Posts Tagged Competition

Office Depot v Holdham et al. Lis alibi pendens in follow-on cartel damages suit. Delay in the Swedish proceedings crucial factor in High Court’s rejection of a stay

in [2019] EWHC 2115 (Ch) Office Depot BV et al v Holdham SA et al, the High Court in August (I had promised posting soon after the Tweet. That did not quite happen) held on issues of lis alibi pendens (and, alternatively, a stay on case management grounds) in a follow-on cartel damages suit arising from the European Commission’s cartel finding in the envelopes market. That’s right: envelopes. Cartel cases do not always involve sexy markets. But I digress (and I also confess to finding stationary quite exciting).

Sir Geoffrey Vos’ judgment deals with the fate of the Office Depot claimants’ follow-on proceedings in England against certain Bong (of Sweden) corporate defendants, after the Bong parties had commenced Swedish proceedings for negative declarations as to their liability. In March 2019 the relevant Swedish court said in effect that Article 8 Brussel I a was not engaged so that the Swedish Bong proceedings for negative declarations could only proceed against the locally domiciled Office Depot company, which was Office Depot Svenska AB, but not the non-Swedish Office Depot entities. Parties at the time of Sir Geoffrey’s decision (Swedish followers may be able to enlighten us on whether there has been a decision in the meantime; at 23 the expected date is mentioned as ‘the autumn’) were awaiting a certiorari decision by the Swedish Supreme Court.

CJEU C–406/92 The Tatry of course is discussed, as is CDC. Sir Geoffrey also discussed C-129/92 Owens Bank, in particular Lenz AG’s Opinion (the CJEU did not get to the part of the Opinion relevant to current case). Discussion between the parties, at Sir Geoffrey’s request, focused on the issue of the judge’s discretion under lis alibi pendens for related actions, rather than on whether or not the actions are related (it was more or less accepted they are; see ia at 43 ff).

At 46 ff the Court then exercises its discretion and finds against a stay, on the basis in particular of the expected length of the Swedish proceedings: at 54: ‘the grant of a stay would be contrary to justice in that it would delay unreasonably the resolution of proceedings that can only be tried in England and already relate to events many years ago‘, and at 48: ‘The stage in the Swedish proceedings is a long way behind these. It will be between one and two and a half years before jurisdiction is resolved there, two courts already having refused jurisdiction. It will be perhaps between three and five years before the substantive litigation in Sweden is resolved, if it ever gets off the ground.

Swedish courts do not tend to get used for torpedo actions. Yet the swiftness of English court proceedings yet again comes in to save the day (or indeed, scupper the stay).

Geert.

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

 

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Tibor v DAF: CJEU confirms markets affected by cartel as locus damni for end-users.

In C-451/18 Tibor v DAF Trucks the CJEU has confirmed its CDC case-law on locus damni for end-users affected by a cartel. Truck distribution arrangements were such that Tibor (of Hungary) could not buy directly from DAF Trucks NV (of The Netherlands), one of the truck manufacturers held by the EC to have infringed Article 101 TFEU. Rather, it had to go via local Hungarian dealers (and leasing companies).

Tibor-Trans claims that the Hungarian courts derive their international jurisdiction from Article 7(2) Brussels Ia per CDC according to which, in the case of an action for damages brought against defendants domiciled in various Member States as a result of a single and continuous infringement of Article 101 TFEU and of Article 53 of the EEA Agreement, which has been established by the Commission, in which the defendants participated in several Member States, at different times and in different places, each alleged victim can choose to bring an action before the courts of the place where its own registered office is located.

DAF Trucks submits, first, that the collusive meetings (hence the locus delicti commissi) took place in Germany, which should entail the jurisdiction of the German courts and, second, that it never entered into a direct contractual relationship with Tibor-Trans, with the result that it could not reasonably expect to be sued in the Hungarian courts.

The Court dismisses the latter argument: those infringing competition law must expect to be sued in markets affected by anti-competitive behaviour (at 34, with reference to fly-LAL). That Tibor did not have a contractual relation with DAF Trucks is irrelevant as the increase in price clearly has been passed on by the frontline victims of the cartel: the dealers (at 31).

The case does leave open the unresolved issue of the CJEU’s identification of registered office as locus damni (see my comments in my review of CDC). Given that Tibor Trans would seem to have purchased all its trucks in Hungary, neither does not the judgment shed light on the distributive impact of locus damni or my suggestion that for competition law, markets where the anti-competitive behaviour is rolled-out should qualify as locus delicti commissi (alongside the place of the meetings where infringement of competition law is decided).

Geert.

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

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Stand alone cartel damages suits: The High Court in Media Saturn Holding v Toshiba on anchoring jurisdiction.

In [2019] EWHC 1095 (Ch) Media Saturn Holding v Toshiba et al, Barling J is concerned with stand-alone damages suits following the European Commission decision in COMP/39437 – TV and Monitor TubesNone of the Defendants was an addressee of the Decision (some of their parent companies were). The claims are, therefore, “standalone” rather than “follow-on” actions, and the Decision is not binding on the court so far as the claims against the Defendants are concerned, as it would have been had the Defendants been addressees. Nevertheless, Claimants place considerable reliance upon the evidential effect of the Decision.

