The CJEU in Wikingerhof on distinguishing tort from contract between contracting parties. No Valhalla for those seeking further clarification of Brogsitter, let alone De Bloos.

Update 25 November 10:38 AM:  Readers  may want to refer to the discussion posted to Tobias Lutzi’s view on the case, which I will not copy /paste here save for my initial reply: ‘I believe Tobias’ biggest take-away from the judgment is the Court’s emphasis on ‘indispensability’ of contractual interpretation for A(7)1 to be triggered (he will correct me if I am wrong).
As I argue in my review of the judgment, I think that’s a change of emphasis viz Brogsitter and e.g. Apple v eBizcuss rather than a change in nature of the CJEU approach.
However assuming one applies the authority that courts must not dwell too long on merits in assessing jurisdictional gateways, it does follow that A7(1) will only be engaged in those cases where the contract prima facie is overwhelmingly needed to solve the underlying dispute. This still leaves room for manoeuvre for the creative claimant (see also the AG’s points on forum shopping), but not as much as might have been expected prior to this judgment.’

 

The CJEU held yesterday (Tuesday) in C-59/19 Wikingerhof v Booking.com. I reviewed the AG’s Opinion here and the Court follows the AG’s minimalist interpretation. The case was held in Grand Chamber, which might have provoked expectations yet the judgment is not exactly a bang. Neither however can it be described a whimper. As I note in my review of the Opinion, the case in my view could have been held acte clair. The AG did take the opportunity in his Opinion to discuss many issues which the CJEU was bound not to entertain, at least not in as much detail as the AG did.

Let me first signal what I believe might be the biggest take-away of the litigation, if at least the referring court is followed. That is the Bundesgerichtshof’s finding that  there is no durable record of the alleged consent by Wikingerhof of the amended GTCs, including choice of court, effected via amendments on the ‘Extranet’, which is the portal via which the hotel may update its information and retrieve reservations. Booking.com claimed these amounted to a ‘form which accords with practices which the parties have established between themselves’ pursuant to Article 25(1)(b). Parties will still argue on the merits whether the initial consent to the primary GTCs was strong-armed because of booking.com’s dominant position.

With respect to to the jurisdictional issue, the CJEU in a succinct judgment firstly points to the need for restrictive interpretation. It points at 29 to the claimant being the trigger of A7(1) or (2). Without a claimant’s decision to base a claim on the Articles, they simply do not get to be engaged. That is a reference to the forum shopping discussion of the AG. Still, the court hearing the action must assess whether the specific conditions laid down by those provisions are  met.

At 32, with reference to Brogsitter, ‘an action concerns matters relating to a contract within the meaning of [A7(1)(a) BIa] if the interpretation of the contract between the defendant and the applicant appears indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter’.  ‘That is in particular the case of an action based on the terms of a contract or on rules of law which are applicable by reason of that contract’ (reference to Holterman and to Kareda, with the latter itself referring to De Bloos). At 33  ‘By contrast, where the applicant relies, in its application, on rules of liability in tort, delict or quasi-delict, namely breach of an obligation imposed by law, and where it does not appear indispensable to examine the content of the contract concluded with the defendant in order to assess whether the conduct of which the latter is accused is lawful or unlawful, since that obligation applies to the defendant independently of that contract, the cause of the action is a matter relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict’.

At 32 therefore the CJEU would seem to confirm De Bloos’ awkward (given the Regulation’s attention to predictability) support for forum shopping based on claim formulation yet corrected by what is more akin to Sharpston AG’s approach in Ergo and the Court’s approach in Apple v eBizcuss, a judgment not referred in current judgment: namely that the judge will have to consider whether contractual interpretation is strictly necessary (the Court uses ‘indispensable’) to judge the case on the merits. Update 25 November 2020 as Tobias Lutzi notes here, it is the repeated (after its first use in Brogsitter) emphasis on ‘indispensable’ which might be the core clue of the CJEU: it would make the threshold for the 7(1) gateway in cases like these, high. A change in emphasis compared to Brogsitter, rather than one in substance.

Here, Wikingerhof rely on statutory German competition law (at 34-36): therefore the claim is one covered by Article 7(2).

