Windhorst v Levy. The High Court on the narrow window to refuse a Member State judgment under Brussels Ia, which subsequently got caught up in insolvency.

Windhorst v Levy [2021] EWHC 1168 (QB) has been in my in-tray a little while. The court was asked to consider whether registration of a German judgment under Brussels Ia should be set aside when the judgment debt in question was subsequently included within a binding insolvency plan, which is to be recognized in E&W pursuant to the European Insolvency Regulation  – EIR 1346/2000 (not materially different on this point to the EIR 2015). Precedent referred to includes Percival v Moto Novu LLC.

Appellant argues the registration order should be set aside as the initial 2003  judgment is no longer enforceable, having been waived as part of a binding insolvency plan, which came into effect by order of a German court on 31 August 2007 (“the Insolvency Plan”), and which this court is bound to recognize under the Insolvency Regulation.

In CJEU C-267/97 Coursier v Fortis Bank SA (held before the adoption of the EIR) it was held that enforceability of a judgment in the state of origin is a precondition for its enforcement in the state in which enforcement is sought. However that judgment then at length discussed what ‘enforceability’ means, leading to the Court holding that it refers solely to the enforceability, in formal terms, of foreign decisions and not to the circumstances in which such decisions may in practice be executed in the State of origin. This does not require proof of practical enforceability. The CJEU left  it to ‘the court of the State in which enforcement is sought, in appeal proceedings brought under [(now) Brussels Ia], to determine, in accordance with its domestic law including the rules of private international law, the legal effects of a decision given in the State of origin in relation to a court-supervised liquidation.’

The respondent contends that, applying the test laid down in Coursier v Fortis, the 2003 Judgment plainly remains enforceable in formal terms under German law.

The judge, at 52 ff, refers ia to CJEU Prism Investments and Salzgitter to emphasise the very narrow window for refusal of recognition, and holds [56] that the German judgment clearly is still formally enforceable in Germany (where enforcement is nota bene only temporarily stayed pending appeal proceedings). The effects of the German insolvency plan, under German law, are not such that the 2003 judgment has become unenforceable [58].

The request for a stay of execution is also denied, seeing as the appellant chose not to pursue a means available to it under German law and before the German courts, to seek a stay (it would have required it to put down the equivalent sum as court security).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.560 ff, 5.141 ff.

Winslet & Ors v Gisel. Textbook application of De Bloos and looking over the fence to determine forum contractus.

Winslet & Ors v Gisel, The Estate of [2021] EWHC 1308 (Comm) is a brilliant example to teach the ‘looking over the fence’ method for determining forum contractus under Article 7(1), for contracts that do not fall within the default categories and whence the CJEU De Bloos place of performance bumps into the limits of harmonisation following CJEU Tessili v Dunlop. Confused?: the judgment certainly helps.

Claimants, domiciled at England, seek to recover from the estate of a late friend, a considerable sum by way of repayment of principal in respect of a number of interest-free loans between friends (the borrower domiciled at France).

At [16] Butcher J holds (despite considering the broad interpretation of ‘services’ by the AG in Corman-Collins /Maison du Whiskey) ‘In my judgment, the simple provision of money to a friend, which is not undertaken as part of a business of lending money, probably does not qualify as the provision of a service’ (per A7(2), GAVC – reference is made to C-533/07 Falco Privatstiftung v Weller-Lindhorst [29]: “The concept of services implies, at the least, that the party who provides the service carries out a particular activity in return for remuneration.”

The answer to the question ‘what is the place of performance of the obligation to repay’ therefore leads to Rome I per CJEU Tessili v Dunlop and to Article 4(2) Rome I. [26]

‘In the context of banking services, it is, at least ordinarily, the lender that renders characteristic performance of a loan agreement in providing the principal sum to the borrower’ (reference to CJEU Kareda). [27] ‘The question of which party renders the characteristic performance of a loan agreement outside the sphere of financial services has been viewed as rather less clear cut.’ [32] ‘pursuant to the contracts of loan which are in issue, claimants loaned money in return for a promise to repay.’ They, it is held, rendered characteristic performance under the Loans.