Claims are strike out and summary judgment application, intertwined with challenges to jurisdiction. These essentially relate to there being no arguable claim against the “anchor” defendants, particularly Toshiba Information Systems UK ltd – TIS.

At 114: Claimants refute the suggestion that the claim has been brought against TIS on a speculative basis in the hope that something may turn up on disclosure and/or simply to provide an anchor defendant for jurisdictional purposes. They point to the Commission’s finding, at Recital 595, that the cartel was implemented in the EEA through sales of cartelised CPTs that had been integrated into the finished products.

The substantive law issue of implementation of the cartel therefore is brought in not just to argue (or refute) summary dismissal, but also to shore (or reject) the jurisdictional claim under Article 8(1) Brussels 1a.

Barling J establishes as common ground (at 90) that ‘as a matter of law an entity can infringe Article 101(1) TFEU and Article 53 EEA if it participates in relevant cartel activity, in the sense of being a party to an agreement or concerted practice which falls within that Article, or if it knowingly implements a cartel to which it may not have been a party in that sense. [counsel for defendants] submitted that there is no arguable case that TIS had the requisite knowledge. However, what is sufficient knowledge for this purpose is not common ground’.

At 300 ff the most recent CJEU authority is discussed: C-724/17 Vantaan kaupunki v Skanska of March 2019.

This leads to a relevant discussion on ‘implementation’ of the cartel, which mutatis mutandis is also relevant to Article 7(2) (locus delicti commissi). At 117-118:

‘TIS [similar arguments are discussed viz other defendants, GAVC] was involved in activities which were important to the operation of the cartel from the Toshiba perspective. These included the manufacture of CTVs using the cartelised product acquired from an associated company which itself was one of the established cartelists, and the onward sale of the transformed product. TIS also had direct commercial dealings with the Claimants relating to bonuses on sales of, inter alia, the transformed products. In my judgment there is an arguable case that those activities amounted to the actus reus of participation in and/or implementation of the cartel. The available material is sufficient to preclude the summary disposal of that issue.’ 

At 139 ff much CJEU and national authority is discussed, viz a variety of the defendants, on the issue of ‘implementation’ for summary dismissal on substantive grounds, a discussion which then at 259 ff is applied to the jurisdiction issue. Reference is made to Brownlie v Four Seasons, to C-103/05 Reisch Montage and of course to C-352/13 CDC. At 273 Barling J distinguishes excellently in my view between predictability as part of the DNA of CJEU Brussels Ia case-law on the one hand, and its treatment (and rejection) as a stand-alone criterion on the other hand:

‘[argument of counsel] is in danger of treating the statement of the CJEU in Reisch Montage as adding a free-standing and distinct criterion of foreseeability to the preconditions of application expressly set out in Article 8(1). If that criterion were to be applied generally, and without reference to those express pre-conditions, there would be a risk of the EU law principle of legal certainty being compromised, instead of respected as Reisch Montage expressly requires. That case states that the special rule in Article 8(1) must be interpreted so as to ensure legal certainty. The special rule’s express precondition is that “the claims are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments…” Therefore, by virtue of Reisch Montage, it is those words that must be interpreted strictly so as to respect legal certainty and thereby ensure foreseeability. In other words, foreseeability is inextricably linked to the closeness of the connection between the two sets of claims, and the criterion will be satisfied if a sufficiently close connection of the kind described in Article 8(1) exists.’

And at 276

‘It is correct that the anchor defendants were not addressees of the Decision and that there were no UK addressees. However, there is no reason why this should be significant. Article 8(1) is capable of applying in a competition claim regardless of whether a Commission infringement decision exists. What matters is that there is a claim that the anchor defendant is guilty of an infringement, and that the case against the non-anchor defendant is sufficiently “closely connected” to that claim within the meaning and for the purposes of Article 8(1). The fact that neither entity is an addressee of a Commission decision (if there is one) and that neither is the subject of any other regulatory process or civil claim relating to the cartel, is, if not immaterial, then of marginal relevance.’

For all anchor defendants the conclusion is that there is an arguable claim that they participated in and/or knowingly implemented the cartel. That strongly militates against the sole purpose of the (two sets of) proceedings being to oust the jurisdiction of the other EU courts. No abuse has occurred.

At 316 a final postscript is added suggesting summarily that the Supreme Court’s Vedanta might have an impact on the ‘abuse’ issue. The judgment concerned inter alia an alleged abuse of EU law in the context of the predecessor provision to Article 8(1). The Court gave consideration to the test for the “sole purpose” issue. At 317: Barling J: ‘I can see no basis on which my conclusions in that regard are affected by this decision.’

Geert.

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

 

 

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Cogeco: Limitation periods and civil procedure ius commune at the Court of Justice.

