Mittelbayerischer Verlag: determining centre of interests for jurisdiction in online defamation cases. The AG suggests this is not the case for big changes.

What I said in my post on Markt24 this morning, also goes for the Opinion of Bobek AG in C-800/19 Mittelbayerischer Verlag KG v SM: others have in the meantime posted analysis on it, in this case Tobias Lutzi whose scholarship was cited by the AG.

Claimant is a Polish national who had been a former Auschwitz prisoner. He brought a civil claim against a German newspaper before the Polish courts for having used the expression ‘Polish extermination camp’ in an online article to refer to a Nazi extermination camp built on the territory of (then) occupied Poland. The camp in Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp built within the territory of occupied Poland. Not a ‘Polish’ or indeed even a ‘German’ concentration camp: a Nazi or fascist camp. But I stray.

Although the article had been online for only a few hours before it was corrected, the applicant maintains that the online publication has harmed his national identity and dignity.

Do Polish courts have international jurisdiction to hear such claim? In the main proceedings, the applicant is not only seeking monetary compensation, but also other remedies: a court order prohibiting the publisher from using the expression ‘Polish extermination camp’ in the future and the publication of an apology. (For related issues on the nature of the remedy, see prof Hess’ post on the blog here). Bolagsupplysningen is the most recent relevant CJEU authority. Some of the complications of that case recently featured in Napag Trading and in  Saïd v L’Express.

Warsaw was undoubtedly the claimant’s centre of interest per Bolagsupplysningen, yet the referring court wondered whether this was sufficient to give it jurisdiction given the range of remedies sought by the claimant (damages; prohibition to use the term in the future; public apology). Particularly seeing as the intensity of contact of the claimant with the offending material was on the lighter side: unlike eDate, the online article that formed the basis for the action did not directly concern claimant. The paper’s regional profile and readership range, and focus on regional news, the entirely German nature of the site, lack of any targeting of non-regional readers etc.. meant it was not at all directed at anything else but a local readership.

As Tobias points out, the AG reemphasises (39-44) the unfortunate consequences of Mozaik jurisdiction per CJEU Bier, as plenty of AGs and scholars have done with him. He suggests however that current case is not one suited to a wholesale revisiting of the Bier authority, specifically in an internet context (see also the phrase ‘ubiquitous nature’ of the internet in Google v CNIL, per Szpunar AG), seeing as the essence of the dispute is one on the merits. Instead, he suggests the Court exercise judicial economy and take a most narrow approach to the case: whether in a case seeking a prohibition on the use of a certain statement in the future and the publication of an apology, the applicability of centre of interests of a party allegedly harmed by online publication, be precluded by the fact that that person is not named in the publication at issue?

The case therefore will be an opportunity to specify to some extent the open questions with respect to the indivisibility of the remedies in online defamation cases (see also Gtflix TV and BVC v EWF).

Tobias maps the AG’s approach which discusses predictability yet anchors the conclusion unto the very reason (ia per recitals 15 and 16 which themselves go back to the Report Jenard) for having introduced A7 special jurisdiction: the connection of the court to the facts of the case (59):

any alternative grounds of jurisdiction, must be ‘based on a close connection between the court and the action or in order to facilitate the sound administration of justice. The existence of a close connection should ensure legal certainty and avoid the possibility of the defendant being sued in a court of a Member State which he could not reasonably have foreseen. This is important, particularly in disputes concerning non-contractual obligations arising out of violations of privacy and rights relating to personality, including defamation’.

‘the reasonable foreseeability of the centre of gravity of a dispute should not be effectively replaced by the publisher’s knowledge of the place of the victim’s domicile (62)’

A criterion of intent (69) must not be introduced for online torts, the AG suggests (cf intention expressed as ‘directing at’ in the consumer title). Applied to the case at issue, given the nature of the expressions used (the use of ‘Polish concentration camps’ can be predicted to create a fall-out in Poland, even if one does not have any specific individuals on one’s radar). At 81 ff the AG adds quasi-obiter that at the enforcement stage, any Polish judgment prohibiting in particular further use of the phrase may indeed bounce off German ordre public – as Burkhard’s post discusses re an earlier case.

What would be rather cool is for the CJEU in spite of the AG’s invite not to do so, to take the opportunity of this case to bin or radically amend Bier. That is a pipe dream: this is not going to happen [or is it 😉 ?] particularly seeing as the case will not be held in Grand Chamber.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.5, and para 2.598 in fine.

 

 

Markt24: CJEU emphasises predictability of place of habitual employment.

There is a benefit to the pace of work becoming so hectic that I cannot post on CJEU case-law swiftly: others have analysis to which I can refer. In the case of CJEU C-804/19 BU v Markt24 GmbH, Anna Wysocka-Bar has posted analysis this morning (Opinion Saugmandsgaard Øe here).

BU whose place of residence is at Salzburg (Austria) signed an employment contract for carrying out cleaning work in Munich (Germany) for Markt24 GmbH, whose registered office is also located in Munich. The contract was signed in a bakery in Salzburg, where Markt24 also had an office. BU was never allocated any work, the employment contract was terminated and BU claims outstanding wage at the Landesgericht Salzburg.

The CJEU refers to Holterman to define employment [25] and holds [26] that the presence of a contract of employment is relevant for triggering the protective regime: not its actual exercise, at least if the lack of performance of the contract is attributable to the employer [28].

This issue was not sub judice however reasoning mutatis mutandis I would suggest the attributability or not to the employer be subject to the putative lex loci laboris per A8 Rome I.

Having established that A21 BIa applies, the question is how a ‘‘place where or from where the employee habitually carries out his work’ may be determined if no work has been carried out. At 41:

in the case where the contract of employment has not been performed, the intention expressed by the parties to the contract as to the place of that performance is, in principle, the only element which makes it possible to establish a habitual place of work (…) That interpretation best allows a high degree of predictability of rules of jurisdiction to be ensured, since the place of work envisaged by the parties in the contract of employment is, in principle, easy to identify

In casu, that place is Munich albeit [46] Salzburg might also still be an option given as A20 BIa makes A7(5)’s branch jurisdiction applicable (“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”). Whether the conditions for that Article apply, is for the court at Salzburg to determine.

The CJEU’s emphasis on predictability in my view also means that if a place is agreed yet the employee, without agreement from the employer, de facto carries out the work elsewhere, the agreed place must take precedent.

The CJEU also holds [34] that the employment title of BIA exhaustively harmonises jurisdiction: more favourable national CPR rules (in casu granting jurisdiction to the employee’s residence and /or place of payment of the remuneration) become inoperable.

An important judgment.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.278 ff.

Groundhog day, but with Unicorns. Bobek AG in Obala v NLB i.a. on ‘civil and commercial’.

Update 15 December 2020. I have now had help from a little Kirchberg bird in cracking the Groundhog Day mystery:  Bobek AG most most probably did not refer to Groundhog Day in the Opinion discussed in current post, for he had already done so a few weeks earlier in C-505/19 at 121. A case on Interpol and Schengen (I follow a lot of CJEU issues; but this one had escaped me).

Probably precisely because it would have been obvious, Bobek AG did not refer in the opening lines of his Opinion in C-307/19 Obala v NLB to Groundhog Day, which, following Pula Parking, this case certainly is. He did at 2 summarise why the issue, essentially on the notion of ‘civil and commercial’ under Brussels Ia and the Service Regulation 1393/2007 keeps on coming before the CJEU (this time in no less than 9 long questions):

The crux of the problem appears to be a certain double privatisation carried out by the Croatian legislature at both management and enforcement level. A matter commonly perceived in other Member States to be administrative in nature is entrusted to private entities. The subsequent enforcement of such a claim is also not designed to be a matter for the courts, but rather, at least at first instance, for notaries.

The EC had objected to quite a few questions on the basis that they engaged too much the substance of the case, which the AG disagrees with: at 31 he suggest that inevitably in conflict of laws jurisdictional advice, ‘telescopic analysis of the substance’ is needed.

On the issue of ‘civil and commercial’, Germany and Slovenia submit the origin of the power under which the contract was concluded and which is enforced in this respect that is determinant.  The applicant, the Croatian Government and the Commission take the opposite view: to them, it is not the origin of the power but rather the modalities of its exercise which represent the determinative element for identifying ‘civil and commercial matters’. It is quite extraordinary that we should still not have consensus on this after to many cases, however as I noted in my review of Buak, the divergent emphasis by different chambers of  the Court has not helped.

At 42 ff Bobek summarily revisits the case-law under BIa (he concedes at 53-54 that case-law on other instruments does not add much), concluding at 52 that the CJEU has used both the ‘subject matter’ approach and the ‘legal relationship’ approach, without expressing a preference for either.

At 59 the Advocate-General opts for the ‘legal relationship’ approach, arguing that path ‘most reliably performs the function of the figurative railroad switch point guiding the dispute from one procedural track to another in search of the ‘right’ institutional path in a Member State at the preliminary stage of jurisdiction’. That path is also the one which as I point out in my review of Buak, was followed by the Second (which includes President Lenaerts, the chair of conflict of laws at Leuven prior to my immediate predecessor, Hans van Houtte) and not the First Chamber:

The Second chamber (K. Lenaerts, A. Prechal, Toader, Rosas and Ilešič in Buak, focus on Sapir which was issued by the third Chamber, comprising at the time Toader (Rapporteur), Ilešič, Jarašiūnas, Ó Caoimh,  Fernlund. Toader and Ilešič are the common denominator with judment in BUAK. Sapir has focus also firstly on the legal relationship between the parties to the dispute, but secondly the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of the action (not: the to my knowledge never applied Eurocontrol criterion of ‘subject matter’ of the action).

At 66 the AG offers ‘pointers’ within the ‘nature of the legal relationship’ approach which he believes may be of assistance to any public power assessment:

‘(i) start with the legal relationship which characterises the dispute; (ii) assess it against the framework generally applicable to private parties; and (iii) establish whether the dispute arises from a unilateral exercise of public powers outside that normal private ‘reference framework’.’

which applied to the case at issue, he concludes at 87, leads to a finding of there not appearing to be an exercise of public powers.

I conclude my overview of ‘civil and commercial’ at para 2.65 of the third ed of the Handbook (forthcoming February 2021) with

the acte clair doctrine (meaning that national courts need not refer to the CJEU when the interpretation of EU law is sufficiently clear either by virtue of that law itself or following CJEU interpretation in case-law) implies that national courts by now ought to have been given plenty of markers when applying this condition of application of the Brussels I and Recast Regulation. Except of course the acte might not be that clair at all, as the above overview shows.

Bobek AG seems to have a similar end in mind: at 65: there is no unicorn, a truly autonomous interpretation of ‘civil and commercial’.

The Opinion continues with the classic themes of whether notaries are courts, and a firm opinion that leaving your car in a public parking space provokes contractual relations.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, paras 2.28 ff concluding at 2.65.

Dutch SC applies Nk v PNB Paribas and determines locus damni for Peeters Gatzen suit.

Early July the Dutch Supreme Court followed-up on CJEU C–535/17 NK v BNP Paribas Fortis re the Peeters /Gatzen suit – a judgment I covered here. Roel Verheyden has additional analysis of the SC ruling, in Dutch, here. The SC held that the Dutch courts do not have jurisdiction, identifying Belgium as the Erfolgort per CJEU Marinari and Kolassa. As Roel notes, the SC (other than its AG) attention to potential ‘specific factors’ suggesting The Netherlands as an Erfolgort, is underwhelming and may lead to a general conclusion that Dutch Insolvency practitioners applying the Peeters /Gatzen suit to foreign parties while have to sue these abroad – leading to potential issues in the governing law itself and a disappearance of Peeters /Gatzen altogether.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.4.1, Heading 5.7.

Erfolgsort bij Peeters/Gatzen-vordering

 

The CJEU in Reliantco on’consumers’ and complex financial markets. And again on contracts and tort.

C-500/18 AU v Reliantco was held by the CJEU on 2 April, in the early fog of the current pandemic. Reliantco is a company incorporated in Cyprus offering financial products and services through an online trading platform under the ‘UFX’ trade name – readers will recognise this from [2019] EWHC 879 (Comm) Ang v Reliantco. Claimant AU is an individual. The litigation concerns limit orders speculating on a fall in the price of petrol, placed by AU on an online platform owned by the defendants in the main proceedings, following which AU lost the entire sum being held in the frozen trading account, that is, 1 919 720 US dollars (USD) (around EUR 1 804 345).

Choice of court and law was made pro Cyprus.

The case brings to the fore the more or less dense relationship between secondary EU consumer law such as in particular the unfair terms Directive 93/13 and, here, Directive 2004/39 on markets in financial instruments (particularly viz the notion of ‘retail client’ and ‘consumer’).

First up is the consumer title under Brussels Ia: Must A17(1) BIa be interpreted as meaning that a natural person who under a contract concluded with a financial company, carries out financial transactions through that company may be classified as a ‘consumer’ in particular whether it is appropriate, for the purposes of that classification, to take into consideration factors such as the fact that that person carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or that he or she invested significant sums in those transactions, or that that person is a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of A4(1) point 12 Directive 2004/39?

The Court had the benefit of course of C-208/18 Petruchová – which Baker J did not have in Ang v ReliantcoIt is probably for that reason that the case went ahead without an Opinion of the AG. In Petruchová the Court had already held that factors such as

  • the value of transactions carried out under contracts such as CFDs,
  • the extent of the risks of financial loss associated with the conclusion of such contracts,
  • any knowledge or expertise that person has in the field of financial instruments or his or her active conduct in the context of such transactions
  • the fact that a person is classified as a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of Directive 2004/39 is, as such, in principle irrelevant for the purposes of classifying him or her as a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of BIa,

are, as such, in principle irrelevant to determine the qualification as a ‘consumer’. In Reliantco it now adds at 54 that ‘(t)he same is true of a situation in which the consumer carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or invested significant sums in those transactions.’

Next however comes the peculiarity that although AU claim jurisdiction for the Romanian courts against Reliantco Investments per the consumer title (which requires a ‘contract’ to be concluded), it bases its action on non-contractual liability, with applicable law to be determined by Rome II. (The action against the Cypriot subsidiary, with whom no contract has been concluded, must be one in tort. The Court does not go into analysis of the jurisdictional basis against that subsidiary, whose branch or independent basis or domicile is not entirely clear; anyone ready to clarify, please do).

At 68 the CJEU holds that the culpa in contrahendo action is indissociably linked to the contract concluded between the consumer and the seller or supplier, and at 71 that this conclusion is reinforced by A12(1) Rome II which makes the putative lex contractus, the lex causae for culpa in contrahendo. At 72 it emphasises the need for consistency between Rome II and Brussels IA in that both the law applicable to a non-contractual obligation arising out of dealings prior to the conclusion of a contract and the court having jurisdiction to hear an action concerning such an obligation, are determined by taking into consideration the proposed contract the conclusion of which is envisaged.

Interesting.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

Petrobas securities class action. Applicable law update: Dutch court holds under Rome II on lex causae in tort for purely economic loss. Place of listing wins the day (and leads to Mozaik).

Thank you Matthias Lehmann for flagging and reviewing the Rotterdam Court’s judgment late in January on applicable law in the Petrobas case. I had earlier reviewed the jurisdictional issues, particularly the application of Brussels Ia’s Article 33-34.

The case relates to a Brazilian criminal investigation into alleged bribery schemes within Petrobras, which took place between 2004 and 2014. The court first, and of less interest for the blog, deals with a representation issue, holding that Portuguese speakers cannot be represented in the class, for the Portuguese version of the relevant dispute settlement provisions, unlike the English translation, was not faulty.

Turning then to applicable law at 5.39 ff. Events occurring on or after 12 January 2009 are subject to the Rome II Regulation. For those before that date, Dutch residual PIL applies which the Court held make Brazilian law lex causae as lex loci delicti commissi: for that is where the alleged fraud, bribery and witholding of information happened.

For the events which are covered by Rome II, the court does not wait for the CJEU finding in VEB v BP and squarely takes inspiration from the CJEU case-law on purely financial damage and jurisdiction: Kronhofer, Kolassa, Universal Music. The court notes that the CJEU in these cases emphasised a more than passing or incidental contact with a State (such as: merely the presence of a bank account) as being required to establish jurisdiction as locus damni. At 5.47 it rejects the place of the investor’s account as relevant (for this may change rapidly and frequently over time and may also be easily manipulated) and it identifies the place of the market where the financial instruments are listed and traded as being such a place with a particular connection to the case: it is the place where the value of the instruments is impacted and manifests itself. It is also a place that meets with the requirements of predictability and legal certainty: neither buyer nor seller will be surprised that that location should provide lex causae.

Conclusion therefore is one of Mozaik: Brasil, Argentina, Germany, Luxembourg are lex causae as indeed may be other places where Petrobas financial instruments are listed. (At 5.49: Article 4(2)’s joint domicile exception may make Dutch law the lex causae depending on who sues whom).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed.2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.4.

 

 

 

 

Ablynx and VUB v Unilever. The Court of Appeal reverses on Brussels Ia’s protection for choice of court (Article 31(2), yet dithers as to precise implications.

The Court of Appeal in [2019] EWCA Civ 2192 has reversed Hacon J’s ruling which I reviewed here in [2019] EWHC 792 (Pat) Ablynx and VUB v Unilever. Hacon J had held that Article 31(2) does NOT mean that the Brussels courts, to whom jurisdiction has been assigned in a licence agreement, get to decide first on the engagement of Article 24(4)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule re the validity of patents. Hacon J had decided that A31(2) cannot apply if A24(4) is engaged.

Lewison LJ with great clarity discussed CJEU and other authority on the application of (now) A25 and A24(4) (GAT v Luk and Roche of course feature). He holds at 71 that under the terms of the Recast Regulation, the Belgian court is empowered to decide whether the English court has exclusive jurisdiction; and that that question will involve the question whether the choice of court agreement is overridden by A25(4). And at 75: ‘the mere fact that there is a whisper of invalidity does not automatically bring proceedings in a different member state to a juddering halt. If this approach were to be applied to article 31(2) it would enable the Belgian court to decide, on a provisional basis, whether there was a non-negligible possibility that the UK court would declare the UK designation of the patents invalid. If it came to that conclusion, it would then have to decide to what extent that invalidated the exclusive jurisdiction agreement.’  ‘The court first seised (in England) is required to stay its proceedings as soon as the designated court has been seised (in Belgium) and until such time as the latter court declares that it has no jurisdiction under the exclusive choice of court agreement.’ Lewison LJ does hold that the court seized has to carry out a prima facie review of the validity of the choice of court agreement.

Conclusion, at 77: ‘it is for the court designated in the exclusive jurisdiction agreement (i.e. the Belgian court) to decide whether (and, if so, to what extent) it is deprived of its jurisdiction as a result of article 25 (4).’

However subsequently and despite counsel claim at 78 that the English court should not even consider the question whether A25(4) was engaged, the Court of Appeal does hold that the English courts should carry out a prima facie review of A25(4), too: at 78: if a prima facie case is established that A24 (4) does not apply (which at 110 following lengthy discussion it holds it does not, prima facie, in the case at issue; hence the action is stayed in its entirety) then it will be for the Belgian court to decide that question definitively. The opposite, it suggests, would cause unnecessary delay and expense.

This is a very thin line between full respect for Article 25(4)’s anti-torpedo mechanism, and disciplining abuse. I am not sure this judgment settles the issue on A25(4)’s full implications for court’s respective powers.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.7, Heading 2.2.9.5.