Posts Tagged Contracts

Final judgment in Nikiforidis: Danke aber nein Danke.

Many thanks to Jan von Hein for flagging the ultimate judgment (the link is to a press release) of the Bundesarbeitsgericht in Nikiforidis. I had of course reported earlier my serious misgivings about the CJEU’s judgment in same, upon preliminary review.

The judgment eventually declined to employ the opening left by the CJEU, to take Greek law into account ‘as a matter of fact’. Thank you, but no thank you: there was no suitable point of entry in German law to take account of the Greek austerity laws. Still, as Jan points out, the judgment in Luxembourg undoubtedly will feature as precedent in future cases.

Geert.

 

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Which strap on which boot? CJEU rejects von Munchausen in Nikiforidis, without suggesting alternative. And it leaves effet utile stranded in the mud.

As my review of Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-135/15 Nikiforidis highlighted, on the issue of temporal applicability to continued contracts, the AG suggested along the lines of Rome I Article 10’s regime (the von Munchausen or the ‘bootstrap’ principle) that the lex causae has to determine the moment of ‘conclusion’.

The employment relationship at issue is conducted in Germany and subject to German law, which does not permit reductions in remuneration similar to those to which the Hellenic Republic had recourse (as a result of austerity).

The Court held last week and points out (at 20) that if the Rome I Regulation did not apply to the main proceedings, Article 34 of the EGBGB (the relevant provisions  of residual German private international law concerning contractual relationships) would permit it to take into account the overriding mandatory provisions of another State. Provisions like those are exactly why the UK and Luxembourg in particular (concerned about financial services contracts subject to their laws) insisted on Article 9 Rome I seriously constraining the room for manoeuvre of the forum.

Different from its AG, the Court squarely rejects (at 30) any role here for Article 10. In support, it refers to the original proposal of the European Commission with a view to the adoption of what eventually became Rome I. COM(2005) 650 referred to ‘contractual obligations’: ‘‘contractual obligations arising after its entry into application’; as opposed to the Regulation’s eventual use of ‘‘contracts’ concluded as from 17 December 2009.

At 34: ‘Whilst the reference, proposed by the Commission, to contractual obligations arising after the entry into application of that regulation covered, in addition to contracts concluded after its entry into application, the future effects of contracts concluded before then, that is to say, obligations arising from the latter after then, this is not so in the case of the wording of Article 28 of the Rome I Regulation, which covers exclusively contracts concluded on or after 17 December 2009, the date on which that regulation became applicable pursuant to Article 29 thereof. It follows that, contrary to what the referring court envisages, any agreement by the contracting parties, after 16 December 2009, to continue performance of a contract concluded previously cannot have the effect of making the Rome I Regulation applicable to that contractual relationship without thwarting the clearly expressed intention of the EU legislature.’

Now, I have admittedly only quickly scanned the travaux preparatoires in writing up this post, yet I do think the Court’s conclusion on this point may be misguided. It was Parliament which introduced ‘contracts’ as opposed to ‘contractual obligations’. It did so in response to the EC’s proposed sentence which read in full

‘It shall apply to contractual obligations arising after its entry into application. However, for contractual obligations arising before its entry into application, this Regulation shall apply where its provisions have the effect of making the same law applicable as would have been applicable under the Rome Convention of 1980.’

Parliament proposed lifting the first sentence into a separate Article and to drop the second sentence altogether, citing ‘Unlike in the case of torts and delicts, contracts are entered into deliberately and voluntarily. It is essential for the parties to know that the provisions on applicable law contained in this Regulation will apply only to contracts concluded after its date of application. Therefore proceedings brought after the date of application concerning contracts concluded before that date will apply the Rome Convention.’

This intervention therefore I believe was targeted at avoiding debates on equality between Rome I and Rome Convention outcomes. No indication was given that the change from ‘contractual obligations’ to ‘contract’ was of any specific relevance for the debate.

However, in the end that discussion in my view does not really matter because the Court itself does subsequently admit that its observation, that the Regulation cannot mean that ‘any, even minor, variation made by the parties, on or after 17 December 2009, to a contract initially concluded before that date were sufficient to bring that contract within the scope of the Rome I Regulation’ (at 35) , should not negate that

‘the possibility remains, as the Commission has pointed out in its written observations, that a contract concluded before 17 December 2009 may be subject, on or after that date, to a variation agreed between the contracting parties of such magnitude that it gives rise not to the mere updating or amendment of the contract but to the creation of a new legal relationship between the contracting parties, so that the initial contract should be regarded as having been replaced by a new contract, concluded on or after that date, for the purposes of Article 28 of the Rome I Regulation.’ (at 37).

Whether such ‘new legal relationship’ has been formed in casu, is down to the national court to decide. The CJEU does not give any indication whatsoever of what law is to guide that court in that decision. A European ius commune? I don’t see it. Lex fori? Perhaps. But that would encourage forum shopping. Lex causae? But the Court had dismissed Article 10 of having any relevance. I am at a loss.

Now, to the question of overriding mandatory requirements (please refer again to my review of Szpunar AG’s Opinion for context): here the Court I believe misses the mark. After pointing out, justifiably (and in contrast with the AG), that Article 9 needs to be interpreted restrictively, it holds that ‘the list, in Article 9 of the Rome I Regulation, of the overriding mandatory provisions to which the court of the forum may give effect is exhaustive. (at 49).

Check.

This means Article 9 of the Rome I Regulation must be interpreted ‘as precluding the court of the forum from applying, as legal rules, overriding mandatory provisions other than those of the State of the forum or of the State where the obligations arising out of the contract have to be or have been performed. Consequently, since, according to the referring court, Mr Nikiforidis’s employment contract has been performed in Germany, and the referring court is German, the latter cannot in this instance apply, directly or indirectly, the Greek overriding mandatory provisions which it sets out in the request for a preliminary ruling.’ (at 50).

Check.

But then, at 51:

‘On the other hand, Article 9 of the Rome I Regulation does not preclude overriding mandatory provisions of a State other than the State of the forum or the State where the obligations arising out of the contract have to be or have been performed from being taken into account as a matter of fact, in so far as this is provided for by a substantive rule of the law that is applicable to the contract pursuant to the regulation.

And in conclusion, at 53:

Accordingly, the referring court has the task of ascertaining whether Laws No 3833/2010 and No 3845/2010 are capable of being taken into account when assessing the facts of the case which are relevant in the light of the substantive law applicable to the employment contract at issue in the main proceedings.

Err, here I really do not follow. Surely such de facto circumvention of Article 9’s restrictive scope, negates its effet utile. If and when a law other than the lex causae may be taken into account ‘as a matter of fact’, the Rome modus operandi is to say so: see in this respect in particular Article 17 Rome II. And what would ‘taking into account as a matter of fact’ mean for the case at issue?

Now you see it, now you don’t. In West Tankers the Court took effet utile to extreme length. Here it arguably entirely negates it. I am not convinced.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.3, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5 , heading 3.2.8.

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Von Munchausen ft. von Savigny. Szpunar AG in Nikiforidis.

Update 19 October 2016. The court held yesterday. I shall have review it soon.

Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-135/15 Hellenic Republic v Grigorios Nikiforidis has travelled half the world with me in my briefcase. Time to tackle the blog queue…

As I had reported earlier, the Bundesarbeitsgericht has given the CJEU an opportunity to provide much needed clarity on the application of Rome I to continuing (employment) contracts, and on the Regulation (or as the case may be, the Rome convention)’s provisions on overriding mandatory law.

The Opinion (not available in English) first of all clarifies the temporal scope of Rome I. Article 28 Rome I provides that it applies to contracts concluded ‘as from 17 December 2009’ (this is the corrected format; initially Article 28 read ‘after’). When exactly a contract is ‘concluded’ needs to be determined in accordance with the putative lex causae as identified by the Regulation (an extension of Article 10(1), suggested by most if not all of relevant scholarship). What, however, about ‘continuing’ contracts’: those concluded before the temporal scope of the Regulation, continuing after, however renewed, renegotiated, amended…: do these continue to be covered by the Rome convention ad infinitum, or is there a cut-off point at which these continuing contracts become newly concluded?

I had suggested in my earlier posting that one’s intuitive assumption may be to prefer autonomous interpretation of the concept ‘concluded’. That, after all, is the standard approach of the Court. However I argued that in the current state of (lack of) harmonisation of contractual law, it is more likely that the Court will prefer an Article 10(1) type solution. Szpunar AG is of the same opinion. He first of all points out (at 33) that secondary EU  law need not necessarily include verbatim transitionary measures. In the absence of a specific regime, the general rule is that the new provisions immediately apply to future effects of situations that arose under the old regime. Rome I’s transitory regime therefore, with its reference to date of ‘conclusion’  is an exception to that general principle. Can that moment of conclusion be autonomously defined? Szpunar AG shares my intuition (at 35 ff): along the lines of Article 10’s regime (the von Munchausen or the ‘bootstrap’ principle) the lex causae has to determine the moment of conclusion. For long-term contracts, this will inevitably lead to uncertainty (at 49). Yet that does not take away the soundness of the rule.

