Posts Tagged Consumer protection

Milivojević v Raiffeisenbank: Free movement of services yet also protected categories and rights in rem /personam.

The CJEU held in C-630/17 Milivojević v Raiffeisenbank on 14 February. The case in the main concerns Croatian legislation restricting financial services with Banks other than Croatian ones – a free movement of services issue therefore which the CJEU itself explains in its press release.

Of relevance to the blog is the issue of jurisdiction under the consumer title and Article 24(1)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule.

The Croatian legislation at issue, in the context of disputes concerning credit agreements featuring international elements, allows debtors to bring an action against non-authorised lenders either before the courts of the State on the territory of which those lenders have their registered office, or before the courts of the place where the debtors have their domicile or registered office and restricts jurisdiction to hear actions brought by those creditors against their debtors only to courts of the State on the territory of which those debtors have their domicile, whether the debtors are consumers or professionals.

Croatian law therefore first of all infringes Article 25(4) juncto Article 19 Brussels Ia. Their combined application does not rule out choice of court even between a business and a consumer (subject to limitations which I do not discuss here). It moreover infringes Article 25 (and Article 4) in and of itself for it precludes choice of court even in a B2B context.

Next, may a debtor who has entered into a credit agreement in order to have renovation work carried out in an immovable property which is his domicile with the intention, in particular, of providing tourist accommodation services be regarded as a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of Article 17(1) Brussels Ia? Reference is made ex multi to Schrems, emphasising the difficult balancing exercise of keeping exceptions to Article 4’s actor sequitur forum rei rule within limits, yet at the same time honouring the protective intention of the protected categories.

A person who concludes a contract for a dual purpose, partly for use in his professional activity and partly for private matters, can rely on those provisions only if the link between the contract and the trade or profession of the person concerned was so slight as to be marginal and, therefore, had only a negligible role in the context of the transaction in respect of which the contract was concluded, considered in its entirety (per Schrems following C-464/01Gruber). Whether Ms Milivojević can so be described as a ‘consumer’ is for the national court to ascertain.

Finally, does Article 24(1)’s rule on an action ‘relating to rights in rem in immovable property’, apply to an action for a declaration of the invalidity of a credit agreement and of the notarised deed relating to the creation of a mortgage taken out as a guarantee for the debt arising out of that agreement and for the removal from the land register of the mortgage on a building?

Reference here is made to all the classics, taking Schmidt v Schmidt as the most recent portal to earlier case-law. At 101: with regard to the claims seeking a declaration of the invalidity of the agreement at issue and of the notarised deed related to the creation of a mortgage, these ‘clearly’ (I assume based on the national law at issue) are based on a right in personam which can be claimed only against the defendant.

However at 102: re the request for removal from the land register of the registration of a mortgage, it must be noted that the mortgage, once duly constituted in accordance with the procedural and substantive rules laid down by the relevant national legislation (see indeed my comment above re passerelle of national law), is a right in rem which has effects erga omnes. Such an application does fall within Article 24(1). At 104 the Court again inadvertently or not highlights the potential for a procedural strategy, opening up forum connexitatis hinging unto A24(1) exclusivity: ‘in the light of that exclusive jurisdiction of the court of the Member State in which the immovable property is situated to the request for removal from the land register for the registration of mortgages, that court also has a non-exclusive jurisdiction based on related actions, pursuant to Article 8(4) of Regulation No 1215/2012, to hear claims seeking annulment of the credit agreement and the notarised deed related to the creation of that mortgage, to the extent that these claims are brought against the same defendant and are capable, as is apparent from the material in the file available to the Court, of being joined.’ (idem in Schmidt v Schmidt).

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

 

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Bosworth (Arcadia Petroleum), and Pillar Securitisation. Two AGs on protected categories (consumers, employees) in the Lugano Convention- therefore also Brussels I Recast.

Update 06 02 2018 I have inserted in the analysis below of Arcadia, a reference to De Bloos, in the context of the forumshopping considerations (I have also tidied up punctuation in that section).

Twice last week did the Lugano Convention’s protected categories title feature at the Court of Justice. On Tuesday, Szpunar AG opined in C-694/17 Pillar Securitisation v Hildur Arnadottir (consumer protection), and on Thursday Saugmansgaard ØE opined in C-603/17 Bosworth (Arcadia Petroleum) (employment contracts).

