Posts Tagged Branch

Fly lal: Locus delicti commissi for anticompetitive agreements. And application of Article 7(5)’s extension to branch domicile.

Bobek AG opined about a little while ago in C-27/17 flyLAL. (Readers may also find my recent posting on NBK useful, re Article 7(5)).

AB flyLAL — Lithuanian Airlines (‘flyLAL’) operated flights from Vilnius airport in Lithuania until it was put into liquidation. According to flyLAL, its demise was caused by predatory (that is, below cost) pricing by the Latvian airline Air Baltic Corporation A/S (‘Air Baltic’). That predatory pricing was, it is alleged, part of an anticompetitive strategy agreed between Air Baltic and the operator of Starptautiskā lidosta Rīga (Riga international airport in Latvia, ‘Riga Airport’). Thus, Riga Airport and Air Baltic agreed to drastically reduce the prices paid by Air Baltic for services at Riga airport. The savings were then used by Air Baltic to finance the predatory pricing that drove flyLAL out of the market in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Can Air Baltic and Riga Airport for damages before the courts in Vilnius? The national court and parties refer to three alleged infringements of competition law: (i) abuse of dominance consisting in the system of reductions implemented by Riga Airport; (ii) an anticompetitive agreement between Riga Airport and Air Baltic; and (iii) abuse of dominance in the form of predatory pricing by Air Baltic. Those infringements, it is argued, were interrelated, forming part of a strategy to oust flyLAL from the market in Vilnius and move passengers to Riga airport to the benefit of both Riga Airport and Air Baltic.

There is a lot in the Opinion – among others because as the AG points out, the referring court’s description of the alleged infringement of competition law is not entirely clear. Bobek therefore sets out a set of variables. The Court itself is bound not to distinguish among quite so many. Of note are the AG’s suggestions

  • that locus damni here is not place of financial loss, rather the place within the markets affected by the competition law infringement where the claimant alleges loss of sales.That suggestion in my view is helpful for neither the Regulation’s aim of predictability, nor the protection of those damaged by infringement of competition law (the latter not however a stated aim of the Regulation). Put differently: damage located in a Mozaik fashion assists the tortfeasor. The Advocate General reaches this conclusion after a thorough revisit of the initial Bier judgment (and Capotorti AG’s Opinion in same), ditto Marinari and Dumez France. Yet the continuing need to conceptualise the Court’s Bier rule illustrates again in my view the mistake made in that original judgment, to introduce a forum damni despite the utter lack of textual support for same.
  • for locus delicti commissi with full jurisdiction, the AG distinguishes between Article 101 TFEU (as regards the alleged anticompetitive agreement between Air Baltic and Riga Airport, the place of the event giving rise to the harm (that is, the loss of sales by flyLAL), is the place of the conclusion of the agreement) and 102 TFEU (alleged predatory pricing by Air Baltic, the place of the event giving rise to the harm is the place where the predatory prices were offered and applied).  With respect to Article 101 TFEU, Bobek AG suggests this is identical to the Court’s judgment in CDC . I am not too sure but I am biased. As I noted above, in my view the Court should steer clear of an application of Article 7(2) which allows those infringing competition law to forum shop by manipulating the place of decision-making. In CDC the Court held that ‘the identification, in the jurisdiction of the court seised of the matter, of a specific event during which either that cartel was definitively concluded or one agreement in particular was made which was the sole causal event giving rise to the loss allegedly inflicted on a buyer’ cannot be ruled out. That implies that in other cases the identification of such singular event can be ruled out and that many places may be consider locus delicti commissi.  
  • finally with respect to (now) Article 7(5), the activities of a branch. The AG does not specify what must be meant by a ‘branch’ – for the national court has already concluded there is such branch. The Advocate General here is perhaps unusually deferential to the factual finding. Whether there is a sufficient nexus between the activities of the branch and the dispute, in the case of tort-based claims requires the branch participate in at least some of the actions constituting the tort (at 137). Offering the fixed prices or otherwise having been instrumental in concluding contracts for services at those prices suffices. In such cases, the branch has again participated in the commission of an act that constitutes a necessary precondition for the abuse (at 142).

A lengthy opinion. And it all started with the fairly straightforward facts of Bier…

Geert.

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

 

 

 

 

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National Bank of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon. Branches’ activities, Article 7(5) Brussels I Recast and engagement of Article 30.

In [2017] EWHC 3512 (Comm)  National Bank of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon, Article 7(5) makes a rarish appearance, as does (less rarely) Article 30. Popplewell J summarises the main facts as follows.

‘The Second Claimant is the Republic of Kazakhstan (“ROK”). The First Claimant is the National Bank of Kazakhstan (“NBK”). The Defendant is a bank incorporated in Belgium with a branch in, amongst other places, London. Through its London branch it provides banking and custody services to NBK in respect of the National Fund of Kazakhstan (“the National Fund”), pursuant to a Global Custody Agreement dated 24th December 2001, (“the GCA”). The National Fund has been the target of proceedings brought by Mr. Anatolie Stati and others, (“the Stati Parties”), who are seeking to enforce a Swedish arbitration award against ROK for a sum, including interest and costs, in excess of US$ 500 million. The Stati Parties obtained attachment orders from the Dutch court and the Belgian court, which were served on the Defendant (“BNYM”). BNYM, after taking legal advice, decided to freeze all the assets comprising the National Fund, which it holds under the GCA, on the basis that it was bound to comply with the Belgian and Dutch orders, breach of which would expose it to the risk of civil liability for the amount of the Stati Parties’ claims and criminal liability in Belgium and the Netherlands.’

Effectively therefore the London Branch of a Belgian domiciled bank, has frozen claimant’s assets which it holds in London (although the exact situs is disputed), on the basis that it wishes to prevent exposure to BE and NL criminal proceedings.

Parties arguments on jurisdiction are included at 41 and 42 of the judgment. Core to the Brussels I Recast jurisdictional discussions is Article 7(5) which provides

“A person domiciled in a Member State may be sued in another Member State: […]

(5) as regards a dispute arising out of the operations of a branch, agency or other establishment, in the courts for the place where the branch, agency or other establishment is situated;’

Beyond Case 33/78 Somafer, to which the High Court refers, there is little CJEU precedent – C‑27/17 flyLAL is currently underway. Popplewell J at 53 refers to Lord Phillips’ paraphrasing of Somafer in [2003] EWCA Civ 147  as a requirement of ‘sufficient nexus’ between the dispute and the branch as to render it natural to describe the dispute as one which has arisen out of the activities of the branch.

At 54 he holds there is such nexus in the case at issue, particularly given the management of the frozen assets by the London branch, and the very action by that branch to freeze them. This is quite a wide interpretation of Article 7(5) and not one which I believe is necessarily supported by the exceptional nature of Article 7.

As to whether the English and Belgian proceedings are ‘related’, providing an opportunity for the English proceedings to be halted under Article 30 of the Recast (lis alibi pendens), the High Court refers at 57 ff to C-406/95 The Tatry to hold that there is no risk of conflicting decisions in this case: the argument specifically being that even if the issues addressed are the same, they are addressed in the respective (English, Dutch, Belgian) proceedings under different applicable laws (in each case the lex fori on sovereign immunity). I do not find that very convincing. The risk of irreconcilable outcome is the issue; not irreconcilability or not of reasoning. In the same para 60 in fine in fact Popplewell J advances what I think is a stronger argument: that the issue whether the National Fund was used or intended to be used for commercial purposes, requires to be determined or addressed in the English proceedings, with the result that there is no risk of conflict.

Article 30 not being engaged for that reason, obiter then follows an interesting discussion on whether there can be lis alibi pendens if the court originally seized had no jurisdiction under the Regulation: here: because the Belgian and Dutch proceedings are arbitration proceedings.

Does Article 30 apply to Regulation claims where there was a related action in a Member State in which the related action did not itself come within the Regulation? Referring to the new Article 34 lis alibi pendens rule for proceedings pending ex-EU, ex absurdum, would there not be an odd lacuna if Article 34 required a stay where there were related non-Regulation foreign proceedings in a third party State and the position were not to be the same for equivalent foreign proceedings in a Member State? I do not believe there would be such lacuna: the Article 34 rule applies to concurrent proceedings which are in fact in-Regulation, except international comity requires the EU to cede to foreign proceedings with a strong (typically exclusive) jurisdictional call. For intra-EU proceedings, the comity argument holds no sway – mutual trust does.

Like Poplewell J however I reserve final judgment on that issue for another occasion.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11, Heading 2.2.14.

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