The judgment confirms the now very fine thread between jurisdictional and merits review for the purposes of tort-based litigation between two contracting parties.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9. 3rd ed. 2021 para 2.469.

 

Wikingerhof v Booking.com. Saugmandsgaard AG on the qualification in contract or tort of alleged abuse of dominant position between contracting parties. Invites the Court to confirm one of two possible readings of Brogsitter.

Saugmandsgaard AG opined yesterday in C-59/19 Wikingerhof v Booking.com (no English version of the Opinion at the time of writing). At issue is whether allegations of abuse of dominant position create a forum contractus (Article 7(1) Brussels Ia) or a forum delicti (A7(2) BIa).

I published on jurisdiction and applicable law earlier this year and I am as always genuinely humbled with the AG’s (three) references to the handbook.  Wikingerhof submits inter alia that it only ever agreed to Booking.com’s general terms and conditions (‘GTCs’) because Booking.com’s dominant position leaves it no choice. And that it had most certainly not agreed to updates to the GTCs, effected via amendments on the ‘Extranet’, which is the portal via which the hotel may update its information and retrieve reservations.

At 16 of its referral, the Bundesgerichtshof holds acte clair and therefore without reference to the CJEU that there is no durable record of the alleged consent by Wikingerhof of the amended GTCs, including choice of court. Booking.com claimed these amounted to a ‘form which accords with practices which the parties have established between themselves’ pursuant to Article 25(1)(b). This finding echoes the requirements of housekeeping which I signalled yesterday.

In my 2020 paper I point out (p.153) inter alia that in the context of Article 25’s choice of court provisions, the CJEU in C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss suggested a fairly wide window for actions based on Article 102 TFEU’s prohibition of abuse of dominant position to be covered by the choice of court. At 28 in Apple v eBizcuss: ‘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 AG as I note below distinguished Apple on the facts and applicable rule.

In the request for preliminary ruling of the referring court, CJEU C-548/12 Brogsitter features repeatedly. The Bundesgerichtshof itself is minded to hold for forum delicti, given that (at 24 of its reference)

‘ it is not the interpretation of the contract that is the focus of the legal disputes  between the parties, but rather the question of whether the demand for specific contractual conditions or the invoking of them by a company with an — allegedly — dominant market position is to be regarded as abusive and is therefore in breach of provisions of antitrust law.

In fact on the basis of the request, the court could have held acte clair. It referred anyway which gives the AG the opportunity to write a complete if  to begin with concise précis on the notion of ‘contract’ and ‘tort’ in BIa. At 38, this leads him to conclude inter alia that despite the need strictly to interpret exceptions to the A4 actor sequitur forum rei rule, these exceptions including the special jurisdictional fori contractus ut delicti, must simply be applied with their purpose in mind.

He calls it an application ‘assouplie’, best translated perhaps as ‘accommodating’ (readers may check this against the English version when it comes out) (viz tort, too, the AG uses the term assouplie, at 45, referring eg to CJEU C-133/11 Folien Fisher).

Further, the AG notes that in deciding whether the claim is one in contract, necessarily the claimant’s cause of action has an impact, per CJEU C-274/16 Flightright (at 61 of that judgment, itself refering to C‑249/16 Kareda which in turn refers to 14/76 De Bloos). The impact of claimant’s claim form evidently is a good illustration of the possibility to engineer or at least massage fora and I am pleased the AG openly discusses the ensuing forum shopping implications, at 58 ff. He starts however with signalling at 53 ff that the substantive occurrence of concurrent liability in contract and tort is subject to the laws of the Member States and clearly differs among them, making a short comparative inroad e.g. to English law, German law and Belgian /French law. (Michiel Poesen recently wrote on the topic within the specific context of the employment section).

The AG’s discussion of CJEU authority eventually brings him to Brogsitter. He he firmly supports a minimalist interpretation.  This would mean that only if the contractual context is indispensable for the judge to rule on the legality or not of the parties’ behaviour, is forum contractus engaged. This is similar to his Opinion in Bosworth, to which he refers. He rejects the maximalist interpretation. This approach puts forward that contractual qualification trumps non-contractual (arguably, a left-over of CJEU Kalfelis; but as the AG notes at 81: there is most certainly not such a priority at the applicable law level between Rome I and II) hence the judge regardless of the claimant’s formulation of claim, must qualify the claim as contractual when on the facts a link may exist between the alleged shortcomings of the other party, and the contract.