The issues that are being interpreted are materially very similar as in Brussels I Recast hence both evidently have an impact on the Brussels I Recast Regulation, too.

At stake in Pillar Securitisation (no English version of the Opinion at the time of writing) is the meaning of ‘outside his trade or profession’ in the consumer title. Advocate General Szpunar takes the case as a trigger to fine-tune the exact relationship between private international law such as was the case, he suggests, in Kainz and also in Vapenik.

I wrote in my review of Vapenik at the time: ‘I disagree though with the Court’s reference to substantive European consumer law, in particular the Directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts. Not because it is particularly harmful in the case at issue. Rather because I do not think conflict of laws should be too polluted with substantive law considerations. (See also my approval of Kainz).’

Ms Arnadottir’s case relates to the Kaupting reorganisation. Her personal loan exceeded one million € and therefore is not covered by Directive 2008/48 on credit agreements for consumers (maximum threshold there is 75K). Does that exclude her contract being covered by Lugano’s consumer Title?

The Directive’s core notion is ‘transaction’, as opposed to Lugano’s ‘contract’ (at 30 ff). And the Advocate-General of course has no option but to note the support given by the Court to consistent interpretation, in Vapenik. Yet at 42 ff he suggests a narrow reading of Vapenik, for a variety of reasons, including

  • the presence, here, of Lugano States (not just EU Member States);
  • the need for consistent interpretation between Lugano and Brussels (which does not support giving too much weight to EU secondary law outside the private international law sphere);
  • and, most importantly, Kainz: a judgment, unlike Vapenik, which directly concerns Brussels I (and therefore also the link with Lugano). One of the implications which as I noted a the time I like a lot, is precisely  its respect for the design and purpose of private international law rules as opposed to other rules of secondary law; and within PIL, the distinction between jurisdiction and applicable law.

At 52 ff Advocate General Szpunar rejects further arguments invoked by parties to suggest the consumer title of the jurisdictional rules should be aligned with secondary EU consumer law. His line of reasoning is solid, however: autonomous interpretation of EU private international law prevents automatic alignment between consumer law and PIL.

Should the CJEU follow its first Advocate General, which along Kainz I suggest it should, no doubt distinguishing will be suggested given the presence of Lugano parties in Pillar Securitisation – yet the emphasis on autonomous interpretation suggest a wider calling.

 

C‑603/17 Bosworth v Arcadia then was sent up to Luxembourg by the UK’s Supreme Court [UKSC 2016/0181, upon appeal from [2016] EWCA Civ 818]. It concerns the employment Title of Lugano 2007. (Which only the other week featured at the High Court in Cunico v Daskalakis).

As helpfully summarised by Philip Croall, Samantha Trevan and Abigail Lovell, the issue is whether the English courts have jurisdiction over claims for conspiracy, breach of fiduciary duty, dishonest assistance and knowing receipt brought against former employees of certain of the claimant companies now domiciled in Switzerland. In the main proceedings, the referring court must therefore determine whether the courts of England and Wales have jurisdiction to rule on those claims or whether it is the courts of Switzerland, as courts of the domicile of the former directors implicated, that must hear all or part of the claims.

Gross J at the Court of Appeal had applied Holterman and Brogsitter, particularly in fact the Opinion of Jääskinen AG in Brogsitter – albeit with caution, for the AG’s Opinion was not adopted ‘wholesale’ by the CJEU (at 58, Court of Appeal). The mere fact that there is a contract of employment between parties is not sufficient to justify the application of the employment section of (here) the Lugano Convention. Gross J at 67: “do the conspiracy claims relate to the Appellants’ individual contracts of employment? Is there a material nexus between the conduct complained of and those contracts? Can the legal basis of these claims reasonably be regarded as a breach of those contracts so that it is indispensable to consider them in order to resolve the matter in dispute?”. Gross J had answered that whilst not every conspiracy would fall outside the relevant section, and those articles could not be circumvented simply by pleading a claim in conspiracy, in the circumstances of this case, however precisely the test was formulated, the answer was clearly “no”. Key to the alleged fraud lay in his view not in the appellants’ contracts of employment, but in their de facto roles as CEO and CFO of the Arcadia Group.

The facts behind the case are particularly complex, as are the various wrongdoings which the directors are accused of and there is little merit in my rehashing the extensive summary by the AG (the SC’s hearings leading to the referral lasted over a day and a half).

