Posts Tagged Burgerlijke en Handelszaken

On ‘civil and commercial’, and, again, notaries as courts. The CJEU in Pula Parking.

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.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

 

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On ‘civil and commercial’, lis alibi pendens and torpedoing one’s own action: the CJEU in Aertssen.

C-523/14 Aertssen is not a corner piece of the Brussels I jigsaw. Rather, a necessary if unexciting piece of the puzzle’s main body. Aertssen NV, of Belgium, had a gripe with VSB Machineverhuur BV and others, of the Netherlands. Aertssen alleged fraud in VSB’s dealings with the company. It employed a well-known feature of Belgian (and French, among others) civil procedure, which is to file complaint with the investigating magistrate. This launches a criminal investigation, to which civil proceedings are attached.

Aertssen’s subsequent action of attachment of VSB’s accounts in The Netherlands, risked being stalled by the Dutch courts’ insistence that the group launch new legal action in The Netherlands. Aertssen obliged pro forma with this initiation of new proceedings, subsequently to aim to torpedo them. Aertssen would rather the Belgian courts continue with their own, criminal investigation and that action in The Netherlands, other than action in attachment, be put on hold, at least until the Belgian proceedings be finalised.

In essence therefore, the case before the CJEU needs to determine whether the Aertssen action in Belgium is of a ‘civil and commercial’ nature, and if it is, whether the actions in Belgium and The Netherlands meet the requirements of the lis alibi pendens rule of Article 27 (old) of the Brussels I-Regulation. The CJEU replied in the affirmative to both.

Precedent for the ‘civil and commercial’ issue, other than the usual suspects, was available per Sonntag, Case C-172/91, where the Court held that civil matters within the meaning of the first sentence of the first paragraph of Article 1 of the Brussels Convention, cover an action for compensation for damage brought before a criminal court. In Aertssen, The CJEU used the term ‘private law relationship’ to describe the legal relationship between the parties concerned. Even though, other than in Sonntag where the criminal proceedings were launched by the State prosecutor, Aertssen itself had triggered the criminal investigation, its ultimate aim is to obtain monetary compensation.

The subsequent question was whether per Article 27, lis pendens exists. Reference is best made to the judgment itself for the application of the The Tatry criteria (Case C-406/92): the two cases pending need to involve the same parties, pursuing the same cause of action (the facts and the rule of law relied on) and with the same object (meaning the end the action has in view). The CJEU held among others that the question whether the parties are the same cannot depend on the position of one or other of the parties in the two proceedings.

The remainder of the judgment deals with the meaning of the term ‘court first seized’ in Article 30 of the Regulation, and the relevance of national rules of civil procedure in same.

It is not often that a party aims to torpedo its own proceedings and the procedural intricacies of the case are rather complex. However the CJEU keeps a level head, with in the end transparent results.

Geert.

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flyLAL-Lithuanian Airlines – ECJ holds on ‘civil and commercial’, ordre public and Article 22(2)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule all in the context of competition law.

Postscript 21 December 2016: it has been brought to my attention that the Latvian Supreme Court in October 2015 ultimately held that the Lithuanian judgment would not be recognised, on the grounds of ordre public. See here for an overview of the arguments.

flyLAL seeks compensation for damage resulting, first, from the abuse of a dominant position by Air Baltic on the market for flights from or to Vilnius Airport (Lithuania) and, second, from an anti-competitive agreement between the co-defendants. To that end, it applied for provisional and protective measures. The relevant Lithuanian court granted that application and issued an order for sequestration, on a provisional and protective basis, of the moveable and/or immoveable assets and property rights of Air Baltic and Starptautiskā Lidosta Rīga. A relevant Latvian court decided to recognise and enforce that judgment in Latvia, in so far as the recognition and enforcement related to the sequestration of the moveable and/or immoveable assets and property rights of  defendants. Application by flyLAL for a guarantee of enforcement of that judgment was rejected.

Defendants submit that the recognition and enforcement of the judgment are contrary to both the rules of public international law on immunity from jurisdiction and the brussels I Regulation. They argue that the present case does not fall within the scope of that regulation. Since the dispute relates to airport charges set by State rules, it does not, they submit, concern a civil or commercial matter within the meaning of that regulation.

On the scope of application issue (‘civil and commercial‘), the ECJ held with reference to previous case-law, that the provision of airport facilities in return for payment of a fee constitutes an economic activity. (This is different from the foundation judgment in Eurocontrol, which in turn was cross-referred in Sapir (to which the ECJ in current judgment refers repeatedly): Eurocontrol is a public body and the use of its services by airlines is compulsory and exclusive). The amount of shares held by government in the relevant airlines is irrelevant.

That the exclusive jurisdictional rule of Article 22(2) may be at issue (which might have led the court with whom enforcement is sought, to refuse such) was clearly a desperate attempt to rebuke jurisdiction. The national court should not have entertained it, let alone sent it to Luxemburg. (The Court replies courteously that ‘seeking legal redress for damage resulting from alleged infringements of European Union competition law, must (not) be regarded as constituting proceedings which have as their object the validity of the decisions of the organs of companies within the meaning of that provision.’) One assumes the flimsiest of arguments might have been that the board or a director would have had to approve the actions leading to the infringement.

Finally, according to Article 34(1), a judgment is not to be recognised if such recognition is manifestly contrary to public policy in the Member State in which recognition is sought. The referring court is unsure, first, as to the consequences to be drawn from the failure to state reasons for the methods of determining the amount of the sums concerned by the provisional and protective measures granted by the judgment in respect of which recognition and enforcement are sought and, second, as to the consequences linked to the amount of those sums.

With respect to the alleged failure to state reasons, the ECJ confirms (at 51 ff) that the observance of the right to a fair trial requires that all judgments be reasoned in order to enable the defendant to understand why judgment has been pronounced against him and to bring an appropriate and effective appeal against such a judgment (see ia Trade Agency). However that was not the case at issue: there is no lack of reasoning, since it is possible to follow the line of reasoning which led to the determination of the amount of the sums at issue. Parties concerned moreover had the opportunity to bring an action against such a decision and they exercised that option.  Therefore, the basic principles of a fair trial were respected and, accordingly, there are no grounds to consider that there has been a breach of public policy.

As regards the amount of the sums, the concept of ‘public policy’ within the meaning of Article 34(1)seeks to protect legal interests which are expressed through a rule of law, and not purely economic interests. The mere invocation of serious economic consequences does not constitute an infringement of the public policy of the Member State in which recognition is sought (at 58).

Once again the Court’s emphasis is on the exceptional nature of the ordre public exception.

Geert.

 

 

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