Posts Tagged COJ
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.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.
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.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.
Jurisdiction re prospectus liability. CJEU reiterates Universal Music in Löber v Barclays. Unfortunately fails to identify the exact locus damni and leaves locus delicti commissi unaddressed.
I reviewed Advocate-General Bobek’s Opinion in C-304/17 Löber v Barclays here. The following issues in particular were of note (I simply list them here; see the post for full detail): First, the AG’s view, coinciding with mine, that the CJEU’s finding in CDC that locus damni for a pure economic loss, in the case of a corporation, is the place of its registered office, is at odds with precedent (he made the same remark in flyLAL). Next, on locus delicti commissi, the AG suggests that despite Article 7(2)’s instruction, a single ldc within the Member State in the case at hand cannot be determined. Further, for locus damni, I disagree for reasons explained in the post with the AG’s suggestions.
The Court held on Wednesday. At 26 it immediately cuts short any expectation of clarification on locus delicti commissi: ‘In the present case, the case in the main proceedings concerns the identification of the place where the damage occurred.’
The referring court’s questions were much wider, asking for clarification on ‘jurisdiction’ full stop. Yet the Court must have derived from the file that only locus damni was in dispute. A missed opportunity for as I noted, Bobek AG’s views on that locus delicti commissi are not obvious.
On locus damni then, I may be missing a trick here but the Court simply does not answer the referring court’s question. As the AG notes, Ms Löber in order to acquire the certificates, transferred the corresponding amounts from her current (personal) bank account located in Vienna, to two securities ‘clearing’ accounts in Graz and Salzburg. Payment was then made from those securities accounts for the certificates at issue. The Court refers to Kolassa and to Universal Music, to reiterate that the simple presence of a bank account does not suffice to establish jurisdiction: other factors are required, such as here, at 33,
‘besides the fact that Ms Löber, in connection with that transaction, had dealings only with Austrian banks, it is furthermore apparent from the order for reference that she acquired the certificates on the Austrian secondary market, that the information supplied to her concerning those certificates is that in the prospectus which relates to them as notified to the Österreichische Kontrollbank (Austrian supervisory bank) and that, on the basis of that information, she signed in Austria the contract obliging her to make the investment, which has resulted in a definitive reduction in her assets.’
The Court concludes that ‘taken as a whole, the specific circumstances of the present case contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the Austrian courts.’
That however was not seriously in doubt: the more specific question is which one: Vienna? (which had rejected jurisdiction) Graz and /or Salzburg? Article 7(2) requires identification of a specific court (which the AG had identified in his opinion: I may not follow his argumentation, but it did lead to a specific court): not merely a Member State, and the Oberster Gerichtsthof had specifically enquired about the need for centralisation of the claim in one place.
All in all a disappointing judgment which will not halt further questions on jurisdiction for prospectus liability.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124.7
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.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.
Jurisdiction re prospectus liability (misrepresentation) before the CJEU again. Bobek AG in Löber v Barclays.
Even Advocate-General Bobek has not managed to turn jurisdictional issues re prospectus liability into the prosaic type of analysis which many of us have become fond of. His Opinion in C-307/17 Löber v Barclays is a lucid, systematic and pedagogic review of the CJEU’s case-law on (now) Article 7(2)’s jurisdiction for tort in the context of ‘prospectus liability’ aka investment misrepresentation. Starting with the direct /indirect damage distinction; and focusing of course on the determination of pure economic loss.
Ms Helga Löber invested in certificates in the form of bearer bonds issued by Barclays Bank Plc. In order to acquire those certificates, the corresponding amounts were transferred from her current (personal) bank account located in Vienna, Austria to two securities accounts in Graz and Salzburg. Payment was then made from those securities accounts for the certificates at issue.
Note immediately that the jurisdictional discussion is a result of Article 7(2) not just identifying a Member State: it identifies specific courts within that Member State. Here: claimant brought her claim before a court in Vienna, the place of her domicile. This is also where her current bank account is located, from which she made the first transfer in order to make the investment. The first- and second-instance courts in Vienna however decided that they did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. The case is now pending before the Oberster Gerichtshof (Supreme Court, Austria). That court is asking, in essence, which of the bank accounts used, if any, is relevant to determine which court has jurisdiction to hear the claim at issue.
