Happy Flights v Ryanair. Belgian Supreme Court (only) confirms proper lex causae for validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia.

Thank you alumna and appreciated co-author Jutta Gangsted for flagging Charles Price’s (former learned colleague of mine at Dibb Lupton Alsop) and Sébastien Popijn’s alert on the Belgian Supreme Court’s ruling of 8 February last in C.18.0354.N Happy Flights v Ryanair. Happy Flights are a Belgium-based online claim agency to which disgruntled passengers may assign claims for compensation under Regulation 261/2004.

At issue is the validity of Ryanair’s choice of court in its general terms and conditions, referring consumers to Irish courts. The Brussels Commercial court on 30 May 2018 seemingly first of all did not assess whether the agency may be considered a ‘consumer’ within the terms of Irish consumer protection law (itself an implementation of Directive 93/13), having been assigned the consumers’ claims. The May 2018 decision itself is unreported <enters his usual rant about the lack of proper reporting of Belgian case-law>.

The Supreme Court (at 2, line 47) notes this lack of assessment by the lower court. It does not however complete the analysis sticking religiously to its role to interpret the law only, not the facts. Per CJEU Schrems mutatis mutandis I would suggest an affirmative answer (the agency having been assigned the consumers’ rights).

Do note that the use of the word ‘consumer’ in this context must not confuse: the consumer title of Brussels Ia itself does not apply unless the contract is one of combined travel and accommodation (or other services); the Regulation excludes contracts for travel only, from the scope of application of the consumer title.

The Brussels Commercial court subsequently and again from what one can infer from the Supreme Court’s ruling, discussed the validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia, reviewing its formal conditions (formation of consent) yet judging the material validity under the lex fori, Belgian law, not the lex fori prorogati, Irish law. This is a clear violation of A25 juncto recital 20 Brussels Ia. The Supreme Court suggests that the relevant Irish implementation of the unfair consumer terms Directive 93/13 does imply invalidity of the clause (again: if the claim is held to fall under the consumer title, this analysis will become superfluous).

Note that the SC omits recital 20’s renvoi instruction, keeping entirely schtum about it: clearly misapplying the Regulation.

The Court’s judgment unlike the understandably enthusiastic briefing by Happy Flight’s counsel does not quite yet mean that Ryanair’s terms and conditions on this issue have been invalidated. However it is likely they will be upon further assessment on the merits – with hopefully the Court of Appeal not omitting Brussels Ia’s renvoi instruction. As I note above first up there will be the issue of assignment rather than the issue of A25.

For your interest, I gave a Twitter tutorial on a related issue (consumer law, lex causae, compulsory referral to arbitration) recently.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.

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 14 May 2021 the Court of Appeal has today confirmed  the lack of subordination [Alta Trading UK Ltd v Bosworth [2021] EWCA Civ 687], with the Master of the Rolls commenting [82]

It seems that the defendants have spared no expense in seeking to challenge the jurisdiction of the English court over them. There have now been no fewer than 6 substantive hearings at different levels from the Commercial Court to the CJEU, and many interlocutory ones. The claim form was issued as long ago as 13 February 2015, now 6¼ years ago, but the defendants have yet even to file a defence to the claimants’ claims for some US$339 million. This, I regret to say, is an indictment of a system that has, in this case, allowed relatively straightforward jurisdictional arguments to expand into an unrestrained litigation extravaganza. Courts at all levels need to keep a close eye on proportionality.

Update 19 October 2020 today the High Court held in [2020] EWHC 2757 (Comm) Arcadia /Bosworth that defendants had a more than negligible ability to influence the Arcadia companies and that therefore there is no relation of employment.

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.

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.

 

Qualifying ‘consumers’ on social media and in the case of assignment. Bobek AG in Schrems v Facebook.

Bobek AG must have picked up his knack for colourful language at Teddy Hall. His Opinion last week in C-498/16 Schrems v Facebook is a delight and one does best service to it by simply inviting one reads it. Now, that must not absolve me of my duty to report succinctly on its contents – the Court itself I imagine will be equally short shrift with claimant’s arugments.

When I asked my students in the August exam to comment on the case, I simply gave them the preliminary questions and asked them how the CJEU should answer them:

1 Is Article 15 of Regulation 44/2001 to be interpreted as meaning that a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of that provision loses that status, if, after the comparatively long use of a private Facebook account, he publishes books in connection with the enforcement of his claims, on occasion also delivers lectures for remuneration, operates websites, collects donations for the enforcement of his claims and has assigned to him the claims of numerous consumers on the assurance that he will remit to them any proceeds awarded, after the deduction of legal costs?

2. Is Article 16 of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 to be interpreted as meaning that a consumer in a Member State can also invoke at the same time as his own claims arising from a consumer supply at the claimant’s place of jurisdiction the claims of others consumers on the same subject who are domiciled

a. In the same Member State, b. In another Member State: or c. In a non-Member State,

if the claims assigned to him arise from consumer supplies involving the same defendant in the same legal context and if the assignment is not part of a professional or trade activity of the applicant, but rather serves to ensure the joint enforcement of claims?

 

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, I expected my students to point to the CJEU’s precedent of applying the Regulation with a view to predictability and legal certainty; specifically for consumers, to Gruber and the burden of proof in cases of dual use; and to the Court’s judgment in Emrek. Other than the last issue, the AG points to all. Predictability points to a static approach: I would suggest the AG is right. Bobek AG does leave the door ajar for a dynamic interpretation: at 39: in exptional cases, a ‘dynamic’ approach to consumer status should not be entirely excluded. This could be potentially relevant in the event that a contract does not specify its aim, or it is open to different uses, and it lasts a long period of time, or is even indeterminate. It is conceivable that in such cases, the purpose for which a certain contractual service is used might change — not just partially, but even completely. Social media contracts may lead to such circumstances, one imagines, however there would be many ifs and buts to such analysis: including, I would suggest, the terms of the contract wich the service provider initially drew up.

On the issue of assignment the AG’s approach is entirely logical and not surprising: evidently Herr Schrems cannot have claims assigned to him and then exercise those claims using any other jurisdictional prerogatives then present in the original claim. While these may allow him to sue in the forum actoris of the original consumer, there is no valid argument whatsoever to suggest he could join them to his own domicile. The arguments made de lege ferenda (need for forum shopping in collective consumer redress) are justifiably rejected.

Geert.

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

 

Rome I: corrigendum in the Dutch version re ‘habitual residence’ /gewone verblijfplaats?

It does not happen all that often: this is a call for assistance. Following a student’s Q re ‘habitual residence’ in Rome I, I have now noticed something I had not before (I more often than not use the English version of the Regulation in my teaching and practice): Article 6(1) on ‘consumer contracts’ uses the term ‘habitual residence’ ‘gewone verblijfplaats’ (defined, or not, for natural persons, in Article 19) in the introductory para (which identifies applicable law). However in littera a it then uses ‘domicile’ ‘woonplaats’: a term which is not otherwise used in Rome I and which is not defined by it.

A quick scan of other language versions (French, English, German) reveals no such error: they all use the equivalent of ‘habitual residence’ in both instances. Now, evidently the error must be pushed aside given the other language versions however: is any reader of the blog aware of a corrigendum ever published? For if it has, I cannot locate it.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.

Of little birds, language, and choice of court in consumer contracts

I have reported elsewhere (In Dutch – I am hoping for some time at some point to write something similar in English; see in particular para 23) on the fact that the conjunctive ‘or’ has been dropped in all language versions of Article 19 of the Brussels I recast:

The provisions of this Section may be departed from only by an agreement:

  • which is entered into after the dispute has arisen;
  • which allows the consumer to bring proceedings in courts other than those indicated in this Section; or
  • which is entered into by the consumer and the other party to the contract, both of whom are at the time of conclusion of the contract domiciled or habitually resident in the same Member State, and which confers jurisdiction on the courts of that Member State, provided that such an agreement is not contrary to the law of that Member State.

This contrast with the similar proviso on choice of court in employment contracts, Article 23:

The provisions of this Section may be departed from only by an agreement:

  • which is entered into after the dispute has arisen; or
  • which allows the employee to bring proceedings in courts other than those indicated in this Section.

I have suggested, with others, that much as I do not understand why the conjunctive has been dropped, its deletion, combined with its being kept in Article 23, means that for consumer contracts, choice of court pre the dispute are now simply impossible under the Regulation, while being maintained for employment contracts. I was also puzzled as to why such an important change was not discussed at all in the run-up to the recast.

A little bird at the European Commission (one high up the conflicts tree) now tells me that what has happened in reality, is quite different. Reportedly the ‘juristes-linguistes’ took it upon them to correct an apparent linguistic mistake in the previous version of the Regulation (indeed one going back to the Brussels Convention): there ought not to be a conjunctive when listing more than one, non-cumulative alternative. That would also explain the difference with Article 23, where there are only 2 alternatives.

This clears up the legislative intent. It does not to me, at least, clear up the linguistic confusion. We may have been grammatically wrong under the previous format (I cannot judge the correctness of that in all these language versions). However at least we were legally certain. Being fully respectful of grammatical correctness myself (punctuation jokes never fail to amuse me), I am not sure which one to prefer in this instance.

Geert.

The ECJ in Vapenik: on the perils of cross-interpretation in consumer law

The ECJ held in Vapenik some time ago (December 2013) and interprets Article 6(1) d of the European Enforcement Order (EEO) Regulation, Regulation 805/2004. This allows the Court faced with an uncontested claim in a consumer contract, with the consumer as debtor, to attach an enforcement order to its judgment, only if that court is the court of  the domicile of the consumer.

