Mittelbayerischer Verlag: determining centre of interests for jurisdiction in online defamation cases. The AG suggests this is not the case for big changes.

What I said in my post on Markt24 this morning, also goes for the Opinion of Bobek AG in C-800/19 Mittelbayerischer Verlag KG v SM: others have in the meantime posted analysis on it, in this case Tobias Lutzi whose scholarship was cited by the AG.

Claimant is a Polish national who had been a former Auschwitz prisoner. He brought a civil claim against a German newspaper before the Polish courts for having used the expression ‘Polish extermination camp’ in an online article to refer to a Nazi extermination camp built on the territory of (then) occupied Poland. The camp in Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp built within the territory of occupied Poland. Not a ‘Polish’ or indeed even a ‘German’ concentration camp: a Nazi or fascist camp. But I stray.

Although the article had been online for only a few hours before it was corrected, the applicant maintains that the online publication has harmed his national identity and dignity.

Do Polish courts have international jurisdiction to hear such claim? In the main proceedings, the applicant is not only seeking monetary compensation, but also other remedies: a court order prohibiting the publisher from using the expression ‘Polish extermination camp’ in the future and the publication of an apology. (For related issues on the nature of the remedy, see prof Hess’ post on the blog here). Bolagsupplysningen is the most recent relevant CJEU authority. Some of the complications of that case recently featured in Napag Trading and in  Saïd v L’Express.

Warsaw was undoubtedly the claimant’s centre of interest per Bolagsupplysningen, yet the referring court wondered whether this was sufficient to give it jurisdiction given the range of remedies sought by the claimant (damages; prohibition to use the term in the future; public apology). Particularly seeing as the intensity of contact of the claimant with the offending material was on the lighter side: unlike eDate, the online article that formed the basis for the action did not directly concern claimant. The paper’s regional profile and readership range, and focus on regional news, the entirely German nature of the site, lack of any targeting of non-regional readers etc.. meant it was not at all directed at anything else but a local readership.

As Tobias points out, the AG reemphasises (39-44) the unfortunate consequences of Mozaik jurisdiction per CJEU Bier, as plenty of AGs and scholars have done with him. He suggests however that current case is not one suited to a wholesale revisiting of the Bier authority, specifically in an internet context (see also the phrase ‘ubiquitous nature’ of the internet in Google v CNIL, per Szpunar AG), seeing as the essence of the dispute is one on the merits. Instead, he suggests the Court exercise judicial economy and take a most narrow approach to the case: whether in a case seeking a prohibition on the use of a certain statement in the future and the publication of an apology, the applicability of centre of interests of a party allegedly harmed by online publication, be precluded by the fact that that person is not named in the publication at issue?

The case therefore will be an opportunity to specify to some extent the open questions with respect to the indivisibility of the remedies in online defamation cases (see also Gtflix TV and BVC v EWF).

Tobias maps the AG’s approach which discusses predictability yet anchors the conclusion unto the very reason (ia per recitals 15 and 16 which themselves go back to the Report Jenard) for having introduced A7 special jurisdiction: the connection of the court to the facts of the case (59):

any alternative grounds of jurisdiction, must be ‘based on a close connection between the court and the action or in order to facilitate the sound administration of justice. The existence of a close connection should ensure legal certainty and avoid the possibility of the defendant being sued in a court of a Member State which he could not reasonably have foreseen. This is important, particularly in disputes concerning non-contractual obligations arising out of violations of privacy and rights relating to personality, including defamation’.

‘the reasonable foreseeability of the centre of gravity of a dispute should not be effectively replaced by the publisher’s knowledge of the place of the victim’s domicile (62)’

A criterion of intent (69) must not be introduced for online torts, the AG suggests (cf intention expressed as ‘directing at’ in the consumer title). Applied to the case at issue, given the nature of the expressions used (the use of ‘Polish concentration camps’ can be predicted to create a fall-out in Poland, even if one does not have any specific individuals on one’s radar). At 81 ff the AG adds quasi-obiter that at the enforcement stage, any Polish judgment prohibiting in particular further use of the phrase may indeed bounce off German ordre public – as Burkhard’s post discusses re an earlier case.

What would be rather cool is for the CJEU in spite of the AG’s invite not to do so, to take the opportunity of this case to bin or radically amend Bier. That is a pipe dream: this is not going to happen [or is it 😉 ?] particularly seeing as the case will not be held in Grand Chamber.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.5, and para 2.598 in fine.