The maximum interpretation, at 76 ff, would require the judge to engage quite intensively with the merits of the case. That would go against the instructions of the CJEU (applying the Brussels Convention (e.g. C-269/95 Benincasa)), and it would (at 77) undermine a core requirement of the Brussels regime which is legal certainty. That the minimalist approach might lead to multiplication of trials seeing as not all issues would be dealt with by the core forum contractus, is rebuked at 85 by reference to the possibility of the A4 domicile forum (an argument which the CJEU itself used in Bier /Mines de Potasse to support the Mozaik implications of its ruling there) and by highlighting the Regulation’s many instances of support for forum shopping.

The AG then discusses abusive forum shopping following creative claim formulation at 88 ff. This  is disciplined both by the fact that as his comparative review shows, the substantive law of a number of Member States eventually will not allow for dual characterisation and hence reject the claim in substance. Moreover clearly unfounded claims will be disciplined by lex fori mechanisms (such as one imagines, cost orders and the like). This section confuses me a little for I had understood the minimalist approach to lay more emphasis on the judge’s detection of the claim’s DNA (along the lines of Sharpston AG in Ergo) than on the claim’s formulation.

The AG then continues with further specification of the minimalist approach, including at 112 a rejection, correct in my view (for the opposite would deny effet utile to A7(2), of the suggestion to give the A7(1) forum contractus the ancillary power to rule of over delictual (A7(2)) issues closely related to the contractual concerns.

Applying the minimalist test to the case at issue the AG concludes that it entails forum delicti, referring in support to CDC and distinguishing Apple v eBizcuss (which entails choice of court and relies heavily on textual wording of the clause).

It will be interesting to see which of the two possible interpretations of Brogsitter the CJEU will follow and whether it will clarify the forum shopping implications of claim formulation.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9.

 

The CJEU’s locus damni determination in Volkswagen dismisses a US style minimum contacts rule. Like the passat, it risks picking up suits and landing them almost anywhere.

Update 26 August 2020 see Matthias Lehmann for similar as well as additional criticism here.

Update 10 July 2020 a few hours after posting: I revisited the pending, distinct reference by the Austrian Supreme Court (see Rouzbeh Moradi’s flag here) on type approval issues (which the High Court has actually dealt with as acte clair in [2020] EWHC 783 (QB), referred to here). I was hoping there might be scope in those questions for the CJEU to fill in the blanks signalled below. I fear there is not.

I earlier reviewed Sánchez-Bordona AG’ opinion in C‑343/19 Verein für Konsumenteninformation v Volkswagen. I noted then that despite attempts at seeing system in the Opinion, the ever unclearer distinction between direct and indirect aka ‘ricochet’ damage under Article 7(2) Brussels Ia is a Valhalla for reverse engineering.

The AG did not suggest a wild west of connecting factors for indirect damage (please refer to my full post for overview), instead suggesting a Universal Music style requirement of extra factors (over and above the location of damage) to establish jurisdiction. In particular he put forward a minimum contacts rule such as in US conflict of laws: at 75: ‘the defendant’s intention to sell its vehicles in the Member State whose jurisdiction is in issue (and, as far as possible, in certain districts within that State).’

The CJEU’s judgment yesterday was received as giving ‘consumers’ the right to sue Volkswagen in their state of domicile. This however is not quite correct. Firstly, the parties at issue are not ‘consumers’ at least within the meaning of European conflicts law: the suit is one in tort, not contract, let alone one that concerns a consumer contract. Further, the AG was clear and the CJEU arguably held along the same lines, that it is only if the car was purchased by a downstream (third party) buyer and the Volkswagen Dieselgate story broke after that purchase, that the damage may be considered to only then have come into existence, thus creating jurisdiction. See the CJEU at 29 ff:

29. That said, in the main proceedings, it is apparent from the documents before the Court, subject to the assessment of the facts which it is for the referring court to make, that the damage alleged by the VKI takes the form of a loss in value of the vehicles in question stemming from the difference between the price paid by the purchaser for such a vehicle and its actual value owing to the installation of software that manipulates data relating to exhaust gas emissions.

