Kokott AG applies Brogsitter in Granarolo: Tort following abrupt ending of business relations.

In C-548/12 Brogsitter, the CJEU held that the fact that one contracting party brings a civil liability claim against the other is not sufficient to consider that the claim concerns ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast. That is the case only where the conduct complained of may be considered a breach of contract, which may be established by taking into account the purpose of the contract, which will in principle be the case only where the interpretation of the contract which links the defendant to the applicant is indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter. 

At the end of December, Kokott AG Opined in C-196/15 Granarolo (even now, early April, the English version was not yet available) effectively applying Brogsitter to the case at hand: an action for damages for the abrupt termination of an established business relationship for the supply of goods over several years to a retailer without a framework contract, nor an exclusivity agreement. Ms Kokott (at 17) points out that unlike Brogsitter, there is no forceful link with the contractual arrangements between parties which would be the foundation for jurisdiction on the basis of contractual (non) performance (which there would have been had there been a framework relation between the parties). Rather, the source for a claim between the parties is a statutory provision (it is not specifically identified: however presumable it relates to unfair commercial practices) that existing business relations cannot be abruptly halted without due cause.

Article 7(2) therefore should determine jurisdiction (and Article 4 of course: domicile of the defendant), not Article 7(1).

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9

Jurisdiction rules on joinders apply regardless of whether they are brought by or against third parties. The insurance title does not apply between professional parties. CJEU in Sovag.

The CJEU has held in Case C-521/14 Sovag that Article 6(2) Brussels I (Article 8(2) in the Recast) applies regardless of whether the proceedings are brought against (which is what inter alia the English language version suggests) or by a third party.

A, the victim of a traffic accident that took place in Germany, brought an action in Finland against SOVAG, with which the vehicle responsible for the damage was insured. That traffic accident also constituting a work accident under the Law on accident insurance, If, which is established in Finland, paid A compensation for the accident in accordance with that law. After A had brought the action against SOVAG, If itself sued SOVAG before the same court of first instance.

The national court in first instance held that, in accordance with Article 8 of Regulation 44/2001, in matters relating to insurance jurisdiction may be determined by the provisions of Section 3 of Chapter II of that Regulation alone. According to SOVAG, Article 6(2) of Regulation 44/2001 is indeed not applicable because Section 3 of Chapter II of the same Regulation establishes an autonomous system for the conferring of jurisdiction in matters of insurance. On this issue, the CJEU (at 30) reminded the national court of earlier case-law that where the action at issue in the main proceedings concerns relations between professionals in the insurance sector, and will not affect the procedural situation of a party deemed to be weaker, the insurance title does not apply. [Relevant precedent is in particular C-347/08 Voralberger v WGV-Schwabishe]. The objective of protecting a party deemed to be weaker being fulfilled once jurisdiction is established on the basis of Section 3 of Chapter II of Regulation 44/2001, subsequent procedural developments concerning only relations between professionals cannot fall within the ambit of that section.

Next, the wording of several of the language versions of Article 6(2), in particular the German, French, Finnish and Swedish versions, does not prevent the court before which the original proceedings are pending from having jurisdiction to hear and determine an action brought by a third party against one of the parties to the original proceedings.  However, other language versions of that provision, particularly the English language version, appear to restrict its scope to actions brought against third parties (‘a person domiciled in a Member State may also be sued: … as a third party’).

While the CJEU acknowledged that the special jurisdictional rules need to be applied restrictively, ie not going beyond their purpose, here the purpose of Article 6(2) is the harmonious administration of justice, namely minimising the possibility of concurrent proceedings and ensuring that irreconcilable judgments will not be given in two Member States. Therefore Article 6(2) must also apply where the third party brings the proceedings, not just where it is drawn into those proceedings by others.

However, the Court also sanctioned the Finnish rule of civil procedure that the right of a third party to bring an action in connection with pending judicial proceedings, is contingent on that action being linked to the original proceedings. Given that Article 6(2) does not apply where the proceedings were brought ‘solely with the object of removing’ the party concerned from the jurisdiction of the court which would ordinarily have jurisdiction to hear the case,  the CJEU OK-ed the Finnish rule as being one that assist in helping to avoid abuse of the rule on joinders.

