My tweet on the case when it had just been issued, illustrates the extent of the issues covered by the ECJ’s judgment in C-375/13 Kolassa.
Mr Kolassa, as a consumer, through the Austrian bank direktanlage.at AG, invested just under Euro 70,000.00 in X1 Global EUR Index Certificates. The certificates were issued by Barclays Bank, registered in the UK, with a branch in Frankfurt. At the time of the issue of the certificates, Barclays distributed a base prospectus, ia in Austria. The portfolio was to be established and administered by X1 Fund Allocation GmbH, to which Barclays Bank had entrusted the investment of the money raised from the issue of the certificates. Most of that money has been lost.
The certificates were sold to institutional investors who sold them on, in particular, to consumers. In the present case, direktanlage.at ordered the certificates to which Mr Kolassa wished to subscribe from its German parent company, DAB Bank AG, with its seat in Munich (Germany), which in turn acquired the certificates from Barclays Bank. In each case, the orders were placed and carried out in the name of the respective bank. Direktanlage.at fulfilled Mr Kolassa’s order in accordance with its general terms and conditions ‘in securities account’, meaning that direktanlage.at holds the certificates as covering assets in its own name at Munich, on behalf of its clients.
Mr Kolassa sues Barclays in Vienna, on the basis of contractual, precontractual, tortious or delictual liability. Jurisdiction in Vienna in his view is present on the basis of Article 15 JR (consumer contracts), 5(1) (contract) or 5(3) (tort). Application of Article 15 JR is dismissed by the ECJ on the basis of there being no contract whatsoever between Barclays and Mr Kolassa. (Judgment in Maletic distinguished given that the consumer in that case was from the outset contractually linked, inseparably, to two contracting partners). Application of Article 5(1) is in some ways more flexible because there need not be proof of a contract between the two parties: what is required, though, is proof of a legal obligation freely consented to by one person towards another and on which the claimant’s action is based. (For otherwise there is no ‘obligation’ which constitutes the connecting factor under Article 5). No such legal obligation ‘freely consented’ was apparent from the case hence Article 5(1) was dismissed, too.
That left Article 5(3). Per Kronhofer (also referred to in the Hoge Raad’s referral in Universal), the mere fact that the applicant has suffered financial consequences does not justify the attribution of jurisdiction to the courts of the applicant’s domicile if, per Kronhofer, both the events causing loss and the loss itself occurred in the territory of another Member State. On the basis of the facts of the case, the ECJ dismisses Austria as the locus delicti commissi: the decisions regarding the arrangements for the investments proposed by Barclays Bank and the contents of the relevant prospectuses, were taken in the Member State of Barclays’ seat, i.e. the UK.
The locus damni, the place where the loss occurred, is the place where the investor suffered it (at 54). ‘The loss occurred where the investor suffered it’ sounds like an abstract definition however the ECJ emphasises that that conclusion is fact-related, that is to say: it is a result of the that, first, the certificates’ loss of value was due, not to the vagaries of the market, but to the management of the funds in which the money from the issue of those certificates had been invested. Second, the actions or omissions alleged against Barclays with respect to its legal information obligations took place before the investment made by Mr Kolassa and were, in his view, decisive for that investment (at 51). If ‘the loss occurred where the investor suffered it’ is not an abstract but a fact related criterion, that puzzlingly may mean that there must be an alternative general criterion for purely financial loss if these are due to the ‘vagaries of the market’.
The Court further invites distinguishing by holding at 55 that ‘The courts where the applicant is domiciled have jurisdiction, on the basis of the place where the loss occurred, to hear and determine such an action, in particular when that loss occurred itself directly in the applicant’s bank account held with a bank established within the area of jurisdiction of those courts’. (Emphasis added).
Finally, the ECJ clarifies as much at it could, the balance between plaintiff’s allegations, and defendant’s rebuttal, at the jurisdictional level: what extent of evidence does the seized court need to review with a view to establishing its jurisdiction? The court holds ‘the national court seised is not, therefore, obliged, if the defendant contests the applicant’s allegations, to conduct a comprehensive taking of evidence at the stage of determining jurisdiction, it must be pointed out that both the objective of the sound administration of justice, which underlies Regulation No 44/2001, and respect for the independence of the national court in the exercise of its functions require the national court seised to be able to examine its international jurisdiction in the light of all the information available to it, including, where appropriate, the defendant’s allegations. (at 64). That of course is a thin line however I do not see how the ECJ can instruct otherwise.
In my view Kolassa invites further specification especially on the exact relevance of banks and bank accounts in cases of purely economic loss: Universal provides one such immediate opportunity.