30      Consequently, while those vehicles became defective as soon as that software had been installed, the view must be taken that the damage asserted occurred only when those vehicles were purchased, as they were acquired for a price higher than their actual value.

31      Such damage, which did not exist before the purchase of the vehicle by the final purchaser who considers himself adversely affected, constitutes initial damage within the meaning of the case-law recalled in paragraph 26 of the present judgment, and not an indirect consequence of the harm initially suffered by other persons within the meaning of the case-law cited in paragraph 27 of the present judgment.

That ‘case-law cited’ is the classic lines of cases on locus damni per A7(2) BIa, with Trans Tibor as its latest expression.

The CJEU does not qualify the damage as purely financial: at 33, citing the EC’s court opinion: ‘the fact that the claim for damages is expressed in euros does not mean that the damage is purely financial.’: the car, a tangible asset, actually suffers a defect, over and above the impact on its value as an asset. That is a statement which cuts many a corner and which has relevance beyond the EU regime for all ‘money judgments’ (think of e.g. the Hague Judgments Convention). Update 10 July 2020 after initial posting: thank you Gordon Nardell QC for pointing out that the CJEU view here is at odds with the English conflicts rules (and with many other, I reckon) on characterisation of loss as pecuniary.

Predictability, which is firmly part of the Brussels Ia Regulation’s DNA, the Court holds, is secured seeing as a car manufacturer which ‘engages in unlawful tampering with vehicles sold in other Member States may reasonably expect to be sued in the courts of those States (at 36).

Finally, the Court throws consistency with Rome II in the mix, by holding at 39

Lastly, that interpretation satisfies the requirement of consistency laid down in recital 7 of the Rome II Regulation, in so far as, in accordance with Article 6(1) thereof, the place where the damage occurs in a case involving an act of unfair competition is the place where ‘competitive relations or the collective interests of consumers are, or are likely to be, affected’. An act, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which, by being likely to affect the collective interests of consumers as a group, constitutes an act of unfair competition (judgment of 28 July 2016, Verein für Konsumenteninformation, C‑191/15, EU:C:2016:612, paragraph 42), may affect those interests in any Member State within the territory of which the defective product is purchased by consumers. Thus, under the Rome II Regulation, the place where the damage occurs is the place in which such a product is purchased (see, by analogy, judgment of 29 July 2019, Tibor-Trans, C‑451/18, EU:C:2019:635, paragraph 35).

The extent to which A6 Rome II applies to acts of unfair competition being litigated by ‘consumers’ (in the non-technical sense of the word), is however not quite clear and in my view certainly not settled by this para in the Court’s judgment.

Finally, on locus delicti commissi as I noted at the time, the AG had not in my view given a complete analysis. The CJEU is silent on it.

Not many will feel much sympathy for Volkswagen facing cluster litigation across the EU given its intention to cheat. However the rejection of a minimum contacts approach under A7(2) will have implications reaching small corporations, too. The Volkswagen ruling has many loose ends and will need distinguishing, with intention to defraud the consumer arguably a relevant criterion for distinction given the Court’s finding in para 36.

It is to be feared that many national judges will fail to see the need for distinguishing, adding to the ever expanding ripple effect of locus damni following the Court’s epic Bier judgment.

Geert.

Ps reference to the Passat in the title is of course to the VW Passat, named after the Germanic name for one of the Trade winds.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.7

 

Jurisdiction for trademark infringement and passing off. Easygroup v Easyfly and ATR Aircraft

In [2020] EWHC 40 (Ch) Easygroup v Easyfly and ATR Aircraft the issue is the jurisdiction of the English court to hear claims of trade mark infringement, passing off and conspiracy against a Colombian domestic airline, its founder and chief executive, and a French aircraft manufacturer. As always the blog’s interest is not in the substantive issues concerning trademark and passing off, they do however make for interesting reading.

