Posts Tagged article 7(1)
Aspen Underwriting: The Supreme Court overrules on the issue of economically weaker parties in the insurance section.
I wrote earlier on the judgments at the High Court and the Court of Appeal in Aspen Underwriting v Kairos Shipping. The Supreme Court held yesterday and largely upheld the lower courts’ decisions, except for the issue of whether an economically equal party may nevertheless enjoy the benefit of the insurance section of Brussels Ia.
Reference is best made to my earlier posting for full assessment of the facts. The Supreme Court considered four issues.
Issue 1: Does the High Court have jurisdiction pursuant to the exclusive English jurisdiction clause contained in the Policy? This was mostly a factual assessment (is there a clear demonstration of consent to choice of court) which Lord Hodge for the SC held Teare J and the Court of Appeal both had absolutely right. Lord Hodge refers in support to a wealth of CJEU and English (as well as Singapore) courts on assignment and contractual rights v contractual obligations.
Issues 2 and 3: Are the Insurers’ claims against the Bank matters ‘relating to insurance’ (issue 2) within section 3 of the Regulation and if so, is the Bank entitled to rely on that section (issue 3)?
On issue 2, Teare J and the Court of Appeal had held that the Insurers’ claim against the Bank was so closely connected with the question of the Insurers’ liability to indemnify for the loss of the Vessel under the Policy that the subject matter of the claim can fairly be said to relate to insurance.
On this issue the insurers had appealed for they argued that a claim can be regarded as a matter relating to insurance only if the subject matter of the claim is, at least in substance, a breach of an obligation contained in, and required to be performed by, an insurance contract. They referred in particular to Brogsitter and also to Granarolo and Bosworth.
Lord Hodge disagreed with claimant, upholding Teare J and the CA: the need for restrictive interpretation is mentioned (at 38) and at 35 it transpires that of particular relevance in his analysis, is the very wording of the title of the insurance section: unlike all other special jurisdictional rules of interest, it does not include ‘contracts’. Further (at 36),
‘the scheme of section 3 is concerned with the rights not only of parties to an insurance contract, who are the insurer and the policyholder, but also beneficiaries of insurance and, in the context of liability insurance, the injured party, who will generally not be parties to the insurance contract.’
At 40 he holds that in any event the Brogsitter test is met:
‘The Insurers’ claim is that there has been an insurance fraud by the Owners and the Managers for which the Bank is vicariously liable. Such a fraud would inevitably entail a breach of the insurance contract as the obligation of utmost good faith applies not only in the making of the contract but in the course of its performance.’
However (issue 3) both Teare J and the CA eventually held that the insurance title failed to provide the bank with protection for they argued (as I noted with reference in particular to CJEU Voralsberger) that protection was available only to the weaker party in circumstances of economic imbalance between the claimant insurer and the defendant.
Here the SC disagrees and overrules. Lord Hodge’s reasons are mentioned at 43 ff, and I will not repeat them fully here. They include his view on which he is entirely right and as I have pointed out repeatedly, that recitals may be explanatory but only the rules in the Regulation have legal effect). Bobek AG’s Opinion in C-340/16 Kabeg features with force. Hofsoe is distinguished for, at 56,
‘In none of these cases where the CJEU has relied on the “weaker party” criterion to rule on applications to extend the scope of the section 3 protections beyond those parties who were clearly the policyholder, the insured, the beneficiary or the injured party, did the court call into question the entitlement of those expressly-named persons to that protection by reason of their economic power.’
That assessment is not entirely consistent for as Lord Hodge himself notes, and the CJEU acknowledges, in KABEG, Vorarlberger, Group Josi and GIE the jurisdiction of the forum actoris had been extended under articles 11(1)(b) and 13(2) to include the heirs of an injured party and also the employer who continues to pay the salary of the injured party while he was on sick leave.
All in all, it agree following Lord Hodge’s convincing review of the cases, that it is acte clair that a person which is correctly categorised as a policyholder, insured or beneficiary is entitled to the protection of section 3 of the Regulation, whatever its economic power relative to the insurer. (Even if particularly following Hofsoe the application of the section as a whole might need a more structured revisit by the CJEU). In the case at hand the Bank is the named loss payee under the Policy and therefore the “beneficiary” of that Policy (at 60).
