Posts Tagged Belgium

Lernout & Hauspie: US opt-out class action settlement accepted by Belgian court.

Belgium’s Lernout & Hauspie case recently entered a further stage in its civil law chapter. The case is part of Belgium’s (and especially Flanders’) collective memory as an illustration of what can go wrong when markets and investors alike are fooled by corporate greed. Is it world-famous, in Belgium: for those outside, Wiki should help.

Of interest to this blog is the recent judgment of the Gent criminal court on the civil chapter of the case: see my colleague proximus Stefaan Voet’s analysis here. Stefaan has helpfully translated the most relevant sections of the judgment, in particular the court’s rejection of the argument that the US opt-out class action settlement were contrary to Belgium’s ordre public. The court, in my view entirely justifiably, holds that Belgium’s Private international law act does not oppose recognition and enforcement. Of note is the extensive comparative reference which the court makes not just to existing Belgian law on class actions (the Belgian legal order can hardly oppose what it tentatively has introduced itself), but also to a European Recommendation on comparative class action law in the EU (a sort of Ius Commune idea).

Recognition and enforcement rarely makes it to substantive review in Belgian case-law. This judgment is one of note.

Geert.

, , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Lodi Trading, a lotta fog: Kolassa in the Belgian Supreme Court.

Many thanks Michael Verhaeghe  (whom I have the pleasure with jointly to be representing a client) for alerting me to Lodi Trading in which the Belgian Supreme Court applied (and distinguished) Kolassa. Lodi Trading is registered in The Netherlands and seemingly had been duped into transferring funds to a gang of fraudsters.  As always, the judgment is very very scant on factual reference, and I have not been able to find the Court of Appeals’ judgement: if anyone can: Court of Appeal Gent, 8 December 2015.

Like the CJEU itself did clearly in Universal Music, the Hof van Cassatie distinguished Kolassa (although it does not refer to Universal Music in this part of the judgment) by insisting there be circumstances specific to the case, over and above the simple presence of a bank account, which point to the damage occurring in that State.

In Universal Music the CJEU had emphasised the need for case-specific facts for bank accounts to be a relevant factor in determining jurisdiction, by holding that ‘it is only where the other circumstances specific to the case also contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the courts for the place where a purely financial damage occurred, that such damage could, justifiably, entitle the applicant to bring the proceedings before the courts for that place.’ (emphasis added).

What seems (but again: see the joint caveat of the Supreme Court’s judgment being scant and the Court of Appeal’s judgment being untraceable) to be specific to this case is that the Court of Appeal had held in favour of the location of the bank account of recipient of the funds being locus damni, given that ‘internal law’ (by which I take it reference is made to Belgian, not Dutch law) determines that the time of payment is determined by the moment of accreditation of the funds to the beneficiary’s account: not (the alternative reading; but again I am assuming for the judgment’s 10 brief paras do invite speculation) the time of the funds leaving the account holder’s account.

It could well be therefore that the Supreme Court is rebuking the Court of Appeal for having Belgian law enter the equation, given the need for autonomous interpretation of European civil procedure. But I am not entirely sure.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 2.2.11.2, 2.2.11.2.7

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

The Brussels Court of Appeal is spot on on Facebook, privacy, Belgium and jurisdiction.

The Brussels Court of Appeal has sided with Facebook  on 29 June. This post I am going to keep very, very simple: told you so. Geert.

 

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Belgian parliamentary watchdog upholds unstunned slaughter, protects Shechita (kosher) and Zabihah (halal).

Update 8 May 2017. Following a botched attempt at reconciliation, Parliament is now debating a ban to enter into force 1 January 2019.

Update 26 October 2016 The Flemish Parliament today voted not to accept the bill – at least for the time being.

Update 28 July 2016 A Brussels Court has referred to the CJEU for interpretation of the EU Regulation, questioning whether the Regulation’s regime may itself be incompatible with the ECHR. Update 16 September 2016 the case number is C-426/16. See here for the questions referred (in Dutch).