Nugee J considers the jurisdictional issues at 26 ff with respect to the first two defendants and with respect to the French defendant, in para 127 ff. Here the relationship between the EU Trade Mark Regulation 2017/1001 and Brussels Ia comes to the fore. (I continue to find my colleague Marie-Christine Janssens’ 2010 paper most informative on the issues; see also the link to Tobias Lutzi’s analysis of AMS Neve in my report of same). The relevant provisions of the Regulation (previously included in Regulation 207/2009, applied ia in CJEU AMS Neve), read

Article 125. International jurisdiction
1. Subject to the provisions of this Regulation as well as to any provisions of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 applicable by virtue of Article 122, proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 124 shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the defendant is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment.
2. If the defendant is neither domiciled nor has an establishment in any of the Member States, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the plaintiff is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment.

3. If neither the defendant nor the plaintiff is so domiciled or has such an establishment, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State where the Office has its seat.

4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraphs 1, 2 and 3:

(a) Article 25 of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 shall apply if the parties agree that a different EU trade mark court shall have jurisdiction;

(b) Article 26 of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 shall apply if the defendant enters an appearance before a different EU trade mark court.

5. Proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 124, with the exception of actions for a declaration of non-infringement of an EU trade mark, may also be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the act of infringement has been committed or threatened, or in which an act referred to in Article 11(2) has been committed.

 

Article 126. Extent of jurisdiction
1. An EU trade mark court whose jurisdiction is based on Article 125(1) to (4) shall have jurisdiction in respect of:

(a) acts of infringement committed or threatened within the territory of any of the Member States;

(b) acts referred to in Article 11(2) committed within the territory of any of the Member States.

2. An EU trade mark court whose jurisdiction is based on Article 125(5) shall have jurisdiction only in respect of acts committed or threatened within the territory of the Member State in which that court is situated.

 

The first two defendants are not based in the EU. Here, Article 125(2) grants jurisdiction to the UK courts.

Controversially, at 36 Nugee J applies a forum non conveniens test. It is disputed whether this is at all possible in the Trademark Regulation. He decides England clearly is the appropriate forum: ‘there is no other court that can try the UK trade mark claims, and for the reasons just given [French and  Spanish courts might have partial jurisdiction, GAVC] no other court that can grant pan-EU relief in respect of the EU trade mark claims.’

At 37 ff Nugee J then also still considers with reference ia to CJEU Pammer and the discussions on ‘accessibility’ (see also ia Football Dataco) whether there is a ‘serious issue to be tried’ and answers in the affirmative. Here I am assuming this must be seen as part of case-management rather than a jurisdictional test (viz Article 8(1) BIa’s anchor defendant mechanism, a ‘serious issue to be tried’ test is said to be part of the ‘related cases’ analysis; see related discussions ia in Privatbank), unless he reformulates the application of Article 126 as a ‘serious issue to be tried’ test – the structure of the judgment is leaving me confused.

Eventually however the previous Order made by the High Court, granting permission to serve out of jurisdiction, is set aside by Nugee J on grounds of lack of full and frank disclosure at the service hearing – an issue less exciting for this blog however dramatic nevertheless.

The French defendant (who issued a relevant press release (only 11 copies of which were distributed at the Farnborough airshow; this was found to be de minimis; not as such a mechanism available under the EUTMR I don’t think; but it might be under case management) and was also responsible for organising (ia by having the logo painted) the offending branding in France), at the jurisdictional level is dealt with in para 127 ff., first with respect to the trademark claim.

‘By art. 125(1) the default position is that the proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State where the defendant is domiciled: in ATR’s case this is France. Neither art. 125(2) nor art. 125(3) applies to ATR because each only applies if the defendant is neither domiciled nor has an establishment in a Member State. Art. 125(4) does not apply as it is not suggested that ATR has either (a) agreed that the English court should have jurisdiction, or (b) entered an appearance before the English court. That leaves art. 125(5) under which proceedings may also be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the act of infringement has been committed or threatened. In the present case that would also be France (and possibly Spain). It follows that none of the provisions of art. 125 confer jurisdiction on the English court to hear actions based on acts of infringement said to have been carried out by ATR in France and Spain.’