As a result, the Loans are governed by English law, as England is the place where each claimant has his or its habitual residence, and English law therefore determines the place of performance, which it does at the creditor’s place of residence or business (contrary it would seem to the position under French law.

Superbly clear analysis.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.401 ff.

Volvo Trucks. The CJEU unconvincingly on locus damni in follow-on damages suit for competition law infringement.

The CJEU held yesterday in C-30/20 Volvo Trucks. I reviewed Richard de la Tour AG’s Opinion here.

After having noted the limitation of the questions referred to locus damni [30]  (excluding therefore the as yet unsettled locus delicti commissi issues) the CJEU confirms first of all [33] that Article 7(2) clearly assigns both international and territorial jurisdiction. The latter of course subject to the judicial organisation of the Member State concerned. If locus damni x has no court then clearly the Regulation simply assigns jurisdiction to the legal district of which x is part. However the Court does not rule out [36] per CJEU Sanders and Huber that a specialised court may be established nationally for competition law cases.

The Court then [39] applies C‑343/19 Volkswagen (where goods are purchased which, following manipulation by their producer, are of lower value, the court having jurisdiction over an action for compensation for damage corresponding to the additional costs paid by the purchaser is that of the place where the goods are purchased) pro inspiratio: place of purchase of the goods at artificially inflated prices will be locus damni, irrespective of whether the goods it issue were purchased directly or indirectly from the defendants, with immediate transfer of ownership or at the end of a leasing contract [40].

The Court then somewhat puzzlingly adds [40] that ‘that approach implies that the purchaser that has been harmed exclusively purchased goods affected by the collusive arrangements in question within the jurisdiction of a single court. Otherwise, it would not be possible to identify a single place of occurrence of damage with regard to the purchaser harmed.’

Surely it must mean that if purchases occurred in several places, Mozaik jurisdiction will ensue rather than just one locus damni (as opposed to the alternative reading that locus damni jurisdiction in such case will not apply at all). However the Court then also confirms [41 ff] its maverick CDC approach of the buyer’s registered office as the locus damni in the case of purchases made in several places.

Here I am now lost and the simply use of vocabulary such as ‘solely’, ‘additionally’ or ‘among others’ would have helped me here. Are we now to assume that the place of purchase of the goods is locus damni only if there is only one place of purchase, not if there are several such places (leaving a lot of room for Article 7(2) engineering both by cartelists and buyers); and that, conversely, place of registered office as locus damni only applies in the event of several places of purchase, therefore cancelling out the classic (much derided) Article 7(2) Mozaik per Shevill and Bier – but only in the event of competition law infringement? This, too, would lead to possibility of forum engineering via qualification in the claim formulation.

I fear we are not yet at the end of this particular road.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.8.

 

Mixing the blank rounds with the live bullets. The Court of Appeal (obiter) on Article 33 Brussels Ia, forum non conveniens light, in Ness Global Services.

In Perform Content Services Ltd v Ness Global Services Ltd [2021] EWCA Civ 981 the Court of Appeal yesterday dismissed the appeal against the High Court judgment which I discussed here.

Two grounds of appeal were at play [34]:

(1) The Court was wrong as a matter of law to interpret Article 33 to mean that jurisdiction was not “based on” domicile by reason of a non-exclusive English court jurisdiction clause that conferred prorogated jurisdiction on the English Court pursuant to Article 25;

(2) The Court was wrong to conclude that a stay was not necessary for the proper administration of justice within the meaning of Article 33(1)(b). The court wrongly failed to place any or any sufficient weight on the fact that the NJ and English proceedings were mirror image proceedings giving rise to the risk of irreconcilable judgments, the core purpose of Article 33 and a core feature of the concept of the administration of justice under the Article. The court wrongly took account of the non-exclusive English court jurisdiction clause and/or an English governing law clause and/or wrongly took account of its assessment that the centre of gravity was Slovakia and/or failed to place any or any sufficient weight on the material connections between the parties and the United States and/or wrongly placed significant reliance on connections between the parties, the dispute and the UK.

