Where are all the dead pigeons? Proposed amendment to the Brussels I-Regulation prepares the ground for the Unified Patent Court

Pre-script posted 6 June: the amending Regulation was adopted in April (and published as Regulation 542/2014). The assets rule which it includes prima facie only applies for damage taking place outside the EU resulting from non-doms’ infringement. How and whether the assets rule applies vis-a-vis damage inside the EU caused by non-doms is still not clear. You may want to read the ‘comments’ section under this posting for clarification.

 

The proposal to amend Regulation 1215/2012 is due to be adopted by the European Parliament before its election recess. It forms part of the rather complex set of arrangements to introduce the Unified Patents Court – an oxymoron indeed. Leaving aside the complex set of arrangements at the substantive law level, I just wanted to highlight one or two interesting charachteristics at the pure conflicts /jurisdiction level.

The proposed amendment has a twofold objective. Firstly, to ensure compliance between the UPC Agreement and the recast Brussels I Regulation. So far so uncontested. These revisions concern in particular the clear inclusion of the UPC (as well as the Benelux Court) within the Regulation’s definition of a ‘court’; and the revision of the (rather complex)  regime of Article 71 with respect to international agreements and their relationship with the Brussels I Regulation.

The second objective however is misleadingly represented as necessarily forming part of the UPC package: the issue of jurisdiction vis-a-vis defendants not domiciled in the EU (see inter alia here for earlier postings on non-EU domiciled defendants). The newly inserted Article 71b essentially and as a rule lets the ‘common courts’ (i.e. the UPC and the Benelux Court) usurp national jurisdiction (for those States that have subscribed to the common court – remember this is an instrument of enhanced co-operation):

1. The common court shall have jurisdiction where, under this Regulation, the courts of a Member State party to an agreement establishing a common court have jurisdiction in a matter governed by that agreement.

It then prima facie at least suggests that all jurisdictional rules of the Regulation apply regardless of third State domicile:

2. Where the defendant is not domiciled in a Member State, and this Regulation does not otherwise confer jurisdiction over him, the provisions of Chapter II shall apply as if the defendant was domiciled in a Member State. Article 35 shall apply even if the courts of non-Member States have jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter.

Chapter II includes all jurisdictional rules: including the basic rule of domicile of the defendant (the new Article 4, previously Article 2).

This prima facie conclusion is supported by the (proposed) newly inserted sentence in recital 14:

“Uniform jurisdiction rules should also apply regardless of the defendant’s domicile in cases where courts common to several Member States exercise jurisdiction in matters coming within the scope of application of this Regulation”

The newly proposed Article 71b (3) however then would seem to contradict this by stating

3. Where the defendant is not domiciled in a Member State and no court of a Member State has jurisdiction under this Regulation, the defendant may be sued in the common court if:
a) property belonging to the defendant is located in a Member State party to the agreement establishing the common court;
b) the value of the property is not insignificant compared to the value of the claim;
c) the dispute has a sufficient connection with any Member State party to the agreement establishing the common court.

Now I am getting very confused: if, per Article 71b (2), jurisdiction shall be determined ‘as if the defendant was domiciled in a Member State’, how then can there still be a calling for Article 71b (3)? Is it because the proposal aims to introduce a reflexive application (meaning one which also works where the exclusive jurisdictional ground points away from the EU) of Article 22(4) [Article 24(4) in the new Regulation] – i.e. the exclusive jurisdictional ground for registration or validity of intellectual property rights?

Interestingly, Article 71b(3) (proposed) reinstates, for the common courts and whence for patent disputes only, the ‘assets’ rule vis-a-vis third State defendants which the European Commission had failed to introduce as a general rule in the recast Regulation (these are the dead pigeons of the title of current posting).

It is also noteworthy that the proposal acknowledges that courts in third States may have jurisdiction, and that in that case EU (common) courts may still issue provisional measures.

No doubt there may be some kind of explanation for my confusion. I should be glad to hear it.

Geert.

Place of habitual employment and the alternative findings of corporate ‘domicile’- The Employment Appeal Tribunal in Powell

In David Powell v OMV Exploration and production limited, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled on the (absence of) jurisdiction for UK courts in the case of a UK domiciled employee, employed originally to work from Yemen but in reality working from Dubai, hired by a Manx incorporated company run from Austria. The employment contract was subject to Manx law and to a choice of court agreement in favour of the courts of the Isle of Man. The Tribunal however ruled that the case was within the scope of the Brussels I Regulation – albeit like the tribunal itself, the Appeal tribunal does not systematically review the three alternative grounds for domicile of Article 60 of the Jurisdiction Regulation.

Domicile was found to be in Austria, for this is the place where the company was effectively managed from. The UK could claim jurisdiction on the basis of Article 19, were the employee found to habitually work in the UK – quod non.

A classic example of the employment chapter of the JR, with a bit of exotic flavouring (Manx) and, even if not altogether tidy, a correct conclusion on Austrian domicile.

Geert.

 

Of Vikings, airlines and trade unions – The High Court in British Airways leaves a treasure trove of questions on ‘civil and commercial’

In  British Airways v Sindicato Espanol de Pilotos de Lineas Aereas – SEPLA, crucial consideration was whether the court had jurisdiction under the Brussels I Regulation to determine the claim brought by BA against SEPLA, a Spanish trade union, for damages and declaratory and injunctive relief alleging that strikes of Spanish airline pilots organised by SEPLA were unlawful under Spanish law in that they were in breach of the Claimants’ right to freedom of establishment and to provide cross border services under Articles 49 and 56 TFEU. The international federation of airline pilots association acted as anchor defendant (being domiciled in the UK at the time the action was introduced (it had since moved to Canada) and the case against both arguably being closely linked within the meaning of Article 6 of the Jurisdiction Regulation).

The High Court accepted the ‘knock-out point’ of defendant: that the matter was not ‘civil and commercial’ and therefore not within the scope of application of the Regulation. Field J argued with reference to the ECJ’s judgment in Viking (or more specifically, the AG’s Opinion in same) that ‘it remains the case that the source of the fundamental freedoms are treaty provisions imposing obligations on states‘, and that ‘a court having to decide whether SEPLA was in breach of Articles 49 and/or 56 TFEU will have to conduct a sensitive balancing exercise in which it weighs SEPLA’s constitutional right to strike and the fundamental right to strike which forms part of the general principles of Community Law against the fundamental freedoms enshrined in Articles 49 and 56. In my judgment, such an exercise will involve a resort to notions of public law rather than to private law.

I am not so sure. Firstly, the horizontal (i.e. between individuals) direct effect of the Treaty Articles concerned is quite established. Moreover, under the Eurocontrol and subsequent case-law formula, the public authority (here: merely a private organisation, a trade union, perhaps carrying out duties of a quasi-public law nature (the right to strike)) involved needs to have acted iure imperii. It is only if the legal relationship (not: the underlying applicable law) between the parties to the action is of a public law nature, giving one of them extraordinary authority which the other lacks, that the Regulation may not apply. There was no indication that the trade union in the specific case acted in some kind of iure imperii matter. This was not acte claire I would have thought, but the High Court evidently thought otherwise.

Geert.