Counsel for EasyGroup accepted ia per AMS Neve that the Trademark Regulation is lex specialis vis-à-vis Brussels Ia but that nevertheless the general spirit of BIa should blow over Regulation 2017/1001. They refer at 130 to the ‘general desirability of avoiding duplicative proceedings and the risk of inconsistent judgments (as exemplified by arts 29 and 30 of Brussels I Recast),’ and argue that ‘it followed that once the English court had jurisdiction over the Defendants for the acts taking place in France (as it undoubtedly did under art. 125(2)), then it must also have jurisdiction over anyone else alleged to be jointly liable for the same acts of infringement.’

This therefore is a makeshift joinder mechanism which Nugee J was not impressed with. He pointed to the possibility under A125(5) to sue the other defendants and the French defendants in one jurisdiction, namely France. An A7(2) BIa action is not possible: A122(2)(a) EUTMR expressly provides that in proceedings based on A124, A7(2) BIa does not apply.

Finally, a claim in conspiracy against the French defendant is not covered by the EUTMR and instead by A7(2) BIa, discussed at 142 ff with reference to (Lugano) authority [2018] UKSC 19, which I discussed here. Locus delicti commissi, Nugee J finds, is not in England: no conspiratorial agreement between ATR and the Defendants in relation to the branding of the aircraft took place in England. At 145: ‘the Heads of Agreement, and Sale and Purchase Agreement, were each signed in France and Colombia, and there is nothing that can be pointed to as constituting the making of any agreement in England.’

As for locus damni, at 148 Nugee J holds this not to have been or potentially be in England:

‘The foundation of easyGroup’s claims in relation to the branding of the aircraft is that once painted they were flown on test flights, and en route to Colombia, in full view of the public. But the public which might have viewed the planes were the public in France and Spain, not the public in the UK. That might amount to a dilution in the brand in the eyes of the French and Spanish public, but it is difficult to see how it could affect the brand in the eyes of the UK public, or otherwise cause easyGroup to sustain loss in the UK. Mr Bloch said that if such a plane crashed, the news would not stop at the Channel and it might adversely affect easyGroup’s reputation in the UK, but no such damage has in fact occurred, and it seems to me far too speculative to say that it may occur. As already referred to, Mr Bloch also relied on easyGroup having suffered damage on the user principle (paragraph 82 above), but it seems to me that damages awarded on this basis would be damages for the loss of an opportunity to exploit easyGroup’s marks by licensing them to be used in France and Spain, and that for the purposes of the first limb of art. 7(2) such damage would therefore be suffered in France and Spain as that is where the relevant exploitation of the asset would otherwise take place.’

This last element (place where the relevant exploitation of the asset would otherwise take place) is interesting to me in Universal Music (purely economic loss) terms and not without discussion, I imagine.

Conclusions, at 152:

(1) There is a serious issue to be tried in relation to each of the claims now sought to be brought by easyGroup against the non-EU defendants.

(2) There was however a failure to make full, frank and fair disclosure at the service out of jurisdiction hearing, and in the circumstances that Order should be set aside.

(3) The question of amending to bring claims against the French defendant. But if it had, Nugee J would have held that there was no jurisdiction for the English court to hear the claims based on the acts in France (or Spain), whether based on trade mark infringement or conspiracy. There is jurisdiction to hear the claims based on the issue of the Press Release in the UK, but Nugee J would have refused permission to amend to bring such claims on the basis that they were de minimis.

A most interesting and thought provoking judgment.

Geert.

 

 

 

Sánchez-Bordona AG in Volkswagen. The locus damni engine is clearly revving. Locus delicti commissi in my view left underdiscussed.

Update 8 June 2020 Matthias Lehmann flags a challenging court ruling in Germany here, which not only, as Matthias points out, is questionable from a Rome II point of view but it would seem to me, also challengeable from an EFTA free movement of services angle.

Sánchez-Bordona AG issued his opinion in C‑343/19 Verein für Konsumenteninformation v Volkswagen last Thursday. He relies heavily of course on CJEU authority almost all of which is reviewed on the blog – with Tibor Trans making a star appearance given its recent nature as well as its focus, like in Volkswagen, on financial damage.