 

Next up is the application of Article 9’s provision on overriding mandatory provisions. This is the first time the CJEU will rule on that Article (Unamar was held under the Rome Convention). The Regulation quite deliberately limited the room for manoeuvre for the court seized to apply overriding mandatory law other than that of the forum: only such laws of the country where the obligations arising out of the contract ‘have to be performed’ can come into calling. That place is likely to be Germany in the case at issue (the Regulation does not define ‘place of performance’ under Article 9(3)) – however the AG suggests differently: there are a variety of reasons to assume that Greece, too, can be that place (at 95).

Szpunar AG first of all, in his very first para, remarks that scholarly attention to ‘lois de police’ far exceeds its featuring in practice. He also notes that von Savigny himself discussed ordre public (at 68 with references) and succinctly discusses the difference between the two (at 69-70). He repeats (at 78) that scholarly attention to overriding mandatory law has been excessive. He then rejects the suggestion that Article 9(3) needs to be applied restrictively to such a degree that its application becomes pretty much near-impossible. Importantly, he rejects in the process (a la Kainz) a strict parallel between ‘performance’ in Article 9(3) Rome I and Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast, and suggest that while the latter needs strict interpretation in line with the overall interpretative rules of that Regulation, there is no such need for Article 9(3) (at 92).

I wonder whether the Court will still hold before the recess (professor Szpunar Opined in April: I did flag there is a queue of cases waiting to be reviewed…

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.3, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5 , heading 3.2.8.

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KA Finanz. The CJEU finds it does not need to entertain the corporate exception in European PIL and turns to EU corporate law instead.

Thank you, Matthias Storme, for alerting me late last night that judgment was issued in Case C-483/13 KA Finanz AG. The CJEU is asked to clarify the ‘corporate exception’ to the Rome Convention and subsequent Regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations. The two main questions ask whether the ‘company law’ excepted area includes (a) reorganisations such as mergers and divisions, and (b) in connection with reorganisations, the creditor protection provision in Article 15 of Directive 78/855 concerning mergers of public limited liability companies, and of its successor, Directive 2011/35. I have a little more on the background in previous posting and I expressed my disappointment with Bot AG’s Opinion here.

The Court, like the AG, justifiably rejects a great deal of the questions as inadmissible, mainly due to the secondary law, interpretation of which is sought, not applying ratione temporis, to the facts at issue. It then in essence simply turns to European company law, in particular Directive 2005/56, to settle the issue. Why exhaust oneself with analysis of the corporate exception, if a different piece of EU law exhaustively regulates the issue? At 56 ff

It is stated in Article 2(2)(a) of Directive 2005/56 that a merger by acquisition is an operation whereby one or more companies, on being dissolved without going into liquidation, transfer all their assets and liabilities to another existing company, namely the acquiring company.

As regards the effects of such an operation, it is stated in Article 14(2)(a) of Directive 2005/56 that a cross-border merger brings about, from the date when the merger takes effect, the transfer of all the assets and liabilities of the company being acquired to the acquiring company.A merger by acquisition therefore entails the acquisition by the acquiring company of the company being acquired in its entirety, without extinguishing the obligations that a winding-up would have brought about, and, without novation, has the effect of substituting the acquiring company for the company being acquired as party to all of the contracts concluded by the latter. Consequently, the law which was applicable to those contracts before the merger continues to be applicable after the merger. It follows that EU law must be interpreted as meaning that the law applicable following a cross-border merger by acquisition to the interpretation of a loan contract taken out by the acquired company, such as the loan contracts at issue in the main proceedings, to the performance of the obligations under the contract and to how those obligations are extinguished is the law which was applicable to that contract before the merger.

(here: German law).

I appreciate the narrow set of facts upon which the CJEU holds allows one to distinguish. The spirit of the Court’s judgment in my view must however be what I have advocated for some time. Other than for a narrow set of issues immediately surrounding the very creation, life and death of the merged company, for which lex societatis applies, European private international law upholds lex contractus (often: lex voluntatis: the law so chosen by the parties) for the considerable amount of contractual satellites involving a merger and similar operations. Rome I is fully engaged for these contracts, including its provisions on third party impact of a change in governing law (this is relevant where the parties to the merger, decide to amend applicable law of the inherited contracts).

Geert.

 (Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.5, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.2 .

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I ask ergo I find out? Not necessarily so after judgment in Ergo Insurance and Gjensidige Baltic (distinguishing between contract and tort).

Is the relationship between two insurers, having covered liability for a towing vehicle cq a trailer, each subrogated in their insured’s rights and obligations, one of them currently exercising a claim against the other in partial recovery of the compensation due to the victim, non-contractual? That is the issue in Joined Cases C‑359/14 and C‑475/14 Ergo.

I reviewed Sharpston AG’s Opinion here. I believe the Court has confirmed her Opinion. However I am not entirely certain for the judgment is awkwardly phrased.

Like its AG, the CJEU dismisses a suggestion that Directive 2009/103 (relating to insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles, and the enforcement of the obligation to insure against such liability) includes a conflict of laws (applicable law) rule which is lex specialis vis-a-vis the Rome I Regulation. Indeed the Directive’s provisions do not indicate whatsoever that they can be stretched.

Then comes the core of the issue, the nature of the relationship underlying the claim. The AG had suggested this is contractual, using as I noted in my earlier posting, ‘centre of gravity’ (‘the centre of gravity of the obligation to indemnify is in the contractual obligation’); ‘rooted in’ (‘the recourse action by one insurer against the other…is rooted in the contracts of insurance’); and ‘intimately bound up’ (‘[the action] is intimately bound up with the two insurers’ contractual obligation‘). (at 62).

The Court did not repeat any of this terminology. It first suggests that the national court where the case is pending, needs to determine using Article 4 of Rome II (lex locus damni) whether the law so determined ‘provides for apportionment of the obligation to compensate for the damage’. This the AG had not expressly pondered, rather it may be implicit in her use of the conditional ‘where two or more insurers are jointly and severally liable’ ((only) used at 71 of her Opinion). Next, the Court holds, if there is such apportionment, the law applicable to the action for indemnity between the insurers of the tractor cq the trailer, needs to be determined using Article 7 of Rome I (which applies to insurance contracts).

The referring courts were looking I believe for more straightforward advice. Instead I fear the many conditions precedent expressed in the judgment may well leave plenty of room for counsel to further confuse these national courts. This arguably may have a knock-on effect given the repeated insistence by the CJEU that the provisions of Brussels I (Recast) on contract and tort, need to be applied in parallel with those of Rome I and II (not something I necessarily agree with but have come to accept as standing CJEU precedent).

Geert.

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Winter has truly arrived. Bot AG skates around lex societatis issues in KA Finanz.

In Case C-483/13 KA Finanz AG, the CJEU is asked to clarify the ‘corporate exception’ to the Rome Convention and subsequent Regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations. The two main questions ask whether the ‘company law’ excepted area includes (a) reorganisations such as mergers and divisions, and (b) in connection with reorganisations, the creditor protection provision in Article 15 of Directive 78/855 concerning mergers of public limited liability companies, and of its successor, Directive 2011/35. I have a little more on the background in previous posting. The Opinion itself has a complete overview of the issues at stake.

I suggested in my previous posting that lest the complete file posted with the Court give more detail, quite a few of the preliminary questions might be considered inadmissible due to a lack of specification in the factual circumstances.

Bot AG, who opined yesterday (at the time of posting, the English version of the Opinion was not yet available), has considerably slimmed down the list of questions eligible for answer, due to the (non-) application ratione temporis of secondary EU law at issue: this includes the Rome I Regulation. However he also, more puzzlingly, skates around the question concerning the application of the corporate exception of the 1980 Rome Convention, despite the judgment which is being appealed with the referring court, having made that exception the corner piece of its conflicts analysis. In particular, it considered that the consequences of a merger are part of the corporate status of the company concerned and that the transfer of assets within the context of a merger consequently need to be assessed viz-a-viz the company’s lex societatis: Austrian law, and not, as suggested by claimants, German law as the lex contractus relevant to the assets concerned (bonds issued by the corporate predecessor of the new corporation).

The AG focuses his analysis entirely on the specific qualification of the contract at issue (conclusion: sui generis), and on Directive 2005/56. In paras 47-48, he suggests that contractual obligations of the bank’s predecessor, per Directive 2005/56, are transferred to the corporate successor, including the lex contractus of those agreements. One can build an assumption around those paras, that the AG suggests a narrow interpretation of the corporate exception to the Rome Convention, etc. However it is quite unusual for one to have to second-guess an AG’s Opinion. Judicial economy is usually the signature of the CJEU itself, not its Advocate Generals.

I am now quite curious what the CJEU will make of it all.

Geert.

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Of tractors and trailers. Insurance contracts, subrogration, contracts and torts. Sharpston AG on the scope of Rome I and II.

Update 22 January 2016 The CJEU held today. More on that judgment here.

First, a quick heads-up on precedent: the difference between ‘contract’ and tort’ in European private international law is crucial, as regular readers of this blog will have observed. Crucial, yet the concept is left undefined in the Brussels I (and Recast) Regulation (which has a different special jurisdictional rule for both), the Rome I Regulation on applicable law for contracts, and the Rome II Regulation on applicable law for torts. Undefined, for these foundational elements of private law are outside the reach of legal and political compromise in the legislative process. Yet courts of course do have to apply the rules and in doing so, have to distinguish between both.

The CJEU pushes an ‘autonomous’ EU definition of both concepts which in the past has led to the seminal findings in Jakob Handte (C-26/91) and Kalfelis. In Handte the Court held: the phrase ‘matters relating to a contract [ ] is not to be understood as covering a situation in which there is no obligation freely assumed by one party towards another.’ (the double negative exercised scholarship for some time). In Kalfelis the Court had earlier defined ‘tort’ as ‘all actions which seek to establish liability of a defendant and which are not related to a ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article 5(1).’ (5(1) has become 7(1) in the Recast).

Is the relationship between two insurers, having covered liability for a towing vehicle cq a trailer, each subrogated in their insured’s rights and obligations, one of them currently exercising a claim against the other in partial recovery of the compensation due to the victim, non-contractual?

Per Kalfelis, tort as a category is residual. Sharpston AG’s starting point in Joined Cases Ergo Insurance and AAS Gjensidige Baltic, Opinion issued yesterday, therefore is to examine whether the recourse action is essentially contractual in nature. In the negative, the action is non-contractual. The case is evidently made more complex by the underlying relationships between insurer and insured, and the presence of subrogration. In question is not therefore the relationship between the insurer and the victim: this is clearly non-contractual. The question is rather whether the action of one insurer against the other is contractual in nature, given the contractual relationship between insurer and insured, cq the non-contractual relationship between the insured and the victim.

Sharpston AG first gets two issues out of the way. Lithuania (both referred cases are pending in Lithuanian courts) is a signatory State to the Hague Convention on the law applicable to traffic accidents, which is left unaffected by Rome II by virtue of Article 28. However the Convention itself holds that it does not apply to recourse action and subrogation involving insurance companies. Further, a suggestion that Directive 2009/103 (relating to insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles, and the enforcement of the obligation to insure against such liability) includes a conflict of laws (applicable law) rule which is lex specialis vis-a-vis the Rome Regulation, was quickly dismissed. Indeed the Directive’s provisions do not indicate whatsoever that they can be stretched.

Then comes the core of the issue, the nature of the relationship underlying the claim. This, the AG suggests, is contractual. Relevant precedent referred to includes Brogsitter and OFAB. Essentially the AG puts forward an ancestry test: what is the ancestry of the action, without which the parties concerned would not be finding themselves pleading in a court of law?: she uses ‘centre of gravity’ (‘the centre of gravity of the obligation to indemnify is in the contractual obligation’); ‘rooted in’ (‘the recourse action by one insurer against the other…is rooted in the contracts of insurance’); and ‘intimately bound up’ (‘[the action] is intimately bound up with the two insurers’ contractual obligation‘). (at 62).

Incidentally, in para 20 of her Opinion the AG refers, in giving context, to the difference between Lithuanian and German law (the accidents both occurred in Germany) as regards the limitation periods for bringing a recourse action. In Rome II, limitation periods are included in Article 15 as being covered by the lex causae; ditto in Article 12 of Rome I. This pre-empts discussion on the matter for whether limitation periods are covered by lex fori (as a procedural issue) or the lex causae is otherwise not necessarily the same in all Member States.

If the CJEU confirms, preferably using the terminology of its AG, the tort /contract discussion in my view will have been helpfully clarified.

Geert.

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