Saugmansgaard ØE essentially confirms Gross J’s analysis.

Company directors who carry out their duties in full autonomy are not bound to the company for which they perform those duties by an ‘individual contract of employment’ within the meaning of the employment section – there is no subordination (at 46). Note that like Szpunar SG, Saugmansgaard ØE too emphasises autonomous interpretation and no automatic colouring of one field of EU law by another: ‘the interpretation which the Court of Justice gives to a concept in one field of EU law cannot automatically be applied in a different field’ (at 49).

In the alternative (should the CJEU accept a relationship of employment), he opines that a claim made between parties to such a ‘contract’ and legally based in tort does fall within the scope of that section where the dispute arose in connection with the employment relationship. Secondly, he argues that an ‘employer’ within the meaning of the provisions of that section is not necessarily solely the person with whom the employee formally concluded a contract of employment (at 109). What the AG has in mind are group relations, where ‘an organic and economic link’ between two companies exists, one of whom sues even if the contract of employment is not directly with that company.

It is in this, subsidiary section, at 66 ff, that the AG revisits for the sake of completeness, the difference between ‘contract’ and ‘tort’ in EU pil. This is a section which among others will delight (and occupy) one of my PhD students, Michiel Poesen, who is writing his PhD on same. Michiel is chewing on the Opinion as we speak and no doubt will soon have relevant analysis of his own.

At 82 ff the AG points to the difficulties of the Brogsitter and other lines of cases. ‘(T)he case-law of the Court is ambiguous, to say the least, in so far as concerns the way in which Article 5(1) and Article 5(3) of the Brussels I Regulation and the Lugano II Convention are to be applied in cases where there are concurrent liabilities. It would be useful for the Court to clarify its position in this regard.’

At 83: it is preferable to adopt the logic resulting from [Kalfelis] and to classify a claim as ‘contractual’ or ‘tortious’ with regard to the substantive legal basis relied on by the applicant. At the very least, the Court in the AG’s view should hold on to a strict reading of the judgment in Brogsitter’: at 79: ‘the Court meant to classify as ‘contractual’ claims of liability in tort the merits of which depend on the content of the contractual duties binding the parties to the dispute.’ This in the view of the AG should be so even if (at 84) this authorises a degree of forum shopping, enabling the applicant to choose jurisdiction, with an eye to the appropriate rules. The AG points out that forum shopping particularly for special jurisdictional rules, is not at all absent from either Regulation or Convention.

Forum shopping considerations in (now) Article 7(1) have been an issue since the seminal case of De Bloos, C-14/76: at 13: ‘for the purposes of determining the place of performance within the meaning of Article 5, quoted above, the obligation to be taken into account is that which corresponds to the contractual right on which the plaintiff’s action is based.’ Among others Brogsitter may be seen as an attempt by the Court to manage the forum shopping considerations arising from De Bloos. It would be good for the Court to clarify whether De Bloos is still good authority, given the many textual changes and case-law considerations of (now) Article 7(1).

Finally, there is of course an applicable law dimension to the dispute although this does not feature in the reference. The relationships between companies and their directors are governed not by employment law, but by company law (at 52). For an EU judge, the Rome I and Rome II Regulations kicks in. Rome I contains, in Article 8, provisions relating to ‘individual employment contracts’, however it also provides, in Article 1(2)(f), that ‘questions governed by the law of companies’ concerning, inter alia, the ‘internal organisation’ of companies are excluded from its scope (at 55). Rome II likewise has a company law exemption. That puts into perspective the need (or not; readers know that I am weary of this) to apply Rome I and Brussels /Lugano consistently.

One had better sit down for a while when reviewing these Opinions.

Geert.

Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9.

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Planet49: pre-ticked agreement with clauses in terms and conditions.

Update 21 March 2019. Szpunar AG opined today and suggests there is no such valid consent.

Update 14 November 2018 Hearing took place yesterday – Opinion AG scheduled for 28 February 2019.

A quick flag to those of you following consumer protection and the Directive (2002/58) on privacy and electronic communications. In Case C-673/17 Planet49 the Court of Justice is being asked to clarify to what extent a website which pre-ticks boxes in general terms and conditions (here: to share relevant personal data) is compatible with relevant EU laws.

File of the case here (in Dutch only).

