Posts Tagged Article 5
Szpunar AG in Mulhaupt /SCI Senior Home: national law determines what rights in rem are under the Insolvency Regulation. However EU law does constrain national room for manouvre.
In C-195/15 Mulhaupt /SCI Senior Home, the question referred reads
Does the term ‘right in rem’ in Article 5(1) of (…) Regulation (…) 1346/2000 (…) on insolvency proceedings include a national rule such as that contained in Paragraph 12 of the Grundsteuergesetz (Law on real property tax, ‘GrStG’) in conjunction with the first sentence of Paragraph 77(2) of the Abgabenordnung (Tax Code, ‘AO’), pursuant to which real property tax debts are by operation of law a public charge on real property and the property owner must accept enforcement against the property in that respect?
Applicant is the trustee in bankruptcy of Société civile immobilière Senior Home, a French registered company. Gemeinde Wedemark is forcing the sale of real estate belonging to Senior home, linked to arrays in real estate tax. It is suggested by the referring court that the qualification under German law, of real property tax (also known as ‘stamp duties’ or ‘estate taxes’), owed to public authorities, as rights in rem, mean that the forced sale of the site at issue, as a result of Article 5(1) of Regulation 1346/2000, is covered by German law and is therefore not subject to French law, which in the case at issue is the lex concursus of the insolvency proceedings that have been opened. Regulation 1346/2000 in the meantime has been replaced by Regulation 2015/848 however the provisions at issue have not materially changed.
Szpunar AG Opined end May (other than a Tweet I have kept schtum about the Opinion so far, for exam reasons).The Opinion is as yet not available in English.
In terms of applicable law, Article 4 of the Regulation is the general rule: unless otherwise stated by the Regulation, the law of the State of the opening of proceedings is applicable.
The general rule of Article 4 inevitably had to be softened for quite a number of instances. As noted in the introduction, insolvency proceedings involve a wide array of interests. The expediency, efficiency and effectiveness craved inter alia by recital 2 (old; now 3) of the Regulation, has led in particular to the automatic extension of all the effects of the application of the lex concursus by the courts in the State of opening of the proceedings. That could not be done without there being exceptions to the general rule:
In certain cases, the Regulation excludes some rights over assets located abroad from the effects of the insolvency proceedings (as in Articles 5, 6 and 7). In other cases, it ensures that certain effects of the insolvency proceedings are governed not by the law of the State of the opening, but by the law of another State, defined in the abstract by Articles 8, 9, 10, 11, 14 and 15. In such cases, the effects to be given to the proceedings opened in other States are the same effects attributed to a domestic proceedings of equivalent nature (liquidation, composition, or reorganization proceedings) by the law of the State concerned. Of particular note are precisely Article 5 on third parties’ rights in rem, but also Article 10 on employment contracts, and Article 13 on ‘detrimental acts’.
The precise demarcation of rights in rem hovers between the classic interpretative rule of EU private international law, namely the principle of autonomous interpretation, and the lack of a European Ius Commune on what rights in rem are. The Advocate General completes his already extensive analysis in Lutz, with a combined reference to the recitals of the Regulation, and the Virgós/Schmit Report.
In particular, Article 5(2) does serve as something of a straightjacket, leading to the conclusion that rights in rem require restrictive interpretation: once the first hurdle of qualification using national law (of the rei sitae) is passed, the right also needs to meet with the fundamentals of what the Virgos-Schmit report defines as rights in rem (at 41-45 of the Opinion): these are (at 103 of the Report): a right in rem basically has two characteristics
(a) its direct and immediate relationship with the asset it covers, which remains linked to its satisfaction, without depending on the asset belonging to a person’s estate or on the relationship between the holder of the right in rem and another person;
(b) the absolute nature of the allocation of the right to the holder. This means that the person who holds a right in rem can enforce it against anyone who breaches or harms his right without his assent (e.g. such rights are typically protected by actions to recover); that the right can resist the alienation of the asset to a third party (it can be claimed erga omnes, with the restrictions characteristic of the protection of the bona fide purchaser); and that the right can thus resist individual enforcement by third parties and in collective insolvency proceedings (by its separation or individual satisfaction).
The Virgos-Schmit report in this respect cross-refers to the 1968 Brussels Convention however it is noteworthy that the CJEU, in defining rights in rem under the now Brussels I recast Regulation, does not in turn refer to the Virgos-Schmit report.
