GtFlix. Hogan AG suggests the jurisdictional gateway for economic damage, not defamation, catches malicious falsehood between economic operators.

As I noted when I signalled the reference, the French Supreme Court in C-251/20 GtFlix has not referred the question whether Bolagsupplysningen is good authority for acts of unfair competition between competitors. Rather, it queries whether Bolagsupplysningen means that a claimant who requests both rectification /retraction and damages, has to necessarily turn to courts with full jurisdiction or whether they can continue to turn for the damages part, to all courts with locus damni jurisdiction.

Hogan AG in his Opinion a few weeks ago right up to (94) revisits the wisdom of applying Shevill’s Handlungsort/Erfolgort distinction and the possibility of using GtFlix to overturn. I agree that this is not the case to do it. (On the CJEU and overturning its authority, see excellently the departing Bobek AG in C‑205/20).

At 95 he then essentially requalifies and answers the question which the SC had not referred. The action at the French courts is one in dénigrement, which is a form of malicious falsehood which, the AG suggests, does not call into question the Bolagsupplysningen line of cases but rather Tibor Trans and the cases before it.

An action relating to an infringement of unfair competition law may be brought before the courts of any Member State where that act caused or may cause damage within the jurisdiction of the court seised. Where the market affected by the anticompetitive conduct is in the Member State on whose territory the alleged damage is purported to have occurred, that Member State must be regarded as the place where the damage occurred for the purposes of applying Article 7(2) (99).  A final reference at (102) ff is to the applicable law level under (Article 6) Rome II. 

Should the CJEU follow, one of the left-over questions following Bolagsupplysningen will not be answered, yet another issue on falsehoods spread between competitors, will.

Geert.

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

CHEP. When employees’ alleged conspiracy ‘relates to’ contract of employment.

CHEP Equipment Pooling BV v ITS Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 2485 (Comm) concerns in the main when a claim between two parties who are in a relation of employment, ‘relates to’ that employment contract. (In the case concerned, leading to lack of jurisdiction against one of the defendants).

At issue is whether 3 former senior employees had essentially defrauded claimant by negotiating on its behalf, price-inflated audit and supply agreements with corporations which those employees (in)directly owned and /or controlled. Causes of action are breach of fiduciary duty; dishonest assistance of the breaches of fiduciary duty by the other former employees; and unlawful means conspiracy.

Whether any of these claims engage A22 jurisdiction needs to be assessed viz each claim separately: [44]: Cuneo Resources NV and others v Daskalakis and others [2019] EWHC 87 (Comm).  Among others Bosworth was discussed in the subsequent analysis. After reviewing ia the employment history of defendant with the claimant, and the bond between the alleged dishonesty and the employment contract,  Jacobs J concludes [107]

the claims relate to Mr de Laender’s contract of employment, and also …the connection between Mr de Laender’s contract and the conduct relied upon is material. It cannot be described as tenuous, or a small part of the picture, or simply part of the history. I also consider that the legal basis of the claims can reasonably be regarded as a breach of his contract, so that it is indispensable to consider the contract in order to resolve the matters in dispute.

Obiter the judge reviews locus delicti commissi and locus damni under A7(2). For Handlungsort, Jacobs J holds that the claimant has the better of the argument that that is located in England: particularly seeing as the main alleged conspirator was domiciled in England at the time the various strands of the action materialised. For locus damni – Erfolgort, the conclusion [133] is one of Mozaik per Shevill, particularly in view of a corporate reorganisation (incl a move to England) which occurred midway through the conspiracy.

Geert.

Commerzbank. Sanchez-Bordona AG on the timing of the ‘international’ element required to trigger consumer protection in private international law (here: Lugano).

Sanchez-Bordona AG Opined last week in C-296/20 Commerzbank AG v E.O, a case on the consumer section of the Lugano Convention however in essence on the international element required to trigger consumer protection in private international law. The distinguishing feature of this case lies in the fact that, at the time when the contract was concluded, both parties were domiciled in the same State (Germany), whereas, when recovery was sought through the courts, the customer was domiciled in Switzerland.

The international nature of the situation therefore came about subsequently rather than being present at the outset.

The Advocate General is absolutely right to point to the objective of the consumer section of Lugano, and indeed Brussels Ia, to protect the consumer as the economically weaker party; and in C-98/20 mBank, the Court held that the consumer’s domicile needs to be determined at the time of the instigation of the suit, not the conclusion of the contract (or a later date in the proceedings) even in those circumstances where the consumer failed to inform the professional party of the change of domicile.

The AG however also insists on the predictability of forum both as claimant and as defendant, for the economic operator.

His provisional conclusion therefore (73-74), following analysis of the travaux, is that the international element needs to be present at the outset. However then comes the oddity of A17(3) Lugano, which mirrors A19(3) Brussels Ia:

‘The provisions of this Section may be departed from only by an agreement [conferring jurisdiction]:… 3. which is entered into by the consumer and the other party to the contract, both of whom are at the time of conclusion of the contract domiciled or habitually resident in the same State bound by this Convention, and which confers jurisdiction on the courts of that State, provided that such an agreement is not contrary to the law of that State.’

[With respect to the last element of this Article, it is indeed by no means certain that national law allows for such agreement and the AG (87) notes same].

The Jenard Report viz the Brussels 1968 Convention explains that that rule was included for reasons of equity to benefit a seller or lender domiciled in the same State as the buyer or borrower in the case where the latter establish themselves abroad after the contract has been concluded. The AG opines that the purely domestic setting of A17(3) must not be extended to the remainder of the consumer section, instead keeping it confined to the particular circumstances of that subsection.

In subsidiary fashion, the AG proposes that if the CJEU does not follow him on the generally required international element at the outset, it limit the extensive  application of the consumer section to cases where the economic operator pursues in the State of the consumer’s new domicile a trade or profession such as that which gave rise to the conclusion of the contract.

Interesting.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.222 ff.

Yet again on distinguishing contract from tort (and on enforcement jurisdiction). Saugmandsgaard Oe reigns in forum delicti and forum contractus in HRVATSKE ŠUME.

Saugmandsgaard Oe AG opined (no English version at the time of writing) last week in C‑242/20 HRVATSKE ŠUME on the classic conflict of laws issue of distinguishing contract from tort.. He, oddly perhaps, unless some technical reason for it escapes me, does not entertain the question on the scope of Article 24(5) Brussels Ia’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for ‘proceedings concerned with the enforcement of judgments’.

The Opinion is a Qualificationfest.

The case concerns actions for recovery of sums unduly paid, in other words, undue enrichment. This enrichment came about by a Croatian court having  earlier ordered Hrvatske Šume, debtor of  Futura, both of Croatia, to pay its debt to Futura directly to BP Europe SA, successor to Burmah Oil, both domiciled in Germany. Hrvatske appealed that order however that appeal did not halt the payment. Now that the appeal has turned out to be successful, Hrvatske want their money back yet so far Croatian courts have held that they do not have jurisdiction under Article 7(2) BIa (the case actually went under the the predecessor, Brussels I however there is no material difference).

As the referring court notes, there is no delicti commissi in the case of unjust enrichment: it is a non-contractual obligation in which no delict is committed. (This is the very reason Rome II includes a separate heading for unjust enrichment). One might suggest this would leave forum damni only under A7(2), however the AG correctly in my view re-emphasises the seminal statements in CJEU Kalfelis, that actions under A7(2) concern ‘all actions which seek to establish liability of a defendant  and which are not related to a ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article [7](1)’. Unjust enrichment not seeking to establish liability, A7(2) is not engaged. Along the way, note his discussion of linguistics and his seeking support in Rome II.

At 71 ff the AG distinguishes the wide interpretation of ‘establishing liability’ in CJEU Austro Mechana.

A clear implication of the Opinion is that it confirms a disjoint in BIa /Rome II: not all non-contractual obligations for which Rome II identifies a lex causae, are caught by A7(2) BIa’s forum delicti rule.

The AG also engages with the possibility of Croatia being forum contractus  (he kicks off his Opinion with this issue) and dismisses it, seeking support inter alia in CJEU Handte and also in Rome II specifically providing for an unjust enrichment heading. This part of the Opinion is more optimistically straightforward than one might have expected. Following flightright, Wikingerhof etc., A7(1) has been (unduly, in my view) stretched and it would be good to have the CJEU further clarifying same. (C-265/21, in which I have been instructed, might be just the case).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.419 ff.

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.