Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise. A reminder that, under (acquired) EU law, one must not be domiciled in the EU for one to ‘direct’ one’s activities here and so trigger the consumer section.

Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise S.A.L. [2021] EWHC 2787 (QB) discusses whether a Lebanese bank could be considered to have ‘directed’ its activities at the UK under the CJEU Pammer Alphenhof criteria, thus triggering the consumer section of the (acquired) EU Brussels Ia Regulation.

Kent DJ held it had: claimant’s arguments are at [29] ff, purporting to build evidence of a chain of marketing aimed at the expat Lebanese community. They show the importance of information put on websites, often made to look more glamorous by the addition of elements such as links to England and London in particular.  The judge is on point I find where he dismisses the singular relevance of the use of English etc in a world where every Tom Dick and Harry put that on their website. However he does conclude [65]

the website pages to which I have referred which were visible from the United Kingdom do indeed give the impression to a fair-minded observer—and I would say quite a strong impression—that the Bank was interested in obtaining custom from the expatriate Lebanese community in whichever part of the world not insignificant numbers of those who can be treated as falling within that expression were gathered and that in 2014 did include England. 

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.7, 2.270 ff

Consumer contracts, settlements and choice of court ‘after the dispute has arisen’. The Danish courts in Thomas Higgins v Saxo Bank.

I discussed settlement agreements viz Brussels Ia’s protected categories before, in particular in my review of Yukos v Merinson. Choice of court between consumers and employees one the one hand, and the business and employer on the other, is valid inter alia when the parties ‘enter into’ the (choice of court agreement) ‘after the dispute has arisen’. The assumption is that the consumer will have had an opportunity to consult lawyers and that therefore the inequality of arms has disappeared.

A dispute will have ‘arisen’ for the purposes of these Articles only if two conditions are satisfied: (a) the parties must have disagreed upon a specific point; and (b) legal proceedings in relation to that disagreement must be imminent or contemplated.

Many thanks to Henrik Gisløv who sent me copy of the judgment of the City Court and subsequently the High Court in Thomas Higgins v Saxo Bank. Henrik represented Mr Higgins and I have included Henrik’s English translation of the relevant sections of the High Court’s judgment below – I do not read Danish.

I understand from Henrik that Saxo Bank claimed an amount for “CFD financing charges” of EUR 230,000 accrued in less than one month. Mr Higgins, domiciled at Ireland, disputed the claim, and a settlement agreement was entered into. Mr Higgins had no legal advise when entering the settlement agreement – whether the actual, as opposed to assumed, benefit of legal advice is required for A10 to apply, is not discussed.

In the opinion of Mr Higgins the bank breached the terms of the settlement agreement, and he raised several complaints with the staff of the bank. These complaints went unanswered and Mr Higgins decided to terminate the settlement agreement: ‘Further to my email of Friday March 3rd, I confirm that the live price feeds have not been restored. Accordingly, our Contract is now void. Unless you wish to negotiate terms that address the contractual failings, the only option open to me is to reactivate my original Complaint and refer it for regulatory adjudication.’ This was in March 2017.

The bank then filed a case in the Danish courts, in January 2019 only. It argued  jurisdiction on the basis that a choice of court clause had been part of the  settlement agreement which Mr Higgins had terminated in March 2017. The City Court found first of all that Mr Higgins was a consumer (CJEU Petruchova comes to mind). Secondly, the City Court found that the dispute related to whether or not the terms of the settlement agreement had been breached or not. Therefore that the dispute that is being litigated had only arisen after that settlement agreement had been made and that the choice of court made in the settlement agreement was not a valid agreement after the dispute had arisen. The Eastern High court upon appeal however overturned the decision. Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected.

Of note in my view is that for there to be valid choice of court within the meaning of A19 BIa, legal proceedings in relation to that disagreement must be imminent or contemplated. From my admittedly half baked, Google translate assisted understanding of the judgments, this condition is not discussed in the judgments (it is clear, from the quote, in English, at the time of Mr Higgins’ cancellation of the agreement, legal proceedings are contemplated at that moment; yet the settlement with the choice of court agreement was formed much earlier). Rather, the High Court unconvincingly focuses on the synergy between the complaints under the original platform agreement and the nature of the subsequent complaints. This could have done with SC insight.

The judgment puts the spotlight on the nature of settlement agreements in the context of protected categories, and the stronger role consumer and employment law might have to play to ensure both the twin goal of settling disputes before they go to court, whilst at the same time not depriving the protected categories of their Regulation-sanctioned protection.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.7, 2.270 ff.

 

____Henrik Gisløv translation of the High Court judgment in relevant part:___

It is undisputed before the High Court that the settlement agreement entered into between Thomas Martin Higgins and Saxo Bank A / S, is a consumer agreement in the sense of the term has applied the Judgment Regulation. Cases against consumers must, according to the Judgment Regulation Article 18, paragraph 2, as a starting point is brought before the courts in the Member State in which the consumer resides.