In conclusion therefore the AG suggests that the right at issue is indeed a right in rem under Article 5. Finally, that it benefits a public authority (the inland revenue) rather than a private individual or legal person, does not impact upon that qualification: Szpunar AG correctly highlights that the public character of the creditor is not a determining criteria in either the recitals of the Regulation or the Virgos-Schmit report.
A prima facie straightforward question met by complete analysis of the AG which in passing solves more issues than those raised by the referring court: this Opinion may well become an important part of authoritative sources in applying the Insolvency Regulation..
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.7.1 ).
Others have reported in some detail, and I am happy to refer, on Arlewin v Sweden at the ECtHR – the second Strasbourg conflicts ruling I report on in more or less one week. Epra have a short and sweet review, based mostly on the Court’s press release but useful nevertheless: they for instance suggest that Strasbourg have extended e-Date Advertising’s centre of interests rule for infringement of personality rights via the internet, to transmission by satellite. Dirk Voorhoof takes the media regulation angle. Dr Takis has the most extensive review over at Profs Peers and Barnard’s EU law analysis.
The case is a good illustration of an important port of entry for the ECHR into EU conflicts law in commercial litigation at least (I am not talking here of family law): Article 6’s right to fair trial. (See here for more extensive review of the Convention’s impact on European private international law). Strasbourg and Luxemburg are playing combination football here: the ECtHR approving of the CJEU’s application of the Brussels I Regulation in the case of libel and defamation. Especially with the EC’s recent shift of focus to the plaintiff’s position rather than the defendant’s, nothing guarantees of course that in the future EU law at this point might not be at odds with human rights law.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed, 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 184.108.40.206.4 .
Postscript 24 September 2015: the incoterm ‘ex works’ was at issue in Cimtrode The Electrode Company GmbH v Carbide BV at Gerechtshof ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Judgment (on appeal) was issued 1 September 2015. The court held inter alia that whether the incoterm was actually part of the agreement between parties, could only be judged in accordance with the lex causae. The agreement was a verbal agreement, and any choice of court which one of the parties claimed had been made, had not been confirmed in writing. Reference to relevant standard terms and conditions on the invoices sent later, following execution of the agreement, could not, the court held, be regarded as confirmation of the choice of court.
In Rhoonse Recycling & Service BV v BSS Heavy Machinery GmbH, the Court at Rotterdam first of all discussed the factual circumstance of a possible choice of court agreement between parties, in favour of the courts at Eberswalde (Germany). Such choice of court is made in the general terms and conditions of seller, BSS. Whether parties had actually agreed to these, was in dispute. Roonse suggests the reference on the front page of the order form to the general terms and conditions on the backside (‘umseitiger‘) was without subject for that back page was blank. The court therefore suggests that agreement depends on whether, as was suggested, the standard terms and conditions were attached (stapled, presumably) to the order form. Whether this was the case is a factual consideration which Rotterdam does not further entertain for even if the choice of court agreement is invalid, the court found it would not have jurisdiction under the only other alternative: Article 7(1) special jurisdictional rule for ‘contracts’.
Rhoonse suggest that the parties had agreed that the contract, a delivery of good, is performed in Rotterdam for that, it argues, is where delivery took place per the Incoterm CPT (carriage paid to). The CJEU has flagged the inconclusive effect of the mere use of Incoterms for the purposes of finding an agreement between parties under Article 7, in Electrosteel Case C-87/10 (in that case with respect to the use of ‘ex works’) and has generally insisted, per Car Trim Case C-381/08 that the courts need to make reference to all relevant terms and conditions in the agreement so as to determine the place of delivery.
Rotterdam in casu held the Incoterm CPT Rotterdam as being mostly a reference to costs, not place of delivery. Where it is impossible to determine the place of delivery on that basis, without reference to the substantive law applicable to the contract, that place at least for the sale of goods, the CJEU held, is the place where the physical transfer of the goods took place, as a result of which the purchaser obtained, or should have obtained, actual power of disposal over those goods at the final destination of the sales transaction. In casu, this was found to be in the geographical jurisdiction of the courts at Den Haag. Given that Article 7(1) does not merely identify the courts of a Member State but rather a specific court within a Member State, Rotterdam has no jurisdiction.