I would have thought the Court would have made that rule one of EU law, given its insistence on autonomous interpretation. (Rather than simply OK-ing a national rule). Whether there is such a European rule therefore must stay into the open a little longer.

Geert.

 

 

Anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. Amsterdam applies CDC in Kemira.

Update 23 October 2015 As Reported by Emmanual Guinchard, the French Cour de Cassation also applied CDC in MJI v Apple Sales.

Towards the end of July, the Court at Amsterdam applied the recent CJEU judgment in CDC, on the application of (now) Article 8’s rule on anchor defendants. The case also involved CDC – busy bees on the competition enforcement front, this time pursuing inter alia Kemira, a Finnish company, using Akzo Nobel NV, domiciled in The Netherlands, as anchor defendants.

The court referred in extenso to the CJEU’s CDC case, noting inter alia that it is not up to CDC to show that the suit was not just introduced to remove Kemira from the Finnish judge: that Kemira suggests that introduction of the suit in The Netherlands is not very logical given the absence of factual links to that Member State, does not suffice. The court also adopted the CJEU’s finding on choice of court and liability in tort. In the absence of specific proviso in a standard contractual choice of court, the application of such choice of court to extracontactual liability [such as here, for infringement of competition law] cannot be assumed.

Finally, at 2.18, the Court also referred to argument made by Kemira that Finish and Swedish law ought to apply to the interpretation (not: the validity) of the choice of court agreement. That would have been an interesting discussion. However in light of the court’s earlier judgment on the irrelevance of the court of choice, the court did not entertain that issue.

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 ECJ in CDC confirms AG’s view on joinders. Sticks to Article 5(3 /7(1). Locus damni for purely economic loss = registered office.

Update 29 May 2018 on economic loss: Bobek AG would seem to take a similar view (that the CJEU’s finding on registered office is at odds with its case-law on Article 7(2) in his Opinions in Barclays and  flyLAL.

Update November 2017. For a contrary ruling on the scope of arbitration agreement, see Dortmund 13 September 2017, reviewed here.

In Case C-352/13 CDC, in which the ECJ held last week, at issue is among others the use of Article 6(1) of the Brussels I-Regulation (8(1) in the recast) when the claim against the anchor defendant has been settled before the trial is well and truly underway.

I reviewed JÄÄSKINEN AG’s opinion here.  The ECJ’s overall approach to Article 6 is not to take into account the subjective intentions of plaintiff, who often identify a suitable anchor defendant even if is not the intended target of their action. Like its AG, the Court does make exception for one particular occasion, namely if it is found that, at the time the proceedings were instituted, the applicant and that defendant had colluded to artificially fulfil, or prolong the fulfilment of, Article 6’s applicability. I had expressed reservation vis-a-vis this suggestion, obviously in vain. In cases such as these, where tort is already clearly established (via the European Commission’s cartel finding), the intention of ECJ and AG seem noble. Collusion to defraud is disciplined by the non-applicability of Article 6. However this arguably serves the interests of the parties guilty of the other type of collusion involved: that of defrauding not procedural predictability, but rather consumers’ interest. 

Next, the referring court enquired about the application of Article 5(3)’s special jurisdictional rule in the event of infringement of competition law, where that infringement concerns a complex horizontal agreement, spread over a long period of time, and with varying impact in various markets. The AG had suggested dropping application of Article 5(3) (now 7(1)) altogether, both with respect to locus delicti commissi and locus damni. Here the Court disagreed. Difficult as it may be, it is not to be excluded that locus delicti commissi can be established. At 50: one cannot rule out ‘the identification, in the jurisdiction of the court seised of the matter, of a specific event during which either that cartel was definitively concluded or one agreement in particular was made which was the sole causal event giving rise to the loss allegedly inflicted on a buyer.’

