Posts Tagged Civil and commercial

Supreme v Shape: Lifting attachments (‘garnishments’) on assets of international organisations in another state. Dutch Supreme Court refers to CJEU re exclusive jurisdiction, and the impact of claimed immunity.

Many thanks Sofja Goldstein for alerting me a while back to the Hoge Raad’s decision to refer to the CJEU and what is now known to be Case C-186/19. The case concerns SHAPE’s appeal to a Dutch Court to lift the attachment aka ‘garnishment’ of a Belgian NATO /SHAPE escrow account by Supreme Services GmbH, a supplier of fuel to NATO troops in Afghanistan. As Sofja reports, in 2013, Supreme and Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (JFCB), the Netherlands-based regional headquarters of NATO, set up an escrow bank account in Belgium with the goal of offsetting any contingent liabilities on both sides at the end of Basic Ordering Agreements (BOAs). Supreme Services in 2015 initiated proceedings against SHAPE and JFCB in the Netherlands arguing that the latter parties had not fulfilled their payment obligations towards Supreme. It also attached the account in Belgium.

SHAPE and JFCB from their side seized the Dutch courts for interim relief, seeking (i) to lift the attachment, and (ii) to prohibit Supreme from attaching the escrow account in the future.

The Supreme Court acknowledges the Dutch Courts’ principle jurisdiction at the early stages of the procedure on the basis of Article 35’s rule concerning provisional measures, yet at this further stage of the proceedings now feels duty-bound firstly under Article 27 of Brussels Ia to consider whether Article 24 paragraph 5 applies (Belgium being the place of enforcement of any attachment should it be upheld); further and principally, whether the Brussels I a Regulation applies at all given that SHAPE and NATO invoke their immunity (it is in my view unlikely that the invocation or not of an immunity defence may determine the triggering or not of Brussels Ia), this immunity interestingly being the result of a Treaty not between The Netherlands and NATO but rather resulting from the headquarter agreement between NATO and Belgium.

An interesting example of public /private international law overlap.

Geert.

 

 

 

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Dinant Bar v maître JN. Bar membership fees. Saugmansdgaard ØE on whether they are at all ‘civil and commercial’ and if so, whether they are ‘contractual’.

In C-421/18 Saugmansdgaard ØE opined (Opinion a yet available in a handful of languages only, not including English) on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ (last reviewed by the Court in Buak) and ‘contract’ (within Article 7(1) Brussels Ia.

At issue was the relationship between a France-domiciled practising lawyer, registered with the Dinant (Belgium) Bar, and that Bar. Maître JN, now a very occasional practitioner it seems, had been refusing to pay his Bar Membership fees even after the Bar council had reduced them to the level of insurance premiums paid by it to the insurance company running the collective professional insurance scheme.

The referring court at Namur had not in fact asked the CJEU about the interpretation of ‘civil and commercial’. It was the EC’s comments which triggered Saugmansdgaard ØE’s review of that issue (albeit he insists the final call is up to the referring court). He refers to the public interest duties carried out by the Bar Council (in particular, ensuring the public’s trust in the proper representation before the judicial authorities), and the authority entrusted to the Council by Belgian’s code of civil procedure (particularly at 34). At 35 ff he then considers whether in its collection of the Bar fees set by and due to it by the registered lawyers, the Council acts in the exercise of that authority, and decides it does not: the fees are determined by the general council of the Bar and in the main represent the professional insurance fees.  That is all the more made clear by the fact that in the case of maître JN the Bar had reduced the fees to the exact amount paid to the insurance company.

The dispute therefore he advices is about pennies, not power.

Turning to the issue of ‘contract’ reference is made ia to the recent CJEU decision in Kerr. Particularly at 81 ff the Advocate General emphasises the specificities of the case: the solicitor in question had effectively retired yet chose to continue to pay Bar membership fees. In contrast to for instance Austro-Mecana and more in line with Kerr (and in contrast also one could argue with fully practising lawyers) the voluntary character of the relationship is core.

Geert.

 

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French Supreme Court on cover by Lugano of legal fees in criminal proceedings – and the proper limits of the ordre public test.

Thank you Hélène Péroz (by now a firmly established reliable source for French PIL case-law) for alerting me to French Supreme Court Case no. 17-28.555, judgment issued late January.

The criminal courts at Geneva have condemned claimant, domiciled at France, to pay a criminal fine of 3,600.00 Swiss Francs, a well as 36,000.00 Swiss Francs towards defendant’s legal fees. The latter were incurred given that defendant in current legal proceedings had entered a civil claim in the Swiss criminal proceedings: a claim which the Geneva judge ordered to be settled through the Swiss courts in civil cases.

Upon fighting the request for exequatur, claimant first of all argues that the French courts’ acceptance of exequatur via the Lugano Convention is outside the scope of that Convention. The matter, he argues, is not civil or commercial seeing as the civil claim was not even entertained.

This of course brings one to the discussion on the scope of application of Lugano (and Brussels Ia) and the perennial difficulty of focusing on nature of the claim v nature of the underlying facts and exercised powers. Now, for civil claims brought before criminal courts there is not so much doubt per se, seeing inter alia that Article 7(3) Brussels Ia (Article 5(4) Lugano 2007) has a specific head of jurisdiction for such civil claims. Claimant’s point of argument here evidently is that this should not cover this particular claim seeing as the legal representation at issue turned out to be without purpose. Not being privy to the discussions that took place at the Geneva court, I evidently do not know the extent of discussion having taken place there (there is no trace of it in the Supreme Court judgment) however one assumes that the Geneva proceedings in theory could have dealt with the civil side of the litigation yet for a factual or legal reason eventually did not. Over and above the intensity of discussions being difficult to employ as a decisive criterion, one can also appreciate the difficulty in separating the civil from the criminal side of the argument made by defendant’s lawyers.

Of perhaps more general interest is the Supreme Court’s rebuke of the lower courts’ treatment of ordre public. Exequatur was granted because, the lower courts had held, the judge in the substantial proceedings has the sovereign right to establish costs under the relevant national procedure. This, it was suggested by these lower courts, shields it from ordre public scrutiny – a clear misunderstanding of the ordre public test. Part of the ordre public considerations had also been that the relative slide in the strength of the Swiss Franc v the Euro, and the generally higher costs of living in Switzerland, put the cost award in perspective. Moreover the judges found that there was insufficient information on the length of the proceedings in Switserland, and the complexity of the arguments. That, however, is exactly the kind of data which the judge in an exequatur assessment ough to gauge.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2n ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.2.

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Non multa, sed multum. Sovereign debt litigation in Kuhn leads to surprising final (?) curtain in Vienna.

In C-308/17 Leo Kuhn the CJEU held that Brussels Ia was not engaged for the matter is acta iure imperii. I suggested in my review of the judgment that in solely emphasising context, the Court casts the net too wide. I also emphasised that Greece’s sovereign immunity defense, lonely an argument as it may be, is a strong argument (I referred to the German approach to same): non multa sed multum.

Thank you Stephan Walter for alerting us to, and analysing the final judgment in Vienna: Greece enjoys immunity; and even if it had not (this is how I understand Stephan’s analysis – I trust he will correct me should I be wrong), the court would have declined jurisdiction given that the ‘assets held in Austria’ head of jurisdiction, was not mentioned in the particulars of claim.

Stephan clearly is not happy with the judgment: the Supreme Court not only reverses its earlier stance on immunity; it also could be argued it should be estopped as it were (my words, not Stephan’s) from disciplining a claimant’s absence of reference to residual private international law rules, given that hitherto the Supreme Court had never strayed from steering the course of Brussels Ia applying.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.

 

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Sovereign debt litigation in Kuhn: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. CJEU holds litigation falls outside of Brussels I Recast. Pays lip-service only to Fahnenbrock.

Update 22 November 2018 see yesterday’s comments by prof Mankowski here. He is right to point out that defence mechanisms available to Greece, are effeitvely limited to sovereign immunity. However that defence is of course a strong one, as I pointed out here, given that even the German courts have acepted it.

I had earlier reviewed Bot AG’s Opinion in C-308/17 Leo Kuhn, in which the Court held on Thursday. The case concerns the retrofit introduction of CACs – Collective Action Clauses, in Greek bonds, allowing the amendment to the initial borrowing terms by decisions adopted by a qualified majority, of the remaining capital owed and applying also to the minority.

Along the lines suggested by the AG, the Court finds the litigation not to relate to civil and commercial matters (likely also leading to a finding on the basis of national law, of sovereign immunity).

Extensive reference is made of course to Fahnenbrock , among others. Yet the Court pays lip service only to Fahnenbrock: in that judgment, it launched the ‘direct and immediate’ formula: in that case it found it was the bondholders’ vote, which led directly and immediately to changes to the financial conditions of the securities in question, not the public authorities’ actions essentially dictating it: therefore that litigation was held not to be actum iure imperii, and it was found to be subject to the service of documents Regulation.

In Kuhn, Brussels I Recast is engaged and here the Court would seem to be inclined to follow (also) Bot AG’s Opinion in Fahenbrock (where he was not so followed): there, Bot AG had opined that the Greek State’s intervention in the contracts was direct and not at a distance from the contract. His focus was more on the circumstances of the case than on the legal nitty-gritty. There are certainly many similarities between Fahnenbrock and Kuhn: in the latter, the crammed-down haircut was formally the result of a majority decision of bondholders to accept the restructuring offer made by the Greek State. Not unlike Fahnenbrock were as noted it was also a bondholders’ vote which was the formal trigger.

In Kuhn, the Court emphasises the context, like Bot to no avail had done in Fahnenbrock: after a succinct tour d’horizon of the debt crisis leading to the CACs, the Court concludes ‘It follows that, having regard to the exceptional character of the conditions and the circumstances surrounding the adoption of Law 4050/2012, according to which the initial borrowing terms of the sovereign bonds at issue in the main proceedings were unilaterally and retroactively amended by the introduction of a CAC, and to the public interest objective that it pursues, the origin of the dispute in the main proceeding stems from the manifestation of public authority and results from the acts of the Greek State in the exercise of that public authority, in such a way that that dispute does not fall within ‘civil and commercial matters’ within the meaning of Article 1(1) of Regulation No 1215/2012.’

