Posts Tagged C-352/13
Apple v eBizcuss. CJEU leaves open all options on choice of court and anti-trust, particularly for abuse of dominant position.
My review of Wahl AG’s Opinion gives readers necessary detail on C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss. In 2012 eBizcuss started suing Apple for alleged anti-competitive behaviour, arguing Apple systematically favours its own, vertically integrated distribution network. Can choice of court in their original contract cover the action (meaning the French courts would not have jurisdiction).
The Court says it can, both for Article 101 TFEU (cartels) and for 102 TFEU actions (abuse of dominant position), but particularly for the latter. In both cases the final say rests with the national courts who are best placed to appreciate the choice of court provisions in their entire context.
For Article 101 TFEU actions, the window is a narrow one (at 28: ‘the anti‑competitive conduct covered by Article 101 TFEU, namely an unlawful cartel, is in principle not directly linked to the contractual relationship between a member of that cartel and a third party which is affected by the cartel’). For Article 102 TFEU, as noted by other, it is wider (‘the anti‑competitive conduct covered by Article 102 TFEU, namely the abuse of a dominant position, can materialise in contractual relations that an undertaking in a dominant position establishes and by means of contractual terms’). The overall context of appreciation is that of predictability: at 29 (referring to CDC): ‘in the context of an action based on Article 102 TFEU, taking account of a jurisdiction clause that refers to a contract and ‘the corresponding relationship’ cannot be regarded as surprising one of the parties.’
Anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. The High Court in Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al.
A classic case of follow-up damages litigation in competition law, here in the high voltage power cables cartel, fines for which were confirmed by the CJEU early July. Core to the case is the application of Article 8(1)’s anchor defendants mechanism. Only two of the defendants are UK incorporated companies – UK subsidiaries of companies that have been found by the European Commission to have infringed EU competition law.
Authority cited includes of course CDC, Roche Nederland and Painer, and Cooper Tyre (sale of the cartelised products can amount to implementation of the cartel). Vattenfall confirms that for the English courts, ‘knowingly implementing’ the cartel has a low threshold.
At 89 ff the Court refers to the pending case of (what I now know to be) C-724/17 Skanska Industrial Solutions e.a.: Finnish Courts are considering the application for cartel damages against parent companies on acquiring cartelist subsidiaries, had dissolved them. Relevance for Vattenfall lies with the issue of knowledge: the Finnish courts wonder what Article 101 TFEU has to say on the degree of knowledge of the cartelist activities, relevant for the liability of the parent company. An application of fraus, or abuse in other words. Elleray DJ however, did not consider the outcome of that reference to be relevant for the case at hand, in its current stage of procedure.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 184.108.40.206
Apple v eBizcuss. Wahl AG on choice of court, anti-trust (competition law; clarifying CDC) and ‘corresponding relationships’.
Those of us who are familiar with the issue of multilingualism and international courts, will enjoy the discussion of contractual terms in Wahl AG’s Opinion in C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss. Not only does the issue entre around the precise implications of the wording of a choice of court provision. The Opinion (not yet available in English) also highlights the difficulty of translating the original English of the contractual term, into the languages at the Court.
Current litigation is a continuation of the earlier spats between Apple and eBizcuss, which led to the Cour de Cassation’s 2015 reversed stance on the validity of unilateral choice of court – which I discussed at the time.
The 2002 Apple Authorized Reseller Agreement (in fact the 2005 version which applied after continuation of the contract) included a governing law and choice of court clause reading
„This Agreement and the corresponding relationship between the parties shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Ireland and the parties shall submit to the jurisdiction of the courts of the Republic of Ireland. Apple reserves the right to institute proceedings against Reseller in the courts having jurisdiction in the place where Reseller has its seat or in any jurisdiction where a harm to Apple is occurring.” (emphasis added)
Footnote 3 displays the translation difficulty which I refer to above: parties disagree as to the translation of the contractual clause in French: applicant suggest this should read „et la relation correspondante”, defendant proposes „et les relations en découlant”. The AG suggest to include both for the purposes of his analysis „Le présent contrat et la relation correspondante (traduction de la requérante)/et les relations en découlant (traduction de la défenderesse) entre les parties seront régis par et interprétés conformément au droit de l’Irlande et les parties se soumettent à la compétence des tribunaux de l’Irlande. Apple se réserve le droit d’engager des poursuites à l’encontre du revendeur devant les tribunaux dans le ressort duquel est situé le siège du revendeur ou dans tout pays dans lequel Apple subit un préjudice.” In Dutch: „De door partijen gesloten onderhavige overeenkomst en de bijbehorende betrekking (vertaling van verzoekster)/de hieruit voortvloeiende betrekkingen (vertaling van verweerster) tussen partijen zullen worden beheerst door en worden uitgelegd volgens het Ierse recht, en partijen verlenen bevoegdheid aan de Ierse rechter. Apple behoudt zich het recht voor om vorderingen jegens de wederverkoper aanhangig te maken bij het gerecht in het rechtsgebied waar de wederverkoper is gevestigd of in een land waar Apple schade heeft geleden.”