For locus damni, the Court again has no sympathy for either mozaik effect of Article 5(3), or indeed the often great difficulties in establishing locus damni, flagged by the AG. At 52: ‘As for loss consisting in additional costs incurred because of artificially high prices, such as the price of the hydrogen peroxide supplied by the cartel at issue in the main proceedings, that place is identifiable only for each alleged victim taken individually and is located, in general, at that victim’s registered office.

Registered office as the locus damni for purely economic loss, lest my memory fails me, has not been as such confirmed by the ECJ before. It is also currently pending in Universal. The Court is in my view a bit radical when it comes to justifying registered office as the Erfolgfort: at 53: ‘That place fully guarantees the efficacious conduct of potential proceedings, given that the assessment of a claim for damages for loss allegedly inflicted upon a specific undertaking as a result of an unlawful cartel, as already found by the Commission in a binding decision, essentially depends on factors specifically relating to the situation of that undertaking. In those circumstances, the courts in whose jurisdiction that undertaking has its registered office are manifestly best suited to adjudicate such a claim.‘ Update 29 May 2018 Bobek AG would seem to take a similar view (that the CJEU’s finding on registered office is at odds with its case-law on Article 7(2) in his Opinions in Barclays and  flyLAL.

Finally, on the issue of choice of court in the agreements between the victims of the cartel, and those guilty of the cartel, the Court follows the AG’s lead. Such clauses are not generally applicable to liability in tort (the clause would have to refer verbatim to tortious liability). Neither do they in principle bind third parties, lest of course there be subrogration (Refcomp). (The referring national court has given very little detail on the clauses at issue and hence the ECJ notes that it could not reply to all questions referred).

In the end, it is the finding with respect to economic loss for which the judgment may be most remembered.

Geert.

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

The use of anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. JÄÄSKINEN AG in CDC questions i.a. arbitration clauses in competition cases.

Postscript 5 July 2016  Rotterdam held in DGL (involving the lift cartel) that arbitration clauses do indeed in general not apply in follow-up damages cases. Thank you Stibbe for reporting.

A particularly sticky point in competition cases, are follow-up suits for damages. I have already reported on (private international law aspects of) the issue of the piercing of the corporate veil, and on the use of a related undertaking as an anchor. [I report more extensively on competition law and conflicts in Jacques Steenbergen’s liber amicorum here. I hope to translate it into English some time soon].

In Case C-352/13 CDC (Cartel Damage Claims, in effect private anti-trust enforcement), at issue is among others the use of Article 6(1) of the Brussels I-Regulation when the claim against the anchor defendant has been settled before the trial is well and truly underway.

JÄÄSKINEN AG [whose Opinion at the time of writing was not available in English; indeed the absence of English translation of quite a few important Opinions is becoming a bit of a pattern. (That’s an observation. not an accusation)] suggests in his Opinion that only the time of service of the suit is relevant to assess the criteria of Article 6(1). This suggestion in my view finds support in the ECJ’s overall approach to Article 6: the subjective intentions of plaintiff, who often identify a suitable anchor defendant even if is not the intended target of their action, does not feature in the application criteria of Article 6. While this may lead to abuse of procedural power, establishing malicious intent is all but impossible. All but impossible: but not totally excluded. For that reason the AG does suggest that if one can prove that plaintiff and anchor defendant (in the case at issue: Evonik Degussa) had secretly agreed to settle, prior to the introduction of the suit, such collusion should be punished by non-applicability of Article 6(1), for in that case the conditions of Article 6 arguably are no longer met.

I am not sure the ECJ should follow the latter suggestion, particularly not in cases such as the one at issue, where defendants have been found to have acted illegally under EU competition law. (Misdemeanor or indeed criminal act therefore has already been established). In a way it would be an application of nemo auditur propriam turpitudinem allegans not to reward those who infringe EU competition law in the way the AG suggests. (This may be different in the event of as yet unsubstantiated claims of tort, in which case one may argue the defendant should not routinely have to defend the claims in a court other than the one identified by Article 2).