Close reference is made to Kolassa. In my posting on that case at the time, I noted that the many factual references which the Court built in in its decision, gave it dubious precedent value. Bobek AG in Löber necessarily therefore distinguishes many factual situations. The almost sole focus lies on 7(2): unlike in Kolassa, contracts neither consumer contracts are an issue.
Here are a few things of note:
First, in his review of the existing case-law the AG at 38 points out like I did at the time of the judgment, that the CJEU’s finding in CDC that locus damni for a pure economic loss, in the case of a corporation, is the place of its registered office, is at odds with precedent (he made the same remark in flyLAL).
Next, on locus delicti commissi, the AG suggests that despite Article 7(2)’s instruction, a single ldc within the Member State cannot be determined. The relevant point in his view is the moment from which the prospectus can, by operation of law, start influencing the investment behaviour of the relevant group of investors. In the present case, and considering the national segmentation of the capital market regulation at issue, that relevant group is made up of investors on secondary markets in Austria. At 65: once it became possible to offer the certificates on the Austrian secondary market, that possibility was immediately available for the whole territory of Austria. ‘The nature of the tort of misrepresentation at issue does not allow for the identification of a location within the national territory because once the author of the tort is allowed to influence the given national territory, that influence immediately covers the whole territory, irrespective of the actual means used for the publication of a specific prospectus.’ As we know from CDC, the Court does not readily accept that a single ldc cannot be determined.
Further, for locus damni, the AG suggests (at 78) ‘The place where…a legally binding investment obligation is factually assumed… The exact location of such a place is a matter for the national law considered in the light of available factual evidence. It is likely to be the premises of a branch of the bank where the respective investment contract was signed, which may correspond, as in the Kolassa case, to the place where the bank account is held.‘ That in my view first of all is not a warranted outcome. The investor in Löber is not a consumer within the protected categories of the Regulation. Suggesting the place of conclusion of the obligation leaves room for the claimant to manipulate the forum of any future suit in tort. This is exactly what the Court objected to in Universal Music. Moreover, note the reference to ‘the national law’. It is quite unusual to suggest such a role for lex fori in light of the principle of autonomous interpretation. Unless the AG in fact means the ‘lex contractus’, presumably to be determined applying Rome I.
In summary there are quite a few open questions here – not something of course which I would necessarily object to.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199.7
Commission effectively supplements Rome I using the posted workers Directive. Defines ‘temporary employment’ as not exceeding 24 months.
Update 15 July 2018 The text has now been adopted as Directive 2018/957. References to Rome I have been deleted however recital 9 and Article 1 reach a similar effect, tied to a reduced period of in principle 12 months.
Update 31 May 2017 A quick note by way of interim update: the proposal is stuck in Parliament (awaiting committee decision).
Thank you Fieke van Overbeeke for pointing this out to me. The EC have proposed to amend the posted workers Directive, to address unfair practices and promote the principle that the same work at the same place be remunerated in the same manner.
The amendment essentially relates to Article 8(2) of the Rome I Regulation, which partially corrects choice of law made in the context of contracts for employment. The proposal amounts to Union harmonisation of the concept ‘temporary employment’, as one not exceeding 24 months.
The proposal, if adopted, would insert an Article 2a in the posted workers Directive, 96/71, as follows:
Posting exceeding twenty-four months
1. When the anticipated or the effective duration of posting exceeds twenty-four
months, the Member State to whose territory a worker is posted shall be deemed to
be the country in which his or her work is habitually carried out.
2. For the purpose of paragraph 1, in case of replacement of posted workers
performing the same task at the same place, the cumulative duration of the posting
periods of the workers concerned shall be taken into account, with regard to workers
that are posted for an effective duration of at least six months.
Recitals 6-8 give context:
(6) The Rome I Regulation generally permits employers and employees to choose the law applicable to the employment contract. However, the employee must not be deprived of the protection of the mandatory rules of the law of the country in which or, failing that, from which the employee habitually carries out his work. In the absence of choice, the contract is governed by the law of the country in which or, failing that, from which the employee habitually carries out his work in performance of the contract.
