Posts Tagged Article 24

Kokott AG in Kerr v Postnov(a): How house association meetings turn into a jurisdictional and applicable law potpourri.

Advocate General Kokott opined end of January in C-25/18 Brian Andrew Kerr v Pavlo Postnov and Natalia Postnova (let’s call the case Kerr v Postnov(a)). The case concerns the application of Brussels I Recast’s Articles 24(1) and (2) exclusive jurisdictional rules, cq the application of Article 7(1) jurisdictional rules on contracts, and applicable law consequences of same.

Incidentally, Ms Kokott’s use of ‘Brussels Ia’ instead of the Brussels I Recast Regulation adds to the growing chorus to employ Brussels Ia (lower case, no space between I and a) instead of Brussels I Recast, Brussels bis, or as recently seen at the High Court, BIR (BrusselsIRecast).

The Advocate General’s Opinion is a useful and succinct reminder of CJEU authority, suggesting the issue is acte clair really, except there are one or two specific issues (e.g. the enforcement issue, discussed below) which justify clarification.

The case concerns proceedings concerning claims for payment arising from resolutions made by an association of property owners without legal personality in connection with the management of the property in question. Mr Kerr, appellant in the proceedings before the referring court, is a manager of an association of owners of a property situated in the town of Bansko (Bulgaria). He brought proceedings before the Razlog District Court, Bulgaria against two property owners, Mr Postnov and Ms Postnova, concerning payment of contributions that were owed by them wholly or in part for the maintenance of communal parts of the building on the basis of resolutions made by the general meeting of the property owners in the period from 2013 to 2017. According to the appellant in the main proceedings, an action to secure enforcement of the claim pursued was brought with the application.

Address of the defendants used by the court at first instance is in the Republic of Ireland. (As the AG notes, whether service was properly given is relevant for the recognition of the eventual judgment; this however is not the subject of the current proceedings neither is it detailed in the file.)

Coming to the first issue: Article 24(1) requires strict and autonomous interpretation. The main proceedings have as their object the payment of outstanding contributions purportedly owed by two co-owners for the management and maintenance of the property concerned. At 34: It is thus a matter of obligations — to use the words of the referring court — arising from ownership of shares in the commonhold as rights in rem in immovable property. At 38: to be covered by 24(1) the right in question must have effect erga omnes and that the content or extent of that right is the object of the proceedings (reference ex multi to Schmidt and Komu).

Prima facie this would mean that Article 24(1) must be ruled out: at 39: in the main proceedings, the action brought by the manager is based on claims in personam of the association of owners for payment of contributions for the maintenance of communal areas of the property. The rights in rem of the defendant co-owners of the commonhold — in the form of intangible ownership shares — initially remain unaffected. However, at 40 Ms Kokott signals the enforcement issue: that action could affect the defendants’ rights in rem arising from their ownership shares, for example by restricting their powers of disposal – an assessment subject to the applicable law, which is for the referring court to make. In footnote the Advocate General suggests the potential involvement in that case of Article 8(4)’s combined actio in rem and in personam.

The case therefore illustrates the potential for engineering even in Article 24 cases: firstly, by varying the claim (the content or extent of the rights contained in Article 24 has to be the ‘object’ of the proceedings; claimant can manipulate the claim to that effect); second, the prospect of adding an enforcement claim to an otherwise contractual action. This engineering evidently clashes with the objective and forum-shopping averse interpretation of Article 24, however as I have repeatedly discussed on this blog, abusive forum shopping is a difficult call for the CJEU and indeed national courts to make.

The discussion of Article 24(2) does lead to a clear conclusion: the forum societatis is not engaged. Article 24(2) covers only proceedings which have as their object the legal validity of a decision, not proceedings which have as their object the enforcement of such decisions, like the action at issue seeking payment of contributions based on such a decision (at 44).

As for Article 7(1) forum contractus the usual Handte et al suspects feature in the Opinion as does Case 34/82 Peters Bauunternehmung.  The association is joined through voluntary acquisition of an apartment together with ownership shares of the communal areas of the property (at 54): there is a ‘contract’. [Advocate General Kokott already pre-empts similar discussion in Case C‑421/18, where the Court will have to clarify whether these considerations can also be applied to a case in which a bar association is taking legal acion to assert claims for payment of fees against one of its members].

