Status updated: can a ‘relationship’ be a ‘contract’? CJEU says it’s complicated in Granarolo, and complements the Handte formula.

Update 15 January 2020 thank you Michiel Poesen for signalling a Court of Justice comparative note on the underlying substantive law issues.

Update 4 October 2017 for the eventual judgment by the Cour de Cassastion see here: contractual relation upheld.

In C-196/15 Granarolo, extensive reference is made to Brogsitter, in which the CJEU held that the fact that one contracting party brings a civil liability claim against the other is not sufficient to consider that the claim concerns ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast. That is the case only where the conduct complained of may be considered a breach of contract, which may be established by taking into account the purpose of the contract, which will in principle be the case only where the interpretation of the contract which links the defendant to the applicant is indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter. 

Kokott AG Opined that there was no such contractual relationship in the case at hand: see my review of the Opinion. The Court held last week and was less categorical. It suggests a contractual relationship between the parties (which did not have a framework agreement in place: rather a long series of one-off contracts) should not be excluded: the long-standing business relationship which existed between the parties is characterised by the existence of obligations tacitly agreed between them, so that a relationship existed between them that can be classified as contractual (at 25).

What follows can be considered a CJEU addition to the rather byzantine double negative C-26/91 Handte formula: ‘matters relating to a contract is not to be understood as covering a situation in which there is no obligation freely assumed by one party towards another’. In Granarolo at 26 the Court notes

The existence of a tacit relationship of that kind cannot, however, be presumed and must, therefore, be demonstrated. Furthermore, that demonstration must be based on a body of consistent evidence, which may include in particular the existence of a long-standing business relationship, the good faith between the parties, the regularity of the transactions and their development over time expressed in terms of quantity and value, any agreements as to prices charged and/or discounts granted, and the correspondence exchanged.

These criteria obviously are quite specific to the question at hand yet it is the first time the Court, carefully, ventures to give indications of some kind of a European ius commune on the existence of ‘a contract’.

Whether any such contract then is a contract for the sale of goods or one for services, is not a call the Court wishes to make. It lists the various criteria it has hitherto deployed, with extensive reference in particular to C-9/12 Corman-Collins, and leaves the decision up to the national court.

Make a mental note of Granarolo. It may turn out to have been quite pivotal. Geert.

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

Kokott AG applies Brogsitter in Granarolo: Tort following abrupt ending of business relations.

In C-548/12 Brogsitter, the CJEU held that the fact that one contracting party brings a civil liability claim against the other is not sufficient to consider that the claim concerns ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast. That is the case only where the conduct complained of may be considered a breach of contract, which may be established by taking into account the purpose of the contract, which will in principle be the case only where the interpretation of the contract which links the defendant to the applicant is indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter. 

At the end of December, Kokott AG Opined in C-196/15 Granarolo (even now, early April, the English version was not yet available) effectively applying Brogsitter to the case at hand: an action for damages for the abrupt termination of an established business relationship for the supply of goods over several years to a retailer without a framework contract, nor an exclusivity agreement. Ms Kokott (at 17) points out that unlike Brogsitter, there is no forceful link with the contractual arrangements between parties which would be the foundation for jurisdiction on the basis of contractual (non) performance (which there would have been had there been a framework relation between the parties). Rather, the source for a claim between the parties is a statutory provision (it is not specifically identified: however presumable it relates to unfair commercial practices) that existing business relations cannot be abruptly halted without due cause.

Article 7(2) therefore should determine jurisdiction (and Article 4 of course: domicile of the defendant), not Article 7(1).

Geert.

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

Jurisdiction for libel over the internet. Ontario’s view in Goldhar v Haaretz.

The exam season is over, otherwise Goldhar v Haaretz would have made a great case for comparative analysis. Instead this can now feed into class materials. This is an interlocutory judgment on the basis of lack of jurisdiction and /or abuse of process. Plaintiff lives in Toronto.  He is a billionaire who owns i.a. Maccabi Tel Aviv. (Chelsea’s first opponent in the Champions League. But that’s obviously an aside). Mr Goldhar visits Israel about five or six times per year. Defendant is Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd. which publishes Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper (market share about 7%).   It also publishes an English language print edition.  Haaretz is published online in both English and Hebrew.

Haaretz published a very critical article on Mr Goldhar in November 2011. The print version was not published in Canada, in either English or Hebrew. However, Haaretz was made available internationally on its website in Israel in both Hebrew and English – the judgment does not say so specifically however I assume this was both on the .co.il site – even if currently Haaretz’ EN site is available via a .com site.

