Wikingerhof v Booking.com. Saugmandsgaard AG on the qualification in contract or tort of alleged abuse of dominant position between contracting parties. Invites the Court to confirm one of two possible readings of Brogsitter.

Saugmandsgaard AG opined yesterday in C-59/19 Wikingerhof v Booking.com (no English version of the Opinion at the time of writing). At issue is whether allegations of abuse of dominant position create a forum contractus (Article 7(1) Brussels Ia) or a forum delicti (A7(2) BIa).

I published on jurisdiction and applicable law earlier this year and I am as always genuinely humbled with the AG’s (three) references to the handbook.  Wikingerhof submits inter alia that it only ever agreed to Booking.com’s general terms and conditions (‘GTCs’) because Booking.com’s dominant position leaves it no choice. And that it had most certainly not agreed to updates to the GTCs, effected via amendments on the ‘Extranet’, which is the portal via which the hotel may update its information and retrieve reservations.

At 16 of its referral, the Bundesgerichtshof holds acte clair and therefore without reference to the CJEU that there is no durable record of the alleged consent by Wikingerhof of the amended GTCs, including choice of court. Booking.com claimed these amounted to a ‘form which accords with practices which the parties have established between themselves’ pursuant to Article 25(1)(b). This finding echoes the requirements of housekeeping which I signalled yesterday.

In my 2020 paper I point out (p.153) inter alia that in the context of Article 25’s choice of court provisions, the CJEU in C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss suggested a fairly wide window for actions based on Article 102 TFEU’s prohibition of abuse of dominant position to be covered by the choice of court. At 28 in Apple v eBizcuss: ‘the anti-competitive conduct covered by Article 102 TFEU, namely the abuse of a dominant position, can materialise in contractual  relations that an undertaking in a dominant position establishes and by means of contractual terms’. The AG as I note below distinguished Apple on the facts and applicable rule.

In the request for preliminary ruling of the referring court, CJEU C-548/12 Brogsitter features repeatedly. The Bundesgerichtshof itself is minded to hold for forum delicti, given that (at 24 of its reference)

‘ it is not the interpretation of the contract that is the focus of the legal disputes  between the parties, but rather the question of whether the demand for specific contractual conditions or the invoking of them by a company with an — allegedly — dominant market position is to be regarded as abusive and is therefore in breach of provisions of antitrust law.

In fact on the basis of the request, the court could have held acte clair. It referred anyway which gives the AG the opportunity to write a complete if  to begin with concise précis on the notion of ‘contract’ and ‘tort’ in BIa. At 38, this leads him to conclude inter alia that despite the need strictly to interpret exceptions to the A4 actor sequitur forum rei rule, these exceptions including the special jurisdictional fori contractus ut delicti, must simply be applied with their purpose in mind.

He calls it an application ‘assouplie’, best translated perhaps as ‘accommodating’ (readers may check this against the English version when it comes out) (viz tort, too, the AG uses the term assouplie, at 45, referring eg to CJEU C-133/11 Folien Fisher).

Further, the AG notes that in deciding whether the claim is one in contract, necessarily the claimant’s cause of action has an impact, per CJEU C-274/16 Flightright (at 61 of that judgment, itself refering to C‑249/16 Kareda which in turn refers to 14/76 De Bloos). The impact of claimant’s claim form evidently is a good illustration of the possibility to engineer or at least massage fora and I am pleased the AG openly discusses the ensuing forum shopping implications, at 58 ff. He starts however with signalling at 53 ff that the substantive occurrence of concurrent liability in contract and tort is subject to the laws of the Member States and clearly differs among them, making a short comparative inroad e.g. to English law, German law and Belgian /French law. (Michiel Poesen recently wrote on the topic within the specific context of the employment section).

The AG’s discussion of CJEU authority eventually brings him to Brogsitter. He he firmly supports a minimalist interpretation.  This would mean that only if the contractual context is indispensable for the judge to rule on the legality or not of the parties’ behaviour, is forum contractus engaged. This is similar to his Opinion in Bosworth, to which he refers. He rejects the maximalist interpretation. This approach puts forward that contractual qualification trumps non-contractual (arguably, a left-over of CJEU Kalfelis; but as the AG notes at 81: there is most certainly not such a priority at the applicable law level between Rome I and II) hence the judge regardless of the claimant’s formulation of claim, must qualify the claim as contractual when on the facts a link may exist between the alleged shortcomings of the other party, and the contract.

The maximum interpretation, at 76 ff, would require the judge to engage quite intensively with the merits of the case. That would go against the instructions of the CJEU (applying the Brussels Convention (e.g. C-269/95 Benincasa)), and it would (at 77) undermine a core requirement of the Brussels regime which is legal certainty. That the minimalist approach might lead to multiplication of trials seeing as not all issues would be dealt with by the core forum contractus, is rebuked at 85 by reference to the possibility of the A4 domicile forum (an argument which the CJEU itself used in Bier /Mines de Potasse to support the Mozaik implications of its ruling there) and by highlighting the Regulation’s many instances of support for forum shopping.

The AG then discusses abusive forum shopping following creative claim formulation at 88 ff. This  is disciplined both by the fact that as his comparative review shows, the substantive law of a number of Member States eventually will not allow for dual characterisation and hence reject the claim in substance. Moreover clearly unfounded claims will be disciplined by lex fori mechanisms (such as one imagines, cost orders and the like). This section confuses me a little for I had understood the minimalist approach to lay more emphasis on the judge’s detection of the claim’s DNA (along the lines of Sharpston AG in Ergo) than on the claim’s formulation.

The AG then continues with further specification of the minimalist approach, including at 112 a rejection, correct in my view (for the opposite would deny effet utile to A7(2), of the suggestion to give the A7(1) forum contractus the ancillary power to rule of over delictual (A7(2)) issues closely related to the contractual concerns.

Applying the minimalist test to the case at issue the AG concludes that it entails forum delicti, referring in support to CDC and distinguishing Apple v eBizcuss (which entails choice of court and relies heavily on textual wording of the clause).

It will be interesting to see which of the two possible interpretations of Brogsitter the CJEU will follow and whether it will clarify the forum shopping implications of claim formulation.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9.

 

Supreme Sites Services: Immunity of international organisations and ‘civil and commercial’. CJEU holds with emphasis on the provisional nature of the proceedings and the ordinary contractual nature of the goods supplied.

María Barral Martínez and I reviewed Saugmandsgaard Øe’s Opinion in C-186/19 Supreme Site Services v SHAPE here – see also references to earlier postings in that report. The Court held yesterday. The case involves both Article 1 Brussels Ia, on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ and the impact on same of claimed immunity; and on the application of Article 24(5)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for proceedings ‘concerned with the enforcement of judgments’.

The case concerns SHAPE’s appeal to a Dutch Court to lift the attachment aka ‘garnishment’ of a Belgian NATO /SHAPE escrow account by Supreme Services GmbH, a supplier of fuel to NATO troops in Afghanistan. In 2013, Supreme and Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (JFCB), the Netherlands-based regional headquarters of NATO, set up an escrow bank account in Belgium with the goal of offsetting any contingent liabilities on both sides at the end of Basic Ordering Agreements (BOAs). Supreme Services in 2015 initiated proceedings against SHAPE and JFCB in the Netherlands arguing that the latter parties had not fulfilled their payment obligations towards Supreme. It also attached the account in Belgium.

Maria earlier discussed the oddity that the Dutch Court of Appeal in the meantime has already held on the merits of the case. Shape submitted at the CJEU that this, and the fact that the Belgian courts executed their Dutch counterpart’s lifting of the garnishee order following the Dutch-Belgian 1925 Bilateral Convention, meant the questions had become largely inadmissible. The CJEU disagrees: the case before it has been referred by the Supreme Court, and that court has exclusive power under national law to determine how much it can still interfere in the substance of the case, which is still very much ‘alive’ therefore.

A first issue under discussion was whether the garnishment order, which the Court per C‑261/90 Reichert and Kochler qualifies as ‘provisional, including protective measures’ under (now) Article 35 BIa, concerns ‘civil and commercial matters’. Among others Greece and Shape argue that the nature of the substantive proceedings determines this exercises, while the CJEU, following the view of ia the EC, BEN and NL, insists it is the nature of the rights which the provisional and protective measure seek to safeguard, that must rule that exercise – support is found in 143/78 de Cavel. This finding reinforces the particular nature of ‘provisional, including protective measures’ in the set-up of the Regulation.

