Posts Tagged Curia
In Case C-372/16 Sahyouni SAUGMANDSGAARD ØE Opined Friday last (Opinion not yet available in EN at the time of writing of this post; the curia press release on the case helps). The case concerns the scope of application of Rome III, Regulation 1259/2010 (on enhanced co-operation Regulation on divorce and legal separation), as well as the application of its Article 10. This Article inserts the lex fori for the lex causae, where the lex causae as identified by the Regulation makes no provision for divorce or does not grant one of the spouses equal access to divorce or legal separation on grounds of their sex.
In the previous Sahyouni Case C‑281/15, the request was considered inadmissible for lack of factual beef to the bone to allow the Court to apply its Dzodzi case-law (Joined Cases C‑297/88 and C‑197/89). In that case, the Court had held that the authors of the Treaty did not intend to exclude from the jurisdiction of the Court requests for a preliminary ruling on a provision of EU law in the specific case where the national law of a Member State refers to the content of that provision in order to determine rules applicable to a situation which is purely internal to that State and that, on the contrary, it is manifestly in the interest of the EU legal order that, in order to forestall future differences of interpretation, every provision of EU law should be given a uniform interpretation irrespective of the circumstances in which it is to be applied.
In the case at hand, Rome III is not generally applicable to decisions on divorce and legal separation issued by the authorities of third States. German residual private international law on the matter, however, makes it so applicable.
SAUGMANDSGAARD ØE first of all opines that the national court now does give the CJEU enough information for it to rule on the case. Contrary to what the German legislature
assumed, however, the AG suggests Rome III does not cover divorces which are declared without a constitutive decision of a court or other public authority, such as a divorce resulting from the unilateral declaration of a spouse which is registered by a religious court. Note that the AG for this purpose employs lex fori in the sense of EU law (the Regulation and its preparatory works), to determine whether such divorce is ‘private’ or not; not as might be considered an alternative in the case at hand, Syrian law. Those of us with an interest in Vorfrage may find this interesting.
Next, the AG does complete the analysis should the Court disagree with his view on scope of application. The question whether access to divorce provided for by the foreign law is discriminatory (this is the test of the aforementioned Article 10) must, in the view of the AG, be assessed in the abstract, and not specifically in the light of the circumstances of the case. Therefore, it suffices that the applicable foreign law be discriminatory by virtue of its content for it to be disapplied. This AG suggests that the EU legislature considered that the discrimination at issue, namely that based on the sex of the spouse, is so serious as to warrant unqualified rejection, without the possibility of exception on a case-by-case basis, of the entirety of the law which should have been applied in the absence of such discrimination. This interpretation differs from the standard application of another well-known mechanism, that of ordre public, where any assessment needs to be based on a case-by-case basis.
Finally, the AG examines whether the fact that the spouse discriminated against
possibly consented to the divorce allows the national court not to disapply the foreign law despite its discriminatory nature, and therefore to apply that law. He suggests that question be answered in the negative. The rule set out in Article 10 of the ‘Rome III’ Regulation, which is based on compliance with values considered to be fundamental, is mandatory in nature and therefore, as a result of the intention of the EU legislature, does not fall within the sphere in which the persons at issue can freely waive the protection of their rights.
A judgment to look out for.
Tobias Gosch has excellent overview of T v O (why o why do States feel the need the hide the identity of companies in commercial litigation) in which the Austrian Supreme Court (Oberster Gerichtshof) ruled on whether potential claims under the Austrian Commercial Agents Act (Handelsvertretergesetz) can be brought before an Austrian court even if the underlying agency agreement contains an arbitration clause and is governed by the laws of New York.
The contested part of the litigation, as Tobias writes, concerns the following: the Agent conducted the procurement of sea freight business in Austria and other countries of the European Union for the Principal. Whilst the territorial scope of the Agent’s activities complies with the conditions for the international overriding mandatory applicability of the compensation provisions of the Directive as set out by the ECJ in Ingmar, the procurement of business is not covered by the relevant definition in the Directive, which only refers to the sale or purchase of goods. Including the procurement of business therefore is a form of gold-plating and the national law’s decision to do so does not uncontestedly fall under the protection of overriding mandatory law. In other words it does not necessarily override parties’ choice of law and ensuing choice of court.