This translation issue however highlights precisely the core of the discussion: ‘the corresponding relationship’ suggest a narrow reading: the relationship corresponding to the contractual arrangements. Infringement of competition law does not correspond, in my view. ‘La relation correspondante’ displays this sentiment. ‘(L)es relations en découlant’ suggests a wider reading.
In 2012 eBizcuss started suing Apple for alleged anti-competitive behaviour, arguing Apple systematically favours its own, vertically integrated distribution network.
The Cour de Cassation had rebuked the Court of Appeal’s finding of lack of jurisdiction. In its 2015 decision to quash, (the same which qualified the Court’s stance on unilateral jurisdiction clauses) it cited C-352/13 CDC, in which the CJEU held that choice of court clauses are not generally applicable to liability in tort (the clause would have to refer verbatim to tortious liability): the specific para under consideration is para 69 of that judgment in CDC:
‘the referring court must, in particular, regard a clause which abstractly refers to all disputes arising from contractual relationships as not extending to a dispute relating to the tortious liability that one party allegedly incurred as a result of its participation in an unlawful cartel’.
At issue in Apple /eBizcuss is essentially what kind of language one needs for choice of court to include infringement of competition law (for Dutch readers, I have an earlier overview in Jacques Steenbergen’s liber amicorum here).
Wahl AG emphasises (at 56) that it would not be in the spirit of Article 25 Brussels I Recast (which he analyses in extenso in the previous paras) to require parties to include the exact nature of the suits covered by the choice of court agreement. He is right of course – except those suits in my view do need to be contractual unless non-contractual liability has been clearly included: that in my view is the clear instruction of the CJEU in CDC.
The AG then continues the discussion (which will be redundant should the CJEU not follow his lead) as to whether the clause covers both follow-on (a suit for tort once a competition authority has found illegal behaviour) as well as stand-alone (private enforcement: a party claiming infringement of competition law in the absence of an authority’s finding of same) suits. He suggests there should be no distinction: on that I believe he is right.
Towards the end of July, the Court at Amsterdam applied the recent CJEU judgment in CDC, on the application of (now) Article 8’s rule on anchor defendants. The case also involved CDC – busy bees on the competition enforcement front, this time pursuing inter alia Kemira, a Finnish company, using Akzo Nobel NV, domiciled in The Netherlands, as anchor defendants.
The court referred in extenso to the CJEU’s CDC case, noting inter alia that it is not up to CDC to show that the suit was not just introduced to remove Kemira from the Finnish judge: that Kemira suggests that introduction of the suit in The Netherlands is not very logical given the absence of factual links to that Member State, does not suffice. The court also adopted the CJEU’s finding on choice of court and liability in tort. In the absence of specific proviso in a standard contractual choice of court, the application of such choice of court to extracontactual liability [such as here, for infringement of competition law] cannot be assumed.
Finally, at 2.18, the Court also referred to argument made by Kemira that Finish and Swedish law ought to apply to the interpretation (not: the validity) of the choice of court agreement. That would have been an interesting discussion. However in light of the court’s earlier judgment on the irrelevance of the court of choice, the court did not entertain that issue.
Don’t leave the store without asking. Joinders, and the Aldi principle applied in Otkritie. On the shopping list for the EU?
Postscript 21 November 2017: For an application in Hong Kong see Far Wealth Ltd v Lo Ki Mou, reported here: proceedings dismissed as an abuse of process because the plaintiffs could have protected their position by way of a counterclaim in prior proceedings commenced against them by the defendants.
A posting out off the box here, so bear with me. Neither Brussels I nor the Recast include many requirements with respect to (now) Article 8(1)’s rule on joinders. A case against a defendant, not domiciled in the court’s jurisdiction, may be joined with that against a defendant who is so domiciled, if the cases are ‘so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together in order to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments’. There is of course CJEU case-law on what ‘so closely connected’ means however that is outside the remit of current posting.
As I reported recently, the CJEU has introduced a limited window of abuse of process viz Article 8(1), in CDC. The Court’s overall approach to Article 8(1) is not to take into account the subjective intentions of plaintiff, who often identify a suitable anchor defendant even if is not the intended target of their action. The Court does make exception for one particular occasion, namely if it is found that, at the time the proceedings were instituted, the applicant and that defendant had colluded to artificially fulfil, or prolong the fulfilment of, (now) Article 8’s applicability.
What if at the time the proceedings were instituted, applicant artificially ignores the fulfilment of, (now) Article 8’s applicability?