The AG makes a brief outing into Rome I to point out that Rome I has a lex societatis exception. Under the conflict-of-law rules, claims for payment made by a legal association against its members are not to be assessed on the basis of the Rome I Regulation, even though such claims are to be regarded as ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation (at 60).

However for the purposes of Article 7(1), where the CJEU to find that it is engaged, place of performance needs to be decided. If none of the default categories of Article 7(1) apply, the conflicts method kicks in and Rome I’s lex societatis exception is triggered (residual conflict of laws will determine the applicable law which in turn will determine place of obligation; see also at 74 and the reference to the Tessili rule).

Is the management activity itself is carried out for remuneration (as required per Falco Privatstiftung and also Granarolo) or at least an economic value per Cormans-Collins? The facts of the case do not clearly lay out that they are but even if that were the case (appointment of a specialist commercial party to carry out maintenance etc.), the contributions to be paid to the association by the co-owners are intended in no small part to cover taxes and duties, and not therefore to fulfil contractual obligations towards third parties which were entered into on behalf of and for the account of the association of owners (at 71). All in all, the AG opines, the non-uniform nature of these contributions leads to non-application of the service rule of Article 7(1)b and therefore a resurrection of the classic Tessili formula.

Not so acte clair perhaps after all.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, 2.2.11.1

 

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Schmidt v Schmidt: Family feud again leads to discussion of forum rei sitae & forum connexitatis in Brussels I Recast.

An unusually high proportion of cases under Article 22 (old) or 24 (Recast) Brussels I relate to family disputes on property. Webb v Webb, Weber v Weber, Komu v Komu, and now, C-417/15 Schmidt v Schmidt. It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses.

Kokott AG opined in Schmidt last week – the Opinion is not available in English. Mr Schmidt had gifted a (otherwise unspecified) piece of Vienna real estate to his daughter, who lives in Germany. Ms Schmidt is included in the land register as the owner. Mr Schmidt subsequently sues in Austria for the annulment of the gift due to alleged incapacity at the time of the gift, and for removal of the registration. Is the action caught by Article 24? (in which case Ms Schmidt’s claim of lack of jurisdiction fails).

The Advocate General first of all suggests that the referring court’s request should not be turned down simply because it did not specify the time of seizure: in other words it is not clear whether the case is covered by the old or the Recast Brussels I Regulation. Ms Kokott however suggests the Court should not be pedantic about this and answer the question regardless, seeing as the rule has not changed.

Next up and potentially trickier, is the exclusion of capacity from the scope of application of the Regulation. However the Advocate General is right when she suggest that the exclusions should only be relevant where they concern the main object of the litigation. Not, as here, when they are raised incidentally. (She discusses in some detail the linguistic implications given different wording in the different language versions of the Regulation).

Then to the real question. With respect to the annulment of the (gift) agreement, the object and purpose of plaintiff’s action is not the establishment or confirmation of an erga omnes right in rem. Rather, the confirmation of voidness of an agreement transferring such right, due to incapacity. That this will have erga omnes consequences if successful, is not to the point given the long-established need to apply Article 24 restrictively. In this respect this case is akin to C-294/92 Webb and Webb.

The analysis is different however, the AG suggests, for the request to delete the entry in the land register. This does aim directly at erga omnes consequences under Austrian law.

Ms Kokott subsequently rejects the notion that as a result of part of the suit being subject to Article 24, this should drag the remainder into the exclusive bath with it: at 48: if only because if one were to accept this, forum shopping would be facilitated. Including in its suit a procedure covered by Article 24 would enable plaintiff to draw in a whole range of other issues between the parties.

Finally, the AG suggests joinder of the contractual claim (the nullity of the gift) to the right in rem claim, is possible under Article 8(4) and rejects that national rules of civil procedure should or even can play a role in this respect. This part of the Opinion may be optimistically short. For if the joinder route of Article 8(4) may lead to the same result as the one the AG had just rejected, one assumes there ought to be discretion for the national courts to reject it. Not, as the AG rightly suggests, by reference to national civil procedure rules (that would lead to unequal application) but rather by reference to the (probably) EU inspired rule that abuse of Article 8 be avoided.

The Court will probably not answer all the questions the case raises, particularly on Article 8. Expect this to return.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6

 

 

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The lady is not for turning. CJEU sticks to classic application of exclusive jurisdictional rule for rights in rem in immovable property.

