Posts Tagged Brussels I recast
Kareda v Stefan Benkö: CJEU rules with speed on recourse claim brought between jointly and severally liable debtors.
Less than two months after the AG Opined (see my report here), the Court of Justice has already held in C-249/16 Kareda v Stefan Benkö. The judgment follows Opinion to a tee albeit with a slightly more cautious link between Brussels I (jurisdiction) and Rome I /II (applicable law): at 32, with reference to the similarly cautious approach of the Court in Kainz.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168, Heading 22.214.171.124.9 .
Vulture funds (and Yukos) fail in Round 1 against Belgian enforcement regime viz sovereign immunity. No reference to Luxemburg on compatibility of Brussels I with international law.
Thank you Quentin Declève for alerting me to the Constitutional Court’s judgment on a related action (where MNL were joined by Yukos) namely against the act of 23 August 2015 which introduced Article 1412quinquies in the Belgian Judicial Code. It is noteworthy that the action against the Act of July has not yet been decided by the Court (that case number, for the aficionados, is 6371), at the least I have not been able to locate any judgment).
As Quentin summarises, as a general rule, Article 1412 quinquies of the Belgian Judicial Code provides that assets located in Belgium that belong to a foreign State are immune from execution and cannot be subject to enforcement proceedings by creditors. Exceptions to that rule are possible if very strict conditions are met: a party wishing to seize the assets belonging to a State needs to obtain a prior authorisation from a judge. This judge will only authorise the seizure if (i) the foreign State has “expressively” and “specifically” consented to the seizure of the assets; (ii) the foreign State has specifically allocated those assets to the enforcement of the claim which gives rise to the seizure; and (iii) the assets are located in Belgium and are allocated to an economic or commercial activity.
The Court has now annulled the word ‘specifically’ but has otherwise left the Act intact. Quentin summarises how the Court found that this proviso is not part of international law on State immunity.
Now, picking up where Quentin left: part of applicants’ arguments relate to Brussels I Recast. The argument is made that Belgium with its Act re-introduces exequatur, now that is has been abolished by the Recast. Belgium’s Government seems to argue that the law relating to seizure has public order character and hence is covered by the ordre public exception of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, and that seizure in Belgium which would go against public international customary law on State immunity, along the same lines would be covered by the ordre public exception of the Recast (para A.5.2, p.6).
The Court (at B.29.1 ff, .34 ff) deals with the Brussels I arguments very very succinctly: it refers to Article 41(1) which other than the substantive requirements of title III, makes recognition and enforcement subject to the law of the State of enforcement. The Court also says enforcement is not entirely obstructed: some of the foreign entities’ assets remain subject to seizure; and there are other ways of enforcement other than seizure. Finally the Court suggests that the Brussels I Recast surely must not be applied in a way which would be incompatible with international customary law. By rejecting the suggestion for a prelimary reference to Luxembourg (suggestion made by the Belgian State, unusually), the Court clearly believes that call is not one that has to be made by Luxembourg. Pitty: that would have been an interesting reference.
Again, NML Capital’s action against the Vulture Fund Act is still ongoing, lest I have missed withdrawal. As I noted in my paper, this Act I believe is wanting on various grounds, including some related to the New York Convention and the Brussels I Recast.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 126.96.36.199.4.
Uneasy cohabitation. Kareda v Benkö: special jurisdictional rules (contract or tort) for a recourse claim brought between jointly and severally liable debtors.
Ergo, Brogsitter, Granarolo...There is a long list of cases in which the CJEU is asked to decide whether a relationship between parties is contractual, with special jurisdiction determined by Article 7(1) of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, or one in tort, subject to Article 7(2) of same.
In C-249/16 Saale Kareda v Stefan Benkö Bot AG opined end of April. The Court is asked to rule on whether a recourse claim brought between jointly and severally liable debtors under a credit agreement constitutes a contractual claim. And if it is, the Court will have to examine whether such an agreement may be classified as an agreement for the provision of services, which will, as the case may be, lead it to determine the place of performance of its characteristic obligation.
I still think that what I dubbed the ancestry or pedigree test of Sharpston AG in Ergo, is a most useful litmus test to distinguish between 7(1) and 7(2): what is the ancestry of the action, without which the parties concerned would not be finding themselves pleading in a court of law?: she uses ‘centre of gravity’ (‘the centre of gravity of the obligation to indemnify is in the contractual obligation’); ‘rooted in’ (‘the recourse action by one insurer against the other…is rooted in the contracts of insurance’); and ‘intimately bound up’ (‘[the action] is intimately bound up with the two insurers’ contractual obligation‘). (at 62 of her Opinion in Ergo). I am not sure though whether the Court itself follows the test.
Before the Austrian courts, Stefan Benkö, an Austrian national, is bringing a recourse claim against Saale Kareda, an Estonian national and his former partner, seeking payment of EUR 17 145.41 plus interest and costs. While they were living together in Austria, the applicant and the defendant bought a house in 2007 and for that purpose took out three loans totalling EUR 300 000 (‘the loan’) from an Austrian bank. They were both borrowers and the referring court states that they were both jointly and severally liable debtors. Ms Kareda broke up with Mr Benkö, moved back to Estonia, and ceased her loan payments. Being sued for the arrear payments by MR Benko, she now claims that the Landesgericht St. Pölten (Regional Court, St. Pölten), the court seised by the applicant, lacked territorial jurisdiction in so far as the loan was made by an Austrian bank and the place of performance for that loan, the bank’s registered office, is not located in the judicial district of that court.
Is it possible to ‘detach’ from the credit agreement the legal relationships arising between jointly and severally liable debtors following the conclusion of that agreement, or does this form an inseparable whole? (at 28) Bot AG suggests it is the latter and I believe he is right. I agree that it would be artificial, for the purposes of the application of the Brussels I Recast. to separate those legal relationships from the agreement which gave rise to them and on which they are based.
I am less convinced by the reference, at 32 and 33, to the need for consistency between Brussels I Recast and Rome I: regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by this. (But I believe I am fighting a losing battle there). The AG refers to Article 16 of Rome I, entitled ‘Multiple liability’, which provides inter alia that, ‘[i]f a creditor has a claim against several debtors who are liable for the same claim, and one of the debtors has already satisfied the claim in whole or in part, the law governing the debtor’s obligation towards the creditor also governs the debtor’s right to claim recourse from the other debtors’.
Having decided that the issue is contractual, the AG suggests the credit agreement is an agreement for the provision of services, and that in the context of a credit agreement, the characteristic obligation leading to jurisdiction is the actual granting of the sum loaned. The other obligation entailed by such an agreement, namely the borrower’s obligation to repay the sum loaned, exists only through the performance of the service by the lender, as repayment is merely its consequence.
The final element to consider is then the actual place of performance of the characteristic obligation. In the AG’s view, only the place where the creditor has its place of business is capable of ensuring that the rules are highly predictable and of satisfying the objectives of proximity and standardisation pursued by the second indent of Article 7(1)(b) of Regulation No 1215/2012. That place will be known by the parties from the time of the conclusion of the agreement and will also be the place of the court having the closest connection with that agreement. (at 46).
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52, Heading 184.108.40.206.9
This is one for the conflict of laws anoraks. In C-29/16 HanseYachts the Court of Justice held (on 4 May) that an application for proceedings to preserve or establish, prior to any legal proceedings, evidence of facts on which a subsequent action could be based, does not constitute a proceeding within the meaning of (now) Article 32(1) Brussels I. If it had, it would trigger the lis alibi pendens regime of that Article, impacting therefore on any future substantive proceedings.
At 33 the Court defers to the insight into the relevant provisions of French judicial procedure, offered by the French Government: Although there may indeed be a connection between the court seised on the basis of the relevant French Article and the court having jurisdiction to hear the substance of the case with a view to which the measure of inquiry was ordered, the fact remains that such proceedings for the taking of evidence are independent in relation to the substantive procedure which may, if necessary, be brought subsequently. The Court’s ruling however is dependent (at 34) upon the French courts confirming this interpretation of French civil procedure: for the CJEU does not offer final interpretations on internal State law.
Of note is of course also that the Court seized with the substantive procedure, may en parcours de route take measures to preserve evidence etc.: that court would have already been ‘seized’.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 220.127.116.11.
Asymmetric clauses, exclusivity, torpedoes and lis alibi pendens: The High Court in Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers.
Many of the issues in  EWHC 161 (Comm) Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers were also raised in Perella v Codere, albeit there, as I reported, obiter. In current case, they were very much dicta, and they amount to the English courts viewing (properly constructed) asymmetric clauses as being exclusive. As such they fall under the new anti-torpedo provisions of Article 31(2).
Applications of defendants Liquimar Tankers (registered in Liberia but with head office in Athens) are being made in the course of proceedings in London by Commerzbank in two separate actions in relation to the repayment of loans which the Bank extended for the building of a number of ships. There are ongoing proceedings taken by the defendants against the Bank in Piraeus, Greece concerning the same and/or related issues.
The Liquimar guarantee contained a governing law and an asymmetric jurisdiction clause, which was essentially similar in the other loan agreements. It provided:
“16 Law and Jurisdiction
16.1 This Guarantee and Indemnity shall in all respects be governed by and interpreted in accordance with English law.
16.2 For the exclusive benefit of the Lender, the Guarantor irrevocably agrees that the courts of England are to have jurisdiction to settle any disputes which may arise out of or in connection with this Guarantee and Indemnity and that any proceedings may be brought in those courts.
16.3 Nothing contained in this Clause shall limit the right of the Lender to commence any proceedings against the Guarantor in any other court of competent jurisdiction nor shall the commencement of any proceedings against the Guarantor in one or more jurisdictions preclude the commencement of any proceedings in any other jurisdiction, whether concurrently or not.
16.4 The Guarantor irrevocably waives any objection which it may now or in the future have to the laying of the venue of any proceedings in any court referred to in this Clause and any claim that those proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient or inappropriate forum, and irrevocably agrees that a judgment in any proceedings commenced in any such court shall be conclusive and binding on it and may be enforced in the courts of any jurisdiction …”.
Article 31(2) of the Brussels I Recast reads:
‘where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seized, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seized on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement.’
Cranston J held that the concept of ‘exclusivity’ should be autonomously interpreted under the Brussels I (Recast) regime. He did not however refer for preliminary reference to the CJEU: as such, the High Court’s finding continues to be vulnerable until we have precedent from Luxembourg. The judgment as a whole is worth a read – readers in for concise summary, please refer to Herbert Smith’s analysis.
Summing up is done in para 70, with justifiable emphasis on parties’ and the Regulation’s intentions (but as noted with considerable reference to precedent and principles of statutory interpretation): Thus with the asymmetric jurisdiction clauses in the present case, the defendants agreed to sue only in the courts of one EU Member State, England. Instead, they have enabled another court, the Greek court, to be seized of the matter. It would undermine the agreements of the parties, and foster abusive tactics, if the jurisdiction clauses in these agreements were to be treated not as exclusive, but as non-exclusive.’
Of note is also the discussion on the role of recitals (eg. at 69; also at 77 ff). Justice Cranston’s arguments are supported by reference to a number of recitals. Defendant in my view has a valid point in principle where they argue at 77 that ‘a recital cannot constitute a rule when it is not reflected in the words of Article 31(2).‘ (Although they were wrong on substance).
A subsidiary argument in the case also merits further attention. Defendants argue that Article 25 requires the parties to have designated the courts of a Member State to enable the law applicable to the substantive validity of a jurisdiction clause to be identified and to provide certainty as to the forum in which a putative defendant can expect to be sued. That, they submit, is not achieved by a clause which designates the courts of all other competent states, including those of non-Member States, outside the territorial competence of the EU, which could mean suits in multiple jurisdictions. Although the argument could be phrased more precisely, I do agree with it: in the absence of a nominatim lex contractus for the choice of court clause specifically, the new lex fori prorogati rule in Article 25 Brussels I Recast, combined with recital 20 (yet again the troublesome habit of EU private international law to include substantive rules in recitals only) does create a vacuum in the case of hybrid, asymmetric or even non-exclusive choice of court.
An important case. Not the last we have heard of the issues.
(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 18.104.22.168.1, Heading 22.214.171.124.
Issued on the same day as Zulfikarpašić, Pula Parking Case C-551/15 deals with similar core issues, with a few extras thrown in. Pula Parking, a company owned by the town of Pula (Croatia), carries out, pursuant to a decision of the mayor of that town, the administration, supervision, maintenance and cleaning of the public parking spaces, the collection of parking fees and other related tasks. In September 2010, Mr Tederahn, who is domiciled in Germany, parked his vehicle in a public parking space of the town of Pula. Pula Parking issued Mr Tederahn with a parking ticket. Since Mr Tederahn did not settle the sums due within the period prescribed, Pula Parking lodged, on 27 February 2015, with a notary whose office is in Pula, an application for enforcement on the basis of an ‘authentic document’. A notary issued a writ of execution on 25 March 2015, on the basis of that document. In his opposition, Mr Tederahn put forward a plea alleging that the notary who issued the writ of execution of 25 March 2015 did not have substantive and territorial jurisdiction on the ground that that notary did not have jurisdiction to issue such a writ on the basis of an ‘authentic document’ from 2010, against a German national or a citizen of any other EU Member State.
Does the Brussels I recast apply at all? And does it relate also to the jurisdiction of notaries in the Republic of Croatia?
On the temporal scope of the Brussels I Recast, the Court repeats its (Brussels Convention) Sanicentral (Case 25/79) finding: the only necessary and sufficient condition for the scheme of the Regulation to be applicable to litigation relating to legal relationships created before its entry into force is that the judicial proceedings should have been instituted subsequently to that date. Accession timing is irrelevant to the case: per C-420/07 Apostolides the Act of Accession of a new Member State is based essentially on the general principle that the provisions of EU law apply ab initio and in toto to that State, derogations being allowed only in so far as they are expressly laid down by transitional provisions.
On the substantial scope of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, for the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ the Court refers to its standing case-law (particularly most recently Aertssen and Sapir). In casu, it would seem (the national court is asked to confirm) that the parking debt claimed by Pula Parking is not coupled with any penalties that may be considered to result from a public authority act of Pula Parking and is not of a punitive nature but constitutes, therefore, mere consideration for a service provided. Brussels I applies.
However, notaries in casu do not act as courts: in a twin approach with Zulfikarpašić, the Court holds that the writ of execution based on an ‘authentic document’, issued by the notary, is served on the debtor only after the writ has been adopted, without the application by which the matter is raised with the notary having been communicated to the debtor. (at 58) Although it is true that debtors have the opportunity to lodge oppositions against writs of execution issued by notaries and it appears that notaries exercise the responsibilities conferred on them in the context of enforcement proceedings based on an ‘authentic document’ subject to review by the courts, to which notaries must refer possible challenges, the fact remains that the examination, by notaries, in Croatia, of an application for a writ of execution on such a basis is not conducted on an inter partes basis.
European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.