Next, the referring court enquired about the application of Article 5(3)’s special jurisdictional rule in the event of infringement of competition law, where that infringement concerns a complex horizontal agreement, spread over a long period of time, and with varying impact in various markets. One can probably not at all establish a locus delicti commissi for the tort as a whole: for such behaviour often takes shape in a variety of meetings, electronic correspondence et al. For locus damni, too, the picture would be one of a complex patchwork. Predictability and manageability of the ensuing suits would be impossible to establish in some coherent way, thus endangering some of the very foundations of the Brussels regime. In conclusion therefore the AG suggests not to apply Article 5(3) at all to current scenario, and to stick with application of Article 2, often then in conjunction with Article 6.

Although the last word on Article 6 needs to be said by the national court who alone is the judge of the risk of irreconcilable judgments, clearly in the AG’s mind there is a strong likelihood of such risk in the event of follow-up damages in the case of a cartel which has been found to be illegal by the European Commission and where all members to it have acted within one and the same intent (again, as established by the EC). Article 6(3) b Rome II [not applicable in the case but the AG suggests it would not hurt looking ahead] hints at such scenario where many defendants are sued in one and the same court.

Finally, the Court is asked to give input on the issue of choice of court, and arbitration clauses, in the agreements between the victims of the cartel, and those guilty of the cartel: do such clauses have any impact on the legal position of CDC, who has acquired the rights to seek damages for the cartel infringement? The AG suggests, in line with most national case-law (see more on this in my Steenbergen chapter, linked above), that such clauses cannot include follow-up damages for cartel infringement: for the latter is arguably not within the legitimate contractual expectations. This would be different for such clauses concluded after the tort has been committed: for Article 23 of the Regulation allows parties to agree on a different forum than those identified in the special jurisdictional rules. The AG finds additional support for this argument in the overall objectives of the very recent Directive 2014/104, the damages Directive. He takes the opportunity to argue that in the case of arbitration clauses, these may hinder the effet utile of Article 101 TFEU, just as choice of court clauses might, unless parties are shown beyond doubt to have consented to the clause, and provided the tribunal or court at issue, is under an obligation to apply EU competition law as matter of public policy. (Whether that is the case is subject to national law).

(It is quite likely that the Court itself will not review the last question for as the AG indicates, the referring national court has given very little detail on the clauses at issue).

This case could turn out to have quite a wide relevance for a large part of commercial practice. Or not: that depends on how far the ECJ itself will decide to entertain it.

Geert.

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

Calling time on ‘contract’ and ‘tort’ between contracting parties. The ECJ in Brogsitter.

When does a spat between contracting parties become a tort really? Relevant for all sorts of reasons of course. Not in the least, in C-548/12 Brogsitter, with a view to establishing jurisdiction.

Mr Brogsitter sells luxury watches. In 2005, he concluded a contract with a master watchmaker, Mr Fräβdorf, then resident in France. Fräβdorf undertook to develop movements for luxury watches, intended for mass marketing, on behalf of Mr Brogsitter. Mr Fräβdorf carried out his activity with Fabrication de Montres Normandes, company of which he was sole shareholder and manager. It appears that Mr Brogsitter paid all costs relating to the development of the two watch movements which were the subject of the contract.

Fräβdorf and his company subsequently also developed, in parallel, other watch movements, cases and watch faces, which they exhibited and market in their own names and on their own behalf, whilst advertising the products online in French and German. Mr Brogsitter submits that, by those activities, the defendants breached the terms of their contract. According to Mr Brogsitter, Mr Fräβdorf and Fabrication de Montres Normandes had undertaken to work exclusively for him and, therefore, might neither develop nor make use of, in their own names and on their own behalf, watch movements, whether or not identical to those which were the subject of the contract.

Brogsitter seeks an order that the activities in question be terminated and that damages be awarded in tort against on the basis, in German law, of the Law against Unfair Competition (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb) and Paragraph 823(2) of the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch); he submits that, by their conduct, the defendants breached business confidentiality, disrupted his business and committed fraud and breach of trust.

