Advocate General Richard de la Tour in Volvo Trucks on the location of damage, in competition law follow-on damages suits, and on national CPR rules varying Brussels Ia.

I apologise I could not find a snappier title to this post however Richard de la Tour AG’s Opinion in C-30/20 Volvo Trucks yesterday (no English version had been published at the time of writing) does cover a lot of issues.

Applicant ‘RH’ brings a follow-on action, based on the EC finding of a cartel in the truck manufacturers market. Volvo contest Spain as the locus delicti commissi under A7(2) BIa, however that element is neither referred to the CJEU nor picked up by the AG. That is unfortunate for there is in my view most certainly scope for clarification as I discuss here.

There is also discussion whether A7(2) assigns international jurisdiction only, or also territorial jurisdiction. The referral decision in the end only refers the latter question to the Court. The Advocate General engages with quite a few more and I am not sure the CJEU itself will be inclined to entertain them all.

On that issue of territorial jurisdiction, the AG refers in particular to CJEU Wikingerhof to confirm with some force that A7(2) assigns both international and territorial jurisdiction. Other cases (and in particular AG Opinions) eg in CJEU Löber v Barclays already suggested the same and the overwhelming majority of scholarship has the same view, even if not always explicitly expressed. The AG in current Opinion refers ia to ratio legis, and the clear contrast in formulation between eg A4 and A7.

Next the AG discusses at length locus damni. CDC and Tibor-Trans (markets affected) are the core judgments which the discussion is anchored upon. The discussion here is  rounded up at 94 with the suggestion by the AG that in principle it is the location where the goods (here: the trucks) are purchased, which qualifies as the locus damni. He then revisits the awkward (see my handbook at 2.458) identification of registered office as locus damni, as it has been put forward by the CJEU in CDC. flyLAL further picked up on that discussion and the AG here, too, reviews that judgment. He concludes in the case at issue at 110 that the place of registered office of the claimant should be a fall-back option in case the locus damni does not correspond to the place where that claimant carries out its activities. None of this makes the application of A7(2) any more straightforward, of course.

Finally, the AG concurs with the view expressed by a number of Member States and the EC that the Member States should be able to employ their internal CPR rules to vary the principled territorial consequence of A7(2), which could to lead to a specialised court in the specific case of competition law. Here I disagree, despite the suggested limitation of not endangering effet utile (ia per CJEU Joined Cases C‑400/13 and C‑408/13 Sanders and Huber) and I do not think the justification (at 127 ff) for competition law specifically, justifies special treatment different from say intellectual property law, consumer law, environmental law etc. Claimants will be encouraged to dress up claims as relating to competition law if the centralised court is their court of choice, which will further endanger predictability.

A most rich Opinion and as noted I wonder how much of it the CJEU will be happy to engage with.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.8.

Vestel v Philips. Court of Appeal rejects attempt to ground jurisdiction on a claim requalified from abuse of dominance to patent DNI.

In Vestel Elektronik Sanayi Ve Ticaret A.S. & Anor v Access Advance LLC & Anor [2021] EWCA Civ 440 – also known as Vestel v Philips, the Court of Appeal has rejected an attempt to establish jurisdiction for the Courts of England and Wales in a stand-alone competition law damages case.

Hacon J had earlier rejected jurisdiction in the claim which at first instance was formulated as an abuse of dominance claim. That claim was now reformulated with Birss LJ’s permission [30], with the relevant tort being the tort of patent infringement, and in effect the claim a negative declaration relating to that patent. That a claim for declaration of non-liability in tort (‘a ‘negative declaration’) may be covered by A7(2) BIa, was confirmed by the CJEU in C-133/11 Folien Fischer. In the case art issue, it would require Vestel to show it had not infringed a valid IP right. However Birss LJ holds that Vestel’s claim, aimed at obtaining a FRAND declaration for the patented technology (Vestel needs a licence for the technology patented by Philips, and wants it at FRAND terms: Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory).

The declarations sought by Vestel, after dropping the abuse of dominance plea, are in this form [49]: i) A declaration that the terms offered are not FRAND; ii) A declaration that the terms of Vestel’s counter-offer are FRAND; and  iii) Alternatively, a declaration as to the terms which would be FRAND. these, is it held, are not declarations of non-liability in tort. Vestel have not been given right to access the IPRs. They seek that right in specified terms. They cannot claim that a hypothetical right of entry can proactively ground jurisdiction on the ground that the non-existing access has not been transgressed. As Birss LJ puts it: ‘Vestel’s position is like that of a trespasser with no right to enter the property claiming that if they had permission then it would not be a trespass.’

This was a creative jurisdictional attempt. I think it justifiably failed.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.198; para 2.454.

Shenzen Senior Technology Material v Celgard. On Rome II’s rule applicable law rule for unfair competition, distinguishing ‘direct’ from ‘indirect’ damage, and the Trade Secrets Directive.