Information provided by the defendants reveals that there were 216 unique visits to the Article in its online form in Canada. Testimony further showed that indeed a number of people in Canada read the article – this was sufficient for Faieta J to hold that a tort was committed in Ontario and thus a presumptive connecting factor exists. Presumably this means that the court (and /or Canadian /Ontario law with which I am not au fait) view the locus delicti commissi (‘a tort was committed’) as Canada – a conclusion not all that obvious to me (I would have assumed Canada is locus damni only). Per precedent, the absence of a substantial publication of the defamatory material in Canada was not found to be enough to rebut the finding of jurisdiction.

Forum non conveniens was dismissed on a variety of grounds, including applicable law being the law of Ontario (again Ontario is identified as the locus delicti commissi: at 48). Plaintiff will have to cover costs for the appearance, in Canada, of defendants’ witnesses. Importantly, plaintiff will also only be able to seek damages for reputational harm suffered within Canada.

I can see this case (and the follow-up in substance) doing the rounds of conflicts classes.

Geert.

Hejduk: Copyright infringement and jurisdiction. The ECJ entertains much less than its AG.

I have reviewed the AG’s opinion in Hejduk here. The AG’s Opinion was exciting for it cited, even if only in a specific (IP; more specifically copyright) context, the difficulty in identifying locus damni. This, I suggested (realistically optimistic) flagged an obvious concern with the ECJ’s ruling in Bier. However the ECJ in its judgment, issued yesterday,  was not having any of this. It applied relevant precedent (all recalled in my earlier posting), did not at all entertain the AG’s concerns with the locus damni assessment, and held that in the event of an allegation of infringement of copyright and rights related to copyright guaranteed by the Member State of the court seised, that court has jurisdiction, on the basis of the place where the damage occurred, to hear an action for damages in respect of an infringement of those rights resulting from the placing of protected photographs online on a website accessible in its territorial jurisdiction. That court has jurisdiction only to rule on the damage caused in the Member State within which the court is situated.

Plaintiff’s difficulties were of no concern to the ECJ. No surprise perhaps given the Brussels I Regulation’s near-exclusive concern for the position of the defendant.

Geert.

 

Jurisdiction, intellectual property and the internet. Might CRUZ VILLALÓN AG in Pez Hejduk introduce the end of Bier?

Let me answer the question immediately: that is unlikely. It is however an interesting prospect and, who knows, might be a start. CRUZ VILLALÓN AG’s Opinion in Pez Hejduk, case C-441/13 (at the time of writing available in plenty of languages but not in English), provides an excellent tour d’horizon of the application of the special jurisdictional rule of Article 5(3) [following the recast, Article 7(3)] Brussels I, to cases involving infringements of an intellectual property right.

For trademarks, the most recent case is Coty, Case C-360/12, reviewed by Alberto Bellan here. Pez Hejuk concerns copyright: an intellectual property right for which no formality (such as registration) is required for it validly to exist. Pinckney, Wintersteiger, Football Dataco: the application of Article 5(3) [and the delineation with leges specialis in the IP field] is not exactly crystal clear and the need for distinguishing very high. This resulted in this particular case in the Handelsgericht Wien requesting ECJ back-up on the application in the case of Ms Hejduk, a professional photographer, suing EnergieAgentur for unauthorised use on its .de website of photographs which had only been authorised for one-off use during a conference.

In view of Pinckney et al, the AG splendidly and concisely distinguishes the various strands of case-law and the raison d’etre for their consecutive jurisdictional criteria – please refer to the opinion itself for a summary by me would not do it justice. Encouraged in particular by Portugal and the EC, the AG then further distinguishes current case. As noted by Eleonora Rosati here, the AG emphasises that not only would it be difficult for the defendant having potentially to face actions in multiple Member States, but also the plaintiff would have limited benefits from seeking limited damages in more jurisdictions, and would find it difficult to prove such damage given the accessibility of the site.

Which is why the AG suggests that further distinguishing is needed for what he calls cases involving ‘delocalised damages’ involving IP, leading to the suggestion that in such case, only the judges of the Member State in which the causal event occurred should have jurisdiction on the basis of Article 5(3) (general jurisdiction for the domicile of the defendant not withstanding, obviously: per Article 2 JR). In other words: only the locus delicti commissi would be upheld. Not the locus damni.