In conclusion: Under A14 BIa the Bank must be sued in The Netherlands.
Finally, whether claims in unjust enrichment fall within article 7(2) (answered by Teare J in the negative) ‘does not arise’ (at 60). I am not entirely sure what this means: was it no longer challenged or was Teare J’s analysis on this straightforward? A different reply than that of Teare J would have required overruling Kleinwort Benson Ltd v. Glasgow City Council (No. 2)  1 AC 153 (HL), that a claim in unjust enrichment for mistake was neither a matter ‘relating to contract’ nor a matter ‘relating to tort’ for the purposes of EU private international law – an issue I discussed in my earlier posting in particular in its relationship with Rome I and II. With the SC’s refusal to entertain it, that authority therefore stands.
One does wish that the CJEU at some point have an opportunity further to clarify the insurance section and will do so in a holistic manner. The SC judgment here is one big step in the good direction.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 220.127.116.11, Heading 18.104.22.168.
CJEU confirms Saugmandsgaard ØE in Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia: ‘contractual relation’ broadly interpreted, restraint on the consumer section, even for package travel.
The CJEU last week confirmed Saugmandsgaard ØE AG’s Opinion in C-215/18 Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia. In a package of services acquired from a travel agent, where there is no direct agreement with the airline carrying out the flight part of the package, there is a ‘contract’ between the individual and the airline within the meaning of Article 7(1) BIa. However the consumer section of BIa must be interpreted less extensively. Only the direct relationship between the travel agent and the consumer is covered by that section, not the relationship with the airline who merely carries out the transport side of the arrangement. (Note again the different balance struck by the AG and now the CJEU as opposed to e.g. the High Court in Bonnie Lackey).
(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124.
Dinant Bar v maître JN. CJEU confirms Bar membership fees are in principle neither civil and commercial nor contractual.
The CJEU on Thursday last week largely confirmed Saugmansdgaard ØE’s Opinion which I reviewed here, in C-421/18 Dinant Bar v maître JN, however with different emphasis than the AG. The Court insists that in accordance with Belgian law, registration with the bar association constitutes a legal obligation to which practising as a professional lawyer is subject, and that individuals wishing to practise that profession must be a member of a bar association and must comply with decisions taken by that association, notably as regards the payment of fees.
Disputes concerning those fees then are not civil and commercial and therefore not covered by Brussels I a, unless,
‘in so far as those fees constitute consideration for services freely consented to, including insurance services, which that bar association may have negotiated with a third party with a view to obtaining more advantageous terms for its lawyer members, the obligation to pay those fees would be of a contractual nature and, therefore, an action initiated with a view to ensuring that that obligation is performed would come within the scope of Article 7(1)(a) of Regulation No 1215/2012. It is for the referring court to ascertain whether that is the case in the dispute in the main proceedings’.
The AG had emphasised the factual circumstances of the case, in which the Bar had lowered the fees for maître JN to the very insurance premium only. In most cases of course Bar fees disputes probably will be about more than that and the Court’s approach may lead to split (non)applicability of Brussels Ia, in which payments for services freely consented to will have to be distinguished from those due in return for public service obligations. (Bar councils may wish to split these sums in their yearly invoice).
Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199
Air transport. The CJEU in Adriano Guaitoli v Easyjet. The not always clear delineation between the jurisdictional rules of the Brussels and Montreal regimes.
C-213/18 Adriano Guaitoli et al v Easyjet concerns the clearly complex relationship between the Brussels Ia jurisdictional regime, the 1999 Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, and the EU’s flight compensation Regulation 261/2004.
Montreal Article 33 determines which court has jurisdiction to hear an action for damages against an air carrier falling within the scope of that instrument. The reference has been made in the context of a cross-border dispute between an airline and a number of passengers, in relation to sums claimed by those passengers both by way of standardised compensation under Regulation 261/2004 and by way of individualised compensation for damage caused to them by the cancellation of an outward and a return flight, both operated by that airline.