In Case C-605/14, Komu v Komu, the CJEU stuck to its classic application of the rule of Article 22(1) Brussels I (now Article 24(1) Brussels Recast). This Article prescribes exclusive jurisdiction for (among others) proceedings which have as their object rights in rem in immovable property. Article 25 (now 27) adds that where a court of a Member State is seised of a claim which is principally concerned with a matter over which the courts of another Member State have exclusive jurisdiction by virtue of Article 22, it shall declare of its own motion that it has no jurisdiction. (emphasis added).

Mr Pekka Komu, Ms Jelena Komu, Ms Ritva Komu, Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Hanna Ruotsalainen are domiciled in Finland and are co-owners of a house situated in Torrevieja (Spain), the first three each with a 25% share and the other two each with a 12.5% share. In addition, Ms Ritva Komu has a right of use, registered in the Spanish Land Register, over the shares held by Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Hanna Ruotsalainen.Wishing to realise the interests that they hold in both properties, and in the absence of agreement on the termination of the relationship of co-ownership, Ms Ritva Komu, Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Ruotsalainen brought an action before the District Court, South Savo, Finland for an order appointing a lawyer to sell the properties and fixing a minimum price for each of the properties. The courts obliged in first instance and queried the extent of Article 22’s rule in appeal.

Co-ownership and rights of use, one assumes, result from an inheritance.

The CJEU calls upon classic case-law, including most recently Weber. At 30 ff it recalls the ‘considerations of sound administration of justice which underlie the first paragraph of Article 22(1) …’ and ‘also support such exclusive jurisdiction in the case of an action intended to terminate the co-ownership of immovable property, as that in the main proceedings.’:

The transfer of the right of ownership in the properties at issue in the main proceedings will entail the taking into account of situations of fact and law relating to the linking factor as laid down in the first paragraph of Article 22(1) of Regulation No 44/2001, namely the place where those properties are situated. The same applies, in particular, to the fact that the rights of ownership in the properties and the rights of use encumbering those rights are the subject of entries in the Spanish Land Register in accordance with Spanish law, the fact that rules governing the sale, by auction where appropriate, of those properties are those of the Member State in which they are situated, and the fact that, in the case of disagreement, the obtaining of evidence will be facilitated by proximity to the locus rei sitae. The Court has already held that disputes concerning rights in rem in immovable property, in particular, must generally be decided by applying the rules of the State in which the property is situated, and the disputes which frequently arise require checks, inquiries and expert assessments which have to be carried out there.

A sound finding given precedent. However I continue to think it questionable whether these reasons, solid as they may have been in 1968, make much sense in current society. It may be more comfortable to have the case heard in Spain for the reasons set out by the Court. But essential? Humankind can perform transcontinental robot-assisted remote telesurgery. But it cannot, it seems, consult the Spanish land registry from a court in Finland. I would suggest it is time to adapt Article 24 in a future amendment of the Regulation.

Geert.

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Ecobank Transnational v Tanoh: Parallel application of EU and English rules on submission.

In Ecobank Transnational v Tanoh, the Court of Appeal refused an anti-enforcement injunction because of the applicant’s delay in filing it. Nigel Brook reviews the judgment’s findings on the issue of the anti-enforcement injunction here. The issue in this appeal is whether the High Court was wrong to refuse to grant Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (“Ecobank”), an injunction restraining Mr Thierry Tanoh (“Mr Tanoh”) from enforcing two judgments which he had obtained in Togo and Côte d’Ivoire. In substance the case concerned the relationship between arbitration, proceedings in the court in ordinary, and submission: it is to the latter that I turn my attention in this posting.

The Brussels regime does not apply – at stake is the application of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, which reads in relevant section

33 For the purposes of determining whether a judgment given by a court of an overseas country should be recognised or enforced in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, the person against whom the judgment was given shall not be regarded as having submitted to the jurisdiction of the court by reason only of the fact that he appeared (conditionally or otherwise) in the proceedings for all or any one or more of the following purposes, namely

(a) to contest the jurisdiction of the court;

(b) to ask the court to dismiss or stay the proceedings on the ground that the dispute in question should be submitted to arbitration or to the determination of the courts of another country.