 

 

Markt24: CJEU emphasises predictability of place of habitual employment.

There is a benefit to the pace of work becoming so hectic that I cannot post on CJEU case-law swiftly: others have analysis to which I can refer. In the case of CJEU C-804/19 BU v Markt24 GmbH, Anna Wysocka-Bar has posted analysis this morning (Opinion Saugmandsgaard Øe here).

BU whose place of residence is at Salzburg (Austria) signed an employment contract for carrying out cleaning work in Munich (Germany) for Markt24 GmbH, whose registered office is also located in Munich. The contract was signed in a bakery in Salzburg, where Markt24 also had an office. BU was never allocated any work, the employment contract was terminated and BU claims outstanding wage at the Landesgericht Salzburg.

The CJEU refers to Holterman to define employment [25] and holds [26] that the presence of a contract of employment is relevant for triggering the protective regime: not its actual exercise, at least if the lack of performance of the contract is attributable to the employer [28].

This issue was not sub judice however reasoning mutatis mutandis I would suggest the attributability or not to the employer be subject to the putative lex loci laboris per A8 Rome I.

Having established that A21 BIa applies, the question is how a ‘‘place where or from where the employee habitually carries out his work’ may be determined if no work has been carried out. At 41:

in the case where the contract of employment has not been performed, the intention expressed by the parties to the contract as to the place of that performance is, in principle, the only element which makes it possible to establish a habitual place of work (…) That interpretation best allows a high degree of predictability of rules of jurisdiction to be ensured, since the place of work envisaged by the parties in the contract of employment is, in principle, easy to identify

In casu, that place is Munich albeit [46] Salzburg might also still be an option given as A20 BIa makes A7(5)’s branch jurisdiction applicable (“as regards a dispute arising out of the operations of a branch, agency or other establishment, in the courts for the place where the branch, agency or other establishment is situated”). Whether the conditions for that Article apply, is for the court at Salzburg to determine.

The CJEU’s emphasis on predictability in my view also means that if a place is agreed yet the employee, without agreement from the employer, de facto carries out the work elsewhere, the agreed place must take precedent.

The CJEU also holds [34] that the employment title of BIA exhaustively harmonises jurisdiction: more favourable national CPR rules (in casu granting jurisdiction to the employee’s residence and /or place of payment of the remuneration) become inoperable.

An important judgment.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.278 ff.

A quick note on mutual trust and judicial co-operation: Rantos AG on Brussels IIa in SS v MCP.

Last week’s Opinion of Advocate General Rantos (successor to Sharpston AG) in C-603/20 PPU SS v MCP is of note for its emphasis on the principle of mutual trust that lies at the foundation of European Private International Law. Brussels IIa is not staple diet for the blog and I shall leave more intense analysis to others. In short, the AG opined that a Member State retains jurisdiction under the Regulation, without limit of time, if a child habitually resident in that Member State was wrongfully removed to, or retained in, a non-Member State where it in due course became habitually resident.

The third country at issue is India, a non-Hague Convention State, as opposed to the UK, now also a third country but a Hague State. Note that in future A97(2) Brussels IIa Recast give clear priority to A13 Hague Convention’s lis alibi pendens rule, in cases where the conditions for that article are fulfilled: see Cusworth DJ today in AA & BB [2021] EWFC 17 at 27).

Of note to the blog is the AG’s emphasis on mutual trust, at 62 ff:

all Member States comply, in principle, with EU law justifies recognising, subject to certain conditions, the jurisdiction of the courts of the Member State to which a child was abducted and where he or she has acquired a habitual residence. By contrast, if a child has been abducted to a non-Member State, the cooperation and mutual trust provided for in EU law cannot apply. Therefore, having regard to the context of Article 10 of Regulation No 2201/2003, there is no justification for accepting the jurisdiction of the courts of that non-Member State, including in the case where the abducted child has acquired his or her habitual residence in the latter State.

and at 84

Regulation No 2201/2003 is based on cooperation and mutual trust between the courts of the Member States, which allows, subject to certain conditions, jurisdiction to be transferred between those courts. Since provision is not made for cooperation and mutual trust in the case of courts of a non-Member State, it appears to me entirely justified and consistent with that regulation for the courts of the Member State in which a child was habitually resident before his or her abduction to a non-Member State to continue to have jurisdiction for an unlimited period of time, with a view to ensuring that the best interests of that child are protected.