The Belgian Council of State, chamber of legislation (in the title I call it a ‘parliamentary watchdog: for that is what it is. By issuing prior opinions on the legality of legislative initiative it guards against illegal Statute) has opined that a private members bill banning unstunned slaughter, does not pass the ECHR test.

A European Regulation (1099/2009) provides for an unclear, and conditional,  exemption for religious (regularly rather offendingly called ‘ritual’) slaughter. Practised in particular by the Jewish (Shechita; leading to ‘kosher’ meat) and Muslim (Zabihah; with halal meat) faith, a core aspect of the practice is that animals are not stunned prior to slaughter. The science on the effect of stunned or unstunned slaugther is equivocal. What is certain is that neither stunned nor unstunned slaughter, when carried out incorrectly (well documented in the case of stunned slaughter) aids the welfare of the animal.

Religious slaughter falls squarely within the European Convention of Human Rights Article 9’s freedom of religious expression. Hence the Council of State summarily (its conciseness is rather attractive) reviews the ECtHR’s case-law and concludes that the proposed ban would be both unconstitutional and clearly against the provisions of the ECHR.

On the EU Regulation front, I believe the EU rules are more problematic than the Opinion suggests (I have analysis on it forthcoming) however on the ECHR side of things, the Opinion could not be more correct. An outright ban on unstunned slaughter in the name of animal welfare or otherwise would offend freedom of religious expression to such a degree that it simply must not pass.

Geert.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

It’s true! Belgian Supreme Court confirms order for Yahoo! to hand over IP-addresses.

Jurisdiction and the internet is a topic which has featured once or twice on this blog recently (and in a  paper which I have already referred to in those earlier postings). Belgian’s Supreme Court in ordinary (the Hof van Cassatie /Cour de Cassation) employed the objective territoriality principle in a case with roots going back to 2007 (the fraudulent purchase of and subsequent failure to pay for electronic equipment from a shop in Dendermonde, Belgium), Yahoo! was requested to hand over the IP addresses associated with e-mail accounts registered to Yahoo!’s e-mail service. Yahoo! Inc, domiciled in California, refused to comply, triggering fines under criminal law.

Responding to Yahoo!s claims that Belgium was imposing its criminal laws extraterritorially, the Court of Appeal had held that Yahoo! is territorially present in Belgium, hereby voluntarily submitting itself to the jurisdiction of the Belgian authorities: it takes an active part in economic life in Belgium, among others by use of the domain name http://www.yahoo.be, the use of the local language(s) on that website, pop-up of advertisements based on the location of the users, and accessibility in Belgium of Belgium-focussed customer services (among others: a ‘Belgian’ Q&A, FAQ, and post box). [Notice the similarity with the Pammer /Alpenhof criteria]. The Court of Appeal had suggested that the accusations of extraterritoriality could only be accepted had there been a request for the handover of data or objects which are located in the USA, with which there is no Belgian territorial link whatsoever, and if the holder of these objects or data is not accessible in Belgium (either physically or virtually).

The Supreme Court on 1 December confirmed all of the Court of Appeal’s arguments, essentially linking them to the objective territoriality principle. Yahoo! actively directs its activities towards consumers present in Belgium.

Even though the case involves a criminal proceeding, the Court’s judgment inevitably (not necessarily justifiably) will be used as further support for the Belgian tussle with Facebook.

Geert.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Not the way the datr cookie crumbles. Belgian courts on soggy jurisdictional grounds in Facebook privacy ruling.

Update 11 July 2016 the Court of Appeal has sided with FB on 29 June. No surprises there!

Update 9 February 2016 the French privacy commission has now mirrored the Belgian action

Quite a lot of attention has been going to a Belgian court ordering Facebook to stop collecting data from non-users through the use of so-called datr cookies.  Applicant is Willem Debeuckelaere, the chairman of the Belgian privacy commission, in his capacity as chairman (not, therefore, as a private individual). Our interest here is of course in the court’s finding that it has jurisdiction to hear the case, and that it can apply Belgian law. The judgment is drafted in Dutch – an English (succinct) summary is available here.

Defendants are three parties: Facebook Inc, domiciled in California; Facebook Belgium BVBA, domiciled in Brussels; and Facebook Ireland Ltd., domiciled in Dublin. Facebook Belgium essentially is FB’s public affairs office in the EU. FB Ireland delivers FB services to the EU market.

Directive 95/46 and the Brussels I Recast Regulation operate in a parallel universe. The former dictates jurisdiction and applicable law at the level of the relationship between data protection authorities (DPAs), and data processors (the FBs, Googles etc. of this world). The latter concerns the relation between private individuals and both authorities and processors alike. That parallelism explains, for instance, why Mr Schrems is pursuing the Irish DPA in the Irish Courts, and additionally, FB in the Austrian courts.

Current litigation against FB lies squarely in the context of Directive 95/46. This need not have been the case: Mr Debeuckelaere, aforementioned, could have sued in his personal capacity. If he is not a FB customer, at the least vis-a-vis FB Ireland, this could have easily established jurisdiction on the basis of Article 7(2)’s jurisdiction for tort (here: invasion of privacy): with Belgium as the locus damni. Jurisdiction against FB Inc can not so be established in the basis of Article 7(2) (it does not apply to defendants based outside the EU). If the chairman qq natural person is a FB customer, jurisdiction for the Belgian courts may be based on the consumer contracts provisions of Regulation 1215/2012 – however that would have defeated the purpose of addressing FB’s policy vis-a-vis non-users, which I understand is what datr cookies are about.

Instead, the decision was taken (whether informed or not) to sue purely on the basis of the data protection Directive. This of course requires application of the jurisdictional trigger clarified in Google Spain. German precedent prior to the Google Spain judgment, did not look promising (Schleswig-Holstein v Facebook).

At the least, the Belgian court’s application of the Google Spain test, is debatable: as I note in the previous post,

Article 4(1)(a) of Directive 95/46 does not require the processing of personal data in question to be carried out ‘by’ the establishment concerned itself, but only that it be carried out ‘in the context of the activities’ of the establishment (at 52): that is the case if the latter is intended to promote and sell, in that Member State, advertising space offered by the search engine which serves to make the service offered by that engine profitable (at 55). The very display of personal data on a search results page constitutes processing of such data. Since that display of results is accompanied, on the same page, by the display of advertising linked to the search terms, it is clear that the processing of personal data in question is carried out in the context of the commercial and advertising activity of the controller’s establishment on the territory of a Member State, in this instance Spanish territory (at 57).

Google Spain’s task was providing support to the Google group’s advertising activity which is separate from its search engine service. Per the formula recalled above, this sufficed to trigger jurisdiction for the Spanish DPA. Google Spain is tasked to promote and sell, in that Member State, advertising space offered by the search engine which serves to make the service offered by that engine profitable. The Belgian court accepts jurisdiction on the basis of Facebook Belgium’s activities being ‘inseparably linked’ (at p.15) to Facebook’s activities. With respect, I do not think this was the intention of the CJEU in Google Spain. At the very least, the court’s finding undermines the one stop principle of the data protection Directive, for Belgium’s position viz the EU Institutions means that almost all data processors have some form of public interest representation in Belgium, often indeed taking the form of a BVBA or a VZW (the latter meaning a not for profit association).

The court further justifies (p.16) its jurisdiction on the basis of the measures being provisionary. Provisionary measures fall outside the jurisdictional matrix of the Brussels I (Recast), provided they are indeed provisionary, and provided there is a link between the territory concerned and the provisional measures imposed. How exactly such jurisdiction can be upheld vis-a-vis Facebook Ireland and Facebook Inc, is not clarified by the court.

The court does limit the provisionary measures territorially: FB is only ordered to stop using datr cookies tracking data of non-FB users ‘vis-a-vis internetusers on Belgian territory’, lest these be informed of same.

