Posts Tagged Article 25

Happy Flights v Ryanair. Belgian Supreme Court (only) confirms proper lex causae for validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia.

Thank you alumna and appreciated co-author Jutta Gangsted for flagging Charles Price’s (former learned colleague of mine at Dibb Lupton Alsop) and Sébastien Popijn’s alert on the Belgian Supreme Court’s ruling of 8 February last in C.18.0354.N Happy Flights v Ryanair. Happy Flights are a Belgium-based online claim agency to which disgruntled passengers may assign claims for compensation under Regulation 261/2004.

At issue is the validity of Ryanair’s choice of court in its general terms and conditions, referring consumers to Irish courts. The Brussels Commercial court on 30 May 2018 seemingly first of all did not assess whether the agency may be considered a ‘consumer’ within the terms of the consumer title of Brussels Ia, having been assigned the consumers’ claims. This decision is unreported <enters his usual rant about the lack of proper reporting of Belgian case-law>.

The Supreme Court (at 2, line 47) notes this lack of assessment by the lower court. It does not however complete the analysis sticking religiously to its role to interpret the law only, not the facts. Per CJEU Schrems mutatis mutandis I would suggest an affirmative answer (the agency having been assigned the consumers’ rights): in which case the Article 25 analysis becomes redundant.

The Brussels Commercial court subsequently and again from what one can infer from the Supreme Court’s ruling, discussed the validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia, reviewing its formal conditions (formation of consent) yet judging the material validity under the lex fori, Belgian law, not the lex fori prorogati, Irish law. This is a clear violation of A25 juncto recital 20 Brussels Ia. The Supreme Court suggests that the relevant Irish implementation of the unfair consumer terms Directive 93/13 does imply invalidity of the clause (again: if the claim is held to fall under the consumer title, this analysis will become superfluous).

Note that the SC ommits recital 20’s renvoi instruction: clearly misapplying the Regulation.

The Court’s judgment unlike the understandably enthusiastic briefing by Happy Flight’s counsel does not quite yet mean that Ryanair’s terms and conditions on this issue have been invalidated. However it is likely they will be upon further assessment on the merits. As I note above first up there will be the issue of assignment rather than the issue of A25.

For your interest, I gave a Twitter tutorial on a related issue (consumer law, lex causae, compulsory referral to arbitration) recently.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.

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Kaefer Aislamientos v AMS Drilling et al. Article 25’s new clothes exposed.

[2019] EWCA Civ 10 Kaefer Aislamientos v AMS Drilling et al is a good illustration of the difficulty of privity of contract (here: privity of choice of court), and the limits to the harmonisation of the rules on choice of court under Article 25 Brussels I Recast.

Herbert Smith Freehills have analysis of the wider issues of the case (over and above Article 25) here. The appeal considers among others the approach that courts should adopt when, as will usually be the case at the interim stage when a jurisdiction challenge is launched, the evidence before the Court is incomplete. Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco as well as Brownlie were referenced.

Appellant contends that the Court has jurisdiction to determine the claim against defendants AT1 and Ezion under Article 25 Brussels I Recast. It is said that the relevant contract contains an English exclusive jurisdiction clause and the relevant contract was concluded by AMS Mexico and/or AMS on behalf of AT1 and/or Ezion as undisclosed principals and, it follows, the contract, including its jurisdiction agreement, bound AT1 and Ezion.

At 81 Lord Green refers to the Privy Council in Bols [2006] UKPC 45 which itself had referred to Colzani and Coreck Maritime (staple precedent at the CJEU; students of conflict of laws: time to worry if you read this around exam time and haven’t a clue). In Bols Lord Rodgers leading, held that CJEU precedent imposed on the court the duty of examining “whether the clause conferring jurisdiction upon it was in fact the subject of a consensus between the parties” and this had to be “clearly and precisely demonstrated“. The purpose of the provisions was, it was said, to ensure that the “consensus” between the parties was “in fact” established.

Lord Green (this is not part of the decision in Bols) adds that the Court of Justice has however recognised that the manner of this proof is essentially an issue for the national laws of the Member States, subject to an overriding duty to ensure that those laws are consistent with the aims and objectives of the Regulation. He does not cite CJEU precedent in support – but he is right: Article 25 contains essential, yet precious little bite in determining just how to establish such consensus. Prima facie complete, it leaves a vault of issues to be determined, starting with the element of ‘proof’ of consensus.