On the impact of claimed immunity on the subsequent qualification as ‘civil and commercial’, reference is of course made to the CJEU’s May judgment in C-641/18 Rina which I reviewed here. The Court extends its reasoning there to here despite the fact that as it notes at 61, States’ immunity is automatic and based on par in parem non habet imperium, while for international organisations it is not automatic and has to be conferred by the treaties establishing those organisations. Per Rina the CJEU assesses whether the international organisation acted iure imperii, for which of course it has a range of predecent available. At 66 it emphasises that how the organisation uses the supplied goods (here: to support the military campaign in Afghanistan) does not impact on the nature of the relationship it has with the supplier. The Court ends by instructing the Dutch SC to carry out the necessary factual checks however it suggests that in casu neither the legal relationship between the parties to an action such as that in the main proceedings nor the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of that action (here: the ordinary Article 705(1) of the Dutch CPR) can be regarded as showing the exercise of public powers for the purposes of EU law.

On the issue of Article 24(5), the Court takes a restrictive view as it becomes all elements of Article 24: reference here is made to CJEU C-722/17  Reitbauer: only proceedings relating to recourse to force, constraint or distrain on movable or immovable property in order to ensure the effective implementation of judgments and authentic instruments fall within A24(5)’s scope.

I trust public international lawyers will have more to say about the PIL implications of the judgment.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.2.

Free movement of capital and sustainable forest management. The CJEU in Huijbrechts.

Disclosure I represented the Flemish Region at the Court of Justice. I wrote this post on 11 December 2018. Given that the interpretation of the judgment has a bearing on the proceedings in the national court, I decided to hold back on posting  until those proceedings would have met their national end – which they still have not. Seeing as I thought the case might be of interest I decided to go ahead now anyway.

In C-679/17 Huijbrechts the European Court of Justice held in a fashion which is fairly typical of free movement of capital cases. The Court treads carefully. Positive harmonisation of tax law is difficult for the EU to achieve for this requires unanimity. Tax measures having a direct impact on free movement of capital, too strict an enforcement of the latter may be read as tax harmonisation via the back door.

The case at issue concerns a measure by the Flemish Region of Belgium to exempt sustainable managed forests from death duties (inheritance tax). The exemption is subject to there being a forest management plan, agreed with the relevant agency, and subject to a 30 year follow-up period (should in the interim the forest no longer be sustainably managed, the heirs pay the tax pro rata the remainder of the 30 year period). The heirs concerned did not enjoy the exemption for the forests are located outside the region and suggest this is an infringement of the free movement of capital.

Defence against suggestions of infringement of Article 63 TFEU’s free movement of capital rule typically follow the following sequence: free movement is not impacted; should this fail: the domestic and foreign situation are not objectively comparable; should this fail, per C‑256/06 Jäger, public interest requires an exemption (subject to a suitability and a proportionality test).

A crucial part of free movement judgments entails having to read the judgment with an eye on the factual circumstances: the Court typically employs a formula that reads something like ‘in circumstances such as those at issue in the national proceedings’ or ‘in circumstances such as those at issue in the national law’.

In Huijbrechts, the Court at 25-26 finds that Flemish and foreign forest are objectively comparable (only) where they are transboundary and concern woods that are part of one unit or landscape (lest my geographic knowledge fails me here, this limits the impact of the judgment to French and Dutch estates; Belgium has a land border with Luxembourg and Germany, too, but Flanders does not). Interestingly, at 22 the Court indicates that in making the like forest comparison (GATT, WTO and generally free movement scholars will know where I am heading here), the regulatory goal of sustainable forest management plays a role. (See the like product /service distinction in the WTO).

For that limited group of forest, the public interest exception imposes constraints: a blanket ban on considering sustainable management outside of Flanders fails the Treaty test, for it does not assist with the protection of the forests. Flanders will for that limited group have to allow the heirs (again: only where the forests are transboundary and concern woods that are part of one unit or landscape) to provide proof of sustainable management; should such proof be delivered, the burden of proof will revert to the Flemish tax authorities: they cannot blankly assume that they cannot get the necessary data from the foreign administration during the 30 year period: they have to request such data (typically: on a 30 year basis) and only should they fail to get them, can they still refuse to exempt.

The Court implicitly recognises the specific (dire) circumstances of forests in Flanders (at 31). It does not accept the heirs’ submission that the myriad of international and European policy documents on forest management somehow amount to positive harmonisation.

Geert.

 

Dutch SC applies Nk v PNB Paribas and determines locus damni for Peeters Gatzen suit.

Early July the Dutch Supreme Court followed-up on CJEU C–535/17 NK v BNP Paribas Fortis re the Peeters /Gatzen suit – a judgment I covered here. Roel Verheyden has additional analysis of the SC ruling, in Dutch, here. The SC held that the Dutch courts do not have jurisdiction, identifying Belgium as the Erfolgort per CJEU Marinari and Kolassa. As Roel notes, the SC (other than its AG) attention to potential ‘specific factors’ suggesting The Netherlands as an Erfolgort, is underwhelming and may lead to a general conclusion that Dutch Insolvency practitioners applying the Peeters /Gatzen suit to foreign parties while have to sue these abroad – leading to potential issues in the governing law itself and a disappearance of Peeters /Gatzen altogether.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.4.1, Heading 5.7.

Erfolgsort bij Peeters/Gatzen-vordering

 

‘Like Dassonville on steroids’. Bobek AG in Rheinland on personality v territoriality, the nature of EU harmonisation, and its links with (as well as historic roots of) conflict of laws and regulatory competition.

In advising on a territorial restriction in an insurance clause earlier this month, I studied the CJEU judgment in C-581/18 Rheinland, important for the (limitations to the) reach of Article 18 TFEU, the general non-discrimination requirement on the basis of nationality. Bobek AG had earlier opined, and the Court followed, that in the absence of harmonisation and in a scenario with no EU links, Article 18 TFEU is not engaged. I had missed the AG’s earlier opinion – forgive me if I am late to this party.

It is important to sketch the context: Bobek AG had summarised the facts as

A German patient received, in Germany, defective breast implants manufactured by Poly Implant Prothèse SA (‘PIP’), a French undertaking that is now insolvent. The patient seeks compensation before the German courts from Allianz IARD SA, the French insurer of PIP. In France, manufacturers of medical devices are under a statutory obligation to be insured against civil liability for harm suffered by third parties arising from their activities. That obligation led PIP to conclude an insurance contract with Allianz, which contained a territorial clause limiting the cover to damage caused on French territory only. Thus, PIP medical devices that were exported to another Member State and used there were not covered by the insurance contract.

In this context, the Oberlandesgericht Frankfurt am Main (Higher Regional Court, Frankfurt am Main, Germany) enquires whether the fact that PIP was insured by Allianz for damage caused by its medical devices on French territory only, to the exclusion of that potentially caused in other Member States, is compatible with Article 18 TFEU and the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality contained therein.

This post is not on Article 18 TFEU. Rather, consider the excellent (and eloquent) discussion by Bobek AG at 109 ff. Does the imperative of equal protection of all European citizen-consumers, in the absence of EU harmonising law on the issue, preclude a national rule that, in effect, limits insurance cover to persons who undergo surgery on the territory of the Member State, thus indirectly limiting the cover to citizens of that Member State? Bobek AG emphatically and despite moral sympathy for the victims, says no. The alternative would be ‘like Dassonville on steroids’ (at 111), it would ‘turn regulatory competence within the internal market on its head’ (at 109).

Consider his link with conflict of laws at 114-115:

In other words, the fact that goods once came from another Member State is not a sufficient reason to suggest that any matter later concerning those goods is covered by EU law. If that logic were to be embraced, by a questionable interpretation of Article 18 TFEU, the movement of goods in Europe would become (once again) reminiscent of medieval legal particularism, [at footnote 78 he refers to the excellent work by my legal history colleague Randall Lesaffer] whereby each product would, like a person, carry its own laws with it. Goods would be like snails, carrying their homes with them in the form of the legislation of their country of origin, to be applicable to them from their production to their destruction.