The Aldi rule of the courts of England and Wales, and its recent application in Otkritie, made me ponder whether there is merit in suggesting that the CJEU should interpret Article 8(1) to include an obligation, rather than a mere possibility, to join closely connected cases. I haven’t gotten much further than pondering, for there are undoubtedly important complications.
First, a quick look at the Aldi rule, in which the Court of Appeal considered application of the Johnson v Gore Wood principles on abuse of process of the (then) House of Lords, to an attempt to strike out a claim for abuse of process on the basis that the claim could and should have been brought in previous litigation. Aldi concerned complex commercial litigation, as does Otkritie. The result of Aldi is that plaintiffs need to consult with the court in case management, to ensure that related claims are brough in one go. Evidently, the courts need to walk a fine rope for the starting point must be that plaintiffs have wide discretion in deciding where and when to bring a claim: that would seem inherent in Article 6 ECHR’s right to a fair trial.
In Otkritie [the case nota bene does not involve the Brussels Regulation], Knowles J strikes the right balance in holding that the Aldi requirement of discussing with the court had been breached (and would have cost implications for Otkritie in current proceedings) but that otherwise this breach did not amount to abuse of process.
Now, transporting this to the EU level: to what degree could /should Article 8 include a duty to join closely related proceedings? Should such duty be imposed only on plaintiff or also on the court, proprio motu? A crazy thought perhaps for the time being, but certainly worthwhile pondering for future conflicts entertainment.
Anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. The ECJ in CDC confirms AG’s view on joinders. Sticks to Article 5(3 /7(1). Locus damni for purely economic loss = registered office.
Update November 2017. For a contrary ruling on the scope of arbitration agreement, see Dortmund 13 September 2017, reviewed here.
In Case C-352/13 CDC, in which the ECJ held last week, at issue is among others the use of Article 6(1) of the Brussels I-Regulation (8(1) in the recast) when the claim against the anchor defendant has been settled before the trial is well and truly underway.
I reviewed JÄÄSKINEN AG’s opinion here. The ECJ’s overall approach to Article 6 is not to take into account the subjective intentions of plaintiff, who often identify a suitable anchor defendant even if is not the intended target of their action. Like its AG, the Court does make exception for one particular occasion, namely if it is found that, at the time the proceedings were instituted, the applicant and that defendant had colluded to artificially fulfil, or prolong the fulfilment of, Article 6’s applicability. I had expressed reservation vis-a-vis this suggestion, obviously in vain. In cases such as these, where tort is already clearly established (via the European Commission’s cartel finding), the intention of ECJ and AG seem noble. Collusion to defraud is disciplined by the non-applicability of Article 6. However this arguably serves the interests of the parties guilty of the other type of collusion involved: that of defrauding not procedural predictability, but rather consumers’ interest.
Next, the referring court enquired about the application of Article 5(3)’s special jurisdictional rule in the event of infringement of competition law, where that infringement concerns a complex horizontal agreement, spread over a long period of time, and with varying impact in various markets. The AG had suggested dropping application of Article 5(3) (now 7(1)) altogether, both with respect to locus delicti commissi and locus damni. Here the Court disagreed. Difficult as it may be, it is not to be excluded that locus delicti commissi can be established. At 50: one cannot rule out ‘the identification, in the jurisdiction of the court seised of the matter, of a specific event during which either that cartel was definitively concluded or one agreement in particular was made which was the sole causal event giving rise to the loss allegedly inflicted on a buyer.’
For locus damni, the Court again has no sympathy for either mozaik effect of Article 5(3), or indeed the often great difficulties in establishing locus damni, flagged by the AG. At 52: ‘As for loss consisting in additional costs incurred because of artificially high prices, such as the price of the hydrogen peroxide supplied by the cartel at issue in the main proceedings, that place is identifiable only for each alleged victim taken individually and is located, in general, at that victim’s registered office.‘
Registered office as the locus damni for purely economic loss, lest my memory fails me, has not been as such confirmed by the ECJ before. It is also currently pending in Universal. The Court is in my view a bit radical when it comes to justifying registered office as the Erfolgfort: at 53: ‘That place fully guarantees the efficacious conduct of potential proceedings, given that the assessment of a claim for damages for loss allegedly inflicted upon a specific undertaking as a result of an unlawful cartel, as already found by the Commission in a binding decision, essentially depends on factors specifically relating to the situation of that undertaking. In those circumstances, the courts in whose jurisdiction that undertaking has its registered office are manifestly best suited to adjudicate such a claim.‘ Update 29 May 2018 Bobek AG would seem to take a similar view (that the CJEU’s finding on registered office is at odds with its case-law on Article 7(2) in his Opinions in Barclays and flyLAL.