Defendants argue that only French courts have jurisdiction, under Article 5(1) of the Brussels I Regulation, to determine all the applications made by Mr Brogsitter, as both the place of performance of the contract at issue and of the allegedly harmful event were situated in France. The Landgericht Krefeld in first instance had found against its own jurisdiction. This went straight to interim appeal, with the Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorf holding that the first instance court’s international jurisdiction derived, with regard to the dispute before it, from Article 5(3) with respect to the hearing and determination of only the civil liability claims made in tort by Mr Brogsitter. The other claims, in contrast, concerned ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 5(1) of that regulation, and should be brought before a French court. Krefeld was still unsure and referred the following question to the ECJ: (I do not think the ECJ in this case rephrased it much better):

‘Must Article 5(1) of Regulation [No 44/2001] be interpreted as meaning that a claimant who purports to have suffered damage as a result of the conduct amounting to unfair competition of his contractual partner established in another Member State, which is to be regarded in German law as a tortious act, also relies on rights stemming from matters relating to a contract against that person, even if he makes his civil liability claim in tort?’

The ECJ referred to familiar lines: ‘contract’ and ‘tort’ need to be interpreted autonomously. (A European definition needs to be given, not a national one). The concept of ‘matters relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict’ within the meaning of Article 5(3) covers all actions which seek to establish the liability of a defendant and which do not concern ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 5(1)(a)  (Kalfelis).

However that one contracting party brings a civil liability claim against the other is not sufficient to consider that the claim concerns ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 5(1)(a) (at 23). That is the case only where the conduct complained of may be considered a breach of contract, which may be established by taking into account the purpose of the contract, which will a priori [the German grundsätzlich would have been better translated as ‘in principle’, or indeed, assuming French was the language of the original draft, ‘a priori’ should have been dropped for ‘en principe’; but I stray] be the case where the interpretation of the contract which links the defendant to the applicant is indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter (at 24-25).

‘Where the interpretation of the contract which links the defendant to the applicant is indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter’: these cases in other words do not lend themselves to a quick fix of jurisdiction review: some skimming of substantive law issues will be necessary.

Incidentally, the link between contracts and torts is also of immediate concern in the area of competition law. (Where the issue is often whether follow-on claims in damages are impacted by choice of court and choice of law in underlying contracts).

Geert.

 

Ragn-Sells: Court leaves open violation of primary EU law by waste shipments Regulation – Free movement of services question left unanswered

The ECJ’s December judgment in Ragn-Sells Case C-292/12 came recently to my attention in revisiting the waste ownership and freedom to provide services question for a brief.  The case concerns the combined application of the waste framework Directive, the waste shipments Regulation, the public procurement Directives, the free movement of goods and of services, and, for good measure, competition law, exclusive rights and abuse of dominant position.

The dispute in the main proceedings concerns the lawfulness of contract documents stipulating that mixed municipal waste had to be transported to the landfill facility which was the subject-matter of an earlier public procurement procedure — located 5 km from the contracting town, whilst industrial and building waste was to be taken to a landfill site, located 25 km away.

Not all of these issues were addressed by the ECJ, though: for the issue relating to competition law /creation of exclusive rights which might lead to abuse of dominant position, not enough information had been furnished by the national court.For the issue of free movement of services, there was nothing in the file submitted to the Court indicating that undertakings established in other Member States have been interested in treating waste produced in the territory of the municipality at issue.

The latter especially is a pity (on the competition issue there is plenty of case-law): for the extent of free movement of services in the waste sector (and environmental services generally), is not at all clearly laid out in case-law. Hint for those wanting to use free movement of services arguments in their struggle against restrictive national measures: ensure paper trail of, or indeed if need be, trigger, foreign interest in the waste streams provided.

The Court did entertain the free movement of goods questions. As regards, first of all, waste destined for disposal operations and mixed municipal waste, it follows, the Court held, from Article 11(1)(a) of Regulation No 1013/2006, read in the light of recital 20 in the preamble thereto, and Article 16 of Directive 2008/98, that the Member States may adopt measures of general application restricting shipments of that waste between Member States, in the form of general or partial prohibitions of shipments, by way of implementation of the principles of proximity, priority for recovery and self-sufficiency under Directive 2008/98. By analogy the court then applied Case C‑209/98 Sydhavnens to find eventually that ‘Accordingly, in the case of waste destined for disposal operations and mixed municipal waste collected from private households and, as applicable, other producers, a Member State may confer on local authorities, on the geographical scale it deems appropriate, powers to manage the waste produced on their territory in order to ensure compliance with its obligations under Article 16 of Directive 2008/98. Those authorities may, as part of the powers conferred upon them, provide that those types of waste will be treated in the nearest appropriate facility (at 63).

I continue to argue that especially with respect to mixed municipal waste, this room for manoeuvre provided for by the Regulation combined with the Directive, itself is incompatible with primary EU law. However I am not sure how much longer I can argue that as a result of judicial economy, the ECJ has never really properly addressed this question.

As regards, secondly, shipments of waste destined for recovery operations, other than mixed municipal waste, the Court by contrast held that the combined effect of Regulation and Waste Framework Directive does not provide for the possibility for a national authority to adopt a measure of general application having the effect of prohibiting, totally or partially, shipments of such waste to other Member States for treatment.

In summary, some remaining doubt re free movement of goods (primacy EU law) in my mind. Undoubtedly a lot of remaining doubt re free movement of services. Waste law and free movement: they continue to fascinate!

Geert.

 

 

Ça alors! French evidence, the evidence Regulation and UK courts: The High Court in National Grid

In National Grid Electricity Transmission, the UK High Court correctly confirmed the Evidence Regulation as being subsidiary only.

The European Commission had found 20 companies to have been engaged in an extensive and sophisticated cartel regarding the supply of GIS, Gas Insulated Switchgear, which controls energy flow in electricity grids, and is therefore used as a major component in power substations. National Grid alleges that it suffered substantial losses by reason of overcharges resulting from the illegal cartel. Current judgment is an interim judgment on the issue of disclosure.  Estimating the cartel overcharge is very dependent on expert economic evidence.

Alstom and Areva are both French-domiciled defendants. They argue that providing disclosure will put them, as French companies, in breach of a prohibition under French law which attracts criminal penalties, and therefore should not be ordered. This prohibition is referred to in the High Court judgment as the ‘French Blocking Statute‘, of 1968, as amended, most notably in 1980. The prohibition is mostly meant to assist French companies in resisting excessive disclosure requests originating in the United States. Applicants had made a request under the EU’s Evidence Regulation and had served that request to the French Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry eventually refused, mostly for technical legal reasons (the request made had identified the defendants as the ones having to produce the evidence, rather than the court having to order them to do so). Alstrom and Areva subsequently argued that the only route for them to be safe from prosecution under the French law, was for the UK court to seek the assistance of a French Court under the EU Evidence Regulation.

Roth J first considered (with French expert help) the likelihood of the companies involved being prosecuted under the Act. On that point, he concluded ‘I find it virtually inconceivable that where jurisdiction over a company is exercised pursuant to an EU regulation to make it a defendant to proceedings in another EU Member State, for damages alleged to result from an established and serious violation of a fundamental provision of EU law, which proceedings serve an objective of EU policy, the public authorities of one EU Member State would in the exercise of their discretion institute criminal proceedings against that company for complying with the procedural rules of the courts of the Member State where the proceedings are brought.’

He subsequently discussed the evidence Regulation. This Regulation is of a subsidiary nature, as I have flagged once or twice before. It does not rule out national procedural rules as an alternative. Roth J correctly holds that the Regulation would not assist in this case (whether or nor it applies to disclosure proceedings between litigious parties at all is a different matter), inter alia because of the delays and because of the potential for the French courts eventually not to meet the request, thus leading to further uncertainty. He held therefore that the French Defendants should be subject to an order for disclosure in the same way as all the other defendants.

Appeal on 22 October 2013 did not lead to the findings being overturned. The French companies now face the proverbial rock and hard stone: comply with the English order but face the possibility, however remote, of prosecution under French law. Or be safe from prosecution under French law but face contempt in the UK courts.

Geert.

postscript: The Supreme Court refused permission to appeal in December 2013.

Piercing the corporate veil in competition cases – The ECJ in Eni

Update 13 June 2019 for an interesting paper by Anil Yilmaz Vastardis and Rachel Chambers, comparing investment law and the relevant issues for corporate veil and human rights abuses, see here.