Shenzhen Senior Technology Material Co Ltd v Celgard, LLC [2020] EWCA Civ 1293 concerns an appeal against service out of jurisdiction (the judgment appealed is [2020] EWHC 2072 (Ch)). Celgard allege that the importation and marketing by Senior of battery separator film involves the misuse of Celgard’s trade secrets.

Senior (of China) contend that the judge fell into error in concluding, first, that Celgard (incorporated in Delaware) had established a serious issue to be tried (here part of the jurisdictional threshold) assuming that English law applies to its claims and, secondly, that England is the proper forum to try the claims. As to the latter the core argument is that in limiting its claims to remedies in respect of acts in the UK, Celgard could not establish the requisite degree of connection to England. As for the former, they argue the law applicable to Celgard’s claims is Chinese law, which would count against jurisdiction.

Strategically, Celgard’s case against Senior is not based on breach of the NDA applicable between Celgard and one of its former employees,  Dr Zhang who, when he left Celgard, told its then COO that he was going to work for General Electric in California, which does not compete with Celgard in the field of battery separators. It later transpired that he had in fact joined Senior in China, where he was using the false name “Bin Wang”. This element of the facts triggers the question whether Senior is liable for the acts of another, even if that other is its employee.

The Celgard – Zhang NDA is governed by the law of South Carolina, application of which would also have triggered A4(3)(b) or (c) of the Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943. Celgard do rely on the NDA as supporting its case that the trade secrets were confidential. Rather Celgard claim that Senior’s employee acted in breach of an equitable obligation. This engages Rome II,  specifically Article 6(2) because Celgard’s claims are concerned with an act of unfair competition affecting exclusively the interests of a specific competitor, namely Celgard. In such circumstances, Article 6(2) provides that “Article 4 shall apply”.

Of note is that this is one of those cases that show that Rome II applies to more than just tortious obligations: as Arnold LJ notes at 51, as a matter of English law, claims for breach of equitable obligations of confidence are not claims in tort.

Celgard’s case, accepted by Trowe J at the High Court, is that A4(1) leads to English law because the ‘direct damage’ (per Rome II and CJEU Lazard indirect damage needs to be ignored) caused by the wrongdoing it complains of has occurred (and will, if not restrained, continue to occur) in the UK, that being the country into which the infringing goods (namely the shipment to the UK Customer and any future shipments of the same separator) have been (and will be) imported, causing damage to Celgard’s market here.

Senior’s case is that confidential information is intangible property and that damage to intangible property is located at the time and place it became irreversible (support is sought in extracts from Andrew Dickinson’s Rome II volume with OUP). At 58 ff Arnold LJ gives 7 reasons for rejecting the position. I will not repeat them all here. Of note is not just the (most justifiable) heavy leaning on the travaux but also the support sought in secondary EU law different from private international law (such as the Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943) as well as in the consistency between Brussels Ia and the Rome Regulations [on which Szpunar AG has written excellently in Burkhard Hess and Koen Lenaerts (eds.), The 50th Anniversary of the European Law of Civil Procedure]. This is not an easy proposition however given the lack of detail in Rome I and the need for autonomous EU interpretation, understandable.

The Trade Secrets Directive is further discussed at 65 ff for in A4(5) it makes importation of infringing goods an unlawful use of a trade secret “where the person carrying out such activities knew, or ought, under the circumstances, to have known that the trade secret was used unlawfully within the meaning of paragraph 3”. One of the possibilities embraced by paragraph 3 is (a), the person “having acquired the trade secret unlawfully”. Arnold LJ then asks: what law is to be applied to determine whether it was acquired “unlawfully”? Is A4(5) read together with A4(3)(a) an implicit choice of law rule pointing to the law of the place where the trade secret was acquired? Arnold LJ suggests this is not acte clair and may need CJEU clarification however not at this stage for his provisional view (with an eye on the jurisdictional threshold test) is that the Directive is not an implicit choice of law rule and that per Rome II, English law applies.

Plenty applicable law issues to discuss at the merits stage.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.2. Third ed. forthcoming February 2021.

 

 

State aid and collective waste recycling bodies. Pitruzzella AG in Société Eco TLC.

Must Article 107 TFEU be interpreted as meaning that a system whereby a private, non-profit eco-body, approved by the public authorities, receives contributions from those who place on the market a particular category of product and who enter into a contract with it to that effect, in return for a service consisting in the organisation on their behalf of the treatment of the waste from those products, and redistributes to operators responsible for the sorting and recovery of that waste, subsidies the amount of which is set out in the approval, in the light of environmental and social targets, is to be regarded as State aid within the meaning of that provision?

That is the question as phrased in C‑556/19 Société Eco TLC and on which Pitruzzella AG Opined on 28 May. TLC stands for Textiles, Lignes de maisons, and chaussures (textiles, household linen and shoes). Producers or as the case may be first importers pay a fee to the collective body in lieu of their personal commitments under extended producers responsibility per Waste Framework Directive 2008/98.

The AG of course revisits the definition of ‘State Aid’ under CJEU C-379/98 Preussen Elektra, on which more here and here. Preussen Elektra remains controversial for it would seem to give Member States quite a bit of room for manoeuvre to reach the same result as direct State Aid more or less simply by inserting a private operator who receivs funds directly from private operators however in line with direct State instructions on level and modalities of payment.  The AG opines that in the case at issue there is no State Aid however he directs further factual lines of enquiry (ia re the State control over payments by the collective body to recyclers.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015 OUP, para 4.116 ff.

 

Disciplining abuse of anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases exceedingly difficult. Borgarting Court of Appeal (Norway) applies CDC in Posten /Bring v Volvo.

After the French Cour de Cassation in MJI v Apple Sales, the Brussels Court of Appeal in FIFA/UEFA, and the Court at Amsterdam in Kemira, (as well as other courts undoubtedly, too; and I have highlighted more cases on the blog), Ørjan Salvesen Haukaas has now reported an application of CDC in a decision of December 2018 by a Norwegian Court of appeal, LB-2018-136341 Posten /Bring v Volvo. The court evidently applies Lugano (Article 6), not Brussels Ia, yet the provision  is materially identical.

Norwegian and foreign companies in the Posten/Bring group (mail services) had sued companies in the Volvo group for alleged losses incurred when purchasing trucks from Volvo after certain companies in the Volvo group had been fined for participating in a price-fixing cartel. Posten/Bring also sued a Norwegian company in the Volvo group, which had not been fined for participating in the price-fixing cartel.

Borgarting Court of Appeal held that Norwegian courts have jurisdiction pursuant to Article 6(1) Lugano even if the anchor defendant is sued merely to obtain Norwegian jurisdiction. The court solely had to determine whether the claims were so closely connected that there was a risk of irreconcilable judgments, in the absence of any suggested collusion between the anchor defendant and claimants per CDC.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law. 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12, Heading 2.2.12.1.

Apple v eBizcuss. CJEU leaves open all options on choice of court and anti-trust, particularly for abuse of dominant position.

Update 12 February 2019 Thank you Hélène Péroz for flagging that the French Supreme Court held on 30 January last (case number 16-25259)and upheld the choice of court in favour of Irish courts: ‘Qu’il s’avère que les pratiques anticoncurrentielles alléguées, qui se seraient matérialisées dans les relations contractuelles nouées entre les sociétés eBizcuss et Apple Sales International, au moyen des conditions contractuelles convenues avec elle, ne sont donc pas étrangères au rapport contractuel à l’occasion duquel la clause attributive de juridiction a été conclue ; que cette clause doit, donc, recevoir application.’ The Court holds that given that the very contractual terms and conditions form the means by which Apple has allegedly infringed competition law, that infringement is not foreign to the contract and therefore the contractual choice of court must stand.

 

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.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law. 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12, Heading 2.2.12.1.

Anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. The High Court in Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al.

Thank you Brick Court and Stewarts, among other, for flagging [2018] EWHC 1964 (Ch) Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al in which the High Court dismissed a call for summary judgment on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction.

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.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

 

 

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.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law. 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.12, Heading 2.2.12.1.

EU competition law in the UK post Brexit. Applying foreign ‘public’ law.

In one of my many ponderings on research I would like to do but might never get an opportunity do (hence my repeated sharing of potential PhD topics) I came across an excellent post by Daniel Jowell QC on the application of EU competition law in the UK courts post-Brexit.

The usual disclaimer of course applies (let’s wait and see what happens in the future Treaty between the UK and the EU) yet one important consideration has wider appeal: how does one apply the classic conflicts suggestion that courts do not apply foreign public law, or if they do, do so with great caution?: both out of comity with the foreign State; and to protect one’s own ordre public.

Competition law is often seen as being of quasi-public nature. Daniel justifiably suggests that post Rome II (in which competition law is assigned a specific (if complicated) lex causae), the UK will revert to its standard rules which increase the possibility that UK courts might refuse to apply foreign competition law, including the EU’s, on public policy grounds.

One to remember.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.2.

Emerald Supplies et al v BA: on the territorial scope of EU competition law.

This posting is really addressed to those with more of a full-time interest in competition law than yours truly. Particularly in the extraterritorial effect of same. In  [2017] EWHC 2420 (Ch) Emerald Supplies et al v British Airways defendants contend that as a matter of law there can be no claim for damages arising from the cartel at issue insofar as it affected freight charges between the EU and third countries on flights before 1 May 2004. That was the date on which air transport between the EU and third countries was brought within the regime implementing the EU competition rules set out in Regulation 1/2003.

Rose J after careful analysis sides with the defendants and rejects reference to the CJEU, citing acte clair (enough analysis of the CJEU on the same and related issues- I believe she is right). Happy reading.

Geert.