On the first issue Flaux C refers ia to UCP and to Citicorp (the latter had not been referred to by the first instance judge, I suggested it could have been), to hold that choice of court under A25 BIa being exclusive or not has no relevance. Like the first instance judge, he rules that A33-34 cannot apply if choice of court has been made in favour of an EU court, exclusive or not.

He then deals obiter, like the judge had done, with the issue whether an A33-34 stay would have been in the interest of the sound administration of justice. He emphasises [66] the wide catchment area of ‘all the circumstances of the case’ per recital 24, and suggests this must potentially also include the connections which the case has with the EU Member State and indeed the specific court (per the choice of court clause) concerned.

On that he is right. But he is wrong in my view to support Turner J’s analysis at [67] in Municipio, without any nuance.

Turner J and Flaux C are both right that, the fact itself that the factors which a judge considers in holding that the proper administration of justice does not require a stay, might theoretically have also been relevant in a common law forum non conveniens exercise, does not invalidate the judge’s approach under A33-34. However the problem with the judge’s A33-34 analysis in Municipio is,

Firstly, that it is a case of the tail wagging the dog. The proper administration of justice analysis, exclusively populated by forum non criteria indeed with full reference to that forum non analysis, was put to the front without proper engagement with the substantive conditions for A33-34 to apply at all.

Further, the DNA of A33-34 as I have reported before ( I am preparing an overview for publication), is much, much different from the forum non DNA. By cutting and pasting of the criteria indeed by cross-reference to the forum non criteria without further ado, the A33-34 analysis is irreparably broken. It becomes a case of mixing the blank rounds with the live bullets.

It is worth emphasising that the limited A33-34  analysis are obiter findings only.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.539 ff.

Abusive forum shopping in defamation suits. The Parliament study on SLAPPs.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – SLAPPs (I look at them comparatively in my Monash Strategic and Public Interest Litigation Unit, LAW5478) are a well-known tool to silence critics. Based on defamation, they (or the threat with them) aim to shut down the voice of opposition. Not many find the energy, financial resources and nerves to fight a protected libel suit in court.

The EP recently published the study led by Justin Borg-Barthet and carried out by him and fellow researchers at the University of Aberdeen. At the substantive level, distinguishing between SLAPPs and genuine defamation suits is not straightforward. As Justin et al point out, there is an important private international law element to the suits, too. Clearly, a claimant will wish to sue in a claimant-friendly libel environment. Moreover, where a deep-pocketed claimant can sue in various jurisdictions simultaneously, this compounds the threat.

The Brussels and Lugano regime is particularly suited to the use of SLAPPs as a result of the CJEU case-law on Article 7(2) forum delicti. The Handlungsort /Erfolgort distinction as such already tends to add jurisdictional gateways. In more recent years this has been compounded by the additional ‘centre of interests’ gateway per CJEU e-Date and Bolagsupplysningen – even if this was recently somewhat contained by the Court in Mittelbayerischer Verlag. As I have flagged before, Brussels Ia’s DNA is not supportive of disciplining abusive forum shopping, as illustrated ia in competition law and intellectual property law cases.

For these reasons, the report (Heading 4, p.33 ff) suggests dropping the availability of Article 7(2) and sticking to Article 4 domicile jurisdiction, supplemented with (unlikely) choice of court.

The European Parliament more than the European Commission has picked up the defamation issues both for BIa and for applicable law under Rome II (from which the issue is hitherto exempt; the report reviews the applicable law issues, too). It remains to be seen whether with this report in hand, Parliament will manage to encourage the EC to pick up the baton.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.431 ff, 4.24 ff.

 

Mittelbayerischer Verlag: the CJEU surprisingly reigns in Article 7(2) centre of interests jurisdiction in cases of online defamation.

I reviewed the AG’s Opinion in C-800/19 Mittelbayerischer Verlag KG v SM here. The CJEU held yesterday (no English version yet at the time of posting). Tobias Lutzi already has analysis up here.