Of interest is that before deciding the issue, Lord Green notes at 85 Abela v Baardani [2013] UKSC 44 (“Abela“) at paragraphs [44] and [53] per Lord Clarke and Lord Sumption, that to view permission to service out of jurisdiction as more often than not exorbitant, is unrealistic in the modern era: routinely where service out is authorised the defendant will have submitted contractually to the jurisdiction of the domestic courts (or there would be an argument to that effect) and in any event litigation between residents of different states is a normal incident of modern global business. As such the decision to permit service out is, today, more generally viewed as a pragmatic decision predicated upon the efficiency of the conduct of litigation.

It was eventually held that the evidence pointed against AT1 and Exion being undisclosed principals and that therefore the Court of Appeal was right in rejecting jurisdiction.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.

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Apple v eBizcuss. CJEU leaves open all options on choice of court and anti-trust, particularly for abuse of dominant position.

Update 12 February 2019 Thank you Hélène Péroz for flagging that the French Supreme Court held on 30 January last (case number 16-25259)and upheld the choice of court in favour of Irish courts: ‘Qu’il s’avère que les pratiques anticoncurrentielles alléguées, qui se seraient matérialisées dans les relations contractuelles nouées entre les sociétés eBizcuss et Apple Sales International, au moyen des conditions contractuelles convenues avec elle, ne sont donc pas étrangères au rapport contractuel à l’occasion duquel la clause attributive de juridiction a été conclue ; que cette clause doit, donc, recevoir application.’ The Court holds that given that the very contractual terms and conditions form the means by which Apple has allegedly infringed competition law, that infringement is not foreign to the contract and therefore the contractual choice of court must stand.

 

My review of Wahl AG’s Opinion gives readers necessary detail on C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss. In 2012 eBizcuss started suing Apple for alleged anti-competitive behaviour, arguing Apple systematically favours its own, vertically integrated distribution network. Can choice of court in their original contract cover the action (meaning the French courts would not have jurisdiction).

The Court says it can, both for Article 101 TFEU (cartels) and for 102 TFEU actions (abuse of dominant position), but particularly for the latter. In both cases the final say rests with the national courts who are best placed to appreciate the choice of court provisions in their entire context.

For Article 101 TFEU actions, the window is a narrow one (at 28: ‘the anti‑competitive conduct covered by Article 101 TFEU, namely an unlawful cartel, is in principle not directly linked to the contractual relationship between a member of that cartel and a third party which is affected by the cartel’). For Article 102 TFEU, as noted by other, it is wider (‘the anti‑competitive conduct covered by Article 102 TFEU, namely the abuse of a dominant position, can materialise in contractual relations that an undertaking in a dominant position establishes and by means of contractual terms’). The overall context of appreciation is that of predictability: at 29 (referring to CDC): ‘in the context of an action based on Article 102 TFEU, taking account of a jurisdiction clause that refers to a contract and ‘the corresponding relationship’ cannot be regarded as surprising one of the parties.’

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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Apple v eBizcuss. Wahl AG on choice of court, anti-trust (competition law; clarifying CDC) and ‘corresponding relationships’.

Those of us who are familiar with the issue of multilingualism and international courts, will  enjoy the discussion of contractual terms in Wahl AG’s Opinion in C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss. Not only does the issue entre around the precise implications of the wording of a choice of court provision. The Opinion (not yet available in English) also highlights the difficulty of translating the original English of the contractual term, into the languages at the Court.

Current litigation is a continuation of the earlier spats between Apple and eBizcuss, which led to the Cour de Cassation’s 2015 reversed stance on the validity of unilateral choice of court – which I discussed at the time.

