Commerzbank. The CJEU adopts a flexible approach on the ‘international’ in ‘private international law’, at least for the protected category of consumers.

I reviewed the AG’s Opinion in C-296/20 Commerzbank here. The CJEU held a few weeks back, rejecting the AG’s main proposal and instead following him on the subsidiary argument – I lean towards the AG’s first option. For the consumer section, it now suffices the international element surfaces only after the contract has been concluded, provided of course (I am assuming; the CJEU refers to the case but is not quite clear) the contract at issue meets with the Pammer Alpenhof criteria: the business concerned need not necessarily actively pursue a commercial activity in the State in which the consumer is now domiciled, yet its organisation of operations and marketing is such as to meet the ‘directed at’ criteria of the consumer section.

It is to be assumed that the Court’s flexible interpretation (for which it relies to a large degree on mBank) of the international element to this far-reaching extent, only applies given the protective intent of Lugano’s (and Brussels Ia’s) consumer, potentially employees’ and insurance title. It carries far les authority for B2B contracts I would suggest.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.222 ff.

GtFlix. Hogan AG suggests the jurisdictional gateway for economic damage, not defamation, catches malicious falsehood between economic operators.

As I noted when I signalled the reference, the French Supreme Court in C-251/20 GtFlix has not referred the question whether Bolagsupplysningen is good authority for acts of unfair competition between competitors. Rather, it queries whether Bolagsupplysningen means that a claimant who requests both rectification /retraction and damages, has to necessarily turn to courts with full jurisdiction or whether they can continue to turn for the damages part, to all courts with locus damni jurisdiction.

Hogan AG in his Opinion a few weeks ago (more analysis by  Marta Requejo Isidro here) right up to (94) revisits the wisdom of applying Shevill’s Handlungsort/Erfolgort distinction and the possibility of using GtFlix to overturn. I agree that this is not the case to do it. (On the CJEU and overturning its authority, see excellently the departing Bobek AG in C‑205/20).

At 95 he then essentially requalifies and answers the question which the SC had not referred. The action at the French courts is one in dénigrement, which is a form of malicious falsehood which, the AG suggests, does not call into question the Bolagsupplysningen line of cases but rather Tibor Trans and the cases before it.

An action relating to an infringement of unfair competition law may be brought before the courts of any Member State where that act caused or may cause damage within the jurisdiction of the court seised. Where the market affected by the anticompetitive conduct is in the Member State on whose territory the alleged damage is purported to have occurred, that Member State must be regarded as the place where the damage occurred for the purposes of applying Article 7(2) (99).  A final reference at (102) ff is to the applicable law level under (Article 6) Rome II. 

Should the CJEU follow, one of the left-over questions following Bolagsupplysningen will not be answered, yet another issue on falsehoods spread between competitors, will.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

Rantos AG in TOTO. Important considerations on lis pendens and provisional measures, and on contractual drafting of choice of court.

Advocate General Rantos opined two weeks ago in C-581/20 Skarb Państwa Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej reprezentowany przez Generalnego Dyrektora Dróg Krajowych i Autostrad v TOTO SpA – Costruzioni Generali et al. – I propose we shorthand the case as ‘TOTO’.

Following public procurement, the Polish treasury granted the works for the construction of a stretch of motorway to an Italian consortium. In the contract, choice of court is made for Poland. The necessary guarantees eg for payment of fines in the event of late completion, were underwritten by a Bulgarian insurance company, whose guarantee is subject to Polish law. The consortium  to no avail sought negative declaratory relief (with a view to obtaining a finding that no fines are due under the contract) and injunctive relief (with a view to prohibiting the Polish authorities from exercising the guarantee) with the Polish court with substance matter jurisdiction. However it subsequently secured the injunctive relief from a Bulgarian court with Article 35 Brussels Ia provisional measures jurisdiction. This relief expressed itself inter alia in custodial attachment of the guarantees which the Polish authorities had sought to exercise with a European Order for Payment form. That Bulgarian relief is now before the Bulgarian Supreme Court.

The questions before the court are  whether the provisional measures can at all be ordered under the A35 gateway given that they might concern acta iure imperii and not civil and commercial matters; and if the matter is within the scope of BIa, whether the A35 court may still order such measures if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has denied them. Finally, whether if the issue is within the scope of BIa, the ordinarily applicable Bulgarian rule that no such relief may be ordered against public authorities, must be set aside.

The Advocate-General suggests the Court settle the questions mainly by recourse to the lis pendens rule of A29 ff of the Regulation, rather than by the alternative of focusing on the ‘provisional’ nature of the measures imposed by the A35 court. A29 ff do not limit their application to substance matter proceedings hence if and when the lis pendens conditions are met, the court last seized must (identical cases) or may (related cases) relinquish its jurisdiction. The opposite is true, as well: if the A35 court has been seized first, the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has been gazumped at least for provisional measures.

The AG also (55 ff) suggests that choice of court must be read to include authority for the chosen court to issue provisional measures, but not (unless expressly agreed; an issue of contractual interpretation which must be left to the national judge to assess) the exclusion of other courts to exercise their A35 jurisdiction.

Finally if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has taken a definitive decision viz the provisional measures, that decision travels under Title III BIa and A45 does not seem to offer room to object to recognition and enforcement. Should that decision not yet be definitive, the ordinary lis pendens rules must apply.

This is a case with rather important contractual drafting and civil procedure consequences.

Geert.

EU Private International law, 3rd ed 2021, 2.512ff, 2.550 ff, 5.584 ff.

 

Commerzbank. Sanchez-Bordona AG on the timing of the ‘international’ element required to trigger consumer protection in private international law (here: Lugano).

Sanchez-Bordona AG Opined last week in C-296/20 Commerzbank AG v E.O, a case on the consumer section of the Lugano Convention however in essence on the international element required to trigger consumer protection in private international law. The distinguishing feature of this case lies in the fact that, at the time when the contract was concluded, both parties were domiciled in the same State (Germany), whereas, when recovery was sought through the courts, the customer was domiciled in Switzerland.

The international nature of the situation therefore came about subsequently rather than being present at the outset.

The Advocate General is absolutely right to point to the objective of the consumer section of Lugano, and indeed Brussels Ia, to protect the consumer as the economically weaker party; and in C-98/20 mBank, the Court held that the consumer’s domicile needs to be determined at the time of the instigation of the suit, not the conclusion of the contract (or a later date in the proceedings) even in those circumstances where the consumer failed to inform the professional party of the change of domicile.

The AG however also insists on the predictability of forum both as claimant and as defendant, for the economic operator.

His provisional conclusion therefore (73-74), following analysis of the travaux, is that the international element needs to be present at the outset. However then comes the oddity of A17(3) Lugano, which mirrors A19(3) Brussels Ia:

‘The provisions of this Section may be departed from only by an agreement [conferring jurisdiction]:… 3. 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 State bound by this Convention, and which confers jurisdiction on the courts of that State, provided that such an agreement is not contrary to the law of that State.’

[With respect to the last element of this Article, it is indeed by no means certain that national law allows for such agreement and the AG (87) notes same].

The Jenard Report viz the Brussels 1968 Convention explains that that rule was included for reasons of equity to benefit a seller or lender domiciled in the same State as the buyer or borrower in the case where the latter establish themselves abroad after the contract has been concluded. The AG opines that the purely domestic setting of A17(3) must not be extended to the remainder of the consumer section, instead keeping it confined to the particular circumstances of that subsection.

In subsidiary fashion, the AG proposes that if the CJEU does not follow him on the generally required international element at the outset, it limit the extensive  application of the consumer section to cases where the economic operator pursues in the State of the consumer’s new domicile a trade or profession such as that which gave rise to the conclusion of the contract.

Interesting.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.222 ff.

Yet again on distinguishing contract from tort (and on enforcement jurisdiction). Saugmandsgaard Oe reigns in forum delicti and forum contractus in HRVATSKE ŠUME.

Saugmandsgaard Oe AG opined (no English version at the time of writing) last week in C‑242/20 HRVATSKE ŠUME on the classic conflict of laws issue of distinguishing contract from tort.. He, oddly perhaps, unless some technical reason for it escapes me, does not entertain the question on the scope of Article 24(5) Brussels Ia’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for ‘proceedings concerned with the enforcement of judgments’.

The Opinion is a Qualificationfest.

The case concerns actions for recovery of sums unduly paid, in other words, undue enrichment. This enrichment came about by a Croatian court having  earlier ordered Hrvatske Šume, debtor of  Futura, both of Croatia, to pay its debt to Futura directly to BP Europe SA, successor to Burmah Oil, both domiciled in Germany. Hrvatske appealed that order however that appeal did not halt the payment. Now that the appeal has turned out to be successful, Hrvatske want their money back yet so far Croatian courts have held that they do not have jurisdiction under Article 7(2) BIa (the case actually went under the the predecessor, Brussels I however there is no material difference).

As the referring court notes, there is no delicti commissi in the case of unjust enrichment: it is a non-contractual obligation in which no delict is committed. (This is the very reason Rome II includes a separate heading for unjust enrichment). One might suggest this would leave forum damni only under A7(2), however the AG correctly in my view re-emphasises the seminal statements in CJEU Kalfelis, that actions under A7(2) concern ‘all actions which seek to establish liability of a defendant  and which are not related to a ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article [7](1)’. Unjust enrichment not seeking to establish liability, A7(2) is not engaged. Along the way, note his discussion of linguistics and his seeking support in Rome II.

At 71 ff the AG distinguishes the wide interpretation of ‘establishing liability’ in CJEU Austro Mechana.

A clear implication of the Opinion is that it confirms a disjoint in BIa /Rome II: not all non-contractual obligations for which Rome II identifies a lex causae, are caught by A7(2) BIa’s forum delicti rule.

The AG also engages with the possibility of Croatia being forum contractus  (he kicks off his Opinion with this issue) and dismisses it, seeking support inter alia in CJEU Handte and also in Rome II specifically providing for an unjust enrichment heading. This part of the Opinion is more optimistically straightforward than one might have expected. Following flightright, Wikingerhof etc., A7(1) has been (unduly, in my view) stretched and it would be good to have the CJEU further clarifying same. (C-265/21, in which I have been instructed, might be just the case).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.419 ff.

Flowers v Centro Medico. Brussels Ia’s insurance issues stayed pending CJEU authority, and disputable conclusions on the consumer section.

Flowers & Ors v Centro Medico Salus Baleares SL & Anor [2021] EWHC 2437 (QB) is a case packed with jurisdictional complication under Brussels Ia. In early February 2020, Mrs Yvonne Flowers, then 67 years of age, was admitted on an emergency basis to a private hospital facility in Benidorm, Spain, with significant back discomfort and pain arising from spinal disc herniation. Nine days later she died in the same hospital from multiple organ failure having contracted sepsis. T

The principal issues at stake concern the level of proof required for a jurisdictional challenge; determination of domicile; the existence of a consumer contract and who can all avail themselves of the consequential jurisdictional rules; and when a matter ‘relates to’ insurance’.

Starting with the latter, Wood J stayed judgment on much of the issues until the CJEU will have ruled in C-708/20 Betty Tattersall,  on which James Beeton reports here and which engages similar issues as CJEU Cole, settled before judgment, and Hutchinson. Betty Tattersall will be a crucial judgment.

The level of proof for jurisdictional challenges was discussed at an extraordinary length in Brownlie, and the SC’s ruling is applied here as detailed in the judgment.