As I reported at the time, the AG suggested that despite the need for restrictive interpretation of the special jurisdictional rules, in the case at issue there was foreseeability of many a Pole’s centre of interests as a tort gateway, given the predictable fall-out of protest among Poles given the contents and context of the article (please refer to earlier post for detail): an ‘objective foreseeability test’.

The CJEU however restricts the availability of the centre of interests gateway further:  [46]

article 7, point 2, du règlement no 1215/2012 doit être interprété en ce sens que la juridiction du lieu où se trouve le centre des intérêts d’une personne prétendant que ses droits de la personnalité ont été violés par un contenu mis en ligne sur un site Internet n’est compétente pour connaître, au titre de l’intégralité du dommage allégué, d’une action en responsabilité introduite par cette personne que si ce contenu comporte des éléments objectifs et vérifiables permettant d’identifier, directement ou indirectement, ladite personne en tant qu’individu.

The aggrieved needs to be identifiable, at the time of publication, as an individual, not as belonging to an abstract group of offended persons.

With Gtflix TV pending, the CJEU will have a further opportunity to clarify the A7(2) gateway for defamation.

Geert.

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

 

 

Brussels IA arbitration exception claxon. Recognition of Spanish Prestige judgment in England & Wales. Res judicata issues concerning arbitration referred to the CJEU. Ordre public exceptions re Human Rights not upheld.

The London Steam-Ship Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v The Kingdom of Spain (M/T PRESTIGE) [2021] EWHC 1247 (Comm) has been in my blog in-tray for a little while: I had thought of using it for exam purposes but have now decided against that.

The case is the appeal against Cook J’s registration of the Spanish judgment in the Prestige disaster.  I have reported thrice before on the wider litigation – please use tag ‘Prestige’ in the search box.

References in the judgment are to Brussels I (44/2001), not its successor, Brussels Ia (1215/2012) however the  relevant provisions have not materially changed. Application is for recognition and enforcement of the Spanish Judgment to be refused,  and the Registration Order to be set aside for one or both of two main reasons, namely: (1) that the Spanish Judgment is irreconcilable with a 2013 Hamblen J order, upheld on Appeal,  enforcing the  relevant Spanish award (A34(3) BI), and (2) that recognition would entail a manifest breach of English public policy in respect of (a) the rule of res judicata and/or (b) human and fundamental rights (A34(1) BI).

Butcher J referred the first issue to the CJEU on 18 December 2020 – just before the Brexit deadline. I have not been able to obtain a copy of that judgment – the judge merely refers to it in current one. The CJEU reference, now known as Case C-700/20, is quite exciting for anyone interested in the relationship between arbitration and the Brussels regime. Questions referred, are

1) Given the nature of the issues which the national court is required to determine in deciding whether to enter judgment in the terms of an award under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment granted pursuant to that provision capable of constituting a relevant ‘judgment’ of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of EC Regulation No 44/2001?

(2) Given that a judgment entered in the terms of an award, such as a judgment under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment falling outside the material scope of Regulation No 44/2001 by reason of the Article 1(2)(d) arbitration exception, is such a judgment capable of constituting a relevant ‘judgment’ of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of the Regulation?

(3) On the hypothesis that Article 34(3) of Regulation No 44/2001 does not apply, if recognition and enforcement of a judgment of another Member State would be contrary to domestic public policy on the grounds that it would violate the principle of res judicata by reason of a prior domestic arbitration award or a prior judgment entered in the terms of the award granted by the court of the Member State in which recognition is sought, is it permissible to rely on Article 34(1) of Regulation No 44/2001 as a ground of refusing recognition or enforcement or do Articles 34(3) and (4) of the Regulation provide the exhaustive grounds by which res judicata and/or irreconcilability can prevent recognition and enforcement of a Regulation judgment?

These are exciting questions both on the arbitration exception and on the res judicata refusal for recognition and enforcement. They bring into focus the aftermath of CJEU West Tankers in which the status of the High Court confirmation of the English award was also an issue.

The Club’s argument that recognition would be contrary to English public policy because the Spanish Judgment involved a breach of human and fundamental rights was not referred to the CJEU. Discussion  here involves ia CJEU Diageo. Suggested breaches, are A 14(5) ICCPR; breach of fundamental rights in the Master being convicted on the basis of new factual findings made by the Supreme Court; inequality of arms; and; A1P1.

There is little point in rehashing the analysis made by Butcher J: conclusion at any rate is that all grounds fail.

That CJEU case is one to look out for!

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, 2.84 ff, 2.590 ff.

 

ZN v [Bulgarian Consulate]. Confirming Mahamdia and the ‘international’ in ‘private international law’.

In C-280/20, ZN v Generalno konsulstvo na Republika Bulgaria v grad Valensia, Kralstvo Ispania [the Bulgarian consulate], the CJEU last week essentially confirmed CJEU C-154/11 Mahamdia. ZN is a Bulgarian national residing in Sofia who holds a permit to reside in Spain, where she provided services relating to the activity of the Consulate General. ZN brought an action in Bulgaria against the Consulate General seeking, first, recognition of her employment relationship and, second, payment of compensation in lieu of paid annual leave not taken during a period in which she provided services concerning the receipt of documents. The Consulate General contests the jurisdiction of the Bulgarian courts and invokes the jurisdiction of the Spanish courts as the courts of ZN’s place of employment. The referring court has doubts as to the existence of cross-border implications in so far as the dispute at issue in the main proceedings concerns a Bulgarian employee and a Bulgarian employer, and the fact that their legal relationship is closely connected with the Republic of Bulgaria.  It also notes that Bulgarian law expressly provides that, in the case of contracts concluded between a Bulgarian employer established abroad and a Bulgarian national working abroad, any disputes may be examined only by the Bulgarian courts.

In Mahamdia the Court first of all applied the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and held that an embassy often acts iure gestionis, not iure imperii, and that under the Vienna rules, the EU is perfectly entitled to apply the Regulation given that it applies to ‘civil and commercial’ matters. In that vein, an embassy may very well have to be regarded as an ‘establishment’ within the meaning of Article 20(2) (on employment contracts). In ZN, the Court [28-29] suggests that services in connection with the receipt of documents in files opened at the consulate by Bulgarian nationals and the management of those files, do not fall within the exercise of public powers and do not risk interfering with the security interests of the Republic of Bulgaria. Hence it strongly suggests the issue is a ‘civil and commercial one’, leaving final determination of same to the referring court. I would intuitively have thought that processing documents at a country’s consulate quite au contraire, does engage closely with diplomatic functions that must be qualified as iure imperii, particularly seeing as before said processing one is likely not to have knowledge of the documents’ content.

On the issue of ‘international element’ required to trigger Brussels Ia, the Court per Mahamdia considers a consulate to be an ‘establishment’ of one Member State in another Member State. Hence one of the parties to the dispute must be considered to be domiciled or habitually resident in a Member State other than that of the court seised [37]: the cross-border element is clearly present, which will not surprise many of us. One also assumes that the  aforementioned Bulgarian rule on exclusive jurisdiction for employment disputes between Bulgarians even with an international element present, does not meet with EU law requirements.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.35, para 2.128.

 

Suing TikTok: on GDPR and ordinary jurisdiction, as well as applicable law in the Dutch collective claim.

A short note on the claim form for the collective claim by a group of parents based in The Netherlands against TikTok Technology Limited, domiciled at Dublin, Ireland.  It engages Article 79 GDPR, as well as the consumer section of Brussels Ia. At the applicable law level, it suggests application of Article 6 Rome I (consumer contracts; a logical counterpart of the jurisdictional analysis) and, in subsidiary fashion, Article 4 Rome II, each to suggest application of Dutch law.

I wrote on Article 79 here, and the problems which I signalled have in the meantime surfaced in case-law, as I signalled ia here.  Current TikTok claim however prima facie would seem to be more straightforward under both GDPR, BIa and Rome I – one imagines a possible TikTok’s defence to go towards the meaning of ‘establishment’.

Geert.

 

CNP v Gefion. The CJEU on (not) applying Brussels Ia’s insurance section to insurance professionals, and on branch jurisdiction.

I reported on the AG’s Opinion in C-913/19 CNP here. The CJEU held on 20 May.

The case essentially queries the application of Section 3 BIa (‘matters relating to insurance’) and Section 2 (the ‘special jurisdictional rules’, in particular contract and tort) in the event of assignment and /or subrogation of claims from the natural person to a professional party. As many of us may have experienced, filing an insurance claim particularly in the automotive sector immediately engages 2, 3 or more distinct businesses: insurance agents, insurers, towing trucks and garages…. The case also discusses whether some of those business may be considered a ‘branch’ of the insurance company on account of their close relationship as experienced by repairers and insureds.

In the case at hand, a road traffic accident occurred in Poland, in which two vehicles collided. The person responsible for the accident had, before that time, taken out a contract for motor liability insurance with Gefion, domiciled at Denmark. The injured party paid to lease a replacement vehicle from the repair workshop to which his damaged vehicle had been entrusted. By way of payment for that lease service arrangement, that person transferred the claim against Gefion to the repair workshop pursuant to a contract for assignment of the claim. Slightly later, pursuant to a new contract for the assignment of claims, the repair workshop assigned that claim to CNP. CNP requested Gefion to pay it the amount invoiced for the lease of the replacement vehicle. That request was sent to the address of Polins, a limited liability company established in Poland,  which represented Gefion’s interests in Poland. Crawford Polska, a company established in Poland and entrusted by Gefion with loss adjustment, then validated the invoice relating to the leasing of the replacement vehicle in part and granted CNP part of the amount invoiced for such lease. In its correspondence, Crawford Polska referred to the possibility of making a claim against it as the entity authorised by Gefion, or directly against Gefion, ‘either under the general provisions on jurisdiction or before the court with jurisdiction for the place where the policyholder, the insured person, the beneficiary or any other person entitled under the insurance contract is resident or established’. CNP then brought an action against Gefion in Poland, citing the information published by Gefion according to which Polins was its principal representative in Poland.  Gefion opposes the subsequent payment order, arguing inter alia that the Polish courts do not have jurisdiction.

Gefion rely in large part on CJEU Hofsoe, which as I noted in my review of UKSC Aspen Underwriting, is not as clear as one might hope. The Court in CNP v Gefion refers again to Hofsoe and Voralberger and zooms in on the professional activities of the corporations involved: [40] no special protection is justified where the parties concerned are ‘professionals in the insurance sector’; [43] CNP recovers claims from insurance undertakings. This precludes  it from being regarded as a party in a weaker position than the other party.

This finding as such arguably has no impact on the authority of Aspen Underwriting, in which the professional party, the Bank, is the named loss payee under the Policy and therefore the “beneficiary” of that Policy.

[46] The Court then confirms that Section 2’s special jurisdictional rules do open up in such circumstances.

As to whether Crawford may be considered a Gefion branch, the Court employs the criteria suggested by the AG (see my review of the opinion) and notes [56] that Crawford has every power to carry out activities involving the loss adjustment and settlement of claims which are binding on the insurer, meaning that Crawford Polska must be regarded as a centre of operations which has the appearance of permanency, such as the extension of a parent body. [57] Whether that centre is materially equipped to negotiate business with third parties, so that they do not have to deal directly with the parent body, is something which the referring court has to verify (and which will therefore determine branch jurisdiction).

Per CJEU Ryanair, [59] Crawford’s role here seems to have been more than just a data hatch: it was an active contributor (in deciding, upon having given such overall authority by Gefion,  only half of the amount claimed would be settled) to the legal situation that led to the dispute in the main proceedings. Therefore provided the aforementioned ‘material equipment’ criterion is met, the dispute is to be regarded as ‘arising out of the operation of the branch’.

All in all a bit more follow-up work to be done by the referring court and, as I noted in my review of the AG’s Opinion, not great publicity for the predictability of jurisdictional rules.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.293 ff, para 2.73 ff.