The title of this piece is optimistic. Broadly defined many of the conflicts issues I address touch upon civil procedure of course. Yet I rarely address civil procedure pur sang (see here for an example). C-637/17 Cogeco was held by the European Court of Justice yesterday.

The Court held that the EU (competition law) damages Directive 2014/104 does not apply ratione temporis to the facts at issue.

The Directive includes two recitals on limitation periods:

Recital 36 argues

‘National rules on the beginning, duration, suspension or interruption of limitation periods should not unduly hamper the bringing of actions for damages. This is particularly important in respect of actions that build upon a finding by a competition authority or a review court of an infringement. To that end, it should be possible to bring an action for damages after proceedings by a competition authority, with a view to enforcing national and Union competition law. The limitation period should not begin to run before the infringement ceases and before a claimant knows, or can reasonably be expected to know, the behaviour constituting the infringement, the fact that the infringement caused the claimant harm and the identity of the infringer. Member States should be able to maintain or introduce absolute limitation periods that are of general application, provided that the duration of such absolute limitation periods does not render practically impossible or excessively difficult the exercise of the right to full compensation.’

Recital 49 adds

‘Limitation periods for bringing an action for damages could be such that they prevent injured parties and infringers from having sufficient time to come to an agreement on the compensation to be paid. In order to provide both sides with a genuine opportunity to engage in consensual dispute resolution before bringing proceedings before national courts, limitation periods need to be suspended for the duration of the consensual dispute resolution process.’

Article 10 then foresees expressis verbis

1.   Member States shall, in accordance with this Article, lay down rules applicable to limitation periods for bringing actions for damages. Those rules shall determine when the limitation period begins to run, the duration thereof and the circumstances under which it is interrupted or suspended.

2.   Limitation periods shall not begin to run before the infringement of competition law has ceased and the claimant knows, or can reasonably be expected to know:

(a) of the behaviour and the fact that it constitutes an infringement of competition law;

(b) of the fact that the infringement of competition law caused harm to it; and

(c) the identity of the infringer.

3.   Member States shall ensure that the limitation periods for bringing actions for damages are at least five years.

4.   Member States shall ensure that a limitation period is suspended or, depending on national law, interrupted, if a competition authority takes action for the purpose of the investigation or its proceedings in respect of an infringement of competition law to which the action for damages relates. The suspension shall end at the earliest one year after the infringement decision has become final or after the proceedings are otherwise terminated

 

Article 11 adds for joint and several liability

‘Member States shall ensure that any limitation period applicable to cases under this paragraph is reasonable and sufficient to allow injured parties to bring such actions.’

and finally Article 18(1) reads

‘Member States shall ensure that the limitation period for bringing an action for damages is suspended for the duration of any consensual dispute resolution process. The suspension of the limitation period shall apply only with regard to those parties that are or that were involved or represented in the consensual dispute resolution.’

Of note in my view is first of all the unavailing nature of much of the recitals quoted above. As the overview shows, the recitals are more or less verbatim repeated in the actual rules; or the other way around: the Articles’ provisions are copy /pasted into the recitals. To that there is not much point.

Further, the minimum period imposed by the Directive (not applicable, as noted, ratione temporis) is five years. (Compare in the mooted amendment of the motor insurance Directive  2009/103: minimum 4 years is being suggested – subject to gold plating). The Court could not evidently read that minimum period as being ius commune. However it did read much of the qualitative requirements of recitals and articles effectively as ius commune using the effective enforcement of EU competition law as an anchor. It held that the Portuguese limitation period of three years, which, first, starts to run from the date on which the injured party was aware of its right to compensation, even if the infringer is not known and, secondly, may not be suspended or interrupted in the course of proceedings before the national competition authority, renders the exercise of the right to full compensation practically impossible or excessively difficult.

I realise it is a bit of a stretch to see this as a move towards a European Ius Commune on limitation periods. Yet it might be a first cautious step.

Geert.

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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.

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Request for consultations under the Trade and Sustainable Devlopment chapter of the EU-Korea FTA.

Update 20 September 2019 the US too have now requested environment consultations under KORUS, their FTA with Korea.

Update 5 July 2019 Ditto for the Korea issue. Update 21 June 2019 the EU /Ukraine issue, below, has now led to a formal request for establishment of panel.

Update 10 April 2019 see USTR for their report on having successfully resolved a timber management issue under the US /Peru FTA.

Update 19 March 2019 see Quentin Decleve here for the US following suit, related to rule of law /due process/ hearing rights issues before the Korean competition authority.

Update 16 January 2019 the first such trigger was quickly followed by a second: the EU have requested consultations with Ukraine over the country’s ban on the export of unprocessed woods.

This is a short posting for completeness and filing purposes. The EU have requested consultations with South Korea under the Trade and Sustainable Development chapter of the EU-Korea FTA. Labour rights are at the heart of the request. The request is a first trigger of the ‘Trade and’ consultations chapters under recent EU FTAs. I am not in a position to say more at this stage.

Geert.

 

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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

 

 

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