Posts Tagged CJEU

Wiemer & Trachte v Tadzher: vis attractiva concursus leads to exclusive jurisdiction for the pauliana.

The pauliana rings extensively at Kirchberg these days and months.

Two days ago the Court held in C‑296/17 Wiemer & Trachte. Following Wahl AG’s Opinion (which is not available in English), the Court has confirmed exclusive jurisdiction for set aside (pauliana) actions, of the courts of the Member State within the territory of which insolvency proceedings have been opened (COMI or secondary proceedings). Not therefore jurisdiction under the Brussels I Recast for the State of domicile of the defendant.

The need to avoid forum shopping (a strong leading principle in the insolvency Regulation) in particular, led Wahl AG and now the Court to insist on exclusive jurisdiction. The alternative reading (defended, I understand, inter alia by the Commission) relied on the altogether limiting wording of the relevant articles in the Regulation (both the previous and current versions), and also on an efficiency argument: particularly the insolvency practitioner ought to be able to forum shop so as to ensure the best outcome for the collective creditors (particularly by pursuing parties who have benefitted from avoidance actions, in their domicile). Wahl AG confessed sympathy for that practical reason (not unlike some of the arguments in the common law against say Owusu or West Tankers), yet emphasised the CJEU’s direction on vis attractiva concursus: rather a magnetic direction.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5 Heading 5.4.1. Chapter 2 Heading 2.2.2.10.1

 

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Vis (non) attractiva concursus. Bobek AG suggests tortious suit brought by liquidator (‘Peeters /Gatzen’) is covered by Brussels I Recast.

I earlier posted a guest blog on the qualification of the Dutch Peeters /Gatzen suit, a damages claim based on tort, brought by a liquidator against a third party having acted wrongfully towards the creditors. Bobek AG opined two weeks back in C-535/17 NK (insolvency practitioner for a baillif practice) v BNP Paribas Fortis.

His Opinion is of relevance not just for the consideration of jurisdiction, but perhaps even more so (for less litigated so far) for the analysis of applicable law.

Roel Verheyden has commented on the Opinion in Dutch here, and Sandrine Piet had earlier contextualised the issues (also in Dutch) here. She clarifies that the suit was introduced by the Dutch Supreme Court in 1983, allowing the insolvency practitioner (as EU insolvency law now calls them) to claim in tort against third parties whose actions have diminished the collective rights of the creditors, even if the insolvency person or company at issue was not entitled to such suit. The Advocate General himself, in his trademark lucid style, summarises the suit excellently.

Importantly, the Peeters /Gatzen is not a classic pauliana (avoidance) suit: Bobek AG at 16: ‘The power of the liquidator to bring a Peeters-Gatzen action is not limited to cases where the third party belongs to the circle of persons who, based on a Paulian (bankruptcy) claim .. would be liable for involvement in allegedly detrimental acts. The liquidator’s competence relates more generally to the damage caused to the general body of creditors by the wrongful act of a third party involved in causing that damage. The third party need not have caused the damage or have profited from it: it is sufficient that that third party could have prevented the damage but cooperated instead.’

In the case at issue, the third party is BNP Paribas Fortis, who had allowed the sole director of the company to withdraw large amounts of cash from the company’s account.

Firstly, on the jurisdictional issue, Nickel /Goeldner and Nortel had intervened after the interim judgments of the Dutch courts, creating doubt in their minds as to the correct delineation between the Insolvency and Brussels I Recast Regulation. The Advocate-General’s approach in my view is the correct one, and I refer to his Opinion for the solid arguments he deploys. In essence, the DNA of the suit are the ordinary rules of civil law (re: tort). That it be introduced by the insolvency practitioner (here, the liquidator) and that it is the case-law on liquidation proceedings which has granted that right to the liquidator, is not materially relevant. Note that the AG correctly adds in footnote 40 that even if the suit is not subject to the Insolvency Regulation, that Regulation does not disappear from the litigation. In particular, given that liquidation proceedings are underway, the lex concursus determines the ius agendi of the liquidator to bring the suit in tort, in another Member State (Belgium, on the basis of Article 7(2) or 4 Brussels I Recast).

