Posts Tagged Directive 93/13

NMBS v Mbutuku Kanyeba et al. A very relaxed CJEU on the notion of ‘contract’ (in EU transport law).

To scholars of private international law, the CJEU judgment last week in Joined cases C-349/18 to C-351/18 NMBS v Mbutuku Kanyeba et al might seem like ending us up in a parallel universe, where unlike in conflicts land, core concepts of private law are understood without much ado.

Additional surcharges were claimed against claimants for having travelled by train without a transport ticket. For either Regulation 1371/2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations and Directive 93/13 on unfair terms in consumer contracts, the existence of a ‘contract’ is a clear prerequisite for the application at all of these rules. The AG had opined that the EU rules at issue did not define ‘contract’ and therefore had to defer to the applicable national laws.

The CJEU however has much less hesitation, noting at 36 that ‘the word ‘contract’ is generally understood to designate an agreement by consensus intended to produce legal effects. Secondly, in the context of the field covered by that regulation and in the light of the wording of that provision, that effect consists principally in the obligation imposed on the rail undertaking to provide to the passenger one or more transport services and the obligation imposed on the passenger to pay the price of that transport, unless the service is provided free of charge’.

The Court gives no further explanation. How a ‘contract’ in this context can be ‘generally understood’ as being what the Court says it is (with all the uncertainty relating e.g. to ‘consensus’ and to the reciprocity element it seems to imply) must be a surprise to all those current and past studying ‘contract’ in the conflict of laws. Of course, in the EU rules at issue there is no delineation with ‘tort’ to consider, and the Court in the further paras seems to hint at adopting a flexible interpretation so as to protect passengers (without a contract, they have no rights), the matter of factly approach to the definition must be surprising.

Geert.

 

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A quick note on Pitruzzella AG in NMBS v Mbutuku Kanyeba et al.

Just a quick note for completeness’ sake on Pitruzzella AG’s Opinion in Joined cases C-349/18 to C-351/18 NMBS v Mbutuku Kanyeba et al. It engages consumer protection law, not conflict of laws. To decide whether there is a ‘contract’ between public transport providers and (alleged) fare dodgers, the AG has no choice but to refer to national law:

La directive 93/13/CEE ne réglemente pas les conditions de formation des contrats et le régime relatif aux clauses abusives qu’elle contient est en principe applicable exclusivement aux relations juridiques d’origine contractuelle, qui doivent être qualifiées par le juge national sur le fondement du droit national.

Readers of the blog will appreciate the echoes of Tessili v Dunlop and Handte /Kalfelis, Feniks etc. discussions.

Geert.

 

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Happy Flights v Ryanair. Belgian Supreme Court (only) confirms proper lex causae for validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia.

Thank you alumna and appreciated co-author Jutta Gangsted for flagging Charles Price’s (former learned colleague of mine at Dibb Lupton Alsop) and Sébastien Popijn’s alert on the Belgian Supreme Court’s ruling of 8 February last in C.18.0354.N Happy Flights v Ryanair. Happy Flights are a Belgium-based online claim agency to which disgruntled passengers may assign claims for compensation under Regulation 261/2004.

At issue is the validity of Ryanair’s choice of court in its general terms and conditions, referring consumers to Irish courts. The Brussels Commercial court on 30 May 2018 seemingly first of all did not assess whether the agency may be considered a ‘consumer’ within the terms of Irish consumer protection law (itself an implementation of Directive 93/13), having been assigned the consumers’ claims. The May 2018 decision itself is unreported <enters his usual rant about the lack of proper reporting of Belgian case-law>.

The Supreme Court (at 2, line 47) notes this lack of assessment by the lower court. It does not however complete the analysis sticking religiously to its role to interpret the law only, not the facts. Per CJEU Schrems mutatis mutandis I would suggest an affirmative answer (the agency having been assigned the consumers’ rights).

Do note that the use of the word ‘consumer’ in this context must not confuse: the consumer title of Brussels Ia itself does not apply unless the contract is one of combined travel and accommodation (or other services); the Regulation excludes contracts for travel only, from the scope of application of the consumer title.

The Brussels Commercial court subsequently and again from what one can infer from the Supreme Court’s ruling, discussed the validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia, reviewing its formal conditions (formation of consent) yet judging the material validity under the lex fori, Belgian law, not the lex fori prorogati, Irish law. This is a clear violation of A25 juncto recital 20 Brussels Ia. The Supreme Court suggests that the relevant Irish implementation of the unfair consumer terms Directive 93/13 does imply invalidity of the clause (again: if the claim is held to fall under the consumer title, this analysis will become superfluous).

Note that the SC omits recital 20’s renvoi instruction, keeping entirely schtum about it: clearly misapplying the Regulation.

The Court’s judgment unlike the understandably enthusiastic briefing by Happy Flight’s counsel does not quite yet mean that Ryanair’s terms and conditions on this issue have been invalidated. However it is likely they will be upon further assessment on the merits – with hopefully the Court of Appeal not omitting Brussels Ia’s renvoi instruction. As I note above first up there will be the issue of assignment rather than the issue of A25.

For your interest, I gave a Twitter tutorial on a related issue (consumer law, lex causae, compulsory referral to arbitration) recently.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.

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