Posts Tagged Article 24(1)

Tanchev AG in Reitbauer: contract, pauliana and exclusive jurisdictional rules. Suggests restriction of CJEU Feniks to cases of fraus.

A little bit of factual background (and imagination; I shall let readers’ imagination run their course) is needed to appreciate Tanchev AG’s Opinion last week in C‑722/17 Reitbauer, which engages Articles 24(1) and (5), and Article 7(1).

It is alleged in the ‘opposition proceedings’ at issue that the claim of creditor A (the defendant in the CJEU proceeding, Mr Casamassima), which arises from a loan agreement secured by a pledge, and which competes with a counterclaim of creditors B (the applicants at the CJEU: Reitbauer and Others) is invalid due to the (wrongful) preferential treatment of creditor A. This objection is similar to what is known under Austrian law as an action for avoidance (Anfechtungsklage).

The defendant, Mr Casamassima and Isabel C. (‘the debtor’) are resident in Rome and lived together, at least until the spring of 2014. In 2010, they purchased a house in Villach, Austria; and the debtor, Isabel C, was registered in the land register as being the sole owner.

Contracts for extensive renovation work of the house were entered into between Isabel and the CJEU applicants, contracts which were entered into with the ‘participation’ of Mr Casamassima.  Because the costs of the renovation work far exceeded the original budget, payments to Reitbauer et al were suspended. From 2013 onwards, Reitbauer et al were therefore involved in judicial proceedings in Austria against Isabel. Early 2014, the first judgment was handed down in favour of the applicants, and others followed. Isabel appealed against those judgments.

On 7 May 2014 before a court in Rome, the Isabel acknowledged Mr Casamassima’s claim against her with respect to a loan agreement, amounting to EUR 349 772.95. She undertook to pay this amount to the latter within five years under a court settlement. In addition, Isabel undertook to have a mortgage registered on the house in Villach (Austria) in order to secure Mr Casamassima’s claim [the amount of the claim is the result of compensation between the original claim and a counterclaim. Isabel requested Mr C to pay her for overtime work. Mr C requested approximately EUR 380 000 for the purchase of the house and the works. According to him the house belonged formally only to the debtor, who was registered as the sole owner, but the funds were provided by the defendant. Finally, the two parties reached an agreement, leading to the sum at issue].

Now we come to the issues sub judice: at 17 ff (footnotes omitted):

On 13 June 2014 a (further) certificate of indebtedness and pledge certificate was drawn up under Austrian law in Vienna by an Austrian notary to guarantee the above arrangement (pledge 1). With this certificate, the pledge on the house in Villach was created on 18 June 2014.

The judgments in favour of the applicants did not become enforceable until after this date. The pledges on the house of the debtor held by the applicants, obtained by way of legal enforcement proceedings (pledge 2), therefore rank behind the contractual pledge 1 in favour of the defendant.

On 3 September 2015, the court in Rome confirmed that the court settlement of 7 May 2014 constituted a European Enforcement Order.

In order to realise the pledge, the defendant applied in February 2016 to the referring court (Bezirksgericht Villach (District Court, Villach, Austria)) for an order against the debtor, requiring a compulsory auction of the house in Villach. The house was auctioned off in the autumn of 2016 for EUR 280 000. The order of entries in the land register shows that the proceeds would go more or less entirely to the defendant because of pledge 1 (registered under Austrian law in June 2014).

With a view to preventing this, the applicants brought an action for avoidance (Anfechtungsklage) in June 2016 before the Landesgericht Klagenfurt (Regional Court, Klagenfurt, Austria) against the defendant and the debtor. The action was dismissed by that court ‘due to a lack of international jurisdiction in view of the [debtor’s and the defendant’s] domicile’ outside of Austria. In July 2017, that decision became final.

At the same time the applicants filed an opposition before the referring court (Bezirksgericht Villach (District Court, Villach)) at the hearing of 10 May 2017 regarding the distribution of the proceeds from the compulsory auction, and subsequently brought opposition proceedings, as provided for in the EO, against the defendant.

In these opposition proceedings, the applicants seek a declaration that the decision regarding the distribution to the defendant of EUR 279 980.43 was not legally valid in so far as: (i) the debtor had damages claims against the defendant of at least the same amount as the claim arising from the loan agreement, with the result that a claim no longer existed (they claim that the debtor confirmed that the defendant had placed orders with the applicants without her knowledge and consent); and (ii) the certificate of indebtedness and pledge certificate of June 2014 were drawn up merely as a formality and for the purpose of pre-empting and preventing the applicants from bringing any enforcement proceedings in relation to the house.

There we are. In essence applicants are attempting to anchor their pauliana unto A24(5)’s enforcement jurisdiction, in which case Mr C’s enforcement action has acted as a Trojan horse. (Note a similar potential in Kerr v Postnov(a)). Failing that, the anchor might be A24(1)’s locus rei sitae exclusive jurisdictional rule.

Mr C contends in substance that A24(5) B1a does not apply. He argues that the action lacks a direct connection to official enforcement measures: what is being sought is a substantive examination of the pledge entered into in his favour. By its nature, the action lodged is equivalent to an action for avoidance; and in Reichert the CJEU has already ruled that this jurisdiction is not applicable to actions for avoidance. This must therefore also apply if the action for avoidance is exercised by way of an opposition against the distribution and ensuing opposition proceedings. Moreover, he argues A24(1) B1a is not applicable, as in the opposition proceedings the connection with the location of the house at issue is lacking (the opposition proceedings took place only after the immovable property had been auctioned off by the court).