Saugmandsgaard ØE had advised that the two instruments should be applied distributively, according to the nature of the relevant head of claim. The Court has followed: the court of a Member State hearing an action seeking to obtain both compliance with the flat-rate and standardised rights provided for in Regulation No 261/2004, and compensation for further damage falling within the scope of the Montreal Convention, must assess its jurisdiction, on the first head of claim, in the light of Article 7(1) BIa and, on the second head of claim, having regard to Article 33 Montreal.
This is also the result of Articles 67 and Article 71(1) BIa which allow the application of rules of jurisdiction relating to specific matters which are contained respectively in Union acts or in conventions to which the Member States are parties. Since air transport is such a specific matter, the rules of jurisdiction provided for by the Montreal Convention must be applicable within the regulatory framework laid down by it.
Note that per Article 17(3) BIa the consumer section ‘shall not apply to a contract of transport other than a contract which, for an inclusive price, provides for a combination of travel and accommodation’ (see also C‑464/18 Ryanair). The rule of special jurisdiction for the supply of services, A7(1)(b) BIa, designates as the court having jurisdiction to deal with a claim for compensation based on air transport contract of persons, at the applicant’s choice, that court which has territorial jurisdiction over the place of departure or place of arrival of the aircraft, as those places are agreed in that transport contract; see also C-88/17 Zurich Insurance.
The Court further held that Article 33 Montreal, like A7BIa, leads to the direct appointment of the territorially competent court within a Montreal State: it does not just just identify a State with jurisdiction as such.
The combined application of these rules inevitable means that unless claimants are happy to sue in Mozaik fashion, consolidation of the case will most likely take place in the domicile of the airline. In the Venn diagram of options, that is in most cases the only likely overlap.
(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 188.8.131.52.
Saugmandsgaard ØE in Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia: the Feniks ‘contractual relation’ train thunders on, yet restraint is shown on the consumer section, even for package travel.
In C-215/18 Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia, Saugmandsgaard ØE AG now unsurprisingly (following the CJEU predecent of Feniks and Flightright), advised that in a package of services acquired from a travel agent, where there is no direct agreement with the airline carrying out the flight part of the package, there is a ‘contract’ between the individual and the airline within the meaning of Article 7(1) BIa.
At 37 the AG emphasises the element of predictability on the part of the airline, who should not be surprised to be sued by the individual whom they agree with the travel agency to transport, both in the place of take-off and landing, per Zurich Insurance.
However unlike the Commission, the AG supports a less extensive interpretation of the consumer section. Package travel as defined in Directive 90/314, unlike simple tickets for transport only, are covered by the protective provisions of Article 17 ff BIa. Yet the AG proposes to extend that regime only to the direct relationship between the travel agent and the consumer, not the airline who merely carries out the transport side of the arrangement. At 48 ff the AG sets out his reasons for the limitation: the emphasis in the consumer section on the very consumer and professional party who concluded the contract (48-49); the distinction with Maletic since in the case at issue claimant is after the airline company only, not an in solidum finding against the agency and the airline (5-52); and of course the need for strict interpretation.
Note of course the different balance struck by the AG as opposed to e.g. the High Court in Bonnie Lackey.
(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 184.108.40.206.
Dinant Bar v maître JN. Bar membership fees. Saugmansdgaard ØE on whether they are at all ‘civil and commercial’ and if so, whether they are ‘contractual’.
In C-421/18 Saugmansdgaard ØE opined (Opinion a yet available in a handful of languages only, not including English) on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ (last reviewed by the Court in Buak) and ‘contract’ (within Article 7(1) Brussels Ia.
At issue was the relationship between a France-domiciled practising lawyer, registered with the Dinant (Belgium) Bar, and that Bar. Maître JN, now a very occasional practitioner it seems, had been refusing to pay his Bar Membership fees even after the Bar council had reduced them to the level of insurance premiums paid by it to the insurance company running the collective professional insurance scheme.