Whilst the section states that a person shall not be regarded as having submitted by reason only of the facts there mentioned it is silent as to what additional facts are sufficient to establish submission. The Court of appeal confirms the feeling expressed in earlier case-law that Section 33 needs to be applied in parallel with Article 18 of the Brussels Convention, now Article 26 of the Brussels I Recast (and before that, Article 24 in the Brussels I Regulation). That is because Section 33 is largely derived from Article 18 of the Brussels Convention.

In the High Court judgment Burnton LJ said that it would be unfortunate if the principles applied by the courts of England and Wales on whether a litigant had submitted to the jurisdiction of a foreign court in non-EU cases were different from the principles applied by the Court of Justice, and therefore those courts, in cases under the Brussels and Lugano Conventions and now the Judgments Regulation.

In current appeal, Clarke LJ held (at 66) ‘I would go further. The decision of the court in Harada in relation to section 33 was heavily influenced by the decision of the European Court in relation to Article 18 of the Brussels Convention. But, now that section 33 has been interpreted in the way that it has, it cannot be right that it should bear a different meaning in cases outwith the European context.

Submission was not found to exist.

Do be aware of the limits to the relevant findings: Section 33 was largely borrowed, it appears, from the Brussels Convention. Many parts of English private international law, statutory or not, are no so borrowed. In those areas, the courts of England happily continue to follow their own course.

Geert.

 

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Insolvency Regulation protects bona fide third parties, even when they are being used by male fide debtor: Kokott AG in van Buggenhout /van de Mierop

In Case C-251/12 van Buggenhout /van de Mierop (qq liquidators of Grontimmo), directors at the insolvent Belgian company in what looks like a fraudulent transaction, ordered their bank in Luxembourg to settle a debt which they had acquired vis-a-vis a newly established company, established under the laws of Panama. The debt was settled using the proceeds of two debts which had been settled just days before in favour of the company, to the tune of Euro 1,400,000. This amount had been credited to the company just after insolvency proceedings had been initiated by a large creditor, but before the insolvency was established. The order to the Luxembourg bank, too, had been given by the directors in the interim period between the request for opening of the proceedings and establishment of insolvency. Once insolvency was established, the company lost control of it assets, in accordance with Belgian insolvency law. The very next day, the Luxembourg Bank proceeds with the order, writes a cheque in favour of Kostner International Ltd, the newly established company, which promptly proceeds to cash the cheque. The Euro 1,400,000 is therefore out off reach of the liquidators, who request the Bank to cough up the sum again, this time to the liquidators (trustees in insolvency). They do so on the basis of the automatic recognition of main insolvency proceedings: insolvency law in most Member States prescribes that the insolvent loses control over its assets and can no longer accept honouring of an obligation in their favour: any such honouring of an obligation needs to be done vis-a-vis the trustees.

The Insolvency Regulation however contains a provision to protect bona fide third parties: Article 24(1):

Where an obligation has been honoured in a Member State for the benefit of a debtor who is subject to insolvency proceedings opened in another Member State, when it should have been honoured for the benefit of the liquidator in those proceedings, the person honouring the obligation shall be deemed to have discharged it if he was unaware of the opening of proceedings. 

In the case at issue, the obligation being honoured did not benefit the debtor directly: rather, in honouring the obligation, the third party (the bank) absolved the debtor of its obligation vis-a-vis its creditor.

How therefore should the words ‘obligation … for the benefit of a debtor’ in Article 24 be interpreted? Must those words be interpreted as including a payment made to a creditor of the insolvent debtor at the latter’s request, in the case where the party which carried out that payment obligation on behalf and for the benefit of the insolvent debtor did so while unaware of the existence of insolvency proceedings which had been opened against the debtor in another Member State?

Advocate General Kokott today suggests [on the basis of teleological (not ‘theological’ 😉 ] and linguistic (always one of my favourites] interpretation that the protection of the bona fide party should extend to cases such as those at issue. The debtor (and the directors with it) can still be sued, often in criminal proceedings, for defrauding the bankruptcy, and the third party does need to prove that it was unaware of the opening of proceedings (which in the case at issue was only advertised in Belgium and not in Luxembourg). The intent of Article 24 very clearly being to protect bona fide third parties from having to pay twice, it does not, according to the AG, matter whether such honouring of a debt was directly towards the debtor or on behalf and for the benefit of the debtor.

I would imagine the Court itself will agree (and I assume it will do so before the summer).

Geert.

ps at the time of writing this post, the English version of the Opinion was not yet available, however I suspect it will be soon.

PS 2 the ECJ itself disagreed

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