Sodmilab. The Paris Court of Appeal on lois de police, Rome I, II and commercial agency.

Thank you Maxime Barba for flagging the judgment in the Paris Court of Appeal Sodmilab et al. (Text of the judgment in Maxime’s post). The case concerns the ending of a commercial relationship. Part of the contract may be qualified as agency with lex causae determined under the 1978 Hague Convention. On this issue, the Court of Appeal confirmed French law as lex causae.

Things get messy however with the determination of that part of the contract that qualifies as distribution (a mess echoing DES v Clarins), and on the application of Rome II.

The Court of Appeal first (at 59) discusses the qualification of A442-6 of the French Code du commerce, on unfair trading practices (abrupt ending of a commercial relationship), dismissing it as lois de police /overriding mandatory law under Article 9 Rome I. As I noted in my review of DES v Clarins, this is a topsy turvy application of Rome I. The qualification as lois de police is up to the Member States, within the confines of the definition in Rome I. The Court of Appeal holds that A442-6 only serves private interests, not the general economic interest, and therefore must not qualify under Rome I. Hitherto much of the French case-law and scholarship had argued that in protecting the stability of private interests, the Act ultimately serves the public interest.

Next (as noted: this should have come first), the Court reviews the application of A4f Rome I, the fall-back position for distribution contracts – which would have led to Algerian law as lex causae. It is unclear (62 ff) whether the Court reaches its conclusion as French law instead either as a confirmation of circumstantial (the court referring to invoicing currency etc.) but clear choice of law under Article 3, or the escape clause under Article 4(3), for that Article is mentioned, too.

Rome I’s structure is quite clear. Why it is not properly followed here is odd. That includes the oddity of discussing French law under Article 9 if the court had already confirmed French law as lex causae under A3 or 4.

Finally, corners are cut on Rome II, too. Re the abrupt ending of the relationship (at 66ff). French law again emerges victorious even if the general lex locus damni rule leads to Algerian law. The court does not quite clearly hold that on the basis of Article 4(3)’s escape clause, or circumstantial choice of law per A14. The court refers to ‘its findings above’ on contractual choice of law, however how such fuzzy implicit choice under Rome I is forceful enough to extend to choice of law under Rome II must not be posited without further consideration. Particularly seeing as Article 6 Rome II excludes choice of law for acts of unfair trading.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9; Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 3.2.8.3; Chapter 4).

 

DES v Clarins. The law applicable to ending commercial agency: Granarolo (and Rome I’s /Rome Convention’s overriding mandatory law rules) applied by Paris Court of Appeal.

In RG 16/05579 DES v Clarins (I have a copy on file for those finding it difficult to get access) the Paris Court of Appeal on 19 September 2018 effectively applied the CJEU’s Granarolo judgment on jurisdiction, to issues of applicable law. Yet it leaves many questions unanswered and does not carry out a neat and tidy analysis at all.

The case was signalled to me by , who has complete analysis here in French as well as here in English.

Companies belonging to the Clarins group (of France and Luxemburg) were sued for breach of their business relationship with a French company that distributed Clarins cosmetics in Algeria through local companies there, and for the alleged sudden halt in negotiations to try and resuscitate their contractual relationship.

The Court of appeal first of all (p.16-17 of the PDF version of the judgment) summarily rejects objections to the anchoring of non-France based defendants onto Clarins, with domicile in département 92 – Hauts de Seine: claimants request damages from all defendants, on the basis of the same facts and the same legal basis. So as to avoid conflicting judgments the Court sees no reason at all not to join the cases.

In terms of applicable law, the Court refers to Granarolo to qualify the relationship as contractual (reference is made to a tacit contract), yet then skips the application of the cascade rules of the Rome Convention (which applied ratione temporis rather than Rome I) to simply jump straight to the qualification as the relevant French rules as lois de police. As Christophe points out, there are plentry of the Convention’s default categories which could have applied to the case. Skipping the cascade to go straight to the exception is not the right way to go about conflict of laws.

The Court similarly cuts plenty a corner by summarily qualifying the sudden stop to negotiations to resuscitate a previous contractual relationship as non-contractual and applying French law as lex loci damni per Rome II (p.18), particularly as Rome II has a specific rule for culpa in contrahendo.

I am assuming an appeal with the Supreme Court is underway.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9; Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 3.2.8.3).