The judgment refers inter alia to Unamar to justify its direction. Rather like, as I reported at the time, the Belgian Supreme Court, the Austrian Supreme Court, too, fails properly to assess whether the Austrian legislator intended the Austrian provisions to be of overriding mandatory law character per Rome I: “1. Overriding mandatory provisions are provisions the respect for which is regarded as crucial by a country for safeguarding its public interests, such as its political, social or economic organisation, to such an extent that they are applicable to any situation falling within their scope, irrespective of the law otherwise applicable to the contract under this Regulation.
The European Court of Justice’s general statement in Unamar that gold-plated provisions may fall under overriding mandatory law, looks set by national courts to be turned into a matter of fact priority. That surely at some point ought to be disciplined by the CJEU.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 22.214.171.124.
E-date Advertising for companies. Libel, internet and centre of interests. Bobek AG in Bolagsupplysningen OÜ.
Bobek AG opined mid July in C-194/16 Bolagsupplysningen OÜ on the application of the Shevill rule, as supplemented by e-Date advertising, to infringements of a company’s personality rights over the internet. This is one of those Opinions where summaries fall much, much short of the contents of the original document and I should urge readers to consult the Opinion in full.
An Estonian company operating in Sweden was blacklisted for its allegedly questionable business practices on the website of a Swedish employers’ federation. The Advocate General dryly notes ‘(a)s inevitably happens in the era of anonymous internet bravery, universally known for its genteel style, subtle understanding, and moderation, the website attracted a number of hostile comments from its readers. The Estonian company brought an action before the Estonian courts against the Swedish federation. It complained that the published information has negatively affected its honour, reputation and good name. It asked the Estonian courts to order that the Swedish federation rectify the information and remove the comments from its website. It also requested damages for harm allegedly suffered as a result of the information and comments having been published online.
Can the Estonian courts assert jurisdiction to hear this action on the basis of the claimant’s ‘centre of interests’, a special ground of jurisdiction that the Court previously applied to natural persons, but so far not legal persons? If they can, then second, how should the centre of interests of a legal person be determined? Third, if the jurisdiction of the Estonian courts were to be limited to situations in which the damage occurred in Estonia, the referring court wonders whether it can order the Swedish federation to rectify and remove the information at issue.
The Advocate General suggests there are two novelties in the questions referred: a legal person (not a natural one) is primarily asking for rectification and removal of information made accessible on the internet (and only secondarily for damages for the alleged harm to its reputation). This factual setting, the AG suggests, leads to the question of how far the seemingly quite generous rules on international jurisdiction previously established in Shevill with regard to libel by printed media, and then further extended in eDate to the harm caused to the reputation of a natural person by information published on the internet, may be in need of an update. At the real root of course of the generous rules on jurisdiction for tort, lies the Court’s judgment in Bier. Bobek AG joins Szpunar AG in severely questioning the wisdom of the Bier rule in the age of internet publications.
Now, human rights scholars will enjoy the Advocate General’s tour d’horizon on whether and to what extend companies may enjoy human rights. On the whole I believe he is absolutely right in suggesting that there ought to be no difference between legal persons and natural persons when it comes to the very possession of personality rights (such as the right not to be libelled) and that neither is there any ground to distinguish between natural persons and legal persons when it comes to the jurisdictional consequences of upholding these rights.