The Regulation does not further specify whether the creditor in this relationship has to be a ‘business person’ (sic) , acting in his commercial capacity, or whether relations between two persons, both acting in their ‘consumer’ capacity, might suffice. The long and the short of this discussion is that the EEO Regulation does not include the paraphernalia for ‘consumer contracts’ which both the Brussels I and the Rome I Regulation do include. (And which have been the subject of extensive case law – see tag ‘consumer’ on this blog). The ECJ justifiably refers to the need to interpret the EEO and the Brussels I Regulation coherently on this point. Justifiably: for both the Brussels I-Regulation and the EEO Regulation concern the same stage of conflict of laws: enforcement (with in the case of Brussels-I jurisdiction thrown in precisely to assist enforcement).

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).  Do note that the ‘commercial’ nature of the counterparty to the contract, on which the ECJ ruled in Vapenik, is but one of many complications in consumer contracts under the Brussels I-Regulation. Further need for clarification therefore must not be ruled out (although national courts could take a lead from Vapenik and apply the Brussels I case-law mutatis mutandis).

Geert.

Location of damage resulting from law firm’s alleged wrongful inducement in breach of exclusive jurisdiction clause. The High Court in AMT v Marzillier.

Update May 2019 For ease of reference: confirmed by the Court of Appeal [2015] EWCA Civ 143 and by the Supreme Court  [2017] UKSC 13. Review of the latter two here.

AMT v Marzillier [2014] EWHC 1085 (Comm) concerns special jurisdiction under tort, Article 5(3) of the Brussels I-Regulation, in the event of a loss of contractual right – as well as a cursory review of the consumer title.

Here: the loss, allegedly due to wrongful inducement by defendant (a law firm) to have a contractual claim heard in England. Contractual claims (alleged precarious investment advice) by a group of individuals had been settled by AMT in Germany.  Popplewell J concisely revisits the complete history of Article 5(3), from Bier via Kalfelis and Dumez France to Marinari and Kronhofer, however, leaving out Shevill. (See also below).

On the basis of said precedents he holds that the Courts of England do indeed have jurisdiction: ‘The place where the damage occurred as a result of MMGR’s allegedly tortious conduct was England, where such conduct deprived AMT of the contractual benefit of the exclusive jurisdiction clause which ought to have been enjoyed in England. ‘ (at 46). Counsel for AMT had also put forward an alternative ground which was that the payments for the settlements and costs came from England, and that England is where management time was wasted and future business lost.  Not so: Popplewell J: ‘The unquantified heads of loss for wasted management time and loss of business are not the primary heads of claim and do not constitute the main part of the damage said to have occurred as a result of the harmful event. They are not the damage. They are not initial, direct or immediate damage, but to the extent quantifiable and recoverable, merely the remoter financial consequences of the harm suffered in Germany. ‘ (at 52).

Per Shevil, jurisdiction of the English courts will be limited to the extent of damages suffered by the loss of the contractual benefit of the exclusive jurisdiction clause which ought to have been enjoyed in England: how exactly that ought to be quantified (if liability is at all withheld, of course) will not be a straightforward matter, one assumes.

Succinct review is also made of the consumer title, with the finding that on its applicability there is an issue to be tried. At 58, Popplewell J suggests ‘wherever the dividing line is to be drawn in the case of investors, the result is likely to be heavily dependent on the circumstances of each individual and the nature and pattern of investment. At one end of the scale may be the retired dentist who makes a single investment for a modest amount by way of pension provision. At the other may be an investment banker or asset manager who plays the markets widely, regularly and for substantial amounts, for his own account. In between there are many factors which might influence the result, including the profile of the investor, the nature and extent of the investment activity, and the tax treatment of any profits or losses. The issue is fact specific.’ I do not think too much should be read in these examples – more so, the insistence that circumstances of the case do have an impact on the qualification as ‘consumer’.

Geert.

Prove it if you can? E-commerce and jurisdiction: the ECJ further completes the jigsaw in Emrek

As tweeted last week, the Court of Justice has clarified the scope of the consumer title of the Brussels-I Regulation in Case C-218/12 Emrek. In Spicheren, a town close to the German border, Mr Sabranovic sells second-hand motor vehicles. He had an internet site on which French telephone numbers and a German mobile telephone number were mentioned, together with the respective international codes. Mr Emrek, who resides in Saarbrücken (Germany) and who learned through acquaintances (not via the internet) of Mr Sabronovic’s business went there and purchased a second-hand motor vehicle.

Subsequently, Mr Emrek made claims against Mr Sabronovic under the warranty before the Amtsgericht (District Court) Saarbrücken. Mr Emrek took the view that, under Regulation No 44/2001, that court had jurisdiction to hear such an action. It was clear from the set-up of Mr Sabranovic’s website that his commercial activity was also directed to Germany. However, it was also clear that the contract that had been concluded was not the result of that direction: Mr Emrek had heard from the business by word of mouth, not the internet.  Must there be a causal link between the means employed to direct the commercial activity to the Member State of the consumer’s domicile, namely the internet site, and the conclusion of the contract with the consumer?

The Court held that requiring such causal link would raise questions of burden of proof. Difficulties related to proof of the existence of a causal link would tend to dissuade consumers from bringing actions before the courts of their domicile and would therefore weaken the protection of consumers pursued by the regulation. However if and when that causal link is in fact established, it would constitute strong evidence which may be taken into consideration by the national court to determine whether the activity of the professional trader is ‘directed at’ the Member State of the consumer’s domicile.

The Court’s judgment could have certainly swayed differently. There are – among other textual – reasons for arguing pro requiring a causal link between the activities directed at the consumer’s place of domicile, and the eventual contract. The ECJ pushes out the consumer protection boat yet a little further.

I can’t quite think of a pun to end this posting. I’ll just end it. Geert.

Of rocks and hard stones for national courts – Villalon AG in Mühlleitner: No need for restrictive approach to the protective jurisdictional grounds for consumers in Brussels I

Villalon AG has opined in Case C-190/11 Mühlleitner [Opinion as yet not available in English].

Article 15 of the Brussels I ‘Jurisdiction’ Regulation, offers protective jurisdictional rules for consumers, provided one or two conditions are met. Article 15(1)(c) [statutory law likes its subdivisions) offers the generic criterion for application:

‘Article 15

1.      In matters relating to a contract concluded by a person, the consumer, for a purpose which can be regarded as being outside his trade or profession, jurisdiction shall be determined by this Section, without prejudice to Article 4 and point 5 of Article 5, if: (…)

(c)      in all other cases, the contract has been concluded with a person who pursues commercial or professional activities in the Member State of the consumer’s domicile or, by any means, directs such activities to that Member State or to several States including that Member State, and the contract falls within the scope of such activities.’

In Pammer /Alpenhof,   Alpenhof had argued amongst others that that its contract with the consumer is concluded on the spot and not at a distance, as the room keys are handed over and payment is made on the spot, and that accordingly Article 15(1)(c) of Regulation No 44/2001 cannot apply. The Court of Justice had answered this with the very paragraph which has now tempted the Oberster Gerichtshof – Austria, into the preliminary review, para 87:

‘ In that regard, the fact that the keys are handed over to the consumer and that payment is made by him in the Member State in which the trader is established does not prevent that provision from applying if the reservation was made and confirmed at a distance, so that the consumer became contractually bound at a distance.’

This paragraph seemed to suggest ‘at a distance’ as the trigger for the application of Article 15(1)(c) which in turn led to the preliminary question:

Does the application of Article 15(1)(c) [   ] presuppose that the contract between the consumer and the undertaking has been concluded at a distance?

Villalon AG replied on 24 May, making specific reference to the history of Article 15, in particular with reference to the old text, under the Brussels Convention. That old provision seemed to imply that where the consumer’s contracting party had encouraged him to leave his Member State of domicile so as to conclude the contract elsewhere, the consumer could not make recourse to the protective regime. Other changes to the relevant title, too, suggested if anything that Council and Commission’s intention with the new provisions was definitely not to limit their scope of application: had they intended to do so, the AG suggests, the Institutions would have limited Article 15’s scope to contracts concluded at a distance. Court of Justice case-law hints at the same need for a wide approach [in particular, Ilsinger, where the Court of Justice held that the scope of Article 15(1)(c) appears ‘to be no longer being limited to those situations in which the parties have assumed reciprocal obligations.’]

The AG concludes with the suggestion that the reference to ‘distance’ in para 87 of Alpenhof refers to a factual circumstance, rather than a condition for application.

To many the conclusion may seem obvious, and the issue covered by acte clair (meaning the national court could have referred to the arguably obvious meaning of the provision, not to have to refer to the Court of Justice). In particular, the COJ has repeatedly emphasised the relevance of the consumer title in the Jurisdiction Regulation. On the other hand, however, the same Court has been quite anxious to give national courts detailled and specific instructions on the application of tiny details in the Regulation, making application of the acte clair doctrine quite difficult: many things one thought were clear, have been answered by the Court in unexpected ways.

National courts therefore are caught between the proverbial rock and the hard stone. Either they refer profusely, thereby feeding the cycle of micromanagement. Or they make extended use of acte clair, thereby risking unequal application of the Regulation (and potentially European Commission irk). On the issue of Article 15(1)(c) at least, the former would seem to prevail: in Slot, Case C-98/12 (hitherto still pending), the German Bundesgerichtshof has asked essentially the same question.

Geert.