The 2002 Apple Authorized Reseller Agreement (in fact the 2005 version which applied after continuation of the contract) included a governing law and choice of court clause reading

„This Agreement and the corresponding relationship between the parties shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Ireland and the parties shall submit to the jurisdiction of the courts of the Republic of Ireland. Apple reserves the right to institute proceedings against Reseller in the courts having jurisdiction in the place where Reseller has its seat or in any jurisdiction where a harm to Apple is occurring.” (emphasis added)

Footnote 3 displays the translation difficulty which I refer to above: parties disagree as to the translation of the contractual clause in French: applicant suggest this should read  „et la relation correspondante”, defendant proposes „et les relations en découlant”. The AG suggest to include both for the purposes of his analysis „Le présent contrat et la relation correspondante (traduction de la requérante)/et les relations en découlant (traduction de la défenderesse) entre les parties seront régis par et interprétés conformément au droit de l’Irlande et les parties se soumettent à la compétence des tribunaux de l’Irlande. Apple se réserve le droit d’engager des poursuites à l’encontre du revendeur devant les tribunaux dans le ressort duquel est situé le siège du revendeur ou dans tout pays dans lequel Apple subit un préjudice.” In Dutch: „De door partijen gesloten onderhavige overeenkomst en de bijbehorende betrekking (vertaling van verzoekster)/de hieruit voortvloeiende betrekkingen (vertaling van verweerster) tussen partijen zullen worden beheerst door en worden uitgelegd volgens het Ierse recht, en partijen verlenen bevoegdheid aan de Ierse rechter. Apple behoudt zich het recht voor om vorderingen jegens de wederverkoper aanhangig te maken bij het gerecht in het rechtsgebied waar de wederverkoper is gevestigd of in een land waar Apple schade heeft geleden.”

This translation issue however highlights precisely the core of the discussion: ‘the corresponding relationship’ suggest a narrow reading: the relationship corresponding to the contractual arrangements. Infringement of competition law does not correspond, in my view. ‘La relation correspondante’ displays this sentiment. ‘(L)es relations en découlant’ suggests a wider reading.

In 2012 eBizcuss started suing Apple for alleged anti-competitive behaviour, arguing Apple systematically favours its own, vertically integrated distribution network.

The Cour de Cassation had rebuked the Court of Appeal’s finding of lack of jurisdiction. In its 2015 decision to quash, (the same which qualified the Court’s stance on unilateral jurisdiction clauses) it cited C-352/13 CDC, in which the CJEU held that choice of court clauses are not generally applicable to liability in tort (the clause would have to refer verbatim to tortious liability): the specific para under consideration is para 69 of that judgment in CDC:

the referring court must, in particular, regard a clause which abstractly refers to all disputes arising from contractual relationships as not extending to a dispute relating to the tortious liability that one party allegedly incurred as a result of its participation in an unlawful cartel’.

At issue in Apple /eBizcuss is essentially what kind of language one needs for choice of court to include infringement of competition law (for Dutch readers, I have an earlier overview in Jacques Steenbergen’s liber amicorum here).

Wahl AG emphasises (at 56) that it would not be in the spirit of Article 25 Brussels I Recast (which he analyses in extenso in the previous paras) to require parties to include the exact nature of the suits covered by the choice of court agreement. He is right of course – except those suits in my view do need to be contractual unless non-contractual liability has been clearly included: that in my view is the clear instruction of the CJEU in CDC.

The AG then continues the discussion (which will be redundant should the CJEU not follow his lead) as to whether the clause covers both follow-on (a suit for tort once a competition authority has found illegal behaviour) as well as stand-alone (private enforcement: a party claiming infringement of competition law in the absence of an authority’s finding of same) suits. He suggests there should be no distinction: on that I believe he is right.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law. 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.12, Heading 2.2.12.1.

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BNP Paribas v TRM: Competing choice of courts in the same commercial relation.

In [2018] EWHC 1670 (Comm) BNP Paribas v TRM, the High Court essentially had to hold on its jurisdiction in the face of competing choice of court clauses in an ISDA MAster Agreement (the courts of England; and lex contractus English law) and the attached Financing Agreement (the courts of Turin).

Knowles J dissected the agreements in relation to the claims made by the parties (again highlighting the relevance of formulation of claims): at 27: where, as here, there is more than one contract and the contracts contain jurisdiction clauses in favour of the courts of different countries, the court is faced with a question of construction or interpretation. And at 54: ‘The parties agreed jurisdiction in favour of the English Court under the Master Agreement. The fact that TRM further committed itself in the Financing Agreement to comply with its commitments under the Master Agreement does not mean that commitments under the Master Agreement and swap transaction are any the less subject to the jurisdiction agreed under the Master Agreement, or any the less able to be adjudicated upon and enforced by proceedings in England.’