Not long after, yesterday, the High Court in England in [2020] EWHC 783 (QB) held on a first preliminary issue in the class action suit pending there. Matthias Weller has already reviewed that judgment here and Matthias Lehmann adds a slightly different focus (on mutual recognition of administrative decisions) here. In that judgment, a lex causae argument on the binding authority of a German public body’s decision was advanced by claimants in subsidiary fashion. This was not entertained by the High Court for it had already found a binding effect on other grounds. Incidentally, the nature and timing of the High Court’s ruling suggest that there is no contestation of jurisdiction being brought forward by Volkswagen – I am enquiring with counsel in the case. Update 10 April 2020 VW are indeed not constesting jurisdiction in the UK.

Returning to CJEU C-343/19, though: Raphael de Barros Fritz has analysis here and I am happy to refer, for timing for the release of my own ponderings on the Opinion suffered from a Friday afternoon call on injunctive relief and jurisdiction. A few additional notes of interest and subject to further pondering:

Firstly, the AG is too kind when he suggests that the Brussels Convention had left open the (now) Article 7(2) question. The Court’s locus damni /locus delicti commissi distinction was not at all required by then Article 5(3). Much as the distinction may have been clear to make in the Bier case itself, it was not at all advanced by the text of the Brussels Convention. Many of us have been pointing out the fallacy, including Cruz Villalon AG in his Opinion in Pez Hejduk, case C-441/13 which I reviewed here and Szpunar AG in his Opinion in Universal Music reviewed here. As Sánchez-Bordona AG points out in Volkswagen, the distinction has become a paradigm (at 2); ‘obstinance’ might also be a good word for it. The result of the CJEU refusing formally to reverse its Bier distinction, means itself and the national courts have been having to conjure up all sorts of distinguishing to respect both the Handlungsort /Erfolgort distinction, and the predictability of Brussels Ia as well as the need to interpret special jurisdictional rules restrictively.

Raphael makes a most valiant effort to do justice to the AG’s attempt at systemisation, yet the reality remains that most certainly on the locus damni front, the ever unclearer distinction between direct and indirect aka ‘ricochet’ damage is a Valhalla for reverse engineering – and we have not even thrown Lazar into the mix.

The AG suggests that not only the first purchasers of the vehicle may be direct victims, but also downstream purchasers of second-hand vehicles, however in each case constrained (if I understand the Opinion properly) to those purchasers, first or not, where the loss of value of the vehicles did not become a reality until the manipulation of the engines was made public: at 41; ‘ The loss of value of the vehicles did not become a reality until the manipulation of the engines was made public. In some instances, the applicants may be end users who obtained the vehicle from another, previous buyer; however, the latter did not experience any loss because, at that time, the damage was latent and was not disclosed until later when it affected the then owner. Therefore, it is not possible to describe the damage as being passed on from the original buyers to successive buyers.’

Further, given that the location of the vehicle is unforeseeable, the Advocate General considers that the place where the damage occurred is the place where that transaction was concluded, pursuant to which the product became part of the assets of the person concerned and caused the damage. However even for these cases other elements (per Universal Music) will have to be shown to avoid forum shopping and for these other elements, the AG suggests in particular a minimum contacts rule such as in US conflict of laws: at 75: ‘the defendant’s intention to sell its vehicles in the Member State whose jurisdiction is in issue (and, as far as possible, in certain districts within that State).’

On locus delicti commissi, the AG suggests at 34 that the event giving rise to the damage in this case consists of the installation, during the vehicle manufacturing process, of software which alters the vehicle’s emissions data. I do not think that is the only possible Handlungsort: other events in the Dieselgate chain arguably may qualify as Handlungsort, too: the executive decision to go ahead with the program, for instance. Or the regulatory steps (including type approval under EU law such as discussed in [2020] EWHC 783 (QB), above; or other steps required under EU or national law) needed to market the product in the country.

The last words on this Opinion have far from been said.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.7

 

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.’

[Of note is that the ‘related to’ issue was discussed in Hutchinson and is at the CJEU as C-814/19, AC et al v ABC Sl as I flag in my review of Hutchinson].

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) [1999] 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.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2.

Cyberinsults over patents, unfair competition and jurisdiction. The Paris Court of Appeal in Manitou v JCB.