Then, to the jurisdictional consequences (para 73 onwards): the AG suggests that ‘putting Shevill online’ (the AGs words) essentially means granting the forum to a large number of jurisdictions simultaneously, 28 within the European Union. That is because allegedly false or libelous information on the internet is instantly accessible in all Member States. Bobek AG suggests such multiplicity of fora stemming from the distribution criterion is very difficult to reconcile with the objective of predictability of jurisdictional rules and sound administration of justice enshrined in recital 15 of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, and does not serve the interests of claimant (although the AG concedes that in litigation practice, sending the defendant on a goose chase throughout the EU may be an attractive proposition). Now, in Bier the CJEU upheld jurisdiction for both locus damni and for locus delicti commissi on the grounds that this was attractive from the point of view of evidence and conduct of proceedings: this gives both the ‘special link’ which the special jurisdictional rules require. Whether the Court will be swayed by the argument that in the internet context, neither is of relevance, remains to be seen. It is true that number of clicks, which presumably is the relevant criteria to establish ‘damage’ in the context of Article 7(2), can be established just as well outside the jurisdiction as inside it (Google Analytics being used in a variety of national proceedings). It is also true however that Bier and Shevill are dogma for the Court and it is unlikely that it will simply abandon or even vary them.
Variation is all the more unlikely in the direction of the alternative suggested by the AG: locus delicti commissi relates to whoever is in charge of publishing and altering the content of the online information. So far so good: this is a useful clarification of Shevill in the internet age and one that has as such been so applied by national courts. Harm then would in the AG’s view have to be defined as where the reputation of the claimant was most strongly affected. That is the place of his centre of interests. The AG further suggests (at 104 ff) that in the case of a profit-making legal person, that is, a company, the jurisdiction is likely to correspond to the Member State where it attains the highest turnover. In the case of non-profit organisations, it is likely to be the place where most of its ‘clients’ (in the broadest sense of the word) are located. In both cases, such a Member State is likely to be the one where the damage to reputation and therefore to its professional existence is going to be felt the most. However in all cases, assessments needs to be fact-specific, and moreover, more than one centre of interests could potentially be established (at 116); that latter concession of course is not likely to endear the AG to the Court, given the requirement of predictability.
Answering then the query re injunctions (under the assumption that is an injunction sought by way of final remedy, not an interim measure), the AG employs the possibility of conflicting directions issued by courts with jurisdiction as to the merits of the case, as further argument to support his view on locus damni. This issue could raise interesting discussions on the usefulness of directions to remove internet content from particular websites only.
All in all, there is an awful lot of to the point analysis by the AG in this opinion. However the Court’s repeated reluctance to vary Bier and Shevill, a formidable obstacle.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199.
A short post mostly for the sake of completeness. In its second recent judgment on insureds as ‘protected category’ under the Brussels I Regulation, the CJEU held last week in C-340/16 Kabeg. Where an employee is injured and the employer is statutory assignee of the rights of its employee, the employer is subrograted into the rights of the victim and can directly act against the insurer of the vehicle involved.
The Court’s less cautious approach to subrogation than it generally adopts, is influenced by Directive 2009/103, which obliges Member States to put in place such direct action. Article 18: ‘Member States shall ensure that any party injured as a result of an accident caused by a vehicle covered by insurance as referred to in Article 3 enjoys a direct right of action against the insurance undertaking covering the person responsible against civil liability.’
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2.
Vinyls Italia. A boon for conflict of laws (with a fraus component) and important findings on the insolvency Pauliana.
Another one from the exam queue. I reported earlier on Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-54/16 Vinyls Italia – readers may want to refer tot that post before reading on. The case concerns the extent to which a bona fide creditor may insulate payments made to it by the insolvent debtor, to the detriment of the collectivity of the creditors, using choice of law for its contract with the debtor away from the lex concursus. The Court held on 8 June, much along the lines of its AG and earlier precedent especially Nike with respect to anti-avoidance actions. The judgment therefore is not of great novelty for this part of the insolvency Regulation. It is on the other hand of crucial importance for the interpretation of ‘international’ in European private international law.
Firstly, whether the court hearing the insolvency proceedings can or must raise the Article 13 (now 16) even if the party profiting from the insulation of its payments from the insolvency, has failed expressly to do so in its submissions. This, the CJEU held, is a matter of procedure, not harmonised in the Insolvency Regulation and lex fori therefore, subject to the usual condition that effet utile is guaranteed and that EU law is equally applied as national law.