The referring court at Namur had not in fact asked the CJEU about the interpretation of ‘civil and commercial’. It was the EC’s comments which triggered Saugmansdgaard ØE’s review of that issue (albeit he insists the final call is up to the referring court). He refers to the public interest duties carried out by the Bar Council (in particular, ensuring the public’s trust in the proper representation before the judicial authorities), and the authority entrusted to the Council by Belgian’s code of civil procedure (particularly at 34). At 35 ff he then considers whether in its collection of the Bar fees set by and due to it by the registered lawyers, the Council acts in the exercise of that authority, and decides it does not: the fees are determined by the general council of the Bar and in the main represent the professional insurance fees. That is all the more made clear by the fact that in the case of maître JN the Bar had reduced the fees to the exact amount paid to the insurance company.
The dispute therefore he advices is about pennies, not power.
Turning to the issue of ‘contract’ reference is made ia to the recent CJEU decision in Kerr. Particularly at 81 ff the Advocate General emphasises the specificities of the case: the solicitor in question had effectively retired yet chose to continue to pay Bar membership fees. In contrast to for instance Austro-Mecana and more in line with Kerr (and in contrast also one could argue with fully practising lawyers) the voluntary character of the relationship is core.
LIC Telecommunications et al v VTB Capital et al. High Court suggests autonomous EU approach to asymmetric choice of court. Also discusses contract and tort distinction, and abuse of process.
In  EWHC 1747 (Comm) LIC Telecommunications et al v VTB Capital et al Moulder J suggests an unorthodox interpretations of Article 25 of the Brussels Ia Regulation. (Note also her very critical view at 22 of one of the experts, whom she found having confused his role as expert with a role as advocate). Much of the lengthy judgment is devoted to intricate discussions of Luxembourgish corporate law (hence the need for expert evidence) and the jurisdictional issues are, somewhat illogically, discussed towards the end of the judgment, at 245 ff.
Maze, one of the defendants, acts as a manager of V2 pursuant to a directorship agreement dated 26 May 2015 (the “Directorship Agreement”). It relies on the effect of clause 19 of the Directorship Agreement and submitted that claims against it are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of Luxembourg pursuant to Article 25 Brussels Ia. Clause 19 provides:
“for the benefit of the Manager, the Shareholder and the Company hereby irrevocably, specially and expressly agree that the courts of Luxembourg city have jurisdiction to settle any disputes in connection with this Agreement and accordingly submits to the jurisdiction of the courts of Luxembourg city. Nothing in this clause limits however the rights of the Manager to bring proceedings against the Company in connection with this Agreement in any other court of competent jurisdiction or concurrently in more than one jurisdiction.”
The clause is asymmetric aka hybrid aka unilateral. (See e.g. my discussion of Rothschild etc.). These clauses as I have noted elsewhere highlight the clear insufficiency of Brussels Ia’s new lex fori prorogati (including renvoi) rule for choice of court. Which court has been prorogated, hence also lex fori prorogati, is not clear when the clause is asymmetric.
Moulder J discusses  EWHC 161 (Comm) Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers as precedent: I reviewed it here and signalled at the time that it would not be the last we would hear of the issue. In that case Cranston J held ‘There is nothing in Article 25 that a valid jurisdiction agreement has to exclude any courts, in particular non EU Courts. Article 17, penultimate paragraph, of the Brussels Convention recognised asymmetric jurisdiction clauses. To my mind it would need a strong indication that Brussels 1 Recast somehow renders what is a regular feature of financial documentation in the EU ineffective.‘ I was never taken by that conclusion viz the Brussels Convention: its Article 17 reference to a party having ‘benefit’ from choice of court does not relate entirely to the same discussion on asymmetric clauses (Peralla v Codere  EWHC 1182 (Comm) which I discussed here illustrates that difference).
At any rate I disagree with Moulder J’s statement at 254 that
It is now common ground that it is a question of autonomous EU law and not a question of national law. (It was I believe accepted that the proviso “unless the agreement is null and void as to its substantive validity” refers to issues such as capacity, fraud and mistake, not whether particular kinds of “choice of court” agreements are permitted under the Regulation).