The main issue in this case is then whether the condition of the judgment Article 19 (1) to derogate from this starting point is met. According to the provision is it decisive whether the settlement agreement, including the agreement’s provision on venue, may be deemed to have been concluded after the dispute has arisen. If the condition is fulfilled, the venue agreement is binding on Thomas Martin Higgins.

It is assumed as undisputed that the settlement agreement of 11 July 2016 was entered into as a result of a disagreement as to whether Thomas Martin Higgins had obligation to pay the fees of 231,320 euros that Saxo Bank A / S had charged for the period from 1 to 29 April 2016.

It appears from clause 1 of the settlement agreement, that Thomas Martin Higgins should withdraw its complaint about the fees that Saxo Bank A / S should separate Thomas Martin Higgins’ two accounts and credit one account with one amount of 115,660 euros, corresponding to half of the fees charged. The other account then had a balance of -87,565.16 euros, which Thomas Martin Higgins undertook to pay to Saxo Bank A / S in 12 instalments.

Thomas Martin Higgins paid six instalments until February 2017, after which he by letter dated 6 March 2017, terminated the settlement agreement.

The question then is whether the lawsuit relates to the dispute that was tried resolved by the settlement agreement, or whether it relates to subsequent matters.

Thomas Martin Higgins has argued that Saxo Bank A / S on several points has breached the settlement agreement and that it is these breaches of agreement that are the background for the present case. He has during his explanation to the city court alone referred to the one concrete example that he during his continued trading on the bank’s platform continued to lose so-called live prices (real-time prices).

On the other hand, it is undisputed that Thomas Martin Higgins under the settlement agreement concluded continued to trade on the platform provided by Saxo Bank A / S available to him. Saxo Bank A / S has in accordance with the settlement agreement written down its fee claim to half, and the settlement agreement does not contain detailed terms for the continued trading on the platform, including on live prices.

In view of this and the fact that the amount of 41,297.28 euros that Saxo Bank A / S has withdrawn subpoena for, constitutes the difference between the amount paid by Thomas Martin Higgins had to pay after the settlement and the instalments paid of 45,412.41 euros plus the deposit on account 176283INET / DK4011490100705836, the High Court finds that the present dispute does not concern one which arose after the conclusion of the settlement agreement [and is a, GAVC] disagreement on the interpretation of the agreement, but that the dispute had already arisen when settlement agreement including the venue agreement, was entered into.

…0Saxo bank A / S can bring the case before the bank’s venue at the Court in Lyngby, …and the High Court therefore accepts Saxo Bank A / S ‘claim that the judgment of the district court be set aside and that the case be remanded for consideration at the Court in Lyngby, as a result.”

Dooley v Castle. On Gibraltar, the Brussels Convention and trust management as consumer contracts.

After Eastern Pacific Chartering Inc v Pola Maritime Ltd, judgment in Dooley & Ors v Castle Trust & Management Services Ltd [2021] EWHC 2682 (Comm) is the second recent case to apply the 1968 Brussels Convention in relations between the UK and Gibraltar. This time it is the consumer section of the Convention which is at the core of the jurisdictional discussion.

Defendant is a company registered in Gibraltar which operates as a professional trustee company. The litigation concerns overseas pension schemes, promoted principally by Montegue Smythe, a Cypriot firm which operated from an English address. The court did not have before it any contractual terms evidencing the relationship between Castle and Montegue Smythe [66].

Common law negligence or breach of regulatory or statutory rules are the claim. Applicable law [15-16] is announced to be a contested issue at trial but not one that featured in the current jurisdictional challenge.

Readers may be aware that prior to the Brussels I Regulation (2001) amendments to the consumer section, requirements to trigger it were quite different. Defendants argue that the consumer section is not engaged for claimants have not shown that the conclusion of the contract was preceded in the consumer’s domicile by a specific invitation addressed to them or by advertising. In support of their case that the requirement of A13.3(b) Brussels Convention was satisfied, claimants plea an extract from Castle’s website which was said to be an act of advertising in the UK.

CJEU Kalfelis, Engler, Gabriel and Pammer (the latter mutatis mutandis and with focus on the CJEU’s view as to its own previous authority under the Convention; for Pammer Alpenhof is a Brussels I case) were the core cases discussed. At [64] Russen J rejects ia Petruchova and Reliantco as relevant authority given their Brussels I(a) context.

The judge emphasises the restrictive interpretation of the consumer section and holds that Castle’s obligations to claimants rested fundamentally upon its trusteeship of the QROPS rather than any separate contract for the provision of financial administration services. There is no plausible evidential basis for saying a contract was concluded for the supply of services outside those which were identified by the Deeds and the Rules which were incorporated by Castle [68].

Any claim against Castle based upon non-performance of services would have to be based upon the Trust Deeds and the Rules incorporated by them. Any such claim would fall within Article 5.6 (equivalent to A7(6) BIa) which would lead to the same court – the Gibraltar court – having jurisdiction as it would under the general rule of A2 Brussels Convention [70].

The judge also held that even on the assumption that a particular claimant read the extract on the website before investing in the QROPS, the fact is that there is no evidence to suggest that the territorial requirement identified in  CJEU Gabriel was satisfied.

The tort gateway under A5(3) Brussels Convention was not much entertained for claimants did not put much weight on it. At [73] the judge located locus delicti commissi in Gibraltar and did not hold on locus damni possibly being in England or the UK (the signing away of the transfer of the funds in the UK potentially qualifying as locus damni. With interesting potential discussion of course of the EU v the E&W approach on same per UKSC Brownlie I and II.

The jurisdictional challenge succeeds.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.1 and 2.2.9.2.2.

Not in a gambling mood. CJEU in Peil confirms dynamic interpretation of BIa consumer title, and the Petruchová /Reliantco approach towards knowledge of the market.

Update 15 December 2021. Tobias Lutzi has concurring analysis here. Since he refers to me, we may now have started a renvoi vortex that, with some luck, wil swallow 2020 whole.

The CJEU held last week in C-774/19 AB and BB v Personal Exchange International Limited. I propose for the sake of our memories that we call it Personal Exchange International Limited or even PEIL. (No English version of the judgment available at the time of writing).

May an online poker playing contract, concluded remotely over the internet by an individual with a foreign operator of online games and subject to that operator’s general terms and conditions, also be classified as a contract concluded by a consumer for a purpose which can be regarded as being outside his trade or profession, where that individual has, for several years, lived on the income thus obtained or the winnings from playing poker, even though he has no formal registration for that type of activity and in any event does not offer that activity to third parties on the market as a paid service?

The case echoes Schrems, Petruchová and Reliantco and the CJEU refers to the two former extensively.

At 21 the referring court had signalled the linguistic difference in e.g. the Slovenian and the English version of Article 17 BIA (A15 in BI which is discussed in the judgment), where mention is made of elements over and above the  use of ‘professional’ in the other language versions (e.g ‘trade and profession’ in the English version). The CJEU at 27 refers to the classic collective authentic force of the various language versions to dismiss paying too much attention to this difference.

With reference to Petruchová, the Court at 23 dismisses the relevance of whether the player’s winnings allow him to earn a living. Since the player does not beforehand know those winnings, the consumer title would become unpredictable which is of course a big no-no.

At 37 ff the intimate knowledge of the market is dismissed, too, with reference to Schrems: for this would make the title too dependent upon the subjective situation of the individual.

At 41 ff the Court does reiterate the dynamic interpretation of the title per Schrems (reminder: that has only so far been held in the direction of losing the protection one once has a consumer).

Finally, the frequency and length of play does not constitute a singularly relevant criterion either (at 46), even if they can be taken into account. However the Court confusingly (and unlike eg in  Salvoni) does here refer to substantive consumer law in which it has held (eg in C‑105/17 Kamenova) that these elements do play some role.

All in all a fairly standard re-emphasis of earlier case-law. The referring court is asked to do the remaining math itself.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.235 ff.

 

 

 

mBank. Consumer’s domicile must be determined at the time the action is brought.

A brief note on domicile and time of assessment: the CJEU held a few weeks back in C-98/20 mBank, holding that for the application of the relevant protected categories title under Brussels Ia, a consumer’s domicile needs to be determined at the time the action is brought. Once again therefore predictability for the business side in a B2C contract is considered less relevant than the protection or rather procedural comfort for the consumer.

Geert.

 

Bauer v QBE Insurance. Brussels IA, Rome I and Rome II in Western Australia.

It is not per se unheard of for European conflict of laws developments to be referred to in other jurisdictions. In Bauer v QBE Insurance [2020] WADC 104 however the intensity of reference to CJEU authority and EU conflicts law is striking and I think interesting to report.

The context is an application to serve out of jurisdiction – no ‘mini trail’ (Melville PR at 20) therefore but still a consideration of whether Western Australia is ‘clearly an inappropriate forum’ in a case relating to an accident in Australia following an Australian holiday contract, agreed between a German travel agent and a claimant resident (see also below) in Germany but also often present in Australia – which is where she was at the time the contract was formed. Defendant contests permission to serve ia on the basis of an (arguable) choice of court and governing law clause referring exclusively to Germany and contained in defendant’s general terms and conditions.

Two other defendants are domiciled in Australia and are not discussed in current findings.

In assessing whether the German courts have exclusive jurisdiction and would apply German law, the Australian judge looks exclusively through a German lens: what would a German court hold, on the basis of EU private international law.