I suggested at the time that ‘direct and immediate effect’ is not a criterion which is easy to handle. Yet in solely emphasising context, the Court now casts the net too wide in my view, and at the very least leads to more speculation (pun intended) in the litigation context of sovereign debt.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.

 

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Puigdemont v Spain before the Belgian (civil) courts. Some thoughts.

In this post I, unusually, offer questions rather than tentative answers. I hope you’ll enjoy the pondering and of course I have ideas of my own on all of these issues. Thank you Michiel Poesen for alerting me to Carles Puigdemont et al’s case in the Belgian civil courts.

The case is not about trying to employ the Belgian courts to have a Spanish Supreme Court judge removed from the case. (Contrary to what De Standaard report in their title – in an otherwise informative piece). Pablo Llarena had commented on the case (specifically: rejecting an argument raised by the defence) at an academic  conference. Rather, as I understand the case (public detail is scant), applicants suggest the alleged violation of impartiality infringes their right to such impartiality which in Belgium at least, is a civil right, constitutionally guaranteed.

The case therefore is one in tort. The exact request to the court is as yet unknown: provisional measures? damages? One assumes the very finding by a Belgian court of a finding of partiality and hence infringement of fundamental rights, will be employed in any future trials in Spain.

So far a little context. Here are the questions:

  • What kind of law is engaged here?: is this private international law? Is it public international law? (see prof Hess’ contribution to the Recueil, on the private /public divide).
  • Are the proceedings ‘international’ enough to trigger the application of private international law; are they simply ‘Spanish’ and what impact does that have on the jurisdiction  of the Belgian courts;
  • Are such proceedings ‘civil and commercial’ within the meaning of the Brussels regime; specifically, what is the impact of a Supreme Court judge spending much of their time engaging in what has to be considered a ‘public’ function, now speaking at an academic conference. (Think Kuhn, Fahnenbrock etc.).
  • If the Brussels I regime is triggered, what type of provisional measures is possible?
  • If the Brussels I regime is triggered, how does Article 7(2) apply; where is the locus delicti commissi and where the locus damni; how does e-Date apply if at all;
  • Along similar lines: how does applicable law apply given that defamation is exempt from Rome II; (see Belgium’s regime in Articles 99-100 WIPR in particular); and
  • What is the impact, if any, of chances of enforcement of the judgment in Spain.

These are the issues I suspect will be of some relevance in the conflicts field. Happy pondering.

Geert.

 

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Kuhn: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. Bot AG applies Fahnenbrock’s ‘direct and immediate effect’ and distinguishes Kolassa.

Advocate-General Bot opined on 4 July 2018 in the case of C-308/17 Leo Kuhn, domiciled at Vienna, who had purchased through an Austrian bank, Greek sovereign bonds. Pursuant to a forced exchanged /haircut carried out by Greece in March 2012, the bonds were replaced with new bonds with a lower nominal value. Mr Kuhn sued to have the initial borrowing terms enforced.

The Advocate-General is of course aware of the similarities with Fahnenbrock – in which he himself had also opined but was not followed by the Court. He first of all points out the similarities between the service Regulation and the Brussels I Recast (both e.g. limiting their scope of application to ‘civil and commercial’ matters), however also flags the specific recitals (in particular: recital 12) suggesting that in the context of the services Regulation the analysis needs to be done swiftly hence only cases which prima facie fall outside the scope of application (including where they manifestly (see the dictum of Fahnenbrock and para 50 of the AG’s Opinion in Kuhn) are not covered by that Regulation.

Coming next to the consideration of the application of ‘civil and commercial’, the facts of this case reflect very much the hybrid nature of much of sovereign debt litigation. In my view yes, the haircut took place within the wider institutional nature of Greece’s debt negotiations with the EU. Yet the ‘collective action clause’ (CAC) which was not part of the original terms and conditions (there was no CAC in the original lex causae, Greek law, but there is one in the newly applicable lex causae, English law: at 63 of the Opinion), was negotiated with the institutional holders of the bond and crammed down the minority holders like Mr Kuhn (at 66). The AG suggest that this does not impact on the qualification of the changes being ‘immediate and direct’, this being the formula employed by the Court in Fahnenbrock.

I am not so sure of the latter but it will be up to the CJEU to decide.

The Advocate General note bene subsequently ‘completes the analysis’ in case the CJEU disagrees with this view, and finds that if the issue is civil and commercial, it can be litigated under Article 7(1)’s rule on special jurisdiction for contractual obligations (the AG at para 88 ff distinguishes the case from C-375/13 Kolassa (in which the CJEU saw no contractual bond between the issuer of the bonds and the acquirer on the secondary market), the obligation at issue, he suggests, having to be performed in Greece. As for the latter element, the Advocate General does refer for the determination of the place of performance to the initially applicable law: Greek law, leaving the later lex causae, English law, undiscussed.

Whether the Court will follow the AG remains of course to be seen.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.

 

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