Geert.

 

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Douez v Facebook: Consumers as protected categories in Canadian conflict of laws.

Postscript 16 May 2018 Tanya Monestier article re same here.

Thank you Stephen Pittel for flagging 2017 SCC 33 Douez v Facebook Inc.  Stephen also discusses the forum non conveniens issue and I shall leave that side of the debate over to him. What is interesting for comparative purposes is the Supreme Court’s analysis of the choice of court clause in consumer contracts, which it refuses to enforce under public policy reasons, tied to two particular angles:

  • ‘The burdens of forum selection clauses on consumers and their ability to access the court system range from added costs, logistical impediments and delays, to deterrent psychological effects. When online consumer contracts of adhesion contain terms that unduly impede the ability of consumers to vindicate their rights in domestic courts, particularly their quasi-constitutional or constitutional rights, public policy concerns outweigh those favouring enforceability of a forum selection clause.’ (emphasis added)

Infringement of privacy is considered such quasi-constitutional right.

  • ‘Tied to the public policy concerns is the “grossly uneven bargaining power” of the parties. Facebook is a multi-national corporation which operates in dozens of countries. D is a private citizen who had no input into the terms of the contract and, in reality, no meaningful choice as to whether to accept them given Facebook’s undisputed indispensability to online conversations.’

With both angles having to apply cumulatively, consumers are effectively invited to dress up their suits as involving a quasi-constitutional issue, even if all they really want is their PSP to be exchanged, so to speak. I suspect however Canadian courts will have means of sorting the pretended privacy suits from the real ones.

A great judgment for the comparative binder (see also Jutta Gangsted and mine paper on forum laboris in the EU and the US here).

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Schrems v Facebook. Consumer class actions and social media.

I reported on Bobek AG’s Opinion in Schrems v Facebook when it came out last year. The CJEU held this morning (judgment so far in FR and DE only) and largely confirms the AG’s Opinion.

As I noted at the time, the long and the short of the case is whether the concept of ‘consumer’ under the protected categories of Brussels I (and Recast) is a dynamic or a static one; and what kind of impact assignment has on jurisdiction for protected categories.

On the first issue, Mr Schrems points to his history as a user, first having set up a personal account, subsequently, as he became the poster child for opposition to social media’s alleged infringement of privacy, a Facebook page. Each of those, he suggests, are the object of a separate contract with Facebook. FB suggests they are part of one and the same, initial contractual relationship. This one assumes, would assist FB with its line of argument that Herr Schrems’ initial use may have been covered by the forum consumentis, but that his subsequent professional use gazumps that initial qualification.

The Court suffices at 36 with the simple observation that the qualification as a single or dual contract is up to the national court (see inter alia the Gabriel, Engler and Ilsinger conundrum: Handbook, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1.a and generally the difficulties for the CJEU to force a harmonised notion of ‘contract’ upon the Member States), yet that nevertheless any such qualification needs to take into account the principles of interpretation of Brussels I’s protected categories: in particular, their restrictive interpretation. Whence it follows, the Court holds, that the interpretation needs to be dynamic, taking into account the subsequent (professional or not) use of the service: at 37-38: ‘il y a notamment lieu de tenir compte, s’agissant de services d’un réseau social numérique ayant vocation à être utilisés pendant une longue durée, de l’évolution ultérieure de l’usage qui est fait de ces services. Cette interprétation implique, notamment, qu’un requérant utilisateur de tels services pourrait invoquer la qualité de consommateur seulement si l’usage essentiellement non professionnel de ces services, pour lequel il a initialement conclu un contrat, n’a pas acquis, par la suite, un caractère essentiellement professionnel.’

The Court does add at 39-40 that acquired or existing knowledge of the sector or indeed the mere involvement in collective representation of the interests of the service’s users, has no impact on the qualification as a ‘consumer’: only professional use of the service does. (The Court in this respect refers to Article 169(1) TFEU’s objective to assist consumers with the representation of their collective interest).

On this point therefore the Court unlike the AG attaches more weight to restrictive interpretation than to predictability. (Bobek AG’s approach to the issue of dynamic /static was expressed more cautiously).

As for the assignment issue, the Court sides squarely with its AG: the assigned claims cannot be pursued in the jurisdiction which is the domicile of the assignee. That in my view de lega lata makes perfect sense.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

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