Discussion first turns to the lex contractus and the habitual residence, or not, of claimant (who concedes she is ‘ordinarily’, but not habitually resident in Germany) with reference to Article 6 Rome I’s provision for consumer contracts. This is applicable presumably despite the carve-out for ‘contracts of carriage’ (on which see Weco Projects), seeing as the contract is one of ‘package travel’. Reference is also then made to Winrow v Hemphill.  Melville PR holds that claimant’s habitual residence is indeed Germany particularly seeing as (at 38)

she returned to Germany for what appears to be significant and prolonged  treatment after the accident rather going elsewhere in the world and after only apparently having left her employment in Munich in 2014, is highly indicative of the fact the plaintiff’s state of mind was such that she saw Germany as her home and the place to return to when things get tough, a place to go to by force of habit.

Discussion then turns to what Michiel Poesen has recently discussed viz contracts of employment: qualification problems between contract and tort. No detail of the accident is given (see my remark re ‘mini-trial’ above). Reference to and discussion is of Rome II’s Article 4. It leads to the cautious (again: this is an interlocutory judgment) conclusion that even though the tort per Article 4(3) Rome II may be more closely connected to Australia, it is not ‘manifestly’ so.

Next the discussion gets a bit muddled. Turning to jurisdiction, it is concluded that the exclusive choice of court is not valid per Article 25 Brussels Ia’s reference to the lex fori prorogati.

  • Odd is first that under the lex contractus discussion, reference is made to Article 6 Rome I which as I suggested above presumably applies given that the carve-out for contracts of carriage does not apply to what I presume to be package travel. However in the Brussels Ia discussion the same applies: contracts of carriage are excluded from Section 4’s ‘consumer contracts’ unless they concern (as here) package travel.
  • Next, the choice of court is held to be invalid by reference to section 38(3) of the German CPR, which to my knowledge concerns choice of court in the event neither party has ‘Gerichtsstand’ (a place of jurisdiction’) in Germany.  Whatever the precise meaning of s38(3), I would have thought it has no calling as lex fori prorogati viz A25 BIa for it deals with conditions which A25 itself exhaustively harmonises (this argument might be aligned with that of defendant’s expert, Dr Kobras, at 57). Moreover,  the discussion here looks like it employs circular reasoning: in holding on the validity of a ‘Gerichtsstand’, the court employs a rule which applies when there is no such ‘Gerichtsstand’.
  • Finally, references to CJEU Owusu and Taser are held to be immaterial.

In final conclusion, Western Australia is not held to be a clearly inappropriate forum. The case can go ahead lest of course these findings are appealed.

Geert.

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

The CJEU in Reliantco on’consumers’ and complex financial markets. And again on contracts and tort.

C-500/18 AU v Reliantco was held by the CJEU on 2 April, in the early fog of the current pandemic. Reliantco is a company incorporated in Cyprus offering financial products and services through an online trading platform under the ‘UFX’ trade name – readers will recognise this from [2019] EWHC 879 (Comm) Ang v Reliantco. Claimant AU is an individual. The litigation concerns limit orders speculating on a fall in the price of petrol, placed by AU on an online platform owned by the defendants in the main proceedings, following which AU lost the entire sum being held in the frozen trading account, that is, 1 919 720 US dollars (USD) (around EUR 1 804 345).

Choice of court and law was made pro Cyprus.

The case brings to the fore the more or less dense relationship between secondary EU consumer law such as in particular the unfair terms Directive 93/13 and, here, Directive 2004/39 on markets in financial instruments (particularly viz the notion of ‘retail client’ and ‘consumer’).

First up is the consumer title under Brussels Ia: Must A17(1) BIa be interpreted as meaning that a natural person who under a contract concluded with a financial company, carries out financial transactions through that company may be classified as a ‘consumer’ in particular whether it is appropriate, for the purposes of that classification, to take into consideration factors such as the fact that that person carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or that he or she invested significant sums in those transactions, or that that person is a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of A4(1) point 12 Directive 2004/39?

The Court had the benefit of course of C-208/18 Petruchová – which Baker J did not have in Ang v ReliantcoIt is probably for that reason that the case went ahead without an Opinion of the AG. In Petruchová the Court had already held that factors such as

  • the value of transactions carried out under contracts such as CFDs,
  • the extent of the risks of financial loss associated with the conclusion of such contracts,
  • any knowledge or expertise that person has in the field of financial instruments or his or her active conduct in the context of such transactions
  • the fact that a person is classified as a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of Directive 2004/39 is, as such, in principle irrelevant for the purposes of classifying him or her as a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of BIa,

are, as such, in principle irrelevant to determine the qualification as a ‘consumer’. In Reliantco it now adds at 54 that ‘(t)he same is true of a situation in which the consumer carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or invested significant sums in those transactions.’

Next however comes the peculiarity that although AU claim jurisdiction for the Romanian courts against Reliantco Investments per the consumer title (which requires a ‘contract’ to be concluded), it bases its action on non-contractual liability, with applicable law to be determined by Rome II. (The action against the Cypriot subsidiary, with whom no contract has been concluded, must be one in tort. The Court does not go into analysis of the jurisdictional basis against that subsidiary, whose branch or independent basis or domicile is not entirely clear; anyone ready to clarify, please do).

