I have earlier reported on the referral in Universal Music, Case C-12/15. Szpunar AG opined today, 11 March (the English text of the Opinion is not yet available at the time I write this post) and suggests (at 37) that the Court not apply its Erfolgort /Handlungsort distinction per Case 21/76 Bier /Minnes de Potasse. He reminds the Court of Bier’s rationale: a special link between the Erfolgort and the case at hand, so as to make that place, the locus damni, the place where the damage arises, well suited to address the substantive issues raised by the claim. (He also reminds the Court, at 30, that the language of what is now Article 7(2) only refers to the harmful event; not in the slightest to damage).
In cases where the only damage that arises is purely economic damage, the locus damni is a pure coincidence (in the case of a corporation suffering damage: the seat of that corporation), bearing no relation to the facts of the case at all (lest it be entirely coincidental). The Advocate General skilfully distinguishes all relevant CJEU precedent and in succinct yet complete style comes to his conclusion.
The Court itself embraces its Bier ruling more emphatically than its AGs do (see the similar experience of Cruz Villalon AG in Hejduk). That Universal Music is quite clearly distinguishable from other cases may sway it to follow the AG in the case at issue. However its fondness of Bier (judgment in 1976; it had been a hot summer that year) may I fear lead it to stick to its fundamental twin track of Erfolg /Handlungsort no matter the circumstances of the case.
European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 18.104.22.168, 22.214.171.124.7
(Thank you to Vincent Dogan and Freerk Vermeulen for flagging the case). In Universal, Case C-12/15, the Dutch Hoge Raad has asked the ECJ for assistance in determining whether and /or how Article 5(3) of the Brussels I Regulation (now Article 7(3) in the recast) needs to be applied to cases of purely economic loss (also known as purely financial loss).
Haven’t we seen that before? Yes, we have: in Zuid-Chemie, Case C-189/08, the same Hoge Raad asked essentially the same question, however the ECJ did not answer it, for there was also physical damage (with the same victim).
Universal Music International Holding BV is the mother company of among others a Czech group of companies, who acquired a target company in the Czech Republic. A calculation error by one of the lawyers advising the parties (Ouch. All us, lawyers, sympathise), led to Universal having to pay five times what it thought it was going to pay. Arbitration and settlement ensued. This included agreement that the holding company, plaintiff in the current proceedings, would pay the amount settled for. It duly did, from a Dutch bank account. It now sues the Czech lawyers who wrongly advised the Czech subsidiary and does so in The Netherlands, as the alleged Erfolgsort in its tortious relationship with these lawyers, is The Netherlands.
Questions referred, are whether purely economic loss sustained in the Erfolgort (and without direct loss, economic or otherwise, elsewhere) lead to jurisdiction for that Erfolgort; and if so, how one determines whether the damage is direct or indirect (‘follow-up’), and where that economic loss is to be located.
I have aired my unhappiness with the Erfolgort /Handlungsort distinction on this blog before. Most recently viz Hejduk. I blame Bier (the judgment. Not the (at least as it is spelled in Dutch) drink): extension of Article 5(3) seemed good in principle but led to a continuing need to massage the consequences. The court advisors to the Hoge Raad have sympathy for the view that Bier’s main justification for accepting jurisdiction for the Erfolgort (a close link with the case leading to suitability from the point of view of evidence and conduct of the proceedings) is not present in the case of purely economic loss, particularly where events for the remainder are entirely Handlungsort related. The ECJ may well follow this reasoning, although in doing so it might yet again create another layer of distinguishing in the Bier rule.