The case is a good reminder of the limited power of Incoterms to determine jurisdiction. Better have a specific choice of court clause (which here may or may not have presented itself here in the general terms and conditions of seller).
Granted, only Monday mornings arguably may excuse such lame pun in a blog’s posting. However the slightly lousy title should not take away from the relevance of Celtic Salmon v Aller Acqua in which the Irish High Court partially refused recognition of a Danish judgment.
Hogan J summarised the issue as follows: Where a defendant in foreign proceedings governed by the Brussels Regulation (Council Regulation No. 44/2001 EC) fails to advance and maintain a counter-claim for damages for (sic) in those proceedings, is that party then barred by the doctrine of res judicata or by the provisions of the Brussels Regulation itself from re-litigating that counterclaim for damages for breach of contract and negligence in existing proceedings in this jurisdiction where it sues as plaintiff?
Celtic Salmon used Aller Ireland, the Irish subsidiary, as anchor defendant. The mother company, Aller Denmark, was duly joined to the proceedings. Vets, commissioned by Celtic Atlantic, had established a deficiency in the feed supplied by Aller Denmark. The dispute between the parties then started with a letter sent by Celtic Atlantic in July, 2008 claiming damages for the (allegedly) defective fish feed. Aller Denmark responded by denying liability, but also claimed for unpaid invoices in respect of the fish feed. In November 2008, aller Denmark fired the first shot in litigation, suing in Denmark. There were two separate claims. First, Aller Denmark claimed in respect of certain unpaid invoices for the fish feed (“claim 1”). (It also reserved its position to make further claims in this regard. The claim taken forward only related to a fraction of the feed actually supplied). Second, it sought an order that “Celtic be ordered to admit that the delivered feed on which Aller Acqua’s claim is based is in conformity with the contract.” (“claim 2”).
Celtic’s Irish solicitors, according to the judgment, advised that it would be unwise to bring a counter-claim in the Danish proceedings, because to do so “would preclude us from bringing proceedings in Ireland for damages for breach of contract.” In May 2009, Irish proceedings were brought by Celtic. These amounted to a claim for damages for negligence and breach of contract by reason of the allegedly defective nature of the fish feed.
The Danish courts accepted jurisdiction on the basis of Article 5 based upon (whether this had been agreed was disputed between parties) delivery (incoterm) ex works /ex factory. This is the point were procedural difficulties started (hence the relevance of lexi fori). The reports earlier commissioned by Celtic, turned out not to be admissible (or at the very least would be regarded with suspicion) by the Danish courts given that under Danish civil procedure, the court appoints its own experts. However at the time this would have been carried forward, both fish and fish feed were no longer. Celtic Atlantic elected not to pursue the counterclaim in respect of the defective feed, and reserved the right to do so at a later date (without specific reference to Danish or Irish courts).
The Danish court eventually sided with Aller in respect of two claims: claim 1 for debt in respect of the two unpaid invoices in the sum €58,655 plus interest. Claim 2” that “Celtic [Atlantic] be ordered to admit that the delivered feed on which Aller [Denmark]’s claim is based is in conformity with the contract. There was subsequently discussion among Danish experts in the Irish courts, whether the Danish judgment was in default of appearance, given the absence of defence against at least part of it.
The question now sub judice was the fate of the Irish proceedings, Hogan J justifiably concluded that Article 27 JR (the lis alibi pendens rule) no longer had any relevance, given that the Danish proceedings had come to an end. Rather, whether Celtic’s claims in the Irish courts were the same as those entertained in Denmark (and hence continuing them in Ireland, per se abusive, ia given comity) and /or whether Aller could waive the Danish judgment in defence of the Irish claims. The latter would imply recognition of the Danish judgment.
[The High court carries out a review of the Danish court’s jurisdiction under Article 5(1) and 3, with reference as for the latter inter alia to Folien Fischer however in doing so I would argue it surpassed its brief: other than for exclusive jurisdictional rules, under the current Brussels I regime, there is no room for other courts to second-guess the application of the Regulation by other courts].
Article 34(1) of the Brussels Regulation provides that “A judgment shall not be recognised: 1. If such recognition is manifestly contrary to public policy in the Member State in which recognition is sought…..” Hogan J emphasises procedural rights per Krombach, and the Charter, and concludes that by reason of the manner in which the Danish Administration of Justice Act operated in this case, the effective procedural rights of Celtic Atlantic were violated so far as claim 2 is concerned. He insisted that (only) on ‘the special and particular facts of this case, the existence and operation of the Danish law operated (…) as an “insuperable” procedural obstacle which barred the effective prosecution of its claim.’ (at 124).
