksgericht Bludenz seeking payment from lastminute.com and TUI, jointly and severally.

The Bezirksgericht Bludenz dismissed the action in as far as it was brought against TUI on the ground that it lacked local jurisdiction. According to that court, Regulation 44/2001 was not applicable to the dispute between the applicants in the main proceedings and TUI as the situation was purely domestic. It held that, in accordance with the applicable provisions of national law, the court with jurisdiction was the court of the defendant’s domicile, that is, the court having jurisdiction in Vienna and not that in Bludenz. As regards lastminute.com, the court held that it had jurisdiction to hear the substantive proceedings on the basis of Article 15 of the Jurisdiction Regulation.

The booking transaction therefore was a single transaction, even if it led to two separate contracts. Assessed separately, one of those clearly leads to application of the Brussels I-Regulation. The other one does not for it is purely domestic. Does the latter become ‘international’ by association?

The ECJ held that it did, for two reasons. Firstly, it referred to its judgment in Owusu in which it held (under the Brussels Convention but with no less relevance for the Brussels I Regulation) that the mere domicile within an EU Member State of just one of the parties involved, is enough to trigger the application of the Regulation. In Owusu, that finding was not affected by the remainder of the parties and fact being external to the EU. The ‘international’ element required to trigger the application of the Jurisdiction Regulation can therefore be quite flimsy indeed. The Court does not refer to Lindner (Case C-327/10) however that case in my view is an even stronger indication of the relaxed attitude of the Court vis-a-vis the international element required. In Maletic, the Court held that the second contractual relationship cannot be classified as ‘purely’ domestic since it was inseparably linked to the first contractual relationship which was made through the travel agency situated in another Member State.

Further, the Court referred to the aim of the consumer title of the Regulation, in particular recitals 13 and 15 in the preamble to Regulation No 44/2001 concerning the protection of the consumer as ‘the weaker party’ to the contract and the aim to ‘minimise the possibility of concurrent proceedings … to ensure that irreconcilable judgments will not be given in two Member States’. Those objectives, the Court held, ‘preclude a solution which allows the Maletics to pursue parallel proceedings in Bludenz and Vienna, by way of connected actions against two operators involved in the booking and the arrangements for the package holiday at issue in the main proceedings.’

I suppose what the Court meant but did not say is that the alternative would not so much ‘allow’ the Maletics to pursue the case in two different courts but rather would oblige them do so. Moreover of course in the case at issue, the parallel proceedings would not concern two different Member States but rather two different courts in one Member State. National joinder and lis alibi pendens rules presumably would go a long way to avoid irreconcilable judgments – not enough, so it would seem, to satisfy the ECJ.

The case was heard without Opinion by the Advocate General. I think it may have warranted such: for the outcome I would suggest is not necessarily straightforward.

Geert.