The claimants’ domicile is not ordinarily relevant under BIa but it is for the consumer and insurance title and its determination is subject to national law. Seeing as the judge finds a good arguable case that domicile is indeed established in England, no consideration of Spanish domicile rules is necessary.

The ‘newer’ elements of the case are first of all the existence of a consumer contract. There are 3 issues [67]: (i) Was there a contract between the late Mrs Flowers and Centro Medico? (ii) If there was, was it a consumer contract within the meaning of section 4 BIa? (iii) Does the Claimant’s claim against Centro Medico fall outside the scope of the consumer contracts section because it has not been brought by the “consumer” within the meaning of the section?

Ia Committeri is relied on and the judge has little hesitation [115] to find the existence of a contract. (Much about that has been written in German scholarship in the specific area of medical services).

Surprisingly though, the question whether there is a contract which meets with the A17 requirements is brushed over when it comes to the question whether the hospital directs its activities to England and Wales, which the court established as the relevant  domicile. Particularly in the context of emergency care, this does not seem to be a given.

The judge does enquire as to whether the claim which can no longer be pursued because the contracting (and thus weaker) party is now deceased, can be picked up by heirs in the same jurisdictional gateway and pursued on the basis of the domicile of either the deceased or the heirs. Schrems and KABEG are discussed, however unlike the first instance judge in Bonnie Lackey, Justice Wood [126] adopts a much less wide approach. There must be scope for a lot more discussion on this, for the scenario in Bonnie Lackey, of which I was critical, is quite different from that of the heirs who step in the  litigation shoes of the deceased.

Geert.

EU Private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, big chunks of Chapter 2.

Bank Melli Iran: How corporate social responsibility reports may act as a shield in export controls law.

A short (and late – I am in mopping-up mood it seems) post on the AG’s Opinion in Case C‑124/20 Bank Melli Iran – in which he also cites my former colleague proximus Cédric Ryngaert. Hogan AG’s Opinion addresses the rock and the hard stone, or the devil and the deep blue sea dilemma facing corporations in the light of diverging export laws /sanctions law. May a German bank refuse to do business indeed end business with an Iranian bank, under pressure from US secondary export control laws?

More on the external relations aspects of the case is ia here and of course in the Opinion itself. My interest here lies in part of the Opinion: the AG’s view that an EU undertaking seeking to terminate an otherwise valid contract with an Iranian entity subject to the US sanctions must demonstrate to the  satisfaction of the national court that it did not do so by reason of its desire to comply with those sanctions. It must show other motives, such as ethical reservations about doing business with Iran. These reservations may be documented by a genuinely rolled-out CSR compliance program: (88)

‘In order, however, to establish that the reasons given in respect of any decision to terminate a contract on this ground were in fact sincere, the person referred to in Article 11 of the EU blocking statute in question − in the present case Telekom Deutschland – would need, in my view, to demonstrate that it is actively engaged in a coherent and systematic corporate social-responsibility policy (CSR) which requires them, inter alia, to refuse to deal with any company having links with the Iranian regime.’

CSR programs have been used as carrot ia in Trafigura and as stick ia in Vedanta. The view here is very much the carrot or if one likes, the shield function: CSR policies as a defensive weapon against the rock and hard stone dilemma. That is most interesting for the EU corporations concerned and likely to draw the attention of export sanctions practitioners (both in-house and out) to part of the corporation’s blurb which they may otherwise ignore. Yet it may put too much emphasis on fairly unregulated CSR policy drafting, and compliance issues.

Geert.

Volvo Trucks. The CJEU unconvincingly on locus damni in follow-on damages suit for competition law infringement.

The CJEU held yesterday in C-30/20 Volvo Trucks. I reviewed Richard de la Tour AG’s Opinion here.

After having noted the limitation of the questions referred to locus damni [30]  (excluding therefore the as yet unsettled locus delicti commissi issues) the CJEU confirms first of all [33] that Article 7(2) clearly assigns both international and territorial jurisdiction. The latter of course subject to the judicial organisation of the Member State concerned. If locus damni x has no court then clearly the Regulation simply assigns jurisdiction to the legal district of which x is part. However the Court does not rule out [36] per CJEU Sanders and Huber that a specialised court may be established nationally for competition law cases.

The Court then [39] applies C‑343/19 Volkswagen (where goods are purchased which, following manipulation by their producer, are of lower value, the court having jurisdiction over an action for compensation for damage corresponding to the additional costs paid by the purchaser is that of the place where the goods are purchased) pro inspiratio: place of purchase of the goods at artificially inflated prices will be locus damni, irrespective of whether the goods it issue were purchased directly or indirectly from the defendants, with immediate transfer of ownership or at the end of a leasing contract [40].

The Court then somewhat puzzlingly adds [40] that ‘that approach implies that the purchaser that has been harmed exclusively purchased goods affected by the collusive arrangements in question within the jurisdiction of a single court. Otherwise, it would not be possible to identify a single place of occurrence of damage with regard to the purchaser harmed.’

Surely it must mean that if purchases occurred in several places, Mozaik jurisdiction will ensue rather than just one locus damni (as opposed to the alternative reading that locus damni jurisdiction in such case will not apply at all). However the Court then also confirms [41 ff] its maverick CDC approach of the buyer’s registered office as the locus damni in the case of purchases made in several places.

Here I am now lost and the simply use of vocabulary such as ‘solely’, ‘additionally’ or ‘among others’ would have helped me here. Are we now to assume that the place of purchase of the goods is locus damni only if there is only one place of purchase, not if there are several such places (leaving a lot of room for Article 7(2) engineering both by cartelists and buyers); and that, conversely, place of registered office as locus damni only applies in the event of several places of purchase, therefore cancelling out the classic (much derided) Article 7(2) Mozaik per Shevill and Bier – but only in the event of competition law infringement? This, too, would lead to possibility of forum engineering via qualification in the claim formulation.

I fear we are not yet at the end of this particular road.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.8.

 

Applicable law in cases of purely economic loss following judgment in Vereniging van Effectenbezitters.

I have reported before on the jurisdictional consequences of CJEU Vereniging van Effectenbezitters v BP. In this post for the European Association of Private International Law, I give my views on the impact for applicable law.

Geert.

Mittelbayerischer Verlag: the CJEU surprisingly reigns in Article 7(2) centre of interests jurisdiction in cases of online defamation.

I reviewed the AG’s Opinion in C-800/19 Mittelbayerischer Verlag KG v SM here. The CJEU held yesterday (no English version yet at the time of posting). Tobias Lutzi already has analysis up here.

As I reported at the time, the AG suggested that despite the need for restrictive interpretation of the special jurisdictional rules, in the case at issue there was foreseeability of many a Pole’s centre of interests as a tort gateway, given the predictable fall-out of protest among Poles given the contents and context of the article (please refer to earlier post for detail): an ‘objective foreseeability test’.

The CJEU however restricts the availability of the centre of interests gateway further:  [46]

article 7, point 2, du règlement no 1215/2012 doit être interprété en ce sens que la juridiction du lieu où se trouve le centre des intérêts d’une personne prétendant que ses droits de la personnalité ont été violés par un contenu mis en ligne sur un site Internet n’est compétente pour connaître, au titre de l’intégralité du dommage allégué, d’une action en responsabilité introduite par cette personne que si ce contenu comporte des éléments objectifs et vérifiables permettant d’identifier, directement ou indirectement, ladite personne en tant qu’individu.

The aggrieved needs to be identifiable, at the time of publication, as an individual, not as belonging to an abstract group of offended persons.

With Gtflix TV pending, the CJEU will have a further opportunity to clarify the A7(2) gateway for defamation.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.5, and para 2.598 in fine.