Asymmetric clauses are the first example often given when highlighting the limited cover of Article 25 Brussels I a (and the need for certainty on the lex causae for choice of court). There is no autonomous interpretation there at all. I do agree however with the conclusion at 261: that Luxembourg courts, applying EU law, would not uphold such clauses was not made out on the evidence. Luxembourgish courts at least when they apply Luxembourgish law, generally uphold the validity of asymmetric choice of court.
At 263 ff then follows discussion of Article 7(1) and 7(2). Much of the authority discussed has been reviewed on this blog. (Including Bosworth (Arcadia) which in the meantime has been held by the CJEU but without the contract /tort element – the CJEU found against a contract of employment). Moulder J holds that Article 7(2) is engaged, not 7(1), and on the former discusses locus delicti commissi with reference to JSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov. At 295: it is not sufficient that there are meetings in England to implement the conspiracy, it is the making of the agreement in England which is to be regarded as the harmful event. Claimants have not supplied a plausible evidential basis that the agreement was made in England. Their evidence is consistent with a case that the conspiracy was implemented in England but that is not sufficient.
As for locus damni, at 298: Even though the share purchase agreement was under English law, it is the loss of the shares in the Luxembourg company which is the pleaded damage not the agreement to sell or the auction. The Vivacom group consists of Bulgarian telecommunications companies which were held by InterV through Viva Luxembourg Bulgaria EOOD (paragraph 3 of the Agreed List of Agreed Issues). Locus damni is Bulgaria, perhaps Luxembourg. But not England.
Finally, abuse of process considerations are linked to English procedural law (whether claims should have been brought sooner).
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 220.127.116.11, Heading 18.104.22.168 .
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.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124
Judgment in Kerr v Postnov(a): a surprisingly swift conclusion on Article 24 and ‘services’ in Brussels Ia /Rome I.
My review of Kokott AG’s Opinion C-25/18 Brian Andrew Kerr v Pavlo Postnov and Natalia Postnova (Kerr v Postnov(a)) discussed, as did the AG, 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. The Court ruled on 8 May.
Coming to the first issue: Article 24(1) – this is not properly answered by the Court.
I signalled the potential for engineering even in Article 24 cases: particularly here, the prospect of adding an enforcement claim to an otherwise contractual action. At 37-38 the Court deals most succinctly with this issue: ‘in so far as the action which gave rise to the dispute in the main proceedings does not fall within the scope of any of those actions, but is based on the rights of the association of property owners to payment of contributions relating to the maintenance of the communal areas of a building, that action must not be regarded as relating to a contract for a right in rem in immovable property, within the meaning of Article 4(1)(c) of Regulation No 593/2008.’: ‘in so far as’ – ‘dans la mesure où’: the Court would seem to dodge the issues here which the AG did discuss, in particular vis-a-vis the enforcement accessory: that discussion I feel is not over.
Note also the straight parallel which the Court makes between lex contractus under Rome I and Article 24.
The discussion of Article 24(2) does lead to a clear conclusion: the forum societatis is not engaged. However on Rome I the Court does not follow the AG, with specific reference to the Lagarde report (at 33-34). Unlike its AG if finds that Rome I’s lex societatis exception is not engaged.
As for Article 7(1) forum contractus: at 27 usual authority going back to Handte assists the Court in its conclusion that ‘even if membership of an association of property owners is prescribed by law, the fact remains that the detailed arrangements for management of the communal areas of the building concerned are, as the case may be, governed by contract and the association is joined through voluntary acquisition of an apartment together with ownership shares of the communal areas of the property, so that an obligation of the co-owners towards the association of owners, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, must be regarded as a legal obligation freely consented to’ (at 27). At 28: ‘the fact that that obligation results exclusively from that act of purchase or derives from that act in conjunction with a decision adopted by the general assembly of the association of the owners of property in that building has no effect on the application of Article 7(1)(a)’.
At 39-40 the Court then swiftly comes to the conclusion of ‘services’ under Article 4(1)(c) Rome I, without much ado at all. The AG had opined that the non-uniform nature of the contributions leads to non-application of the service rule of Article 7(1)b BruIa and therefore a resurrection of the classic Tessili formula: the CJEU itself went for the acte clair route.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, 126.96.36.199
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).
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52