In Manitou v J.C. Bamford Excavators, (defendant is better known as ‘JCB’ which in England is an eponym for ‘digger’ or excavator) the Paris Court of Appeal held that French Courts have jurisdiction in an interesting tale of patent insults. JCB (England incorporated) had obtained a French injunction against Manitou (domiciled at France) obliging it to halt production of one of its products possibly in violation of a JCB patent. On the eve of an important trade fair taking place in France, JCB boasted about the injunction in a Twitter, Linked-in and website post. Manitou argue the post was insulting and an act of unfair competition.

Manitou claim jurisdiction on the basis of A7(2) BIa, special jurisdiction for tort, per CJEU C-618/15 Concurrences /Samsumg /Amazon, which I reviewed here. It refers to all sites on which the news was posted being accessible in France (Pinckney would have been strong authority here); to the post discussing a French judgment which is only aimed at and enforceable in France; and that its publication was timed to coincide with the aforementioned French fair. JCB on the other hand argue mere accessibility does not suffice and that the sites did not target readers in France.

The Court refers both to Shevill and to Concurrences; decides that the very fact that the site was published in English does not insulate it from French jurisdiction (seeing also that plenty of potential clients looking to buy from Manitou at the time would have been in France for the fair); and that the publication clearly would have affected the brand’s reputation in France and also its sales there. Jurisdiction therefore established.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

Vestel v HEVC Advance (Delaware) and Philips (NL). High Court denies stand-alone competition law damage both on the basis of Article 7(2) BRU Ia and residual CPR rules.

In [2019] EWHC 2766 (Ch) Vestel Elektronik v HEVC Advance and Koninklijke Philips NV, Hacon J found no jurisdiction in a stand-alone competition law damages case (no finding of infringement yet; claim is one of abuse of dominant position). He rejected the existence of jurisdiction against Philips NV (of The Netherlands) on the basis that no damage existing or potential could be shown grounding Article 7(2) Brussels Ia tortious Jurisdiction. Against the Delaware defendant, the relevant CPR rules applied per Four Seasons v Brownlie did not lead to jurisdiction either.

Geert.

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

 

Tibor v DAF: CJEU confirms markets affected by cartel as locus damni for end-users.

Update 1 April 2020 for the excellent CDC review of the judgment see here.

In C-451/18 Tibor v DAF Trucks the CJEU has confirmed its CDC case-law on locus damni for end-users affected by a cartel. Truck distribution arrangements were such that Tibor (of Hungary) could not buy directly from DAF Trucks NV (of The Netherlands), one of the truck manufacturers held by the EC to have infringed Article 101 TFEU. Rather, it had to go via local Hungarian dealers (and leasing companies).

Tibor-Trans claims that the Hungarian courts derive their international jurisdiction from Article 7(2) Brussels Ia per CDC according to which, in the case of an action for damages brought against defendants domiciled in various Member States as a result of a single and continuous infringement of Article 101 TFEU and of Article 53 of the EEA Agreement, which has been established by the Commission, in which the defendants participated in several Member States, at different times and in different places, each alleged victim can choose to bring an action before the courts of the place where its own registered office is located.

DAF Trucks submits, first, that the collusive meetings (hence the locus delicti commissi) took place in Germany, which should entail the jurisdiction of the German courts and, second, that it never entered into a direct contractual relationship with Tibor-Trans, with the result that it could not reasonably expect to be sued in the Hungarian courts.

The Court dismisses the latter argument: those infringing competition law must expect to be sued in markets affected by anti-competitive behaviour (at 34, with reference to fly-LAL). That Tibor did not have a contractual relation with DAF Trucks is irrelevant as the increase in price clearly has been passed on by the frontline victims of the cartel: the dealers (at 31).

The case does leave open the unresolved issue of the CJEU’s identification of registered office as locus damni (see my comments in my review of CDC). Given that Tibor Trans would seem to have purchased all its trucks in Hungary, neither does not the judgment shed light on the distributive impact of locus damni or my suggestion [update 13 March 2020 for my paper on same see here] that for competition law, markets where the anti-competitive behaviour is rolled-out should qualify as locus delicti commissi (alongside the place of the meetings where infringement of competition law is decided).

Geert.

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

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 [2019] 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 [2017] 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 [2016] 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).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2 .