(7) The Rome I Regulation provides that the country where the work is habitually carried out shall not be deemed to have changed if he is temporarily employed in another country.
(8) In view of the long duration of certain posting assignments, it is necessary to provide that, in case of posting lasting for periods higher than 24 months, the host Member State is deemed to be the country in which the work is carried out. In accordance with the principle of Rome I Regulation, the law of the host Member Sates therefore applies to the employment contract of such posted workers if no other choice of law was made by the parties. In case a different choice was made, it cannot, however, have the result of depriving the employee of the protection afforded to him by provisions that cannot be derogated from by agreement under the law of the host Member State. This should apply from the start of the posting assignment whenever it is envisaged for more than 24 months and from the first day subsequent to the 24 months when it effectively exceeds this duration. This rule does not affect the right of undertakings posting workers to the territory of another Member State to invoke the freedom to provide services in circumstances also where the posting exceeds 24 months. The purpose is merely to create legal certainty in the application of the Rome I Regulation to a specific situation, without amending that Regulation in any way. The employee will in particular enjoy the protection and benefits pursuant to the Rome I Regulation.
It would obviously be attractive to ensure the same rule is verbatim included in a future amendment of the Rome I Regulation.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.
Fahnenbrock: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. ECJ puts forward ‘direct and immediate effect’.
[Postscript 11 March 2016. The decision of the Bundesgerichtshof on 8 March 2016 is at odds with the CJEU’s finding. Peter Bert has background. The German Court declared action by German bondholders against the Greek State inadmissable on grounds of sovereign immunity: if the case were admissible, the German courts would have to assess the merits of Greek acta iure imperii].
Within the context of the service of documents Regulation (1393/2007) but with no less relevance for the Jurisdiction Regulation, the Court held last week on the qualification of an action by (German) holders of Greek bonds, against the Greek State, for the involuntary shave they took on those bonds. I reviewed Bot AG’s Opinion here. He had suggested that in the case at issue, the Greek State, with its retroactive insertion of the collective action clause in the underlying contract, exercised acta uire imperii with direct intervention in the contract itself. Not an abstract, general regime (such as a change in overall tax) which only has an impact on said contract at arm’s length.
The ECJ disagreed. Its finding may be distinguishable, in that it emphasises (at 40 and 44 in particular) that for the service of documents Regulation, things need to move fast indeed and hence interpretation even of core concepts of the Regulation needs to proceed swiftly: ‘in order to determine whether Regulation No 1393/2007 is applicable, it suffices that the court hearing the case concludes that it is not manifest that the action brought before it falls outside the scope definition of civil and commercial matters.‘ (at 49) However in the remainder of the judgment it does refer to precedent in particular under the Brussels I Regulation, hence presumably making current interpretation de rigueur for European civil procedure generally.
As noted in my earlier review, Bot AG opined that the Greek State’s intervention in the contracts was direct and not at a distance from the contract. The Court on the other hand essentially emphasised (at 57) that even though the Greek State, with its retroactive insertion of the collective action clause in the underlying contract, enabled the subsequent vote by the majority of the bondholders (to the dismay of the outvoted applicants), it was the vote, which led directly and immediately to changes to the financial conditions of the securities in question and therefore caused the damage alleged by the applicants – not the Act which enabled it. Not acta iure imperii therefore and hence European civil procedure is applicable.
I need to ponder this a bit further however at first sight the ‘direct and immediate’ effect test brings back soar memories of the ‘primarily aimed at’ test in WTO law, which took some time for the Appellate body to shake off. A bit of a leap, I know, but the trade lawyers among you will know what I mean. Applicants in the case at issue may be left arguing that identifying the Greek State’s intervention as the cause of the change in law, is no application of the butterfly effect (an extremely remote event which is being blamed for downstream effects) but rather an elephant in the Greek bond market room.
‘Direct and immediate effect’ may become an important consideration in the ECJ’s application of ‘civil and commercial’ in EU civil procedure law.
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.