Update 21 September 2016. For an application in the environment field, see [2016] EWCA Crim 1043 R v Powell and Westwood and analysis by Robert Biddlecombe, who brought the case to my attention.

Update 20 June 2016 the strict approach was confirmed in C-155/14P Evonik.

There is no general EU rule on the piercing of the corporate veil. Neither company law nor tort law is sufficiently (or in the case of tort law even embryonically) harmonised to be able to speak of much EU influence here. However in EU competition law, the principle is more or less established and may, one suspects, inspire in other areas, too. In Eni, the ECJ confirmed on 8 May the strong presumption of attribution in the case of shareholder control.

It is established case-law under EU competition law that the conduct of a subsidiary may be imputed, for the purposes of the application of Article 101 TFEU, to the parent company particularly where, although having separate legal personality, that subsidiary does not autonomously determine its conduct on the market but mostly applies the instructions given to it by the parent company, having regard in particular to the economic, organisational and legal links which unite those two legal entities. In such a situation, since the parent company and its subsidiary form part of a single economic unit and thus form a single undertaking for the purpose of Article 101 TFEU, the Court has repeatedly held that the Commission may address a decision imposing fines to the parent company without being required to establish its individual involvement in the infringement.

In the particular case in which a parent company holds all or almost all of the capital in a subsidiary which has committed an infringement of the European Union competition rules, there is a rebuttable presumption that that parent company exercises an actual decisive influence over its subsidiary. In such a situation, it is sufficient for the Commission to prove that all or almost all of the capital in the subsidiary is held by the parent company in order to take the view that that presumption is fulfilled.

In addition, in the specific case where a holding company holds 100% of the capital of an interposed company which, in turn, holds the entire capital of a subsidiary of its group which has committed an infringement of European Union competition law, there is also a rebuttable presumption that that holding company exercises a decisive influence over the conduct of the interposed company and also indirectly, via that company, over the conduct of that subsidiary.

In the present case, for the entire duration of the infringement in question, Eni held, directly or indirectly, at least 99.97% of the capital in the companies which were directly active within its group in the sectors in which there had been a violation of competition law. The ECJ held that in particular the absence of management overlap between Eni and the daughter companies, was not enough to rebut the presumption of the companies being a single economic unit. In competition law, therefore, the corporate veil may be quite easily pierced in a holding context, which undoubtedly is not the approach which many Member States take outside of the competition law area.

The waters therefore on the piercing of the corporate veil other than in the area of competition law, remain quite deep. This has an impact on the conflicts area, in particular in the application of the Rome II Regulation and the debate on corporate social responsibility, on which I have reported before on this blog.

Geert.

postscript: point made in e.g. the UKSC on 12 June 2013, in Petrodel v Prest (a matrimonial assets case which was decided on the basis of trust), where Lord Neuberger stated obiter  “if piercing the corporate veil has any role to play, it is in connection with evasion”.

Lord Sumption’s take was “there is a limited principle of English law which applies when a person is under an existing legal obligation…which he deliberately evades or whose enforcement he deliberately frustrates by interposing a company under his control. The court may then pierce the corporate veil for the purpose, and only for the purpose, of depriving the company or its controller of the advantage that they would otherwise have obtained by the company’s separate legal personality“. He added ‘The principle is properly described as a limited one, because in almost every case where the test is satisfied, the facts will in practice disclose a legal relationship between the company and its controller which will make it unnecessary to pierce the corporate veil.’

Lord Clarke, agreeing with Lord Mance and others, stated “the situations in which piercing the corporate veil may be available as a fall-back are likely to be very rare”.

 

ECJ confirms AG’s Opinion in Otis: EC can sue for damages itself after having acted as antitrust enforcer

The ECJ has today, 6 November 2012, confirmed Cruz Villalón  AG’s  Opinion in Case C-199/11, European Union v Otis et al. The EC’s role in antitrust enforcement does not rule out future action in damages by the same institution, also on behalf of others, provided safeguards are met. For my earlier post on the AG’s Opinion, see here.

Geert.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: