Posts Tagged Consumer protection

Bobek AG in Salvoni v Fiermonte. Brussels Ia’s Article 53 certificate and consumer protection.

Bobek AG Opined early May (excuse posting delay) in Case C-347/18 Salvoni v Fiermonte. The referring court enquires whether the court of origin tasked with issuing the Article 53 Certificate (issued with a view to enabling swift recognition and enforcement) may, of its own motion, seek to ascertain whether the judgment whose enforcement is sought was issued in breach of the rules on jurisdiction over consumer contracts, so that it may, where appropriate, inform the consumer of any such breach and enable her to consider the possibility of opposing enforcement of the judgment in the Member State addressed.

A related issue therefore to the CJEU judgment in Weil last week.

Mr Alessandro Salvoni, a lawyer based in Milan, asked the Tribunale di Milano (District Court, Milan) to issue Ms Anna Maria Fiermonte (who resides in Hamburg) with a payment order for an amount owed to him as consideration for the professional services rendered by him in connection with legal proceedings concerning a will. Payment order was granted, no challenge was made by Ms Fiermonte (at 24 the AG emphasises that evidently, the court needs to check whether proper service was made). Mr Salvoni then requested the same court to issue the Article 53 Certificate with respect to that order. However this time the same court (with the AG at 22 one can assume that composition was different) proprio motu (and belatedly: see at 15) classified the relationship as B2C under the relevant provisions of Brussels Ia. Ms Fiermonte should have been sued in Hamburg.

Bobek AG courteously calls the court’s initiative ingenious and well-intended (at 29) but has no choice but to conclude that the Regulation simply has no tool for the Court somehow to mitigate let alone correct its earlier mistake. In a gesture effectively of public service (at 34; this rescues something useful from the otherwise fairly futile exercise; I doubt the CJEU will do something similar), the AG then rephrases the question into a more general one, which is detached from the specific course of action apparently contemplated by the national court: Is a national court, when issuing the Article 53 Certificate, entitled (or even obliged), under EU law, to ascertain whether the judicial decision that is to be certified was issued in breach of the rules on jurisdiction over consumer contracts?

At 44 ff the AG delightfully side-steps the chicken and hen issue of the C-54/96 Dorsch criteria (is an A53 court a ‘court’ entitled to preliminary review under Article 267 TFEU) and eventually concludes that there is no room for the A53 Court to assess the application of the consumer title. At 54: ‘

The interpretation of [A53] proposed by the referring court cannot easily be reconciled with the above considerations [speed; simplicity: GAVC]. In particular, that interpretation would in effect back-pedal on one of the main features of the new system introduced by Regulation No 1215/2012. Indeed, the checks that were previously made in the Member State addressed when issuing the exequatur would not be eliminated, but merely shifted to the certification stage carried out in the Member State of origin. That reading of the provision would thus run against the logic and spirit of Regulation No 1215/2012.’

At 81 and 82 the likely outcome of course is pointed at by the AG: Article 45(1)(e)(i) and Article 46 BIa grant consumers a special ground of refusal of recognition and enforcement in cases where the judgment in question conflicts with the jurisdictional rules for the protected categories. This ground has now been handed Ms Fiermonte on a plate – leaving the Milan courts with red cheeks.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.16.

 

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Pillar Securitisation v Hildur Arnadottir. Material EU consumer law does not dictate jurisdictional rules.

The CJEU held last week in C-694/17 Pillar Securitisation (v Hildur Arnadottir), on the Lugano Convention’s protected category of consumers. I have review of Szpunar AG’s Opinion here. 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 (see in that respect also C‑467/16 Schlömp).

At stake in Pillar Securitisation is the meaning of ‘outside his trade or profession’ in the consumer title. The CJEU at 22 rephrases the case as meaning ‘in essence, whether Article 15 of the Lugano II Convention must be interpreted as meaning that, for the purposes of ascertaining whether a credit agreement is a credit agreement concluded by a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of Article 15, it must be determined whether the agreement falls within the scope of Directive 2008/48 in the sense that the total cost of credit in question does not exceed the ceiling set out in Article 2(2)(c) of that directive and whether it is relevant, in that regard, that the national law transposing that directive does not provide for a higher ceiling.’

The CJEU notes that Pillar Securitisation claims that Ms Arnadottir acted for professional purposes and is not covered by the definition of a ‘consumer’. However, the referring court has not referred any question to the Court on the purpose of the credit agreement concluded. On the contrary, as is clear from the wording of the question that it did refer, the referring court asks its question to the Court on the assumption that the contract at issue was concluded for a purpose that can be regarded as being outside Ms Arnadottir’s profession. In addition, in any event, the order for reference does not contain sufficient information in order for the Court to be capable, where relevant, of providing useful indications in that regard (not much help therefore to assist with the interpretation of issues such as in Ang v Reliantco, on which I shall be reporting next).

As I wrote in my review of the AG’s Opinion: the issue is how far does material EU law impact on its private international law rules. I referred in my review to the need to interpret Vapenik restrictively, and to Kainz in which the CJEU itself expressed caution viz the consistent interpretation between jurisdictional and other EU rules, including on applicable law and on substantive law.

I am pleased to note the Court itself makes the same observation, and emphatically so: at 35: ‘the need to ensure consistency between different instruments of EU law cannot, in any event, lead to the provisions of a regulation on jurisdiction being interpreted in a manner that is unconnected to the scheme and objectives pursued by that regulation.’ Subsequently establishing the very diffeent purposes of both sets of law, the CJEU rejects impact on one over the other (and also remarks that Pillar Securitisation’s reference to the Pocar report needs to be taken in context: prof Pocar referred to Directive 2008/48 by way of example only).

Conclusion: for the purposes of ascertaining whether a credit agreement is a credit agreement concluded by a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of Article 15, it must not be determined whether the agreement falls within the scope of Directive 2008/48 in the sense that the total cost of credit in question does not exceed the ceiling set out in Article 2(2)(c) of that directive, and it is irrelevant, in that regard, that the national law transposing that directive does not provide for a higher ceiling.

A good judgment.

Geert.

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

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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-464/01 Gruber). 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 v Hildur Arnadottir. Two AGs on protected categories (consumers, employees) in the Lugano Convention- therefore also Brussels I Recast.

Update 11 April 2019. The CJEU held today in Bosworth: no contract for employment. the AG’s Opinion and Gross J’s analysis confirmed.

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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