Finally, on the issue of choice of court in the agreements between the victims of the cartel, and those guilty of the cartel, the Court follows the AG’s lead. Such clauses are not generally applicable to liability in tort (the clause would have to refer verbatim to tortious liability). Neither do they in principle bind third parties, lest of course there be subrogration (Refcomp). (The referring national court has given very little detail on the clauses at issue and hence the ECJ notes that it could not reply to all questions referred).
In the end, it is the finding with respect to economic loss for which the judgment may be most remembered.
The use of anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. JÄÄSKINEN AG in CDC questions i.a. arbitration clauses in competition cases.
A particularly sticky point in competition cases, are follow-up suits for damages. I have already reported on (private international law aspects of) the issue of the piercing of the corporate veil, and on the use of a related undertaking as an anchor. [I report more extensively on competition law and conflicts in Jacques Steenbergen’s liber amicorum here. I hope to translate it into English some time soon].
In Case C-352/13 CDC (Cartel Damage Claims, in effect private anti-trust enforcement), at issue is among others the use of Article 6(1) of the Brussels I-Regulation when the claim against the anchor defendant has been settled before the trial is well and truly underway.
JÄÄSKINEN AG [whose Opinion at the time of writing was not available in English; indeed the absence of English translation of quite a few important Opinions is becoming a bit of a pattern. (That’s an observation. not an accusation)] suggests in his Opinion that only the time of service of the suit is relevant to assess the criteria of Article 6(1). This suggestion in my view finds support in the ECJ’s overall approach to Article 6: the subjective intentions of plaintiff, who often identify a suitable anchor defendant even if is not the intended target of their action, does not feature in the application criteria of Article 6. While this may lead to abuse of procedural power, establishing malicious intent is all but impossible. All but impossible: but not totally excluded. For that reason the AG does suggest that if one can prove that plaintiff and anchor defendant (in the case at issue: Evonik Degussa) had secretly agreed to settle, prior to the introduction of the suit, such collusion should be punished by non-applicability of Article 6(1), for in that case the conditions of Article 6 arguably are no longer met.
I am not sure the ECJ should follow the latter suggestion, particularly not in cases such as the one at issue, where defendants have been found to have acted illegally under EU competition law. (Misdemeanor or indeed criminal act therefore has already been established). In a way it would be an application of nemo auditur propriam turpitudinem allegans not to reward those who infringe EU competition law in the way the AG suggests. (This may be different in the event of as yet unsubstantiated claims of tort, in which case one may argue the defendant should not routinely have to defend the claims in a court other than the one identified by Article 2).
Next, the referring court enquired about the application of Article 5(3)’s special jurisdictional rule in the event of infringement of competition law, where that infringement concerns a complex horizontal agreement, spread over a long period of time, and with varying impact in various markets. One can probably not at all establish a locus delicti commissi for the tort as a whole: for such behaviour often takes shape in a variety of meetings, electronic correspondence et al. For locus damni, too, the picture would be one of a complex patchwork. Predictability and manageability of the ensuing suits would be impossible to establish in some coherent way, thus endangering some of the very foundations of the Brussels regime. In conclusion therefore the AG suggests not to apply Article 5(3) at all to current scenario, and to stick with application of Article 2, often then in conjunction with Article 6.
Although the last word on Article 6 needs to be said by the national court who alone is the judge of the risk of irreconcilable judgments, clearly in the AG’s mind there is a strong likelihood of such risk in the event of follow-up damages in the case of a cartel which has been found to be illegal by the European Commission and where all members to it have acted within one and the same intent (again, as established by the EC). Article 6(3) b Rome II [not applicable in the case but the AG suggests it would not hurt looking ahead] hints at such scenario where many defendants are sued in one and the same court.
Finally, the Court is asked to give input on the issue of choice of court, and arbitration clauses, in the agreements between the victims of the cartel, and those guilty of the cartel: do such clauses have any impact on the legal position of CDC, who has acquired the rights to seek damages for the cartel infringement? The AG suggests, in line with most national case-law (see more on this in my Steenbergen chapter, linked above), that such clauses cannot include follow-up damages for cartel infringement: for the latter is arguably not within the legitimate contractual expectations. This would be different for such clauses concluded after the tort has been committed: for Article 23 of the Regulation allows parties to agree on a different forum than those identified in the special jurisdictional rules. The AG finds additional support for this argument in the overall objectives of the very recent Directive 2014/104, the damages Directive. He takes the opportunity to argue that in the case of arbitration clauses, these may hinder the effet utile of Article 101 TFEU, just as choice of court clauses might, unless parties are shown beyond doubt to have consented to the clause, and provided the tribunal or court at issue, is under an obligation to apply EU competition law as matter of public policy. (Whether that is the case is subject to national law).
(It is quite likely that the Court itself will not review the last question for as the AG indicates, the referring national court has given very little detail on the clauses at issue).
This case could turn out to have quite a wide relevance for a large part of commercial practice. Or not: that depends on how far the ECJ itself will decide to entertain it.