At 68 the CJEU holds that the culpa in contrahendo action is indissociably linked to the contract concluded between the consumer and the seller or supplier, and at 71 that this conclusion is reinforced by A12(1) Rome II which makes the putative lex contractus, the lex causae for culpa in contrahendo. At 72 it emphasises the need for consistency between Rome II and Brussels IA in that both the law applicable to a non-contractual obligation arising out of dealings prior to the conclusion of a contract and the court having jurisdiction to hear an action concerning such an obligation, are determined by taking into consideration the proposed contract the conclusion of which is envisaged.

Interesting.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

 

Hutchinson v MAPFRE and Ice Mountain (Obeach) Ibiza. Spotlight on the consumer and insurance title of Brussels Ia.

Jonathan Hutchinson v MAPFRE and Ice Mountain (OBeach) Ibiza [2020] EWHC 178 (QB) like all cases involving serious accidents, cannot be written about without the greatest sympathy for claimants having suffered serious physical damage. The case concerns the horror scenario of either a fall or a dive in a pool leading to head and spinal injury. Mr Hutchinson (represented by Sarah Crowter QC) is a former Birmingham City football player who visited an Ibiza club owned by a fellow Brit – those interested in the background see here.

Defendants are the club (ICE Mountain, Spain registered) and their insurers, MAPFRE (ditto). Clearly to sue in England the case needs to involve either a protected category (consumers; insureds) or a special jurisdictional rule (contract; tort).

Andrews J is right in calling jurisdiction on the consumer title against ICE Mountain straightforward. The Pammer /Alpenhof criteria are fulfilled; that claimant’s purchase of a ticket was not the result of the directed activities is irrelevant per CJEU Emrek; (at 21 she dismisses an argument to try and distinguish Emrek on the facts, which argued that claimant had entered the pool via the VIP area to which his ‘standard’ ticket did not actually give access).

The further discussion involves the insurance title of Brussels Ia, which reads in relevant part (Article 13):

(1).   In respect of liability insurance, the insurer may also, if the law of the court permits it, be joined in proceedings which the injured party has brought against the insured. (2).   Articles 10, 11 and 12 shall apply to actions brought by the injured party directly against the insurer, where such direct actions are permitted. (3).   If the law governing such direct actions provides that the policyholder or the insured may be joined as a party to the action, the same court shall have jurisdiction over them.

The claims against Ice Mountain in tort or for breach of statutory duty are halted by Andrews J. The question here is whether the ‘parasitic’ claim under A13(3) requires the issue to ‘relate to insurance’ (recently also discussed obiter in Griffin v Varouxakis), an issue already discussed in Keefe, Hoteles Pinero Canarias SL v Keefe [2015] EWCA Civ 598 (referred to in Bonnie Lackey), sent to the CJEU but settled before either Opinion of judgment. The same issue is now before the CJEU as Cole and Others v IVI Madrid SL and Zurich Insurance Plc, pending in anonymised fashion before the CJEU it would seem as C-814/19, AC et al v ABC Sl (a wrongful birth case).

At any rate, the non-contractual claims against Ice Mountain were stayed until the CJEU has answered the questions referred to it by Judge Rawlings in Cole.

A late [but that in itself does not matter: lis alibi pendens needs to be assessed ex officio (at 36)] challenge on the basis of A29-30 lis alibi pendens rules was raised and dismissed. The other proceedings are criminal proceedings in Ibiza. The argument goes (at 37) that there are ongoing criminal proceedings in Spain arising out of the accident which led to Mr Hutchinson’s injuries, and because Mr Hutchinson has failed to expressly reserve his right to bring separate civil proceedings, the Public Prosecutor is obliged to bring civil proceedings on his behalf within the ambit of those criminal proceedings. For that reason, Ice Mountain contend that the Spanish court is seised of any civil claim arising from the same facts as are under investigation in the Spanish criminal proceedings, and has been since 2016, long before these proceedings were commenced.

This line of argument fails to convince Andrews J: ‘Through no fault of his own, Mr Hutchinson has never been in a position knowingly to take any formal steps to reserve his position in Spain to commence separate civil proceedings against anyone he alleges to be legally liable for his injuries. Yet, if Ice Mountain is right, he will have been deprived of any choice in the matter of where to bring his civil claim merely because, without his knowledge or consent, a doctor in the hospital filed a report which triggered a criminal investigation into the accident, of which he was never told.’ Quite apart from this unacceptable suggestion, the criminal proceedings in Ibiza have been closed, and (at 59) ‘there is no ongoing criminal action leading to trial, to which any civil action would attach.’

For the claims against Mapfre, Mrs Justice Andrews held that the court has jurisdiction on two alternative basis:

Firstly, the provision in the contract of insurance upon which Mapfre seeks to rely as demonstrating that there is no good arguable case against it on the merits cannot be relied on, as that would substantially undermine the protection to the weaker party specifically provided for in the insurance provisions of Recast Brussels 1.

In essence, Mapfre accepts that under Spanish law, there would be a direct right of action against it as Ice Mountain’s liability insurer if it were liable to indemnify Ice Mountain under the policy, but it contends that Mr Hutchinson does not have a good arguable case that Mapfre’s policy of insurance covers Ice Mountain’s liability to him under a judgment given by an English court. The policy would, however, cover Ice Mountain’s liability to him for the same accident, based on the identical cause (or causes) of action, under a judgment given by a Spanish court. (ICE Mountain agree, therefore also acknowledging it is uninsured in respect of any claims which the English consumers who are its targeted customers might bring in the courts of their own domicile pursuant to A17-18 BIa). If this were right, this would mean a massive disincentive for the consumer to sue in his jurisdiction: at 66 (a devilish suggestion): If he wins and the uninsured defendant is not good for the money, he would be left without a remedy, whereas if he sued in Spain, the same defendant would be insured in respect of the same liability, and he would recover from the insurer up to the policy limits.

At 67: if a party who owes contractual duties to consumers ‘does insure, and a direct of action exists against the insurer under the law which governs the insurance contract, then ‘Recast Brussels I does not contemplate that he should be permitted to contract with the insurer on a basis that acts as a disincentive to consumers to exercise their rights to sue him (and his insurer) in the courts of their own domicile or which renders any rights of suit against the insurer in that jurisdiction completely worthless by using the exercise of those rights as grounds for avoiding the insurer’s obligation to indemnify him.

The Spanish law experts called upon to interpret the provisions of the territorial scope title in the insurance policy, differed as to exact meaning. However the issue was settled on the basis of EU law, with most interesting arguments (and reference ia to Assens Havn): summarising the discussion: a substantial policy clause limiting liability to awards issued by Spanish judgments, in practice would have the same third party effect as a choice of court clause which B1A does not allow (see A15: The provisions of this Section may be departed from only by an agreement… (3) Which is concluded between a policyholder and an insurer, both of whom are at the time of conclusion of the contract domiciled or habitually resident in the same member state, and which has the effect of conferring jurisdiction on the courts of that state even if the harmful event were to occur abroad, provided that such agreement is not contrary to the law of that Member State….”

At 84:

‘If a clause which has that effect can be relied on against a person such as Mr Hutchinson it would drive a coach and horses through the special rules on insurance laid down under Section 3 of Chapter II. It would provide every liability insurer (not just Spanish insurers) with the simplest means of depriving the injured party of the choice of additional jurisdictions conferred upon him by Articles 11 to 13 of Recast Brussels 1. It would be the easiest thing in the world for an insurer, as the economically strongest party, to include a standard term in the policy that he is only liable for claims that have been brought against the policyholder in the courts of the policyholder’s and/or the insurer’s own domicile.’

This part of the judgment is most interesting and shows the impact jurisdictional rules and their effet utile may have on substantive law (at the least, third party effect of same).

Alternatively, even if the analysis above is wrong, ‘on the basis of the expert evidence on Spanish law that is currently before the Court, at this stage of the proceedings the Claimant has established at the very least a plausible evidential basis for finding that the clause in question (the one which effectively limits pay-outs to judgments issued in Spain) is not binding upon him as a third party to the contract, and therefore is ineffective to prevent MAPFRE from being directly liable if his claim is otherwise well-founded on the merits. He has therefore established a good arguable case that the jurisdictional gateway under Article 13(2) of Recast Brussels 1 applies.’

Most relevant and interesting.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2 Heading 2.2.11.2

 

Bonnie Lackey v Mallorca Mega Resorts. High Court throws a wide net for jurisdictional privileges of consumers.

I have waited a little while to discuss (I had tweeted it earlier)  [2019] EWHC 1028 (QB) Bonnie Lackey v Mallorca Mega Resorts. It is a good case for an exam essay question and that is what I used it for this morning (albeit in simplified form, focusing on the consumer title).

Defendant is domiciled in Spain, and is hereafter referred to as ‘the Hotel’. Claimant was one of a group of friends who went on holiday to Magaluf in Mallorca, Spain. The booking was made in May 2017 by Ms Donna Bond, who was one of the party and a friend of Bonnie Lackey. The Agency’s Booking Conditions stated

‘references to “you” and “your” include the first named person on the booking and all persons on whose behalf a booking is made …’.

Section A, applicable to all bookings stated:

“By making a booking, you agree on behalf of all persons detailed on the booking that you have read these terms and conditions and agree to be bound by them”.

In my exam question I have left the agency out of the factual matrix. Its presence is immaterial for the case for the agency acts, well, as an agent: contract is between clients and the hotel direct.

The group were staying at the site owned and operated by the Hotel. It is agreed between parties that the Agency’s and Hotel’s marketing meets with the Pammer Alpenhof criteria, in other words that they direct their activity at England. Claimant, Ms Lackey, who is domiciled in England, was seriously injured in the ‘wave’ pool and is now tetraplegic. Damages application is for £9 million given the high cost of care for the now 41 year old claimant.