Application to reject jurisdiction of the English Courts dismissed.

Geert.

 

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X v I: The Austrian Supreme Court on due diligence in choice of court under Brussels I Recast.

Thank you Klaus Oblin for flagging OGH 7 Ob 183/17p X SE v I SpA (yet again I am happy to grumble that there is really no need to keep B2B litigation anonymous) at the Austrian Supreme Court. At issue is the application of Article 25 Brussels I Recast: when can consent to choice of court be established.

The facts of the case reflect repeated business practice: offers are made and accepted; a business relationship ensues on the basis of which further offers and orders are made; somewhere along the lines reference is made to general terms and conditions – GTCs which include choice of court. Can defendant be considered to have consented?

The Supreme Court, justifiably, lays the burden of proof with the claimant /plaintiff: if the contract is concluded through different offer and acceptance documents, the offer need only reference the terms and conditions containing the agreement conferring jurisdiction only if the other party: can follow-up on this with reasonable diligence; and actually receives the terms and conditions.

I am happy to refer to Klaus’ excellent overview (which also discussed the absence of established business practice between parties: one of the alternatives for showing choice of court). Yet again, the first and foremost quality required of lawyers (here: in-house counsel) emerges: ensure proper filing and compliance with simple procedure. Here: a clear flag of the GTCs in correspondence, and simple follow-up would have sufficed.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9.

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Saey Home: The CJEU on choice of court and invoices, and place of performance of concession contracts.

C‑64/17 Saey Home, is yet another illustration of, mercifully for us conflicts lawyers, even fairly sophisticated businesses often fail properly to conclude commercial agreements. Here: what is said to be a semi-exclusive concession agreement, was concluded verbally only.

Saey Home & Garden is a company with its registered office in Kortrijk (Belgium), which specialises in the manufacture and sale, inter alia, of kitchen equipment and utensils bearing the trademark ‘Barbecook’. That company does not have a branch or establishment in Spain. Lusavouga has its registered office in Cacia, Aveiro (Portugal). Its premises are in Portugal. Its network covers Spain, inter alia, where it has no branch or establishment. Parties to the main proceedings concluded a commercial concession agreement concerning the exclusive promotion and distribution (with the exception of one client) in Spain.

First up, has choice of court in favour of the courts at Kortrijk (referred to by its French synonym Courtrai, but then without the ‘r’ in referral documents and by the CJEU) been validly made if this choice was only included in the general terms and conditions included in the invoices? Hoszig (where a jurisdiction clause is stipulated in the general conditions, such a clause is lawful where the text of the contract signed by both parties itself contains an express reference to general conditions which include a jurisdiction clause) and Leventis (the purpose of the requirements as to form imposed by Article 25(1) is to ensure that consensus between the parties is in fact established) are the most recent CJEU precedent referred to. Both of them build on standing CJEU principle: one must not be overly formalistic when assessing the existence of agreement, but one must be certain that such agreement exists. While it is up to the national court to assess this in fact, the Court does indicate it is unlikely to be the case when no written agreement has been made (neither initially nor subsequently confirming an earlier verbal agreement) and all one has are the invoices.

Choice of court being unlikely, next up is the application of Article 7(1) to determine which court has jurisdiction to hear an application for damages relating to the termination of a commercial concession agreement concluded between two companies, each established and operating in a different Member State, for the marketing of goods on the domestic market of a third Member State in which neither of those companies has a branch or establishment.

Referring to Corman-Collins, the Court classifies concession agreements as being service contracts, which per Article 7(1) second indent, leaves to be determined the ‘place in
a Member State where, under the contract, the services were provided or should have been provided;’. Note: the place in a Member State. Not different places. Per Wood Floor Solutions, when there are several places of performance of the obligation characteristic of a contract for the supply of services the ‘place of performance’ must be understood as the place with the closest linking factor, which, as a general rule, will be at the place of the main provision of services. This place of ‘main provision’ follows from the provisions of the contract and, in the absence of such provision, of the actual performance of that contract and, where it cannot be determined on that basis, the place where the agent is domiciled (still per Wood Floor Solutions). This specific determination is left to the referring court.

One imagines different national courts may have treated all of this as acte clair – except perhaps for the peculiarity of Spain being a Member State where neither of the parties has either domicile or branch.

Geert.

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

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