Such a consequence would not only displace any (normal) territoriality in the application of laws, but would also generate conflicts of regulatory regimes between the Member States. Indeed, such an expansionist interpretation of Article 18 TFEU could make the legislation of any of the Member States potentially applicable on the same territory without any clear and objective criteria as to which legislation should prevail in a given dispute, with the victim being able to choose the most favourable legislation.’

Most delightful analysis.

Geert.

 

CJEU in Novo Banco: confirms mere presence of a natural person’s core immovable asset (the ‘family home’) does not in itself determine COMI (in insolvency).

When I reviewed Szpunar AG’s opinion, I pointed out that the crux of this case is the determination of ‘centre of main interests’ in the context of natural persons not exercising an independent business or professional activity, who benefit from free movement. The CJEU has now held.

With respect to natural persons outside of a profession, the Insolvency Regulation 2015/848 (‘EIR 2015’) determines ‘(i)n the case of any other individual, the centre of main interests shall be presumed to be the place of the individual’s habitual residence in the absence of proof to the contrary. This presumption shall only apply if the habitual residence has not been moved to another Member State within the 6-month period prior to the request for the opening of insolvency proceedings.’

‘Habitual residence’ is not defined by the EIR 2015. The CJEU runs along the usual themes: need for predictability and autonomous interpretation; emphasis on the Regulation generally defining COMI as ‘the place where the debtor conducts the administration of his interests on a regular basis and is therefore ascertainable by third parties’ (at 19 and referring to recital 13 of the previous Regulation); among those third parties, the important position of (potential) creditors and whether they may ascertain said centre (at 21); to agree with the AG at 24 that

relevant criteria for determining the centre of the main interests of individuals not exercising an independent business or professional activity are those connected with their financial and economic situation which corresponds to the place where they conduct the administration of their economic interests or the majority of their revenue is earned and spent, or the place where the greater part of their assets is located.

Like the AG, the CJEU holds that the mere presence of a natural person’s one immovable asset (the ‘family home’, GAVC) in another Member State than that of habitual residence, in and of itself does not suffice to rebut COMI (at 28).

At 30, the Court specifically flags that COMI in effect represents the place of the ’cause’ of the insolvency, i.e. the place from where one’s assets are managed in a way which led the insolvent into the financial pickle: 

In that regard, although the cause of the insolvency is not, as such, a relevant factor for determining the centre of the main interests of an individual not exercising an independent business or professional activity, it nevertheless falls to the referring court to take into consideration all objective factors, ascertainable by third parties, which are connected with that person’s financial and economic situation. In a case such as the one in the main proceedings, as was observed in paragraph 24 above, that insolvency situation is located in the place where the applicants in the main proceedings conduct the administration of their economic interests on a regular basis or the majority of their revenue is earned and spent, or the place where the greater part of their assets is located.

As in all other scenarios of rebuttal, the ascertainability in particular by (potential) creditors is key and is a factual consideration which the national courts have to make.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.

The CJEU in Movic on enforcement of unfair trading practices and the less than abstract determination of ‘civil and commercial’.

I reviewed Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-73/19 Belgische Staat v Movic BV et al here. The CJEU held this morning. At the time of posting an English version of the judgment was not yet available. The case at issue concerns enforcement of Belgium’s unfair trading act by the public authorities of the Member State. Movic BV of The Netherlands and the others defendants practices ticket touting: resale of tickets for leisure events.

The Court is more succinct than the AG in its analysis yet refers repeatedly to points made by Szpunar AG without itself therefore having to refer to so extensive an analysis.

The fact that a power was introduced by a law is not, in itself, decisive in order to conclude that the State acted in the exercise of State authority (at 52). Neither does the pursuit of the general interest automatically involve the exercise of public powers (at 53). With respect to the authorities’ powers of investigation, it would seem that the Court like the AG reads (at 57) C‑49/12 Sunico as meaning that to exclude proceedings from the scope of ‘civil and commercial matters’, it must be determined, in concreto, whether the public authority uses evidence which it has in its possession as a result of its public powers of investigation, hence putting it in a different position as a person governed by private law in analogous proceedings. Collecting evidence in the same way as a private person or a consumer association could, does not fall within that category (at 58).

Neither the request for penalty payments nor an application for an injunction makes the proceedings drop out off Brussels Ia: both instruments are available to private parties, too. That is not however the case for the observation of continued infringement by mere civil servant oath as opposed to bailiff certification. This, the Court holds like the AG, does amount to exercise of public authority (at 62) however (at 63) that element alone escapes BIA, it does not so taint the other part of the proceedings.

As I noted in my review of first Advocate General Szpunar’s Opinion, the need for highly factual considerations sits uneasily with the Regulation’s expressed DNA of predictability. However this squares with the CJEU case-law on ‘civil and commercial’.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2.

The CJEU’s locus damni determination in Volkswagen dismisses a US style minimum contacts rule. Like the passat, it risks picking up suits and landing them almost anywhere.

Update 26 August 2020 see Matthias Lehmann for similar as well as additional criticism here.

Update 10 July 2020 a few hours after posting: I revisited the pending, distinct reference by the Austrian Supreme Court (see Rouzbeh Moradi’s flag here) on type approval issues (which the High Court has actually dealt with as acte clair in [2020] EWHC 783 (QB), referred to here). I was hoping there might be scope in those questions for the CJEU to fill in the blanks signalled below. I fear there is not.

I earlier reviewed Sánchez-Bordona AG’ opinion in C‑343/19 Verein für Konsumenteninformation v Volkswagen. I noted then that despite attempts at seeing system in the Opinion, the ever unclearer distinction between direct and indirect aka ‘ricochet’ damage under Article 7(2) Brussels Ia is a Valhalla for reverse engineering.

The AG did not suggest a wild west of connecting factors for indirect damage (please refer to my full post for overview), instead suggesting a Universal Music style requirement of extra factors (over and above the location of damage) to establish jurisdiction. In particular he put forward a minimum contacts rule such as in US conflict of laws: at 75: ‘the defendant’s intention to sell its vehicles in the Member State whose jurisdiction is in issue (and, as far as possible, in certain districts within that State).’

The CJEU’s judgment yesterday was received as giving ‘consumers’ the right to sue Volkswagen in their state of domicile. This however is not quite correct. Firstly, the parties at issue are not ‘consumers’ at least within the meaning of European conflicts law: the suit is one in tort, not contract, let alone one that concerns a consumer contract. Further, the AG was clear and the CJEU arguably held along the same lines, that it is only if the car was purchased by a downstream (third party) buyer and the Volkswagen Dieselgate story broke after that purchase, that the damage may be considered to only then have come into existence, thus creating jurisdiction. See the CJEU at 29 ff:

29. That said, in the main proceedings, it is apparent from the documents before the Court, subject to the assessment of the facts which it is for the referring court to make, that the damage alleged by the VKI takes the form of a loss in value of the vehicles in question stemming from the difference between the price paid by the purchaser for such a vehicle and its actual value owing to the installation of software that manipulates data relating to exhaust gas emissions.

30      Consequently, while those vehicles became defective as soon as that software had been installed, the view must be taken that the damage asserted occurred only when those vehicles were purchased, as they were acquired for a price higher than their actual value.

31      Such damage, which did not exist before the purchase of the vehicle by the final purchaser who considers himself adversely affected, constitutes initial damage within the meaning of the case-law recalled in paragraph 26 of the present judgment, and not an indirect consequence of the harm initially suffered by other persons within the meaning of the case-law cited in paragraph 27 of the present judgment.

That ‘case-law cited’ is the classic lines of cases on locus damni per A7(2) BIa, with Trans Tibor as its latest expression.

The CJEU does not qualify the damage as purely financial: at 33, citing the EC’s court opinion: ‘the fact that the claim for damages is expressed in euros does not mean that the damage is purely financial.’: the car, a tangible asset, actually suffers a defect, over and above the impact on its value as an asset. That is a statement which cuts many a corner and which has relevance beyond the EU regime for all ‘money judgments’ (think of e.g. the Hague Judgments Convention). Update 10 July 2020 after initial posting: thank you Gordon Nardell QC for pointing out that the CJEU view here is at odds with the English conflicts rules (and with many other, I reckon) on characterisation of loss as pecuniary.

Predictability, which is firmly part of the Brussels Ia Regulation’s DNA, the Court holds, is secured seeing as a car manufacturer which ‘engages in unlawful tampering with vehicles sold in other Member States may reasonably expect to be sued in the courts of those States (at 36).

Finally, the Court throws consistency with Rome II in the mix, by holding at 39

Lastly, that interpretation satisfies the requirement of consistency laid down in recital 7 of the Rome II Regulation, in so far as, in accordance with Article 6(1) thereof, the place where the damage occurs in a case involving an act of unfair competition is the place where ‘competitive relations or the collective interests of consumers are, or are likely to be, affected’. An act, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which, by being likely to affect the collective interests of consumers as a group, constitutes an act of unfair competition (judgment of 28 July 2016, Verein für Konsumenteninformation, C‑191/15, EU:C:2016:612, paragraph 42), may affect those interests in any Member State within the territory of which the defective product is purchased by consumers. Thus, under the Rome II Regulation, the place where the damage occurs is the place in which such a product is purchased (see, by analogy, judgment of 29 July 2019, Tibor-Trans, C‑451/18, EU:C:2019:635, paragraph 35).

The extent to which A6 Rome II applies to acts of unfair competition being litigated by ‘consumers’ (in the non-technical sense of the word), is however not quite clear and in my view certainly not settled by this para in the Court’s judgment.

Finally, on locus delicti commissi as I noted at the time, the AG had not in my view given a complete analysis. The CJEU is silent on it.

Not many will feel much sympathy for Volkswagen facing cluster litigation across the EU given its intention to cheat. However the rejection of a minimum contacts approach under A7(2) will have implications reaching small corporations, too. The Volkswagen ruling has many loose ends and will need distinguishing, with intention to defraud the consumer arguably a relevant criterion for distinction given the Court’s finding in para 36.

It is to be feared that many national judges will fail to see the need for distinguishing, adding to the ever expanding ripple effect of locus damni following the Court’s epic Bier judgment.

Geert.

Ps reference to the Passat in the title is of course to the VW Passat, named after the Germanic name for one of the Trade winds.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.7

 

Szpunar AG in Ellmes Property Services. Again, on rights in rem and, more challenging, on forum contractus and the spirit of CJEU De Bloos.

Acte clair is in the eyes of the beholder, I assume. However a confident judge would have sufficient CJEU authority to help them hold on the A24(1) BIa issues in C‑433/19 Ellmes Property Services in which Szpunar AG opined last week. (No EN version available at the time of publication of this post).

Do actions brought by a co-owner seeking to prohibit another co-owner from carrying out changes to his property subject to co-ownership, in particular to its designated use, arbitrarily and without the consent of the other co-owners, concern the assertion of a right in rem? In the negative, is the forum contractus per A7(1)(a) Brussels Ia the location of the property? The less clear issue in my view is the forum contractus element.

The location is Zell am Zee, contested use is, not surprisingly, tourist accomodation. Applicant in the national proceedings is an individual who lives in the apartment building. Defendant is a UK corporation who uses it for short-term lets despite the residential designation assigned to the building as a whole in the co-ownership agreement.

From CJEU authority including C-438/12 Weber v Weber it should be clear that other than the hardcore cases of ownership of real estate, the erga omnes v in personam character of rights in real estate depends on national law. The Advocate General in this respect points out that for the rights of co-owners in the case at issue to be rights in rem, Austrian law would have to be enable them to exercise these rights not just vis-a-vis the other co-owners, but also vis-a-vis third parties such as tenants. Whether this is the case in Austrian law has not been sufficiently explained in the reference, it seems.

For the impact of entry in the land register (where third parties can consult the co-ownership agreement), Szpunar AG reviews and contrasts C‑417/15 Schmidt v Schmidt, and C-630/17 Milivojević v Raiffeisenbank. Mere registration does not always entail erga omnes impact.

The Advocate General reminds us of the overall interpretation of Article 24, including the need for restrictive interpretation, and flags (with reference inter alia to the Handbook, p.73, for which I am, as always, sincerely humbled) that it is not just, or not even so much sound administration of justice which underlies A24. At least partially, Member States’ strategic interests are served by the issues listed in the Article.

Ellmes Property Services does not seem to raise additional issues such as we saw in C-25/18 Kerr. The Austrian courts could have dealt with this on their own, and seeing as the referring judge did not provide the kind of detail for the CJEU to judge, the AG’s suggestion is to leave it up to them to verify the erga omnes character.

That leaves (whether it will be needed depends on what the eventual insight will be on the erga omnes element), the forum contractus under A7(1). Parties differ as to the qualification of the contractual duty: is it a positive one (do!) or a negative one (must not!). The AG opts for the latter, with reference to CJEU 14/76 De Bloos: A7(1) refers to the contractual obligation forming the basis of the legal proceedings. I find the precedent value of De Bloos problematic in light of the many changes that have been made to Article 7 since, and in light of the engineering possibilities it hands to parties.

The AG advises that forum contractus will have to be determined by the Italian judge following the conflicts method per CJEU 12/76 Tessili v Dunlop, with little help from European harmonisation seeing i.a. as the initial co-ownership agreement dates back to 1978.

I am curious to see how far the Court will go in entertaining the issues at stake.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.1 (cited by the AG) and Heading 2.2.11.1.

Precaution and standard of proof. The General Court in Agrochem-Maks.

In T‑574/18 Agrochem-Maks the General Court at the end of May upheld the Commission Regulation not extending market authorisation for the active substance oxasulfuron, a pesticide. The EC Regulation noted that EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, had identified a large number of data gaps resulting in the inability to finalise the risk assessment in several areas and that ‘in particular, the available information on oxasulfuron and its metabolites did not allow finalising the assessment of the overall consumer exposure, the groundwater exposure, the risk to aquatic organisms, earthworms, soil macro and microorganisms and non-target terrestrial plants’. Since  ‘it has not been established with respect to one or more representative uses of at least one plant protection product that the approval criteria provided for in Article 4 of Regulation … No 1107/2009 [on plant protection products; see here, GAVC] [were] satisfied’, authorisation was not renewed.

The case at issue is brought by a small Croatian, family-owned company. That is a change from the classic pattern in this kind of cases, with large bio-agricultural industry routinely taking cases to the CJEU in laser-shoot fashion, hoping they might hit the target once or twice.

The General Court extensively outlines the procedure foreseen in the relevant EU laws, thereby identifying the core issue in near all of these cases held under the precautionary principle: the EU courts do not carry out a merits review; rather, they assess whether holes have emerged in the preparation of a decision, which could mean that the Institutions could not reasonably have come to the decision they came to.

That is no different here: at 62: ‘the EU Courts must verify that the relevant procedural rules have been complied with, that the facts admitted by the Commission have been accurately stated and that there has been no manifest error of appraisal or misuse of powers’. At 65, per CJEU T-13/99 Pfizer: ‘a scientific risk assessment carried out as thoroughly as possible on the basis of scientific advice founded on the principles of excellence, transparency and independence is an important procedural guarantee whose purpose is to ensure the scientific objectivity of the measures adopted and preclude any arbitrary measures.’

Specifically for current Regulation: at 66: ‘the burden of proving that the conditions for approval or renewal under Article 4 of Regulation No 1107/2009 are met lies, in principle, with the notifier.’ At 67 per CJEU T-584/13 BASF Agro: ‘it is the person seeking approval who must prove that the conditions of such approval are met in order to obtain it, and not the Commission which must prove that the conditions of approval are not met in order to be able to refuse it’.

The General Court then at length considers the procedure followed, including the reasons for the identified gaps, and then assesses the application of the precautionary principle to same: at 109 ff with reference to the 2000 Communication on the Precautionary Principle, COM(2000)1. Crucially, at 121, as noted ‘(u)nder Regulation 1107/2009 when the applicant words its renewal application, it bears the burden of proving the efficacy and safety of the substance in question.’ ‘Since it did not discharge that burden, the approval of the active substance could not be renewed.’

The case highlights once again the crucial nature of administrative compliance with the rulebooks under EU regulatory law. Many of us will have sat through presentations by EFSA or EC officials outlining the rules in excruciating and yes, not very sexy detail. Yet to follow procedure to a tee is crucial to ensure defence against corporations taking issue with the findings at the CJEU.

The case also emphasises the importance of burden of proof, as specified in the secondary law at issue and, preferably, the ‘no data, no market’ rule in EU regulatory law.

There might of course still be an appeal with the Court.

Geert.

EU environmental law (with Leonie Reins), Edward Elgar, 2018, p.28 ff.