With this he dismissed the view of the referring court,  that A10 BIIA should be interpreted as having a territorial scope confined to the Member States because otherwise the jurisdiction retained by the Member State of origin would continue to exist indefinitely. In that court’s view, that Member State would thus be in a stronger position jurisdictionally vis-à-vis a non-Member State than a Member State.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, various places (see Index: ‘Mutual Trust’).

Szpunar AG in All in one Star ltd. The corporate mobility jigsaw continues to be laid.

This post has been in my draft folder a long time for First Advocate General Szpunar opined Mid-October in C-469/19 All in One Star Ltd. Still worth a flag, with the CJEU presumably soon issuing judgment. The case concerns the refusal of German authorities to enter a branch of a UK-incorporated company, in the German commercial register.  C-106/16 Polbud is the most recent major case on the issue.

The Opinion follows the (slow) progress of positive harmonisation of EU company law, with Directive 2017/1132 core to the questions. The AG opined that that Directive does not preclude a national provision under which the managing director of the company has to provide an assurance that there is no barrier to his personal appointment under national law in the form of a prohibition, ordered by a court or public authority, on practising his profession or trade. However he suggests the Treaty provisions on free movement oppose the authorities of destination requesting the director provide assurances that a notary, a representative of a comparable legal advisory profession or a consular officer has confirmed such absence of obstacle to him.

The AG was asked by the CJEU not to discuss the other question: whether a Member State may insist upon indication of the amount of share capital or a comparable capital value, for a branch of a limited liability company with registered office in another Member State to be entered in the commercial register. Presumably because the answer is clearly ‘No’ in light of earlier case-law.

Clearly following Brexit (the TCA as far as I am aware has no straight free movement principles for corporations) the issue will be different for UK corporations however it will continue to present itself in light of the intra-EU competition in corporate law.

Geert.

EU Private international law, 3rd ed 2021, Chapter 6.

The insurance title and branch jurisdiction under Brussels Ia. Sánchez-Bordona AG in CNP.

Sánchez-Bordona AG opined last week in C-913/19 CNP. The issue is whether a Polish court has international jurisdiction to rule on a dispute between a company to which a person injured in a road traffic accident that occurred in Poland had assigned his rights, and the insurance undertaking, established in Denmark, which insures the risks of the person who caused the accident. Krzysztof Pacula has interesting Polish context here. He also gives more background to the market and legal implications of involving third parties (such as garages repairing vehicles and providing replacement vehicles) and I am happy to refer to his analysis.

On applicable law and assignment, the EC has proposed rules which complement Rome I. That proposal is making its way through the Institutions, at snail’s pace. On jurisdiction, CJEU Hofsoe clarified one or two things but also created extra fog. The UKSC distinguished Hofsoe in Aspen Underwriting, not however without great effort and with continuing question marks. This really is an area which could do with co-ordinated Rome I and BIa legislative tweaking.

On the specific issue of branch jurisdiction, the case echoes Ryanair v DelayFix. The AG finalises his analysis on that question as follows:

 a commercial company established in a Member State which operates under a contract with an insurance undertaking established in another Member State may be classified as a ‘branch, agency or other establishment’ of that undertaking if, cumulatively:

–        it operates in a Member State by providing compensation for material damage on the basis of insurance against civil liability arising from the use of motor vehicles the risks connected with which are covered by the insurance undertaking;

–        it has the appearance of an extension of the insurance undertaking; and

–        it has a management body and material facilities such as to enable it to transact business with third parties, so that the latter, although knowing that there will if necessary be a legal link with the insurance undertaking, do not have to deal directly with that undertaking.’

Not of course a set of criteria which lead to much spontaneous predictability – again an issue which in the specific insurance context could do with statutory intervention.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.293 ff, para 2.73 ff.

Jurisdiction for prospectus liability: Sanchez-Bordona AG in Vereniging van effectenbezitters attempts another go at Bier; leaves questions hanging on collective action.

When I flagged the Dutch SC reference to the CJEU in C‑709/19 Vereniging van Effectenbezitters, asking for clarification of the Universal Music case-law on purely economic damage, I signalled the specificities of this case:  the case concerns a class action, not that of an individual shareholder; no prospectus was specifically addressed at Dutch investors, who instead feel they received incomplete and misleading information that was made public through press releases, websites and public statements by directors; finally the Dutch Supreme Court questions the CJEU on an e-Date accessibility type jurisdictional basis.