The AG first of all at 39 ff rejects jurisdiction on the basis of Article 24(5). I believe he is right: see my Trojan horse suggestion above. A25(5) must not resurrect merits claims on much wider issues (claim for compensation of applicants’ debt, objections concerning the non-existence of a claim underlying a judicially ordered auction, and concerning the invalidity of the creation of the pledge for that claim under a loan agreement ) for which the enforcement court does not have original jurisdiction. Neither does A24(1) ground jurisdiction: parallel with Reichert is obvious.

Then however the AG, sensing perhaps the suggestions of fraudulent construction, suggests Article 7(1)’s’ forum contractus as a way out – not something which the referring court had enquired about hence quite possible the CJEU might not entertain it. Clearly per Handte there is a contract between applicants and Isabel. However is Mr C involved, too?: the AG draws on Feniks: at 72 ff: in Feniks the CJEU does not require knowledge by the defendant of the first contract, nor does it require an intention to defraud. However in casu it looks like there might be both (subject to factual review by the referring court). At 84: ‘Given the fact that in the judgment in Feniks the jurisdiction in contractual matters in disputes brought against a third party was extended to an actio pauliana even though there was no contractual relationship between the applicant and the defendant, knowledge of a third party should act as a limiting factor: as in the present case, the third party needs to know that the legal act binds the defendant to the debtor and that that causes harm to the contractual rights of another creditor of the debtor (the applicants).’

And at 92: ‘the defendant’s knowledge of the existence of the contract(s) at issue is important.’

The AG is essentially suggesting a limitation of Feniks to cases of fraus – it is unlikely that the CJEU will follow (and vary Feniks so soon). However it is clear that knowledge of the contract between the other parties, particularly where supported by elements of fraus, will increase the potential for application of the (in my view problematic) Feniks route. Note the AG does not discuss the place of performance of the contract (between Reitbauer et al and Mr C – this was exactly one of the sticky points signalled by Bobek AG in Feniks).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1

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Milivojević v Raiffeisenbank: Free movement of services yet also protected categories and rights in rem /personam.

The CJEU held in C-630/17 Milivojević v Raiffeisenbank on 14 February. The case in the main concerns Croatian legislation restricting financial services with Banks other than Croatian ones – a free movement of services issue therefore which the CJEU itself explains in its press release.

Of relevance to the blog is the issue of jurisdiction under the consumer title and Article 24(1)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule.

The Croatian legislation at issue, in the context of disputes concerning credit agreements featuring international elements, allows debtors to bring an action against non-authorised lenders either before the courts of the State on the territory of which those lenders have their registered office, or before the courts of the place where the debtors have their domicile or registered office and restricts jurisdiction to hear actions brought by those creditors against their debtors only to courts of the State on the territory of which those debtors have their domicile, whether the debtors are consumers or professionals.

Croatian law therefore first of all infringes Article 25(4) juncto Article 19 Brussels Ia. Their combined application does not rule out choice of court even between a business and a consumer (subject to limitations which I do not discuss here). It moreover infringes Article 25 (and Article 4) in and of itself for it precludes choice of court even in a B2B context.

Next, may a debtor who has entered into a credit agreement in order to have renovation work carried out in an immovable property which is his domicile with the intention, in particular, of providing tourist accommodation services be regarded as a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of Article 17(1) Brussels Ia? Reference is made ex multi to Schrems, emphasising the difficult balancing exercise of keeping exceptions to Article 4’s actor sequitur forum rei rule within limits, yet at the same time honouring the protective intention of the protected categories.

A person who concludes a contract for a dual purpose, partly for use in his professional activity and partly for private matters, can rely on those provisions only if the link between the contract and the trade or profession of the person concerned was so slight as to be marginal and, therefore, had only a negligible role in the context of the transaction in respect of which the contract was concluded, considered in its entirety (per Schrems following C-464/01 Gruber). Whether Ms Milivojević can so be described as a ‘consumer’ is for the national court to ascertain.

Finally, does Article 24(1)’s rule on an action ‘relating to rights in rem in immovable property’, apply to an action for a declaration of the invalidity of a credit agreement and of the notarised deed relating to the creation of a mortgage taken out as a guarantee for the debt arising out of that agreement and for the removal from the land register of the mortgage on a building?

Reference here is made to all the classics, taking Schmidt v Schmidt as the most recent portal to earlier case-law. At 101: with regard to the claims seeking a declaration of the invalidity of the agreement at issue and of the notarised deed related to the creation of a mortgage, these ‘clearly’ (I assume based on the national law at issue) are based on a right in personam which can be claimed only against the defendant.

However at 102: re the request for removal from the land register of the registration of a mortgage, it must be noted that the mortgage, once duly constituted in accordance with the procedural and substantive rules laid down by the relevant national legislation (see indeed my comment above re passerelle of national law), is a right in rem which has effects erga omnes. Such an application does fall within Article 24(1). At 104 the Court again inadvertently or not highlights the potential for a procedural strategy, opening up forum connexitatis hinging unto A24(1) exclusivity: ‘in the light of that exclusive jurisdiction of the court of the Member State in which the immovable property is situated to the request for removal from the land register for the registration of mortgages, that court also has a non-exclusive jurisdiction based on related actions, pursuant to Article 8(4) of Regulation No 1215/2012, to hear claims seeking annulment of the credit agreement and the notarised deed related to the creation of that mortgage, to the extent that these claims are brought against the same defendant and are capable, as is apparent from the material in the file available to the Court, of being joined.’ (idem in Schmidt v Schmidt).

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

 

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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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