The Court had already held in Nike that the defendant in an anti-avoidance (Pauliana) action has to prove both the facts from which the conclusion can be drawn that the act is unchallengeable and the absence of any evidence that would militate against that conclusion (at 25). The Court in Vinyls Italia qualifies that statement: the party bearing the burden of proof must show that, where the lex causae makes it possible to challenge an act regarded as being detrimental, the conditions to be met in order for that challenge to be upheld, which differ from those of the lex fori concursus, have not actually been fulfilled. However defendant does not have to show that the lex causae does not provide, in general or in the abstract, any means to challenge the act in question: such means of challenging the act almost always exist, at least in the abstract, and such strict interpretation would therefore deprive Article 13 (now 16) of its effectiveness (at 38). Of course how wide exactly the net of voidness needs to be cast, is not entirely clear from the judgment.
The final question then deals with the possibility of relying on (now) Article 16 in the situation provided for in Article 3(3) of the Rome I Regulation, that is to say, where all the elements relevant to the situation in question between the parties to a contract are located in a country other than the country whose law is chosen by those parties. Now, the Rome I Regulation does not ratione temporis apply to the facts at issue and on the similar provisions of the Rome Convention, the referring court is not entitled to ask questions. The CJEU therefore decides to simply reply to the question of this being a purely domestic contract, by reference to Article 16 of the insolvency Regulation only. It nevertheless however uses both Regulation and Convention a contrario. Both existed at the time of adoption of the Insolvency Regulation. The latter does not include an Article 3(3) type provision. That it does not, must, the Court held, mean that the Insolvency Regulation saw no need at all to limit the use of lex contractus for insulation reasons, even in the case of purely domestic contracts.
There is however one condition: Fraus (omnia corrumpit) aka abuse of (EU) law. Here, the Court refers to its findings last summer in C‑423/15 Kratzer. EU law cannot be relied on for abusive or fraudulent ends. A finding of abuse requires a combination of objective and subjective elements. First, with regard to the objective element, that finding requires that it must be apparent from a combination of objective circumstances that, despite formal observance of the conditions laid down by EU rules, the purpose of those rules has not been achieved. Second, such a finding requires a subjective element, namely that it must be apparent from a number of objective factors that the essential aim of the transactions concerned is to obtain an undue advantage.
Here, Article 16 may be disregarded only in a situation where it would appear objectively that the objective pursued by that application, in this context, of ensuring the legitimate expectation of the parties in the applicability of specific legislation, has not been achieved (a tough condition if the lex contractus is wisely chosen), and that the contract was made subject to the law of a specific Member State artificially, that is to say, with the primary aim, not of actually making that contract subject to the legislation of the chosen Member State, but of relying on the law of that Member State in order to exempt the contract, or the acts which took place in the performance of the contract, from the application of the lex fori concursus. In this respect (at 55), choice of law of a Member State other than the Member State in which parties are established does not create any presumption regarding an intention to circumvent the rules on insolvency for abusive or fraudulent ends.
The findings on fraus amount to strong support for a wide interpretation of the concept ‘international’ in EU private international law. (That an entirely Italian situation was made ‘international’ simply by choice of law ex-Italy was not considered an issue). A development to be applauded. These same findings also make it very difficult within the context of Article 13 (now 16) successfully to mount a challenge of payments detrimental to the collectivity. This aspect of the case is what i.a. Gilles Lindemans objects to in the judgment. However the CJEU logic I suppose lies in what it sees firmly as the object and purpose of Article 16: it protects the legitimate expectations of the party who has benefitted from an act detrimental to all the creditors. In some way it prevents contractual sclerosis for parties suspected of being close to payment issues. Securitisation is facilitated if the lex causae is fixed, independent of the lex concursus. Not just fraus (a very improbable route now) but probably more importantly the burden of proof per C-310/14 Nike, protects the collectivity.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.7.1. Chapter 3, Heading 188.8.131.52.