Now, for applicable law, the AG first of all completes the analysis on the basis of the Insolvency Regulation, in the unlikely event the CJEU were not to follow him on the jurisdictional issue. Here (para 85 ff) the referring court wishes to know whether, if the Peeters-Gatzen action is covered by the Insolvency Regulation, such a claim would be governed, pursuant to Article 4(1) of that Regulation, by the law of the Member State where the insolvency proceedings were opened as regards both the power of the liquidator to bring that claim and the substantive law applicable to that claim. This question seeks to determine whether it is possible to follow the approach of the second-instance court in the main proceedings, and separate the law governing the powers of the liquidator (ius agendi) from the law applicable to the merits of the claim. The powers of the liquidator would then be governed by the lex fori concursus (Dutch law, per Article 4(2)(c) Insolvency Regulation). That article states that ‘the law of the State of the opening of proceedings … shall determine in particular … the respective powers of the debtor and the liquidator’. However, the merits of the claim would then be governed by the law applicable by virtue of the general (non-insolvency) conflict of law rules. In the present case that would lead to application of residual Dutch conflict of law rules, because the Rome II Regulation does not apply ratione temporis as the AG further explains. These rules lead to Belgian law being the lex causae.

Within the assumption of the Insolvency Regulation determining jurisdiction (for see footnote 40 as reported above, re ius agendi) the AG emphasises the Regulation’s goal of Gleichlauf: at 89: If the Peeters-Gatzen action were covered by the Insolvency Regulation, all its elements would be governed exclusively by the conflict of law rules of that regulation.

(Current) Article 16’s exception such as in Nike and Lutz does not come into play for as Bobek AG notes at 94, ‘It is difficult to see how the Peeters-Gatzen action at issue in the main proceedings could be qualified as a rule ‘relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of legal acts detrimental to all the creditors’, in the sense of Article 4(2)(m) [old, GAVC] of the Insolvency Regulation. The purpose of such an action is not a declaration of the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of an act of the third party, but the recovery of damages based on the wrongful behaviour of that third party towards the creditors. Therefore, as Article 4(2)(m) [old, GAVC] of the regulation would not apply in the main proceedings, the exception in Article 13 [old, GAVC] could not apply either.’

The AG finally discusses the referring court’s question whether if the Peeters-Gatzen action is exclusively subject to the lex fori concursus, it would be possible to take into account, whether directly or at least by analogy, and on the basis of Article 17 Rome II read in conjunction with Article 13 (now 16) of the Insolvency Regulation, the security regulations and codes of conduct applicable at the place of the alleged wrongful act (that is to say, in Belgium), such as financial rules of conduct for banks. Article 17 Rome II reads ‘In assessing the conduct of the person claimed to be liable, account shall be taken, as a matter of fact and in so far as is appropriate, of the rules of safety and conduct which were in force at the place and time of the event giving rise to the liability.

I have argued before that Article 17 Rome II does not have the rather extensive impact which some attribute to it. The AG, after signalling that the Article is yet to be applied by the CJEU, notes that Rome II does not apply here ratione temporis. He then concludes with an aside (it is not articulated as a proper argument – which is just as well for it is circular I suppose): at 104: ‘the more pertinent question is… whether it is really necessary to have recourse to a cumbersome legal construction, in this case the application of rules by analogy, outside of their material and temporal scope, in order to reach a solution (the application of Belgian law) which solves a problem (the applicability of Netherlands law by virtue of the Insolvency Regulation) that should not have been created in the first place (since the Peeters-Gatzen claim at hand should fall within the scope of the Brussels I Regulation). In any event, I am of the view, also in this regard, that these questions by the referring court rather confirm that there is no close connection between that action and the insolvency proceedings.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.4.1, Heading 5.7.

 

 

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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.’

Geert.

 

 

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Feniks: CJEU holds, in my view incorrectly, that Actio Pauliana falls under forum contractus.

I called Bobek AG’s Opinion in C-337/17 ‘solid’ – by which I also implied: convincing.  Is the actio pauliana by a Polish company against a Spanish company, which had bought immovable property from the former’s contracting party, one relating to ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast?

Bobek AG Opined it is not. The CJEU today held it is. I disagree.

Firstly, the second chamber, at 29 ff, repeats the inaccurate references in Valach and Tunkers, that (at 30) ‘actions which fall outside the scope of [the Insolvency Regulation] fall within the scope of [Brussels I Recast].’ This oft repeated quote suggest dovetailing between the two Regulations, a view which is patently incorrect: readers can use the tag ‘dovetail’ or ‘arrangement’ (for ‘scheme of arrangement’) for my view on same; see e.g. Agrokor.

Having held (this was not seriously in doubt) that Brussels I Recast is engaged, the Court then takes a much wider view of the Handte formula than advocated by Bobek AG. The Court at 37 refers to Granarolo, merely in fact to emphasise the requirement of strict interpretation of the jurisdictional rules which vary Article 4’s actor sequitur forum rei’s rule. At 43 follows the core of its reasoning: ‘By [the pauliana] the creditor seeks a declaration that the transfer of assets by the debtor to a third party has caused detriment to the creditor’s rights deriving from the binding nature of the contract and which correspond with the obligations freely consented to by the debtor. The cause of this action therefore lies essentially in the breach of these obligations towards the creditor to which the debtor agreed.’

The Court does not refer to Ergo, let alone to Sharpston AG’s ‘centre of gravity’ test in same, however it would seem that this may have influenced it. Yet in my view this is way too extensive a stretch of the Handte or Sharpston AG’s Ergo formula. Litigation in the pauliana pitches the creditor against the third party. It would take really quite specific circumstances for Handte to be met in the relation between these two. That a contractual relation features somewhere in the factual matrix is almost always true.

For a comparative benchmark, reference can be made to Refcomp where the Court took a very limiting view on subrogration of choice of court.

The Court’s formulation at 45 is entirely circular: were the creditor not able to sue in the forum contractus, ‘the creditor would be forced to bring proceedings before the court of the place where the defendant is domiciled, that forum, as prescribed by Article 4(1) of Regulation No 1215/2012, possibly having no link to the place of performance of the obligations of the debtor with regard to his creditor.’ Indeed: because the pauliana does not mordicus have to links to that place; it is not because it might not, that a forum contractus has to be conjured up to secure these links.

The Court then quite forcefully and seemingly without much hesitation identifies a specific forum contractus (unlike the AG who had suggested that that very difficulty supports his view that there simply is no forum contractus to speak of): at 46: ‘the action brought by the creditor aims to preserve its interests in the performance of the obligations derived from the contract concerning construction works, it follows that ‘the place of performance of the obligation in question’ is, according to Article 7(1)(b) of this regulation, the place where, under the contract, the construction services were provided, namely Poland.’

The initial contractual obligation between creditor and debtor therefore creates crucial jurisdictional consequences vis-a-vis third parties whose appearance in the factual matrix presents itself only very downstream. That, I would suggest, does not at all serve the predictability which the Chamber (rightly) emphasises at the very outset of its judgment as being the driving principle behind its interpretation.

I am not convinced by this judgment. (And yes, I am being polite).

Geert.

 

 

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Fremoluc: CJEU adopts a lenient (from MS standpoint) view on ‘purely internal’ measures. (External element easy to engineer, though).

In C-343/17 Fremoluc the CJEU held last week. It features as counsel no less than 4 fellow faculty at Leuven Law: 5 if one counts prof Elke Cloots whom we foolishly let escape to elsewhere – and who was the most vociferous (and, it would seem, persuasive) at the hearing, I understand. Had we had either one of my two collegae proximi who serve as judges on the CJEU assigned to the case, there would have been more residents of Collegium Falconis at Kircherg on the day of the hearing then there have recently been at Faculty meetings. But I digress.

The case essentially concerns services of general economic interests (SGEIs), as applied to the social housing sector: what kind of measures may a Member State roll-out to support the provision of such housing, in light of the free movement of not just persons but also services and capital. By extension, the case-law is also relevant to property rights restrictions across the EU.

In the case at issue applicant had seen a purchase of land torpedoed by the right of pre-emption of a relevant agency, relating to building land situated in areas earmarked for house renovation and house-building in 26 municipalities in its operating area. Fremoluc suggested the condition in the underlying decree that ‘as regards the provision of homes or land in a social housing project…, absolute priority must be given, at any stage of the project, to prospective tenants, leaseholders or buyers who have strong social, economic or socio-cultural ties with the operating area in question’, constitute an illegal condition under EU law. Consequently, it argued, the right of pre-emptive purchase itself was illegal.

The CJEU however, with reference to relevant case-law (please refer to the text of the judgment for same), held that the case was inadmissible, for it is purely internal: at 28-29: ‘it is not sufficient for the referring court to state that it is not inconceivable that nationals established in other Member States were or are interested in making use of Union provisions on fundamental freedoms to carry out activities in the territory of the Member State which enacted the national legislation in question and, consequently, that that legislation, applicable without distinction to nationals and to nationals of other Member States, is capable of producing effects which are not confined to that Member State.’ ‘The request for a preliminary ruling must clearly set out specific factors, that is, not hypothetical considerations but specific evidence, such as complaints or applications brought by operators situated in other Member States or involving nationals of those Member States, on the basis of which the required connecting link may be positively established. More particularly, the referring court may not merely submit to the Court evidence suggesting that such a link cannot be ruled out or which, considered in the abstract, could constitute evidence to that effect, and must, on the contrary, provide objective and consistent evidence enabling the Court to ascertain whether such a link exists.’

Such evidence of course in practice is easily engineered. A similar case therefore is bound to return to Luxembourg at some point soon.

Geert.

 

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Wahl AG in Workplace Relations Commission: Member States procedural autonomy in light of primacy of EU law.

Wahl AG’s Opinion in C-378/17 Workplace Relations Commission provides a great tutorial on the principles of primacy, and Member States’ duty to ensure equivalence and effectiveness in the implementation of EU law.

At issue is the compatibility with the principle of the primacy of EU law of a rule dividing jurisdiction in specific cases between the High Court and a statutory body, the Workplace Relations Commission (‘the WRC’). The latter has no jurisdiction and has to yield to the High Court, when the case requires disapplication of a provision of national (primary or secondary) legislation.

Wahl advises that the rule does not infringe the primacy of EU law, and in doing so runs us through the principles of primacy and its implications on national procedural autonomy.

Note the Advocate-General’s remark (at 87) that ‘It is increasingly common that the resolution of conflicts arising from day-to-day life, such as consumer disputes and conflicts in the workplace, are ‘out-sourced’ from courts to specialised bodies with (limited) powers to mediate and/or adjudicate expediently such disputes (FN omitted). It is equally commonplace that, as is the case of adjudication officers at the WRC, persons resolving conflicts in such bodies do not necessarily have a legal qualification. Arguably, such bodies are better placed than courts to provide low-cost, speedy and effective solutions to conflicts of that kind.

At 89: ‘jurisdiction in a specific field of EU law may be divided between different bodies, provided that the rights in question are adequately protected’: an important precondition of course is that the national system guarantees that cases where national or EU legislation needs to be disapplied where they would clash with citisens’ rights, are properly adjudicated by the courts who are empowered to set aside the law: and not just swept under the carpet under the guise of the assessment being ‘factual’ only.

Geert.

 

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