Now, no reference is made to the case in the AG’s Opinion, however, surely this amounts to no less than a reversal of Bier /Mines de Potasse d’Alsace, case C-21/76. the ECJ’s extension in Bier, away from the literal meaning of Article 5(3) has, as I often have emphasised, triggered a long series of cases in which the ECJ has had to massage the ripple effect of the locus damni rule. If it were (which of course is not at all certain) to take up the AG’s suggestion here, and drop locus damni, might it not eventually have to concede that in many if not all cases, it is difficult for the defendant having potentially to face actions in multiple Member States, and for the plaintiff to have to prove and seek limited damages in more jurisdictions.

On that basis (that however narrowly distinguished, siding with the AG would mean acknowledging the weakness of the locus damni rule), I find it very likely that the ECJ will not run with it. Whence it might either not distinguish Hejduk from Pinckney, or assimilate it with eDate Advertising, or further distinguish and add an alternative, Hejduk rule, in the event of ‘delocalised damages’.

One to look out for!

Geert.

Calling time on ‘contract’ and ‘tort’ between contracting parties. The ECJ in Brogsitter.

When does a spat between contracting parties become a tort really? Relevant for all sorts of reasons of course. Not in the least, in C-548/12 Brogsitter, with a view to establishing jurisdiction.

Mr Brogsitter sells luxury watches. In 2005, he concluded a contract with a master watchmaker, Mr Fräβdorf, then resident in France. Fräβdorf undertook to develop movements for luxury watches, intended for mass marketing, on behalf of Mr Brogsitter. Mr Fräβdorf carried out his activity with Fabrication de Montres Normandes, company of which he was sole shareholder and manager. It appears that Mr Brogsitter paid all costs relating to the development of the two watch movements which were the subject of the contract.

Fräβdorf and his company subsequently also developed, in parallel, other watch movements, cases and watch faces, which they exhibited and market in their own names and on their own behalf, whilst advertising the products online in French and German. Mr Brogsitter submits that, by those activities, the defendants breached the terms of their contract. According to Mr Brogsitter, Mr Fräβdorf and Fabrication de Montres Normandes had undertaken to work exclusively for him and, therefore, might neither develop nor make use of, in their own names and on their own behalf, watch movements, whether or not identical to those which were the subject of the contract.

Brogsitter seeks an order that the activities in question be terminated and that damages be awarded in tort against on the basis, in German law, of the Law against Unfair Competition (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb) and Paragraph 823(2) of the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch); he submits that, by their conduct, the defendants breached business confidentiality, disrupted his business and committed fraud and breach of trust.

Defendants argue that only French courts have jurisdiction, under Article 5(1) of the Brussels I Regulation, to determine all the applications made by Mr Brogsitter, as both the place of performance of the contract at issue and of the allegedly harmful event were situated in France. The Landgericht Krefeld in first instance had found against its own jurisdiction. This went straight to interim appeal, with the Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorf holding that the first instance court’s international jurisdiction derived, with regard to the dispute before it, from Article 5(3) with respect to the hearing and determination of only the civil liability claims made in tort by Mr Brogsitter. The other claims, in contrast, concerned ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 5(1) of that regulation, and should be brought before a French court. Krefeld was still unsure and referred the following question to the ECJ: (I do not think the ECJ in this case rephrased it much better):

‘Must Article 5(1) of Regulation [No 44/2001] be interpreted as meaning that a claimant who purports to have suffered damage as a result of the conduct amounting to unfair competition of his contractual partner established in another Member State, which is to be regarded in German law as a tortious act, also relies on rights stemming from matters relating to a contract against that person, even if he makes his civil liability claim in tort?’

The ECJ referred to familiar lines: ‘contract’ and ‘tort’ need to be interpreted autonomously. (A European definition needs to be given, not a national one). The concept of ‘matters relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict’ within the meaning of Article 5(3) covers all actions which seek to establish the liability of a defendant and which do not concern ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 5(1)(a)  (Kalfelis).

However that one contracting party brings a civil liability claim against the other is not sufficient to consider that the claim concerns ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 5(1)(a) (at 23). That is the case only where the conduct complained of may be considered a breach of contract, which may be established by taking into account the purpose of the contract, which will a priori [the German grundsätzlich would have been better translated as ‘in principle’, or indeed, assuming French was the language of the original draft, ‘a priori’ should have been dropped for ‘en principe’; but I stray] be the case where the interpretation of the contract which links the defendant to the applicant is indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter (at 24-25).

‘Where the interpretation of the contract which links the defendant to the applicant is indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter’: these cases in other words do not lend themselves to a quick fix of jurisdiction review: some skimming of substantive law issues will be necessary.

Incidentally, the link between contracts and torts is also of immediate concern in the area of competition law. (Where the issue is often whether follow-on claims in damages are impacted by choice of court and choice of law in underlying contracts).

Geert.