A first discussion concerned the insurance section (not part of the exam essay)(15 ff). Generali (of Spain) were the hotel’s insurers and had already accepted jurisdiction for the English courts. Their liability though was capped at an absolute max of 0.45 Million Euros – far off the claim. Claimant’s hope was that Article 13(3) Brussels Ia as Clyde point out, might be used for a claim anchored unto Generali. Here, the High Court followed the authority of Hoteles Pinero Canarias SL v Keefe [2015] EWCA Civ 598, see references to EU law there. That case went up to the Supreme Court and thence to the CJEU where it was taken off the roll following settlement. In any event, following Keefe, Davison M in Bonnie Lackey held that jurisdiction was conferred on the English courts by Articles 11 and 13 BIa, (contained in Section 3) which permit a claim here against the insurer and the joinder of the hotel to that claim. Master Davison rejected suggestions for the need of a CJEU reference among others because he also upheld jurisdiction under the consumer titleThe essential question here was whether there is a need for complete identity between the consumer referred to in Article 17(1) and the consumer referred to in Article 18(1) BIa.

Davison M suggests there need not, referring in particular to the Regulation’s aims to protect the weaker party, and to rule out as much as possible the risk of irreconcilable judgments.

Defendant’s reference to Schrems was considered immaterial. At 39: ‘Plainly, the consumer bringing the claim must be a beneficiary of the consumer contract or at least within its ambit. That does not mean that she personally must have concluded it. To borrow again from the judgment of Gloster LJ in Keefe, there would be no linguistic or purposive justification for such a restrictive interpretation.’ I am not sure I agree, not at any rate without proper discussion of ‘within its ambit’. The CJEU’s case-law on the protected categories does evidently aim to protect weaker categories and interpretation of same must serve that purpose. However the CJEU at the same time also emphasises the fact that these sections are an exception to the general rule and therefore must not be applied too widely, either.

Master Davison cuts short too extensive a discussion of the ‘ambit’ issue, by referring to the General Terms and Conditions – GTCS: the consumer who booked, accepted these GTCS ‘on behalf of all persons detailed in the booking’. At 40: ‘The hotel deployed no evidence of any kind to displace the effect of these terms, (which, I would add, are standard terms to be expected in a contract of this kind). A person who contracts through an agent has still “concluded” a contact. Thus, all argument about the need for complete identity between the consumer referred to in Article 17.1 and the consumer referred to in Article 18.1 is redundant. In each case it was the claimant, Ms Lackey.’ Whether counsel should have made more noise about this issue I do not know, however I would have expected discussion here of the general respect the Regulation has for privity of contract (which I discuss repeatedly on the blog).

I do not think this case will settle the matter. Its outcome evidently is positive (particularly considering that for Ms Lackey it will really not be straightforward to attend trial in Spain). However its legal reasoning cuts a few corners.

I would expect my students to discuss the need for effective protection of consumers ‘v’ the exceptional character of the section; and privity of contract which the CJEU flags on several occasions. Each with proper case-law references.

Geert.

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

Ramona Ang v Reliantco: On bitcoins, choice of court, complex financial markets and ‘consumers’. As well as a first vindication of my GDPR jurisdictional prediction.

Update the merits were held today in Ang v Reliantco Investments Ltd [2020] EWHC 3242 (Comm)

As noted, I have come up for some air after a few hectic weeks – next case to report on is [2019] EWHC 879 (Comm) Ramona v Reliantco, held 12 April. (A similar case is pending with the CJEU against Reliantco as Case C-500/18).

Defendant (‘Reliantco’) is a company incorporated in Cyprus offering financial products and services through an online trading platform under the ‘UFX’ trade name. Claimant, Ms Ang, is an individual of substantial means who invested in Bitcoin futures, on a leveraged basis, through the UFX platform. She claims, essentially and primarily, that Reliantco wrongfully blocked and terminated her UFX account and should compensate her for the loss of her open Bitcoin positions, or at a minimum should refund her cash value invested. She also makes claims for relief in respect of what she says have been breaches of data protection obligations owed by Reliantco in connection with her UFX account.

The judgment does not concern the merits of Ms Ang’s claims but rather an application by Reliantco challenging jurisdiction. Reliantco contends that Ms Ang is bound by its standard terms and conditions, clause 27.1 of which provides that the courts of Cyprus are to have exclusive jurisdiction over “all disputes and controversies arising out of or in connection with” her customer agreement. Reliantco therefore relies on Article 25 Brussels Ia.

Ms Ang says that clause 27.1 is ineffective to require her to bring her claim in Cyprus, either because she is a consumer within Section 4 of Brussels (Recast) or because clause 27.1 was not incorporated into her UFX customer agreement with Reliantco in such a way as to satisfy the requirements of Article 25. Ms Ang says, in the alternative, that her data protection claims may be brought here notwithstanding Article 25 Brussels Ia even if Article 25 applies to her primary substantive claims.

All in all a nice set of jurisdictional issues and no surprise to have prof Jonathan Harris QC involved as counsel.

At all times material to her claim, Ms Ang was not employed or earning a living in any self-employed trade or profession (unless, which is contentious between the parties and considered below, her activity as a customer of Reliantco via the UFX platform is itself to be so classified). Ms Ang worked in money markets for two months as a trainee, observing US$/DM currency swaps. Other than that, she has no professional currency trading or money market experience (again, that is, unless her use of the UFX platform to invest in Bitcoin futures itself counts as such).

At 9, a little bit of Bitcoin drame enters the scene: Ms Ang’s husband, Craig Wright, is a computer scientist with cybersecurity and blockchain expertise who works as Chief Scientist for nChain Ltd, a blockchain technology company with a corporate vision “to transform how the world conducts all transactions – using the blockchain’s distributed, decentralised ledger that chronologically records transactions in an immutable way“. As a researcher, he publishes prolifically and has developed innovations for which patent protection has been sought. He is the same Craig Wright who has identified himself publicly as being ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’, the online pseudonym associated with the inventor (or a co-inventor) of Bitcoin. Baker J holds that he need not consider whether that claim is true, and on the evidence for this application I would not be in any position to do so.

Was Ms Ang a ‘consumer’? At 52 ff the arguments of Reliantco are summarised; at 55 ff those of Ms Ang.

CJEU precedent discussed by Baker J is C-89/91 Shearson; C-269/95 Benincasa; C-464/01 Gruber; C-498/16 Schremsand the pending cases C‑208/18 Petruchová [I reviewed the AG’s Opinion (issued a day before the High Court’s judgment) yesterday] and C-500/18 Reliantco Investments and Reliantco Investments Limassol Sucursala Bucureşti.

Baker J concludes at 34 ‘the ECJ/CJEU has not decided whether contracts entered into by a wealthy private individual for the purpose of investing her wealth, or particular types of such contract, are not (or can never be) consumer contracts.’

Reference is then made to English precedent along the very lines of the precedent dismissed by Tanchev AG in Petruchová: including AMT Futures v Marzillier, and at 35 ff Standard Bank London Ltd v Apostolakis both through the English and the Greek courts – with differing results. At 44: ‘the disagreement between the English and Greek decisions in Apostolakis turns upon and is constituted by a difference of view as to whether investing private wealth for gain, if it takes the form of buying and selling foreign currency, is by nature a business activity so that an individual investing their wealth in that way cannot when doing so be a ‘consumer’ under Brussels (Recast). Longmore J thought there was no such proposition of law; the Greek court took the contrary view.’ German case-law is also discussed.

At 63 Baker J comes to the core of his reasoning: ‘In my judgment, the investment by a private individual of her personal surplus wealth (i.e. surplus to her immediate needs), in the hope of generating good returns (whether in the form of income on capital, capital growth, or a mix of the two), is not a business activity, generally speaking. It is a private consumption need, in the sense I believe intended by the ECJ in Benincasa, to invest such wealth with such an aim, i.e. that is an ‘end user’ purpose for a private individual and is not exclusively a business activity. That means, as was also Popplewell J’s conclusion in AMT v Marzillier, that it will be a fact-specific issue in any given case whether a particular individual was indeed contracting as a private individual to satisfy that need, i.e. as a consumer, or was doing so for the purpose of an investment business of hers (existing or planned).’

And at 65 in fine: the ‘question of purpose is the question to be asked, and it must be considered upon all of the evidence available to the court and not by reference to any one part of that evidence in isolation.’

At 68 he concludes ‘the purpose of her contract with Reliantco therefore was outside any business of hers’.

Baker J notes that he was not asked to defer any decision in C‑208/18 Petruchová. I believe it would have been of help to determine the issue before him. Tanchev AG (as noted, in an Opinion not available to Baker J at the time of his drafting his judgment) suggests that ‘to determine whether a person must be regarded as a consumer, reference must be made to the nature and objective of the contract, not to the subjective situation of the person concerned.’ 

Obiter, he then reviews Article 25, where CJEU authority discussed is ia Colzanni and Cars on the Web. Ms Ang contended that she was not able to access the standard terms web page at the time she opened her account, and therefore clause 27.1 did not comply with Article 25 B1a. At 78 extensive technical detail is discussed and at 80 Baker J finds that the Cars on the Web criterion of accessibility and durability were met; and at 81 that in any case, the current issue is not one of a click-wrap agreement for a signed hard copy of the GTCs with choice of court in it, had also been sent.

Equally obiter, at 83 ff Baker J summarily discussed the GDPR jurisdictional arguments which would have been more relevant had he not accepted jurisdiction under the consumer title. The brief discussion entirely fulfils my summer 2018 prediction here: Article 79 GDPR will create a lot of issues at the level of jurisdiction.

A very relevant case.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

 

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