Posts Tagged Competition
Anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. The High Court in Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al.
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.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 220.127.116.11
Pro memoria: the AG’s suggested for locus damni not place of financial loss, rather the place within the markets affected by the competition law infringement where the claimant alleges loss of sales: damage located in a Mozaik fashion in other words; for locus delicti commissi with full jurisdiction, the AG distinguishes between Article 101 TFEU (place of the conclusion of the agreement) and 102 TFEU (place where the predatory prices were offered and applied); finally with respect to (now) Article 7(5), the activities of a branch: offering the fixed prices or otherwise having been instrumental in concluding contracts for services at those prices suffices for that branch to have participated in the tort.
The Court itself,
- for locus damni reminds us of the findings in Marinari (which tempered the implications of Bier), implying that one needs to decide whether loss of income of the kind alleged by flyLAL may be regarded as ‘initial damage’, or whether it constitutes solely consequential financial damage which cannot, in itself, lead to a forum under Article 7(2). The Court, like the AG, opts for Mozaik, referring inter alia to its judgment in Concurrences: each place where the loss of income consisting in loss of sales occurred, that is to say, the place of the market which is affected by that conduct and on which the victim claims to have suffered those losses, opens up partial jurisdiction. As I noted in my review of the Opinion, this interpretation aids the tortfeasor: locus damni leading to shattered jurisdiction facilitates anti-competitive behaviour.
- for locus delicti commissi, under Article 101 TFEU (cartels), with reference to CDC, the CJEU opts for courts for the place in which the agreement was definitively concluded: this truly is extraordinary for it allows for forum shopping by the cartel participants. For Article 102 TFEU (abuse of dominant position)
- Prima facie at 52 there is one consolation for those suffering anti-competitive behaviour: the Court holds that the event giving rise to the damage in the case of abuse of a dominant position is not based on an agreement, but rather on the implementation of that abuse, that is to say, the acts performed by the dominant undertaking to put the abuse into practice, in particular by offering and applying predatory pricing in the market concerned. That would seem to suggest full jurisdiction for each of those places where the pricing is offered and applied. However in that para 52 the Court does not verbatim links this to jurisdiction: this it does do in
- Para 53: ‘If it were to be established that the events giving rise to the main proceedings were part of a common strategy intended to oust flyLAL from the market of flights to and from Vilnius Airport and that those events all contributed to giving rise to the damage alleged, it would be for the referring court to identify the event of most importance in implementing such a strategy out of the chain of events at issue in the main proceedings.‘ Courts holding on jurisdiction must not delve too deep into the substance of the case but still have to employ, without looking too deeply at the merits of the case, the lex causae for the anti-competitive behaviour (per Rome II) to identify that event of most importance. In para 54 too the Court emphasises the need to limit the amount of potential jurisdictions (reference here is also made to Universal Music). I cannot be sure: does the combination of paras 52 and 53 suggest that the Court does not accept jurisdiction for all places where the pricing is offered and applied?
- Finally with respect to Article 7(5), the CJEU at 64 holds that the national courts must in particular review whether the activities carried out by the branch included actual acts of offering and applying the predatory pricing alleged and whether such participation in the alleged abuse of a dominant position was sufficiently significant to be regarded as a close link with the dispute in the main proceedings. Separate accounts are not required to conduct that exercise (at 65).
Essentially therefore the Court firmly pulls the Brussels I Recast’s ‘predictability’ card. This is in the interest of companies behaving anti-competitively. I do not read in this judgment a definitive answer however for as I suggested, the combination of paras 52 ff is simply not clear.
(Handbook of) EU private international law), 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168
Fly lal: Locus delicti commissi for anticompetitive agreements. And application of Article 7(5)’s extension to branch domicile.
AB flyLAL — Lithuanian Airlines (‘flyLAL’) operated flights from Vilnius airport in Lithuania until it was put into liquidation. According to flyLAL, its demise was caused by predatory (that is, below cost) pricing by the Latvian airline Air Baltic Corporation A/S (‘Air Baltic’). That predatory pricing was, it is alleged, part of an anticompetitive strategy agreed between Air Baltic and the operator of Starptautiskā lidosta Rīga (Riga international airport in Latvia, ‘Riga Airport’). Thus, Riga Airport and Air Baltic agreed to drastically reduce the prices paid by Air Baltic for services at Riga airport. The savings were then used by Air Baltic to finance the predatory pricing that drove flyLAL out of the market in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Can Air Baltic and Riga Airport for damages before the courts in Vilnius? The national court and parties refer to three alleged infringements of competition law: (i) abuse of dominance consisting in the system of reductions implemented by Riga Airport; (ii) an anticompetitive agreement between Riga Airport and Air Baltic; and (iii) abuse of dominance in the form of predatory pricing by Air Baltic. Those infringements, it is argued, were interrelated, forming part of a strategy to oust flyLAL from the market in Vilnius and move passengers to Riga airport to the benefit of both Riga Airport and Air Baltic.
There is a lot in the Opinion – among others because as the AG points out, the referring court’s description of the alleged infringement of competition law is not entirely clear. Bobek therefore sets out a set of variables. The Court itself is bound not to distinguish among quite so many. Of note are the AG’s suggestions
- that locus damni here is not place of financial loss, rather the place within the markets affected by the competition law infringement where the claimant alleges loss of sales.That suggestion in my view is helpful for neither the Regulation’s aim of predictability, nor the protection of those damaged by infringement of competition law (the latter not however a stated aim of the Regulation). Put differently: damage located in a Mozaik fashion assists the tortfeasor. The Advocate General reaches this conclusion after a thorough revisit of the initial Bier judgment (and Capotorti AG’s Opinion in same), ditto Marinari and Dumez France. Yet the continuing need to conceptualise the Court’s Bier rule illustrates again in my view the mistake made in that original judgment, to introduce a forum damni despite the utter lack of textual support for same.
- for locus delicti commissi with full jurisdiction, the AG distinguishes between Article 101 TFEU (as regards the alleged anticompetitive agreement between Air Baltic and Riga Airport, the place of the event giving rise to the harm (that is, the loss of sales by flyLAL), is the place of the conclusion of the agreement) and 102 TFEU (alleged predatory pricing by Air Baltic, the place of the event giving rise to the harm is the place where the predatory prices were offered and applied). With respect to Article 101 TFEU, Bobek AG suggests this is identical to the Court’s judgment in CDC . I am not too sure but I am biased. As I noted above, in my view the Court should steer clear of an application of Article 7(2) which allows those infringing competition law to forum shop by manipulating the place of decision-making. In CDC the Court held that ‘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’ cannot be ruled out. That implies that in other cases the identification of such singular event can be ruled out and that many places may be consider locus delicti commissi.
- finally with respect to (now) Article 7(5), the activities of a branch. The AG does not specify what must be meant by a ‘branch’ – for the national court has already concluded there is such branch. The Advocate General here is perhaps unusually deferential to the factual finding. Whether there is a sufficient nexus between the activities of the branch and the dispute, in the case of tort-based claims requires the branch participate in at least some of the actions constituting the tort (at 137). Offering the fixed prices or otherwise having been instrumental in concluding contracts for services at those prices suffices. In such cases, the branch has again participated in the commission of an act that constitutes a necessary precondition for the abuse (at 142).
A lengthy opinion. And it all started with the fairly straightforward facts of Bier…
(Handbook of) EU private international law), 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124
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.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.2.
Heavily loaded. Applicable law in follow-up competition cases: watch the Dutch Supreme court in Air Cargo.
Update March 2018. Quentin’s blog has a link to the SC decision refusing to take the case, considering it was academic given that an appeal against the decision of the European Commission is still pending before the EU courts. It has therefore not irreversibly been decided whether the eleven air carriers had violated European competition law. Most probably the case will be back, one imagines.
Quentin Declève alerted me to the Air Cargo damages compensation case currently making its way through the Dutch courts. (I have previously reported on jurisdictional issues re such cases; searching the tag ‘damages’ should help the reader).
I have difficulty locating the actual judgment addressing the issue in this post: namely applicable law in follow-up competition cases. I have however located one or two previous judgments addressing the damages claims assignment issue in same. This web of litigation seems to be particularly knotty and any help by Dutch or other readers would be appreciated.
At issue is whether Rome II applies to the facts ratione temporis; if it does, how Article 6 should be applied, in particular: locus delicti commissi, locus damni and ‘affected markets”; and if it does not, how the previous Dutch residual connecting factor ought to apply.
A case of great relevance to competition law and fair trading cases.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.2.
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.
Don’t leave the store without asking. Joinders, and the Aldi principle applied in Otkritie. On the shopping list for the EU?
Postscript 21 November 2017: For an application in Hong Kong see Far Wealth Ltd v Lo Ki Mou, reported here: proceedings dismissed as an abuse of process because the plaintiffs could have protected their position by way of a counterclaim in prior proceedings commenced against them by the defendants.
A posting out off the box here, so bear with me. Neither Brussels I nor the Recast include many requirements with respect to (now) Article 8(1)’s rule on joinders. A case against a defendant, not domiciled in the court’s jurisdiction, may be joined with that against a defendant who is so domiciled, if the cases are ‘so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together in order to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments’. There is of course CJEU case-law on what ‘so closely connected’ means however that is outside the remit of current posting.
As I reported recently, the CJEU has introduced a limited window of abuse of process viz Article 8(1), in CDC. The Court’s overall approach to Article 8(1) 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. 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, (now) Article 8’s applicability.
What if at the time the proceedings were instituted, applicant artificially ignores the fulfilment of, (now) Article 8’s applicability?
The Aldi rule of the courts of England and Wales, and its recent application in Otkritie, made me ponder whether there is merit in suggesting that the CJEU should interpret Article 8(1) to include an obligation, rather than a mere possibility, to join closely connected cases. I haven’t gotten much further than pondering, for there are undoubtedly important complications.
First, a quick look at the Aldi rule, in which the Court of Appeal considered application of the Johnson v Gore Wood principles on abuse of process of the (then) House of Lords, to an attempt to strike out a claim for abuse of process on the basis that the claim could and should have been brought in previous litigation. Aldi concerned complex commercial litigation, as does Otkritie. The result of Aldi is that plaintiffs need to consult with the court in case management, to ensure that related claims are brough in one go. Evidently, the courts need to walk a fine rope for the starting point must be that plaintiffs have wide discretion in deciding where and when to bring a claim: that would seem inherent in Article 6 ECHR’s right to a fair trial.
In Otkritie [the case nota bene does not involve the Brussels Regulation], Knowles J strikes the right balance in holding that the Aldi requirement of discussing with the court had been breached (and would have cost implications for Otkritie in current proceedings) but that otherwise this breach did not amount to abuse of process.
Now, transporting this to the EU level: to what degree could /should Article 8 include a duty to join closely related proceedings? Should such duty be imposed only on plaintiff or also on the court, proprio motu? A crazy thought perhaps for the time being, but certainly worthwhile pondering for future conflicts entertainment.