The CJEU in Hrvatske Šume on contract or tort re claims of unjust enrichment. Confirmation that not all claims need to be either one or the other.

Update 17 January 2022 see here for a series of postings on the judgment.

The CJEU held this morning in  C‑242/20 Hrvatske Šume. Gilles Cuniberti already has a summary of the judgment here and I reported on the AG Opinion here. The Opinion was in essence confirmed.

Of first note is that the CJEU unlike the AG does address the Article 24(5) Brussels Ia issue of exclusive jurisdiction for claims in ‘enforcement’ of a judgment. It holds that an action for restitution based on unjust enrichment does not come within A24(5)’s scope for [32] an action the subject matter of which is a claim for restitution based on unjust enrichment is not intended to obtain a decision in proceedings relating to recourse to force, constraint or distrain on movable or immovable property in order to ensure the effective implementation of a judgment or authentic instrument. This is the case even if that unjust enrichment arises from the fact that enforcement has been annulled.

On the A7(1)-(2) issue the Court first of all and justifiably dismisses the suggestion made ia by the European Commission that A7(1) and (2) BIa dovetail: ie that necessarily a claim which is not a contractual one, must (and in subsidiary fashion) be on in delict per A7(2): [53]: forum delicti requires a harmful event (reference in support is made to Austro-Mechana),  which is simply absent in cases of unjust enrichment.

A claim in restitution of unjust enrichment may in fact be contractual [47] if there is a pre-existing relationship that is closely linked to the claim. An obvious example [48] is that of the applicant relying as the basis of its right to restitution. on unjust enrichment closely linked to a contractual obligation which he or she regards as invalid, and which has not been performed by the defendant, or which the applicant considers he or she itself has ‘over-performed’.

Geert.

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

%d bloggers like this: