Posts Tagged Contract
NMBS v Mbutuku Kanyeba et al. A very relaxed CJEU on the notion of ‘contract’ (in EU transport law).
To scholars of private international law, the CJEU judgment last week in Joined cases C-349/18 to C-351/18 NMBS v Mbutuku Kanyeba et al might seem like ending us up in a parallel universe, where unlike in conflicts land, core concepts of private law are understood without much ado.
Additional surcharges were claimed against claimants for having travelled by train without a transport ticket. For either Regulation 1371/2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations and Directive 93/13 on unfair terms in consumer contracts, the existence of a ‘contract’ is a clear prerequisite for the application at all of these rules. The AG had opined that the EU rules at issue did not define ‘contract’ and therefore had to defer to the applicable national laws.
The CJEU however has much less hesitation, noting at 36 that ‘the word ‘contract’ is generally understood to designate an agreement by consensus intended to produce legal effects. Secondly, in the context of the field covered by that regulation and in the light of the wording of that provision, that effect consists principally in the obligation imposed on the rail undertaking to provide to the passenger one or more transport services and the obligation imposed on the passenger to pay the price of that transport, unless the service is provided free of charge’.
The Court gives no further explanation. How a ‘contract’ in this context can be ‘generally understood’ as being what the Court says it is (with all the uncertainty relating e.g. to ‘consensus’ and to the reciprocity element it seems to imply) must be a surprise to all those current and past studying ‘contract’ in the conflict of laws. Of course, in the EU rules at issue there is no delineation with ‘tort’ to consider, and the Court in the further paras seems to hint at adopting a flexible interpretation so as to protect passengers (without a contract, they have no rights), the matter of factly approach to the definition must be surprising.
Saugmandsgaard ØE in Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia: the Feniks ‘contractual relation’ train thunders on, yet restraint is shown on the consumer section, even for package travel.
In C-215/18 Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia, Saugmandsgaard ØE AG now unsurprisingly (following the CJEU predecent of Feniks and Flightright), advised that in a package of services acquired from a travel agent, where there is no direct agreement with the airline carrying out the flight part of the package, there is a ‘contract’ between the individual and the airline within the meaning of Article 7(1) BIa.
At 37 the AG emphasises the element of predictability on the part of the airline, who should not be surprised to be sued by the individual whom they agree with the travel agency to transport, both in the place of take-off and landing, per Zurich Insurance.
However unlike the Commission, the AG supports a less extensive interpretation of the consumer section. Package travel as defined in Directive 90/314, unlike simple tickets for transport only, are covered by the protective provisions of Article 17 ff BIa. Yet the AG proposes to extend that regime only to the direct relationship between the travel agent and the consumer, not the airline who merely carries out the transport side of the arrangement. At 48 ff the AG sets out his reasons for the limitation: the emphasis in the consumer section on the very consumer and professional party who concluded the contract (48-49); the distinction with Maletic since in the case at issue claimant is after the airline company only, not an in solidum finding against the agency and the airline (5-52); and of course the need for strict interpretation.
Note of course the different balance struck by the AG as opposed to e.g. the High Court in Bonnie Lackey.
(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 184.108.40.206.
Dinant Bar v maître JN. Bar membership fees. Saugmansdgaard ØE on whether they are at all ‘civil and commercial’ and if so, whether they are ‘contractual’.
In C-421/18 Saugmansdgaard ØE opined (Opinion a yet available in a handful of languages only, not including English) on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ (last reviewed by the Court in Buak) and ‘contract’ (within Article 7(1) Brussels Ia.
At issue was the relationship between a France-domiciled practising lawyer, registered with the Dinant (Belgium) Bar, and that Bar. Maître JN, now a very occasional practitioner it seems, had been refusing to pay his Bar Membership fees even after the Bar council had reduced them to the level of insurance premiums paid by it to the insurance company running the collective professional insurance scheme.
The referring court at Namur had not in fact asked the CJEU about the interpretation of ‘civil and commercial’. It was the EC’s comments which triggered Saugmansdgaard ØE’s review of that issue (albeit he insists the final call is up to the referring court). He refers to the public interest duties carried out by the Bar Council (in particular, ensuring the public’s trust in the proper representation before the judicial authorities), and the authority entrusted to the Council by Belgian’s code of civil procedure (particularly at 34). At 35 ff he then considers whether in its collection of the Bar fees set by and due to it by the registered lawyers, the Council acts in the exercise of that authority, and decides it does not: the fees are determined by the general council of the Bar and in the main represent the professional insurance fees. That is all the more made clear by the fact that in the case of maître JN the Bar had reduced the fees to the exact amount paid to the insurance company.
The dispute therefore he advices is about pennies, not power.
Turning to the issue of ‘contract’ reference is made ia to the recent CJEU decision in Kerr. Particularly at 81 ff the Advocate General emphasises the specificities of the case: the solicitor in question had effectively retired yet chose to continue to pay Bar membership fees. In contrast to for instance Austro-Mecana and more in line with Kerr (and in contrast also one could argue with fully practising lawyers) the voluntary character of the relationship is core.
LIC Telecommunications et al v VTB Capital et al. High Court suggests autonomous EU approach to asymmetric choice of court. Also discusses contract and tort distinction, and abuse of process.
In  EWHC 1747 (Comm) LIC Telecommunications et al v VTB Capital et al Moulder J suggests an unorthodox interpretations of Article 25 of the Brussels Ia Regulation. (Note also her very critical view at 22 of one of the experts, whom she found having confused his role as expert with a role as advocate). Much of the lengthy judgment is devoted to intricate discussions of Luxembourgish corporate law (hence the need for expert evidence) and the jurisdictional issues are, somewhat illogically, discussed towards the end of the judgment, at 245 ff.
Maze, one of the defendants, acts as a manager of V2 pursuant to a directorship agreement dated 26 May 2015 (the “Directorship Agreement”). It relies on the effect of clause 19 of the Directorship Agreement and submitted that claims against it are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of Luxembourg pursuant to Article 25 Brussels Ia. Clause 19 provides:
“for the benefit of the Manager, the Shareholder and the Company hereby irrevocably, specially and expressly agree that the courts of Luxembourg city have jurisdiction to settle any disputes in connection with this Agreement and accordingly submits to the jurisdiction of the courts of Luxembourg city. Nothing in this clause limits however the rights of the Manager to bring proceedings against the Company in connection with this Agreement in any other court of competent jurisdiction or concurrently in more than one jurisdiction.”
The clause is asymmetric aka hybrid aka unilateral. (See e.g. my discussion of Rothschild etc.). These clauses as I have noted elsewhere highlight the clear insufficiency of Brussels Ia’s new lex fori prorogati (including renvoi) rule for choice of court. Which court has been prorogated, hence also lex fori prorogati, is not clear when the clause is asymmetric.
Moulder J discusses  EWHC 161 (Comm) Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers as precedent: I reviewed it here and signalled at the time that it would not be the last we would hear of the issue. In that case Cranston J held ‘There is nothing in Article 25 that a valid jurisdiction agreement has to exclude any courts, in particular non EU Courts. Article 17, penultimate paragraph, of the Brussels Convention recognised asymmetric jurisdiction clauses. To my mind it would need a strong indication that Brussels 1 Recast somehow renders what is a regular feature of financial documentation in the EU ineffective.‘ I was never taken by that conclusion viz the Brussels Convention: its Article 17 reference to a party having ‘benefit’ from choice of court does not relate entirely to the same discussion on asymmetric clauses (Peralla v Codere  EWHC 1182 (Comm) which I discussed here illustrates that difference).
At any rate I disagree with Moulder J’s statement at 254 that
It is now common ground that it is a question of autonomous EU law and not a question of national law. (It was I believe accepted that the proviso “unless the agreement is null and void as to its substantive validity” refers to issues such as capacity, fraud and mistake, not whether particular kinds of “choice of court” agreements are permitted under the Regulation).
Asymmetric clauses are the first example often given when highlighting the limited cover of Article 25 Brussels I a (and the need for certainty on the lex causae for choice of court). There is no autonomous interpretation there at all. I do agree however with the conclusion at 261: that Luxembourg courts, applying EU law, would not uphold such clauses was not made out on the evidence. Luxembourgish courts at least when they apply Luxembourgish law, generally uphold the validity of asymmetric choice of court.
At 263 ff then follows discussion of Article 7(1) and 7(2). Much of the authority discussed has been reviewed on this blog. (Including Bosworth (Arcadia) which in the meantime has been held by the CJEU but without the contract /tort element – the CJEU found against a contract of employment). Moulder J holds that Article 7(2) is engaged, not 7(1), and on the former discusses locus delicti commissi with reference to JSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov. At 295: it is not sufficient that there are meetings in England to implement the conspiracy, it is the making of the agreement in England which is to be regarded as the harmful event. Claimants have not supplied a plausible evidential basis that the agreement was made in England. Their evidence is consistent with a case that the conspiracy was implemented in England but that is not sufficient.
As for locus damni, at 298: Even though the share purchase agreement was under English law, it is the loss of the shares in the Luxembourg company which is the pleaded damage not the agreement to sell or the auction. The Vivacom group consists of Bulgarian telecommunications companies which were held by InterV through Viva Luxembourg Bulgaria EOOD (paragraph 3 of the Agreed List of Agreed Issues). Locus damni is Bulgaria, perhaps Luxembourg. But not England.
Finally, abuse of process considerations are linked to English procedural law (whether claims should have been brought sooner).
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 220.127.116.11, Heading 18.104.22.168 .
Just a quick note for completeness’ sake on Pitruzzella AG’s Opinion in Joined cases C-349/18 to C-351/18 NMBS v Mbutuku Kanyeba et al. It engages consumer protection law, not conflict of laws. To decide whether there is a ‘contract’ between public transport providers and (alleged) fare dodgers, the AG has no choice but to refer to national law:
La directive 93/13/CEE ne réglemente pas les conditions de formation des contrats et le régime relatif aux clauses abusives qu’elle contient est en principe applicable exclusivement aux relations juridiques d’origine contractuelle, qui doivent être qualifiées par le juge national sur le fondement du droit national.
Readers of the blog will appreciate the echoes of Tessili v Dunlop and Handte /Kalfelis, Feniks etc. discussions.
Comparative US /EU jurisdiction material: Mitchell v. DePuy Orthopaedics (Missouri); and KGS v Facebook (Alabama).
Thank you Stephen McConnell for flagging Mitchell v. DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., 2019 U.S. Dist. (Missouri) and Alani Golanski for doing the same for KGS v Facebook at the Alabama Supreme Court,
Both cases have plenty of scope for comparative analysis viz EU law and non-US common law. Which is why I had pondered them for use in exam essays but in the end did not – they might come in handy at a later stage.
Readers best refer to the reports linked above for a full picture. In short, Mitchell involves the minimum contacts rule as well as ‘directing activities towards forum residents’: both have clear echos (and differences) in EU jurisdictional rules. On neither ground was specific (what the EU would call ‘special’) jurisdiction upheld.
In the Facebook case, Facebook argument is included on p.10-11. Claimant put forward a case for jurisdiction on p.13-14. She argues i.a. effects doctrine. Bryan J discussed both extensively p.15 ff and held that doing business in Alabama is not sufficient for personal jur., and (p.39) Facebook engagement with complaints not enough for specific jurisdiction.
In both cases the US Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb is cited as highly relevant authority.