Supreme Sites Services: Immunity of international organisations and ‘civil and commercial’. CJEU holds with emphasis on the provisional nature of the proceedings and the ordinary contractual nature of the goods supplied.

María Barral Martínez and I reviewed Saugmandsgaard Øe’s Opinion in C-186/19 Supreme Site Services v SHAPE here – see also references to earlier postings in that report. The Court held yesterday. The case involves both Article 1 Brussels Ia, on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ and the impact on same of claimed immunity; and on the application of Article 24(5)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for proceedings ‘concerned with the enforcement of judgments’.

The case concerns SHAPE’s appeal to a Dutch Court to lift the attachment aka ‘garnishment’ of a Belgian NATO /SHAPE escrow account by Supreme Services GmbH, a supplier of fuel to NATO troops in Afghanistan. In 2013, Supreme and Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (JFCB), the Netherlands-based regional headquarters of NATO, set up an escrow bank account in Belgium with the goal of offsetting any contingent liabilities on both sides at the end of Basic Ordering Agreements (BOAs). Supreme Services in 2015 initiated proceedings against SHAPE and JFCB in the Netherlands arguing that the latter parties had not fulfilled their payment obligations towards Supreme. It also attached the account in Belgium.

Maria earlier discussed the oddity that the Dutch Court of Appeal in the meantime has already held on the merits of the case. Shape submitted at the CJEU that this, and the fact that the Belgian courts executed their Dutch counterpart’s lifting of the garnishee order following the Dutch-Belgian 1925 Bilateral Convention, meant the questions had become largely inadmissible. The CJEU disagrees: the case before it has been referred by the Supreme Court, and that court has exclusive power under national law to determine how much it can still interfere in the substance of the case, which is still very much ‘alive’ therefore.

A first issue under discussion was whether the garnishment order, which the Court per C‑261/90 Reichert and Kochler qualifies as ‘provisional, including protective measures’ under (now) Article 35 BIa, concerns ‘civil and commercial matters’. Among others Greece and Shape argue that the nature of the substantive proceedings determines this exercises, while the CJEU, following the view of ia the EC, BEN and NL, insists it is the nature of the rights which the provisional and protective measure seek to safeguard, that must rule that exercise – support is found in 143/78 de Cavel. This finding reinforces the particular nature of ‘provisional, including protective measures’ in the set-up of the Regulation.

On the impact of claimed immunity on the subsequent qualification as ‘civil and commercial’, reference is of course made to the CJEU’s May judgment in C-641/18 Rina which I reviewed here. The Court extends its reasoning there to here despite the fact that as it notes at 61, States’ immunity is automatic and based on par in parem non habet imperium, while for international organisations it is not automatic and has to be conferred by the treaties establishing those organisations. Per Rina the CJEU assesses whether the international organisation acted iure imperii, for which of course it has a range of predecent available. At 66 it emphasises that how the organisation uses the supplied goods (here: to support the military campaign in Afghanistan) does not impact on the nature of the relationship it has with the supplier. The Court ends by instructing the Dutch SC to carry out the necessary factual checks however it suggests that in casu neither the legal relationship between the parties to an action such as that in the main proceedings nor the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of that action (here: the ordinary Article 705(1) of the Dutch CPR) can be regarded as showing the exercise of public powers for the purposes of EU law.

On the issue of Article 24(5), the Court takes a restrictive view as it becomes all elements of Article 24: reference here is made to CJEU C-722/17  Reitbauer: only proceedings relating to recourse to force, constraint or distrain on movable or immovable property in order to ensure the effective implementation of judgments and authentic instruments fall within A24(5)’s scope.

I trust public international lawyers will have more to say about the PIL implications of the judgment.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.2.

Supreme Site Services v Shape: Advocate General ØE on Brussels Ia’s scope of application (‘civil and commercial’ in light of claimed immunity. Opinion at odds with CJEU in Eurocontrol.

Update 12 June 2020 Maria has further analysis here.

Many thanks again María Barral for continuing her updates on C-186/19 Supreme Site Services v Shape, on which I reported earlier here and here; see her summary of Thursday’s opinion of the AG below. I just wanted to add two things.

Firstly, the AG’s suggestion that in spite of the intervening Court of Appeal judgment which would seem to make the CJEU case nugatory, the case should continue for against the appeal’s court decision, a further appeal is underway with the Supreme Court.

Second, at 93 etc. the AG advises that the immunity or not of the defendant, bears no relevance to the scope of application of BIa for it does not feature in the concept of ‘civil and commercial’ as developed by the Court.

That in my view is at odds with the CJEU’s very statement in Eurocontrol, at 4: the Court’s seminal judgment on civil and commercial itself in so many words links the scope of application to the practicality of recognition: in Eurocontrol the CJEU interprets ‘civil and commercial’ ‘in particular for the purpose of applying the provisions of Title III of the Convention‘: there is little use bringing issues within the scope of the Convention and now BIa, if ab initio there is no prospect of recognition and enforcement.

In other words I am not at all sure the Court will follow the AG on that part of the analysis. I should emphasise this is my view: María’s review independent of that follows below.

Geert.

 

Immunity does not impact jurisdiction based on Regulation Brussels I bis, AG Saugmandsgaard Øe dixit

María Barral Martínez

Following up on the previous posts (see here and here) discussing the contractual dispute between Supreme site Services v. SHAPE, today’s post addresses  the Opinion of Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe in C-186/19 Supreme v Shape.

While the questions posed by the referring court concerned the interpretation of articles 1(1) and 24(5) Brussels Ia, ‘at the CJEU’s request’ (5) limits his analysis to Article 1(1).

In a nutshell, the analysis in his Opinion is twofold: on the one hand, he examines whether the action brought by SHAPE – an international organisation- seeking the lift of an interim garnishee order falls within the meaning of “civil and commercial matters” laid down in article 1(1) of the Brussels I bis Regulation. On the other hand, he analyses whether the fact that SHAPE had invoked its immunity from execution in the interim relief proceedings has any significance on the above evaluation.

In tackling the first prong of his analysis, AG Saugmandsgaard Øe recalls the public hearing held at the CJEU back in December 2019. There, the focus was put on how the  “civil and commercial” nature of the interim relief measures sought by SHAPE is to be assessed – in the light of the features of the proceedings on the merits, based exclusively on the interim relief proceedings or only in relation to the nature of the rights the interim measures intend to safeguard matters. AG Saugmandsgaard Øe rejects the first two alternatives and follows the thesis supported by the Governments of The Netherlands and Belgium and by the European Commission: in line with the judgments de Cavel I and de Cavel II, the nature of the rights whose recognition is sought in the proceedings on the merits and whose protection is the purpose of the interim or protective measures sought is decisive. (Point 46 and 51)

Furthermore, AG conducts a thorough analysis on the immunities recognised under Public International Law vis-à-vis the application of Brussels Ia. He argues that to determine whether a dispute should be excluded from the scope of BIa on the grounds that it concerns “acts or … omissions in the exercise of State authority” – A1(1) in fine-, it is necessary to assess whether the action is based on a right which has its source in acta iure imperii or in a legal relationship defined by an exercise of State authority. (at 90)

On that basis, he concludes that an action for interim measures such as the one in the present case, seeking the lift of a garnishee order, must be regarded as “civil and commercial” in so far as the garnishee order was aimed to safeguard a right arising from a contractual legal relationship which is not determined by an exercise of State authority. (at 104)

Finally, AG Saugmandsgaard Øe posits that the fact that an international organization as SHAPE has invoked immunity from execution, has no bearing in the assessment of the material application of Brussels Ia. What’s more, it cannot serve as an obstacle for a national court to establish its international jurisdiction based on the aforementioned Regulation.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.2.

Supreme Site Services v Shape: Dutch Appellate Court rules on the merits of immunity and A6 ECHR, takes Luxembourg by surprise.

Update 14 January 2020 see also review by Rishi Gulati here, with cross-references to the postings on gavclaw.com.

With the festive season approaching, I am happy to give the floor to María Barral Martínez, currently trainee at the chambers of Advocate General Mr Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona for her update on Supreme Site Services et al v Shape, on which I first reported here.

On 10 December, the Den Bosch Court of Appeal delivered its judgment on the main proceedings of the Supreme et al. v SHAPE case. The case concerns a contractual dispute between Supreme (a supplier of fuels) and SHAPE (the military headquarters of NATO). Supreme signed several agreements (so-called “BOA agreements”) to supply fuels to SHAPE in the context of a military operation in Afghanistan-ISAF-, mandated by the UNSC. Supreme also signed an escrow agreement with JFCB (Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, a military headquarters subject to SHAPE´s authority) to cover mutual potential payments after the mission/contract termination. In December 2015, Supreme instituted proceedings in the Netherlands against Shape/JFCB requesting the payment of certain costs. Moreover, Supreme sought, in the context of a second procedure, to levy an interim garnishee order targeting the escrow account in Belgium. The latter proceedings -currently before the Dutch Supreme Court- triggered a reference for a preliminary ruling (case C-186/19 « Supreme Site Services»)  as already commented in an earlier post, related to the Brussels I bis Regulation.

In the judgment on the merits, the Appellate Court addressed the Brussels I bis Regulation as well, albeit briefly. The Appellate Court asked parties whether the reference to the CJEU impacts the proceedings on the merits. Both parties were of the opinion that it was not the case. Moreover, the Court itself considered that since Shape and JFCB only invoked in their defence immunity of jurisdiction the parties had tacitly accepted the Dutch court’s jurisdiction.

In regards to the question of immunity of jurisdiction, the Dutch Appellate Court granted immunity of jurisdiction to Shape and JFCB on the basis of customary international law. It found it was inconclusive that immunity of jurisdiction in respect of Shape and JFCB flows from the provisions of the Protocol on the Status of International Military Headquarters Set up Pursuant to the North Atlantic Treaty (Paris Protocol 1952), or the Agreement on the Status of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Ottawa’s Agreement).

On the role of article 6 ECHR, contrary to what the District Court ruled on the judgment under appeal, the Court of Appeal held that Supreme had a reasonable dispute settlement mechanism available to it to submit its claims. Article 6.1 ECHR therefore would not be breached.  It argued that the judge must perform a case by case analysis in order to determine whether the international organisation offers reasonable alternative means to protect the rights enshrined under article 6.1 ECHR, and if needed set aside the immunity of jurisdiction of the international organisation. The Court concluded that the Release of Funds Working Group, which was agreed by the parties to settle any possible contractual differences, can be considered, under Dutch law, as a reasonable dispute settlement mechanism and therefore, the Court has no jurisdiction.

At the public hearing in C-186/19 held in Luxembourg on 12 December, the CJEU could not hide its surprise when told by the parties that the Dutch Appellate Court had granted immunity of jurisdiction to Shape and JCFB. The judges and AG wondered whether a reply to the preliminary reference would still be of any use. One should take into account that the main point at the hearing was whether the “civil or commercial” nature of the proceedings for interim measures should be assessed in the light of the proceedings on the merits (to which interim measures are ancillary, or whether the analysis should solely address the interim relief measures themselves.

Maria.

 

 

 

Supreme v Shape: Lifting attachments (‘garnishments’) on assets of international organisations in another state. Dutch Supreme Court refers to CJEU re exclusive jurisdiction, and the impact of claimed immunity.

Many thanks Sofja Goldstein for alerting me a while back to the Hoge Raad’s decision to refer to the CJEU and what is now known to be Case C-186/19. The case concerns SHAPE’s appeal to a Dutch Court to lift the attachment aka ‘garnishment’ of a Belgian NATO /SHAPE escrow account by Supreme Services GmbH, a supplier of fuel to NATO troops in Afghanistan. As Sofja reports, in 2013, Supreme and Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (JFCB), the Netherlands-based regional headquarters of NATO, set up an escrow bank account in Belgium with the goal of offsetting any contingent liabilities on both sides at the end of Basic Ordering Agreements (BOAs). Supreme Services in 2015 initiated proceedings against SHAPE and JFCB in the Netherlands arguing that the latter parties had not fulfilled their payment obligations towards Supreme. It also attached the account in Belgium.

SHAPE and JFCB from their side seized the Dutch courts for interim relief, seeking (i) to lift the attachment, and (ii) to prohibit Supreme from attaching the escrow account in the future.

The Supreme Court acknowledges the Dutch Courts’ principle jurisdiction at the early stages of the procedure on the basis of Article 35’s rule concerning provisional measures, yet at this further stage of the proceedings now feels duty-bound firstly under Article 27 of Brussels Ia to consider whether Article 24 paragraph 5 applies (Belgium being the place of enforcement of any attachment should it be upheld); further and principally, whether the Brussels I a Regulation applies at all given that SHAPE and NATO invoke their immunity (it is in my view unlikely that the invocation or not of an immunity defence may determine the triggering or not of Brussels Ia), this immunity interestingly being the result of a Treaty not between The Netherlands and NATO but rather resulting from the headquarter agreement between NATO and Belgium.

An interesting example of public /private international law overlap.

Geert.

 

 

 

Reitbauer: contract, pauliana and exclusive jurisdictional rules. CJEU simply applies Feniks, its forum contractus view remains unconvincing.

Update 18 July 2019 for an alternative view, see Michael McParland QC here. Michael’s point of view is that of the construction sector, and avoiding ‘debt dodging’. Ours (mine, below, and Michiel Poesen’s here) is the excessive stretch of the notion of contract.
Tanchev AG’s focus on fraus arguable reconciles both – but the Court did not follow.

I reviewed Tanchev AG’s Opinion in C‑722/17 Reitbauer here. Readers best refer to it to get insight into the complex factual matrix. The CJEU held on Wednesday last week- no English version of the judgment is as yet available.

In essence applicants are attempting to anchor their pauliana unto A24(5)’s enforcement jurisdiction. Failing that, the anchor might be A24(1)’s locus rei sitae exclusive jurisdictional rule.

The Court like the AG rejects jurisdiction on the basis of Article 24(5). They are right: 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).

Court and AG are also right in rejecting Article 24(1) jurisdiction. The issues at stake are far removed from the reasons which justify exclusive jurisdiction. (The Court refers to Komu, Schmidt, Weber).

Then, surprisingly (for it was not part of the questions asked; the AG entertained it but that is what AGs do) the Court completes the analysis proprio motu with consideration of Article 7(1)’s forum contractus rule, with respect to claimants’ argument that the acknowledgement of debt by Isabel, cannot be used against them. Tanchev AG as I noted essentially suggested a limitation of Feniks to cases of fraus – arguably present here. At 59-60 the Court simply notes that all creditors were ‘contractually’ linked to Isabel C, and then applies Feniks to come to a finding of contractual relation between claimants and Mr Casamassima: without any reference to the fraus element (I had indeed suspected the Court would not so quickly vary its own case-law).

The AG did not discuss the place of performance of the contract (between Reitbauer et al and Mr Casamassima – this was exactly one of the sticky points signalled by Bobek AG in Feniks). The CJEU however does, and at 61 simply identifies that as the place where the underlying contract, between Isabel C and the building contractors, had to be performed: that is, the place of the renovation works in Austria.

That an Article 7(1) forum was answered at all, is surprising. That the place of performance of that contract is straightforwardly assimilated with the underlying contractual arrangement, is not necessarily convincing. That Feniks would not so soon be varied (if at all), was to be expected.

Forum contractus is surely stretching to forum abundantum.

Geert.

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

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, 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