A considerate judgment and one which, if only because of its rarity and the insight it offers into procedural and tactical considerations in entertaining, or not, counterclaims, stands out in national case-law on the Brussels I- Regulation.
One or two interesting developments have been held up in my end of year queue. I shall report on them over the next week and a half or so. First up: judgment of the ECJ in Corman-Collins Case 9/12 – I reported on the Opinion of the AG here. The Court, like the AG, holds in favour of ‘services’: such is the diverse nature of the various obligations in the contractual relationship.
Given its confirmation of the contract falling under Article 5(1)(b), first indent, of the Brussels I-Regulation, the Court did not answer the final, subsidiary, question, which questioned the amount of European harmonisation of ‘place of performance of the obligation in question’ under Article 5(1)(a). As I flagged earlier, the AG had suggested the ECJ confirm its deference to national law on this issue, per Tessili Dunlop.
In Case C-9/12 Corman-Collins, the questions referred are as follows:
Corman-Collins is registered in Belgium; La Maison du Whisky in France. Jaaskinen AG justifiably replies to the first question in succinct fashion: where defendant is domiciled in a Member State other than the Member State of the forum, the Brussels I Regulation has priority over national jurisdictional rules (such as here: the 1961 Act on ‘concession’ agreements).
The 2nd and 3rd question are rephrased by the AG however also re-ordered: Article 5(1) b) of the Regulation, being the more specific, has priority over Article 5(1) a). Jaaskinen then points to an important difficulty: ‘concession’ agreements are not a concept known in EU law (in contrast, for instance, with ‘agency’). In view of the need for autonomous interpretation by the ECJ, the qualification or not of a contract as a ‘sale of goods’ cq ‘provision of services’ (two distinct categories employed by the Regulation), must not be left to national law (and ditto courts) to decide. The AG opts for ‘services’: sale of ‘goods’ is not the core distinguishing element in a ‘concession’ agreement – it is more than that: the holder of the concession rights is explicitly allowed by the other party, to distribute their goods in a given territory, indeed often this right is an exclusive right; holder and grantor often agree common sales techniques (indeed in the case at issue, use by the holder of a domain name indicating the grantor’s trading name); the concession agreement usually is a framework agreement, followed by individual sales agreements. Moreover, the holder commits to holding stock; to having an after sales service; frees the grantor from the requirement to have to establish their own distribution network in the territory; the grantor organises specific training sessions for the holder’s staff, etc. The holder therefore effectively provides a ‘service’, and jurisdiction has to be determined by Article 5(1) b), second indent.
Proof of whether such elements are present in the contractual relationship between parties, needs to be furnished by the party invoking the jurisdictional rule based on ‘services’; qualifications in accordance with lex fori are not relevant for such determination (European Law in other words harmonises qualification).
The final question, which the AG only entertains in subsidiary fashion, concerns the issue of what part of the contractual relationship needs to be withheld as ‘the obligation in question’ of Article 5(1)(a): ‘in matters relating to a contract, in the courts for the place of performance of the obligation in question;’ The concession holder in the case at issue (Corman-Collins) argues that where the grantor’s obligation entails delivery of the exclusive right for the holder to exercise an exclusive right of sale in a given territory, the suit for damages needs to be introduced in that territory.
‘The obligation in question’ was left undefined in both the Brussels Convention and the preparatory works. Indeed the Jenard Report is very brief on the special jurisdictional clause for contracts. In De Bloos the Court specified ‘For the purpose of determining the place of performance within the meaning of Article 5 (…) the obligation to be taken into account is that which corresponds to the contractual right on which the plaintiff’s action is based’. Plantiff’s suit inevitably leans upon defendant’s contractual obligations: it is the latter which determines ‘the obligation in question’. Where that place of performance lies, however, remains subject to national law: the Court in Tessili v Dunlop held that it was in no position to impose a European definition. Jaaskinen AG does not venture to give one, either: outside of the specific categories of Article 5(1)(b), European conflicts law has no grip on the qualification of contracts and their ‘place of performance’ by national courts.