I mentioned above that the data protection Directive and the Brussels I recast can be quite clearly distinguished at the level of jurisdiction. However findings of courts or public authorities on the basis of either of them, do still face the hurdle of enforcement. That is no different in this case. Recognition and enforcement of the judgment vis-a-vis FB Inc will have to follow a rather complex route, and it is not inconceivable that the US (in particular, the State of California) will refuse recognition on the basis of perceived extraterritorial jurisdictional claims (see here for a pondering of the issues). Even vis-a-vis Facebook Ireland, however, one can imagine enforcement difficulties. Even if these provisionary measures are covered by the Brussels I Recast (which may not be the case given the public character of plaintiff), such measures issued by courts which lack jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter, are not covered by the enforcement Title of the Regulation.

All in all, plenty to be discussed in appeal.

Geert.

 

 

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Belgian initiative to tackle ‘vulture funds’ acknowledges these are, after all, migratory birds.

Update 21 March 2016 (these updates seem to follow an equinox pattern) NML Capital Ltd reportedly are contesting the legality of the Act before the Belgian Constitutional Court. (Update 24 March the Constitutional Court has the case down under three seperate actions, 6371, 6372, 6373).

Update 21 September 2015: the Act was adopted in July and enters into force today.

I have delayed reporting on this initiative for exam reasons. The Belgian Parliament is currently debating a private members’ proposal for statute to address so-called ‘vulture funds’. These funds are described by the financial dictionary as ‘A fund that buys distressed debt of commercial companies or sovereign nations at a cheap price and then often sues them for the entire value of the debt. The resemblance to vultures is because these funds profit from the debt of failing companies or poor nations.

The text of the proposal (in Dutch and French) is available here. Vulture funds litigation is generally called immoral in the proposal. Reference is made to a number of high-profile recent judgments where vulture funds have been given approval by various courts worldwide, to seek redress against assets held by the sovereign nations concerned, or indeed their creditors. Particularly sore is the enforcement sought against funds destined for development aid.

The proposal essentially defines ‘vulture funds’ and then suggests that recognition and enforcement of relevant judgments or arbitral awards, regardless of the law applicable to the underlying relationship with the government concerned, is considered to be contrary to Belgian ordre public international, hence unenforceable. The proposal as it stands now adds (probably superfluously) that relevant EU (read: the Brussels I recast Regulation) and international (read especially: the 1958 New York Convention) law takes priority.

The part of the proposal that is bound to attract attention is the attempt at defining the ‘vulture’ in vulture funds. Frits Bolkestein for instance (former EU Commissioner) has remarked that buying up ‘bad debt’ need not always be morally reprehensible (I would suggest it is not that part of the fund’ activities which has attracted the Belgian Parliament’s attention). The enforcement /recognition part of the proposal is interesting because it applies ordre public in a categorical manner, rather than in the ad hoc application which both EU law and residual Belgian conflicts law (the Belgian Private International Law Act) ordinarily call for. For residual Belgian law, this is probably Parliament’s prerogative. However for EU law (and the New York convention), a general apprehension against vulture funds may not qualify as a proper exercise of the ordre public exception. Courts at the least may wish formally to disregard the act when the judgment /award concerned is covered by Brussels I cq. New York; however they can point to the sentiment expressed in the Act, to support incompatibility with Belgian ordre public when tested against an individual case.

The drafters are aware that this initiative may be a drop in the ocean. Reference is made to other, national initiatives (France, UK, US) which may point to an emerging pattern of anti-vulture funds sentiment. Indeed the realities of forum shopping mean that vulture funds action will migrate away from the Belgian legal order. On the other hand, Belgium’s safe harbour may also mean that relevant assets will seek refuge there. All of course, presuming the initiative will actually be adopted by Parliament.

Geert. Disclosure: I advised the MPs concerned on the technical aspects of the recognition and enforcement leg of the proposal. [My advice may or may not have been followed ].

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: