Posts Tagged Brussels I recast

Ramona Ang v Reliantco: On bitcoins, choice of court, complex financial markets and ‘consumers’. As well as a first vindication of my GDPR jurisdictional prediction.

As noted, I have come up for some air after a few hectic weeks – next case to report on is [2019] EWHC 879 (Comm) Ramona v Reliantco, held 12 April. (A similar case is pending with the CJEU against Reliantco as Case C-500/18).

Defendant (‘Reliantco’) is a company incorporated in Cyprus offering financial products and services through an online trading platform under the ‘UFX’ trade name. Claimant, Ms Ang, is an individual of substantial means who invested in Bitcoin futures, on a leveraged basis, through the UFX platform. She claims, essentially and primarily, that Reliantco wrongfully blocked and terminated her UFX account and should compensate her for the loss of her open Bitcoin positions, or at a minimum should refund her cash value invested. She also makes claims for relief in respect of what she says have been breaches of data protection obligations owed by Reliantco in connection with her UFX account.

The judgment does not concern the merits of Ms Ang’s claims but rather an application by Reliantco challenging jurisdiction. Reliantco contends that Ms Ang is bound by its standard terms and conditions, clause 27.1 of which provides that the courts of Cyprus are to have exclusive jurisdiction over “all disputes and controversies arising out of or in connection with” her customer agreement. Reliantco therefore relies on Article 25 Brussels Ia.

Ms Ang says that clause 27.1 is ineffective to require her to bring her claim in Cyprus, either because she is a consumer within Section 4 of Brussels (Recast) or because clause 27.1 was not incorporated into her UFX customer agreement with Reliantco in such a way as to satisfy the requirements of Article 25. Ms Ang says, in the alternative, that her data protection claims may be brought here notwithstanding Article 25 Brussels Ia even if Article 25 applies to her primary substantive claims.

All in all a nice set of jurisdictional issues and no surprise to have prof Jonathan Harris QC involved as counsel.

At all times material to her claim, Ms Ang was not employed or earning a living in any self-employed trade or profession (unless, which is contentious between the parties and considered below, her activity as a customer of Reliantco via the UFX platform is itself to be so classified). Ms Ang worked in money markets for two months as a trainee, observing US$/DM currency swaps. Other than that, she has no professional currency trading or money market experience (again, that is, unless her use of the UFX platform to invest in Bitcoin futures itself counts as such).

At 9, s little bit of Bitcoin drame enters the scene: Ms Ang’s husband, Craig Wright, is a computer scientist with cybersecurity and blockchain expertise who works as Chief Scientist for nChain Ltd, a blockchain technology company with a corporate vision “to transform how the world conducts all transactions – using the blockchain’s distributed, decentralised ledger that chronologically records transactions in an immutable way“. As a researcher, he publishes prolifically and has developed innovations for which patent protection has been sought. He is the same Craig Wright who has identified himself publicly as being ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’, the online pseudonym associated with the inventor (or a co-inventor) of Bitcoin. Baker J holds that he need not consider whether that claim is true, and on the evidence for this application I would not be in any position to do so.

 

Was Ms Ang a ‘consumer’? At 52 ff the arguments of Reliantco are summarised; at 55 ff those of Ms Ang.

CJEU precedent discussed by Baker J is C-89/91 Shearson; C-269/95 Benincasa; C-464/01 Gruber; C-498/16 Schremsand the pending cases C‑208/18 Petruchová [I reviewed the AG’s Opinion (issued a day before the High Court’s judgment) yesterday] and C-500/18 Reliantco Investments and Reliantco Investments Limassol Sucursala Bucureşti.

Baker J concludes at 34 ‘the ECJ/CJEU has not decided whether contracts entered into by a wealthy private individual for the purpose of investing her wealth, or particular types of such contract, are not (or can never be) consumer contracts.’

Reference is then made to English precedent along the very lines of the precedent dismissed by Tanchev AG in Petruchová: including AMT Futures v Marzillier, and at 35 ff Standard Bank London Ltd v Apostolakis both through the English and the Greek courts – with differing results. At 44: ‘the disagreement between the English and Greek decisions in Apostolakis turns upon and is constituted by a difference of view as to whether investing private wealth for gain, if it takes the form of buying and selling foreign currency, is by nature a business activity so that an individual investing their wealth in that way cannot when doing so be a ‘consumer’ under Brussels (Recast). Longmore J thought there was no such proposition of law; the Greek court took the contrary view.’ German case-law is also discussed.

At 63 Baker J comes to the core of his reasoning: ‘In my judgment, the investment by a private individual of her personal surplus wealth (i.e. surplus to her immediate needs), in the hope of generating good returns (whether in the form of income on capital, capital growth, or a mix of the two), is not a business activity, generally speaking. It is a private consumption need, in the sense I believe intended by the ECJ in Benincasa, to invest such wealth with such an aim, i.e. that is an ‘end user’ purpose for a private individual and is not exclusively a business activity. That means, as was also Popplewell J’s conclusion in AMT v Marzillier, that it will be a fact-specific issue in any given case whether a particular individual was indeed contracting as a private individual to satisfy that need, i.e. as a consumer, or was doing so for the purpose of an investment business of hers (existing or planned).’

And at 65 in fine: the ‘question of purpose is the question to be asked, and it must be considered upon all of the evidence available to the court and not by reference to any one part of that evidence in isolation.’

At 68 he concludes ‘the purpose of her contract with Reliantco therefore was outside any business of hers’.

Baker J notes that he was not asked to defer any decision in C‑208/18 Petruchová. I believe it would have been of help to determine the issue before him. Tanchev AG (as noted, in an Opinion not available to Baker J at the time of his drafting his judgment) suggests that ‘to determine whether a person must be regarded as a consumer, reference must be made to the nature and objective of the contract, not to the subjective situation of the person concerned.’ 

 

Obiter, he then reviews Article 25, where CJEU authority discussed is ia Colzanni and Cars on the Web. Ms Ang contended that she was not able to access the standard terms web page at the time she opened her account, and therefore clause 27.1 did not comply with Article 25 B1a. At 78 extensive technical detail is discussed and at 80 Baker J finds that the Cars on the Web criterion of accessibility and durability were met; and at 81 that in any case, the current issue is not one of a click-wrap agreement for a signed hard copy of the GTCs with choice of court in it, had also been sent.

Equally obiter, at 83 ff Baker J summarily discussed the GDPR jurisdictional arguments which would have been more relevant had he not accepted jurisdiction under the consumer title. The brief discussion entirely fulfills my summer 2018 prediciton here: Article 79 GDPR will create a lot of issues at the level of jurisdiction.

A very relevant case.

Geert.

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

 

 

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Tanchev AG in C‑208/18 Petruchová. On FOREX traders as ‘consumers’ for jurisdictional purposes.

Tanchev AG Opined mid last month in C-208/18 Jana Petruchová v FIBO Group Holdings, essentially on the issue whether Article 17(1) Brussels Ia is to be interpreted as covering an individual who engages in trade on the international currency exchange market through a third party professionally engaged in that trade.

Or, as the AG himself puts it at 3, whether a natural person which engages in trade on the FOREX market must be regarded as a consumer or whether, by reason of the knowledge and expertise required to engage in that trade, of the complex and atypical nature of the contract at issue, and of the risks incurred, that person cannot be considered a consumer, so that he falls outside the scope of the section affording protection referred to above.

Under consideration is inter alia the impact of Rome I and of Directive 2004/39 – the relation in other words between applicable law and jurisdiction, and between substantive law and jurisdiction – see also my review of Pillar Securitisation here.

Ms Petruchová, residing in Ostrava (Czech Republic), and FIBO Group Holdings Ltd (‘FIBO’), a brokerage company established in Limassol (Republic of Cyprus), entered into a contract entitled ‘Terms of Business’ (‘the Framework Agreement’ – with choice of court for Cyprus). The purpose of the Framework Agreement was to enable Ms Petruchová to make transactions on the FOREX market by placing orders for the purchase and sale of the base currency, which FIBO would carry out through its online trading platform.

At 29, the AG suggests in my view correctly (Handbook p.106 2nd full para) that for choice of court under Article 19 B1a to be valid, it must allow the consumer to bring proceedings in courts in addition to those identified by Article 18.

Article 17(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation applies if three conditions are met: first, a party to a contract is a consumer who is acting in a context which can be regarded as being outside his trade or profession; second, the contract between such a consumer and a professional has actually been concluded; and, third, such a contract falls within one of the categories referred to in Article 17(1)(a) to (c) of that regulation.

The question referred to the Court in the present case relates to the first condition. The AG refers in particular to C-269/95 Benincasa; and C-498/16 SchremsAt 46, referring to these cases: to determine whether a person must be regarded as a consumer, reference must be made to the nature and objective of the contract, not to the subjective situation of the person concerned. 

(at 40) The question before the Court of Justice is whether a person who carries out transactions on the FOREX market may be denied the status of a consumer by reason of the knowledge and the expertise required to engage in such trades, the value of the transaction, the fact that the person is actively placing his own orders, the risks incurred on the FOREX market, and the number and frequency of the transactions carried out.’

In essence therefore, do the sophistication of the market and the intensity of the individual’s voluntary engagement with it, impact on their qualification as a consumer? The AG opines they do not, and I am minded to agree given CJEU authority, in my view most correspondingly C-218-12 Emrek – which the AG does not refer to. In that case the CJEU emphasised the objective charachter of the Pammer /Alpenhof criteria, decoupled from the consumer’s actual introduction to the business via word of mouth rather than the website.

The AG also refers to Schrems, where the Court held that the notion of a consumer is ‘distinct from the knowledge and information that the person concerned actually possesses’.

At 48 the AG finds additional support in Directive 93/13/EECon unfair terms in consumer contracts – although as we know e.g. from Pillar Securitisation, such support has now become less substantial.

At 51 the AG also emphasises the predictability of the Brussels regime – a classic interpretative tool which was bound to make an appearance. At 54 he adds that the risks involved in the conclusion of CfDs cannot preclude classification as a consumer. Quite the reverse: because of the risks, consumers need to be protected. At 59 he rejects [2014] EWHC 1085 (Comm) AMT Futures v Marzillier as relevant (national) precedent, although I do not think that either he or the Commission properly presented Popplewell J’s views on the issue. As I noted in my review at the time, ‘I do not think too much should be read in these examples – more so, the insistence that circumstances of the case do have an impact on the qualification as ‘consumer’.

At 69 on the issue of consumers, the AG concludes that ‘in order to determine whether a person who engages in trade on the FOREX market should be regarded as a consumer within the meaning of Article 17(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation, no account should be taken of that person’s knowledge; of the value of the contract; of the fact that the person actively places his own orders; of the risks incurred; or of the number and frequency of the transactions.’

That leaves the questions

  • whether A17(1) BIa should be interpreted in a manner consistent with Article 6 Rome I, given that financial instruments such as CfDs are excluded from the scope of the rules applicable to consumer contracts laid down in Article 6(1) and (2) of the Rome I Regulation). Suggested answer: No: per Kainz, and now also I would suggest, Pillar Securitisation; and
  • whether account should be taken of the fact that the person is a retail client within the meaning of Directive 2004/39: for similar reasons: ditto answer.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

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Huawei v Conversant wireless. Reflexive application of patent validity jurisdiction confirmed in principle – but rejected in casu.

In [2019] EWCA Civ 38 Huawei v Conversant Wireless (on appeal from [2018] EWHC 808 (Pat) the Court of Appeal considered whether in the event of 2 defendants being UK based (the others domiciled in China) the UK courts may relinquish jurisdiction reflexively to honour Article 24(4) Brussels Ia’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for the validity of patents.

Neither Article 33’s lis alibi pendens or Article 34’s ‘forum non conveniens’ rule were discussed.

Huawei China and ZTE China have commenced proceedings in China against Conversant, seeking to establish invalidity and (in the case of Huawei China only) non-infringement of Conversant’s Chinese patents. Conversant have inter alia sued Huawei China and ZTE China in Germany for infringement of its German patents.

Following Owusu, jurisdiction for infringement of UK patents against UK incorporated companies must lie and remain with the English courts per Article 4 B1a. As readers will remember from my review of Ferrexpo, the English courts for some time however have noticed with relish that the CJEU in Owusu did not entertain the part of the referral which asked it whether exclusive jurisdictional rules may apply reflexively – holding thereafter in the CJEU’s stead that they might so do (in a discretionary: not a slavish fashion: Floyd J here at 115).

At 95 ff Floyd J discusses the issues after having summarised the various representations made (see a summary of the summary by John de Rohan-Truba here), with much of the discussion turning on English CPR and jurisdictional rules, and reflexive application of Article 24(4) confirmed in principle, but not applied here. Requests to refer to the CJEU were summarily dismissed.

Geert.

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

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Ablynx and VUB v Unilever. On Brussels Ia’s protection for choice of court (Article 31(2) and, again, on DNIs and exclusive jurisdiction for patents.

[2019] EWHC 792 (Pat) Ablynx and VUB v Unilver engages similar discussions as Eli Lily v enentech and Chugai v UCB with the additional element of now, under Brussels Ia, the application of Artile 31(2). This Article makes safe the torpedo previously used to gazump choice of court, by giving the courts of the States in whose favour choice of court has been concluded, a first go at discussing the validity and application of the choice of court agreement.

Here: does Article 31(2) 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?

It is worth quoting Hacon J in full: at 17 ff

’17. Ms Lane (for the defendants, GAVC) submitted that the position is clear: art.31(2) is engaged and therefore these proceedings must be stayed. Art.24 could never make a difference in this court because it cannot override art.31(2). That is because art.31(2) is expressly stated to be without prejudice to art.26 but not art.24. The consequence is that all issues arising in these proceedings must be ceded to the Brussels courts, including the question whether art.24(4) is engaged and if so, what should be done about it. It is not the concern of this court.

18. I disagree. To my mind art.25(4) explains why there is no mention of art.24 in art.31(2). Art.31(2) is necessarily without prejudice to art.24 since an agreement relied on for a stay under art.31(2) can carry no legal force if it purports to exclude the courts having exclusive jurisdiction under art.24. Even on the assumptions I have stated, art.31(2) cannot apply if art.24(4) is engaged. Art.24(4)’s engagement depends on whether these proceedings are ‘concerned with’ the validity of the Patents UK within the meaning of art.24(4). I must resolve this last question before I can decide whether the (assumed) agreement carries legal force and therefore whether art.31(2) is engaged.

19. I also note that art.26 is itself made subject to art.24. This reinforces my view that the recasting of Brussels I has not altered the hierarchy of provisions awarding jurisdiction, with art.24 at the top. Arts.24 and 25 both speak of ‘exclusive jurisdiction’, but that conferred by art.24 is the more exclusive.’

Having held that Article 31(2) is not engaged, the Court still has to assess whether the claim is essentially a decleration of non-infringrement or rather ‘concerns’ the validity of the patents. Defendants argue that the validity of the Patents UK would form only an incidental part of this action, since it is really a dispute about the scope of defendant’s licence.

Here, Hacon J discussed CJEU authority at length (GAT v LUK, BVG, Gasser etc.) and summarises at 53

(1) When a stay is sought under art.31(2), if an argument is raised that the court before which the stay is sought has exclusive jurisdiction under art.24, that court must decide whether the argument is correct.

(2) If the court has exclusive jurisdiction under art.24, art.31(2) is not engaged. There will be no stay.

(3) If the court does not have exclusive jurisdiction under art.24, it must decide whether at least prima facie there is an agreement which satisfies art.25 and which confers exclusive jurisdiction on courts of another Member State. If so, provided the defendant has not entered an appearance in a manner which satisfies art.26, there must be a stay of the proceedings.

EPLaw helpfully summarise the lenghty review of testimony and pleadings as follows: taking into account the usual practice in relation to patent validity proceedings in the UK, and the arguments which are typically run, the Court concluded that there was no real doubt that if the proceedings progress to trial they will be concerned with the validity of the Patents within the meaning of art.24(4). Art.24(4) was therefore engaged.

The case raises again the interesting issue of the degree to which the court may rely on parties’ submissions in particulars of claim when examining jurisdiction, or alternatively need to look beyond these stated arguments into what might and will be argued.

Leave to Appeal has been granted and a further order has already dealt with service issues.

Geert.

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

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Szpunar AG on jurisdiction for trade mark infringement in AMS Neve.

Advocate General Szpunar opined end of March in C‑172/18 AMS Neve. The case concerns in essence, in the AG’s words, whether and, if so, under what circumstances, pursuant to Article 97(5) of Regulation 207/2009 on a Community Trade Mark, the person responsible for an alleged infringement, consisting in the advertising and offer for sale of goods bearing a sign which is identical to an EU trade mark on a website, may be sued in the courts of the Member State on whose territory the traders and consumers targeted by that website are situated.

It is clear from the rules on jurisdiction in Regulation 207/2009 on Community trade marks that the EU legislature decided to derogate in part from the rules on jurisdiction in Brussels Ia (these are fully applicable in the case of actions relating to national trade marks).

CJEU authority is varied (Case C-324/09, L’Oréal, which concerns the territorial scope of the EU’s trademark laws and revolves around websites ‘targeting’ consumers as opposed to merely being accessible to them, is a clear precedent; as is Wintersteiger; Hejduk; Pinckney; Football Dataco) but difficult to apply for all of them are so easily distinguishable: various intellectual property rights are at issue; some of them EU-wide granted, others only local; precedent on online activity generally such as Pammer /Alpenhof, ‘G’ etc. do not have the IPR context,….

The Advocate General does a highly commendable job (in my classes I tend to make things easy for myself on this section by mumbling something like ‘it’s complicated’; ‘you need to know your intellectual property rights’; and ‘there are so many rules in the secondary law on IPR’) in distinguishing and untangling authority, and he focuses his analysis on the issue of ‘targeting’. Those with an interest in IPR litigation had best read the Opinion in full.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2.2.8.2.5; Heading 2.2.11.2.4 (quoted by the AG in current Opinion).

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ZX v Ryanair: Branch jurisdiction and voluntary appearance under Brussels Ia.

In C-464/18 ZX v Ryanair, the CJEU last week succinctly held on branch jurisdiction (Article 7(5)) and on voluntary appearance under Article 26.

The Court first reminds readers of the exclusion of simple contracts of transport (as opposed to combined tickets /package travel) from the consumer title of the Regulation: aee Article 17(3): the consumer title ‘shall not apply to a contract of transport other than a contract which, for an inclusive price, provides for a combination of travel and accommodation’.

Surprisingly perhaps (and /or due to lobbying), this did not come up for amendment in the recent Recast, despite the massive increase on travel tickets bought online in particular since transport was first carved out from the consumer title in the Brussels Convention. At 160 the Jenard Report explains the carve-out by reference to international agreements – yet these too could probably do with a refit – but I am straying.

The Court also reminds us that the flight compensation Regulation 261/2004 does not contain conflict of laws rules – these remain subject to the general instruments.

To the case at hand then: ZX purchased a ticket online for a flight operated by Ryanair between Porto (Portugal) and Barcelona (Spain). Applicant  is neither domiciled nor resident in Spain, defendant has its registered office in Ireland, and has a branch in Girona (Spain). ZX, the passenger, did not justify jurisdiction pro Girona on the basis of forum contractus. Per C‑204/08 Rehder, this would have been place of arrival or departure.

Branch jurisdiction per Article 7(5) featured most recently in C-27/17 flyLAL, and is quite clearly not engaged here: the ticket was purchased online. There is no element in the order for reference indicating that the transport contract was concluded through that branch. Furthermore, the services provided by the branch of Ryanair in Girona appear to be related to tax matters.

That leaves Article 26: how and when may it justify the international jurisdiction of the court seised by virtue of a tacit acceptance of jurisdiction, on the ground that the defendant in the main proceedings does not oppose that court having jurisdiction? The case-file reveals that following the invitation from the registry of that court to submit observations on the possible international jurisdiction of that court, Ryanair failed to submit written observations. The Court finds this does not amount to tacit acceptance.

Article 26 requires that the defendant enter an appearance. However what exactly this requires hitherto I believe to quite a degree has been subject to lex fori – particularly the local procedural law. One might have expected a more extensive CJEU consideration e.g. revisiting 119/84 Capelloni v Pelkmans.

A missed opportunity.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.7.

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Tanchev AG in Reitbauer: contract, pauliana and exclusive jurisdictional rules. Suggests restriction of CJEU Feniks to cases of fraus.

A little bit of factual background (and imagination; I shall let readers’ imagination run their course) is needed to appreciate Tanchev AG’s Opinion last week in C‑722/17 Reitbauer, which engages Articles 24(1) and (5), and Article 7(1).

It is alleged in the ‘opposition proceedings’ at issue that the claim of creditor A (the defendant in the CJEU proceeding, Mr Casamassima), which arises from a loan agreement secured by a pledge, and which competes with a counterclaim of creditors B (the applicants at the CJEU: Reitbauer and Others) is invalid due to the (wrongful) preferential treatment of creditor A. This objection is similar to what is known under Austrian law as an action for avoidance (Anfechtungsklage).

The defendant, Mr Casamassima and Isabel C. (‘the debtor’) are resident in Rome and lived together, at least until the spring of 2014. In 2010, they purchased a house in Villach, Austria; and the debtor, Isabel C, was registered in the land register as being the sole owner.

Contracts for extensive renovation work of the house were entered into between Isabel and the CJEU applicants, contracts which were entered into with the ‘participation’ of Mr Casamassima.  Because the costs of the renovation work far exceeded the original budget, payments to Reitbauer et al were suspended. From 2013 onwards, Reitbauer et al were therefore involved in judicial proceedings in Austria against Isabel. Early 2014, the first judgment was handed down in favour of the applicants, and others followed. Isabel appealed against those judgments.

On 7 May 2014 before a court in Rome, Isabel acknowledged Mr Casamassima’s claim against her with respect to a loan agreement, amounting to EUR 349 772.95. She undertook to pay this amount to the latter within five years under a court settlement. In addition, Isabel undertook to have a mortgage registered on the house in Villach (Austria) in order to secure Mr Casamassima’s claim [the amount of the claim is the result of compensation between the original claim and a counterclaim. Isabel requested Mr C to pay her for overtime work. Mr C requested approximately EUR 380 000 for the purchase of the house and the works. According to him the house belonged formally only to the debtor, who was registered as the sole owner, but the funds were provided by the defendant. Finally, the two parties reached an agreement, leading to the sum at issue].

Now we come to the issues sub judice: at 17 ff (footnotes omitted):

On 13 June 2014 a (further) certificate of indebtedness and pledge certificate was drawn up under Austrian law in Vienna by an Austrian notary to guarantee the above arrangement (pledge 1). With this certificate, the pledge on the house in Villach was created on 18 June 2014.

The judgments in favour of the applicants did not become enforceable until after this date. The pledges on the house of the debtor held by the applicants, obtained by way of legal enforcement proceedings (pledge 2), therefore rank behind the contractual pledge 1 in favour of the defendant.

On 3 September 2015, the court in Rome confirmed that the court settlement of 7 May 2014 constituted a European Enforcement Order.

In order to realise the pledge, the defendant applied in February 2016 to the referring court (Bezirksgericht Villach (District Court, Villach, Austria)) for an order against the debtor, requiring a compulsory auction of the house in Villach. The house was auctioned off in the autumn of 2016 for EUR 280 000. The order of entries in the land register shows that the proceeds would go more or less entirely to the defendant because of pledge 1 (registered under Austrian law in June 2014).

With a view to preventing this, the applicants brought an action for avoidance (Anfechtungsklage) in June 2016 before the Landesgericht Klagenfurt (Regional Court, Klagenfurt, Austria) against the defendant and the debtor. The action was dismissed by that court ‘due to a lack of international jurisdiction in view of the [debtor’s and the defendant’s] domicile’ outside of Austria. In July 2017, that decision became final.

At the same time the applicants filed an opposition before the referring court (Bezirksgericht Villach (District Court, Villach)) at the hearing of 10 May 2017 regarding the distribution of the proceeds from the compulsory auction, and subsequently brought opposition proceedings, as provided for in the EO, against the defendant.

In these opposition proceedings, the applicants seek a declaration that the decision regarding the distribution to the defendant of EUR 279 980.43 was not legally valid in so far as: (i) the debtor had damages claims against the defendant of at least the same amount as the claim arising from the loan agreement, with the result that a claim no longer existed (they claim that the debtor confirmed that the defendant had placed orders with the applicants without her knowledge and consent); and (ii) the certificate of indebtedness and pledge certificate of June 2014 were drawn up merely as a formality and for the purpose of pre-empting and preventing the applicants from bringing any enforcement proceedings in relation to the house.

There we are. In essence applicants are attempting to anchor their pauliana unto A24(5)’s enforcement jurisdiction, in which case Mr C’s enforcement action has acted as a Trojan horse. (Note a similar potential in Kerr v Postnov(a)). Failing that, the anchor might be A24(1)’s locus rei sitae exclusive jurisdictional rule.

Mr C contends in substance that A24(5) B1a does not apply. He argues that the action lacks a direct connection to official enforcement measures: what is being sought is a substantive examination of the pledge entered into in his favour. By its nature, the action lodged is equivalent to an action for avoidance; and in Reichert the CJEU has already ruled that this jurisdiction is not applicable to actions for avoidance. This must therefore also apply if the action for avoidance is exercised by way of an opposition against the distribution and ensuing opposition proceedings. Moreover, he argues A24(1) B1a is not applicable, as in the opposition proceedings the connection with the location of the house at issue is lacking (the opposition proceedings took place only after the immovable property had been auctioned off by the court).

The AG first of all at 39 ff rejects jurisdiction on the basis of Article 24(5). I believe he is right: see my Trojan horse suggestion above. A25(5) must not resurrect merits claims on much wider issues (claim for compensation of applicants’ debt, objections concerning the non-existence of a claim underlying a judicially ordered auction, and concerning the invalidity of the creation of the pledge for that claim under a loan agreement ) for which the enforcement court does not have original jurisdiction. Neither does A24(1) ground jurisdiction: parallel with Reichert is obvious.

Then however the AG, sensing perhaps the suggestions of fraudulent construction, suggests Article 7(1)’s’ forum contractus as a way out – not something which the referring court had enquired about hence quite possible the CJEU might not entertain it. Clearly per Handte there is a contract between applicants and Isabel. However is Mr C involved, too?: the AG draws on Feniks: at 72 ff: in Feniks the CJEU does not require knowledge by the defendant of the first contract, nor does it require an intention to defraud. However in casu it looks like there might be both (subject to factual review by the referring court). At 84: ‘Given the fact that in the judgment in Feniks the jurisdiction in contractual matters in disputes brought against a third party was extended to an actio pauliana even though there was no contractual relationship between the applicant and the defendant, knowledge of a third party should act as a limiting factor: as in the present case, the third party needs to know that the legal act binds the defendant to the debtor and that that causes harm to the contractual rights of another creditor of the debtor (the applicants).’

And at 92: ‘the defendant’s knowledge of the existence of the contract(s) at issue is important.’

The AG is essentially suggesting a limitation of Feniks to cases of fraus – it is unlikely that the CJEU will follow (and vary Feniks so soon). However it is clear that knowledge of the contract between the other parties, particularly where supported by elements of fraus, will increase the potential for application of the (in my view problematic) Feniks route. Note the AG does not discuss the place of performance of the contract (between Reitbauer et al and Mr C – this was exactly one of the sticky points signalled by Bobek AG in Feniks).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1

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