BP plc, defendant, is domiciled in the UK.

Sanchez-Bordona AG Opined last Thursday (apologies I did not make the Twitter-promised Friday review). He kicks off  his Opinion with calling into question the very premise of the Universal Music case-law: at 24

the fact that the applicant’s account is located in that Member State is a relevant consideration in any non-contractual action for damage suffered by investments as a result of defective information, even when supplemented by other factors. While noting that the Court of Justice has inclined towards that view, in my opinion it is an open question.

That is a bold proposition not borne out by either CJEU or national case-law. Arguably better formulated is the position at 28 that the interest of the location of the bank account ‘should not be overstated’.

At 32 ff the AG repeats his call (joining a list of AG’s) to abandon the Bier Handlungsort Erfolgort distinction which he also expressed in his Opinion in Volkswagen. He emphasises again that in cases like these, the procedural decision on jurisdiction requires the judge too intensive an engagement with the substance of the case, consequently (at 36) ‘the very nature of the criterion may well create uncertainty among legal practitioners and encourage procedural delaying tactics, as well as divergent interpretations in Member States and further requests to the Court of Justice for preliminary rulings.’

At 37 (and with reference to national case-law) follows a repeat of the call to ‘ruling out the place where the investment account is located’. However the AG himself then acknowledges that call is likely to fall on deaf CJEU ears (at 39):

having regard to the wording of the questions referred, I shall answer them in accordance with their own premisses, that is to say, in the light of the existing case-law of the Court of Justice

hence he continues the Opinion taking Universal Music and its descendants into account:

at 46: ‘the fact that the financial damage took place in an investment account located in the Netherlands cannot be accepted as a ‘sufficient connecting factor for the international jurisdiction’ of the courts of that State.’ – I agree.

Again with reference to his Opinion in Volkswagen, and using the initial justification of the CJEU in Bier to put forward locus damni, the AG at 49-50 reiterates that

the ‘specific circumstances’ relevant to attributing jurisdiction are those which demonstrate the proximity between the action and the jurisdiction, and the foreseeability of that jurisdiction, .. Those circumstances must include: factors that facilitate the sound administration of justice and the smooth operation of proceedings; and factors that may have helped the parties to determine where they should institute proceedings or where they might be sued as a result of their actions.

He then rejects, for reasons succinctly explained in the Opinion, as being relevant: BP’s settlement with other shareholders; the status as consumer of some of the shareholders; BP’s information about its shares.

He concludes on this point at 60 ff that there simply is not a locus damni that meets with A7(2) Brussels Ia’s conditions. He refers as he did in Volkswagen pro inspiratio to the CJEU’s similar holding viz A7(1) forum contractus in C-56/00 Besix that we are dealing with an obligation which ‘is not capable of being identified with a specific place or linked to a court which would be particularly suited to hear and determine the dispute relating to that obligation’.

Finally the AG deals with the question whether the nature of the action brought by VEB (the fact that it is a collective action) and the fact that it is purely an action for a declaratory judgment, should have an impact. The referring court fears that extending the CJEU rule of CDC, that the transfer of claims by each original creditor to the applicant does not affect the determination of the court having jurisdiction under Article 7(2), would make collective action ineffective.

The AG points out first of all that following ia Folien Fischer, the courts of the Member State in which either the causal event took place or the harm occurred or may occur may lawfully accept jurisdiction by virtue of A7(2) in actions in which specific damages have not (yet) been sought.

He then suggests at 79 that he sees ‘no difficulty in applying [A7(2)] to declaratory actions such as that brought by VEB, in advance of subsequent actions for damages which may be brought only by the individual injured parties, whose identity and residence are unknown at the time of the (first) action.’ Here I do not quite follow. The questions asked by VEB are not merely provisional in an A35 sense (indeed that Article is not discussed). VEB are asking the court to hold

that the courts in the Netherlands have international jurisdiction to hear the claims for compensation brought by the BP shareholders; that the rechtbank Amsterdam (District Court, Amsterdam) has territorial jurisdiction to hear those claims; that BP acted unlawfully towards its shareholders inasmuch as it made incorrect, incomplete and misleading statements about: (i) its safety and maintenance programmes prior to the oil spill on 20 April 2010; or (ii) the extent of the oil spill; or (iii) the role and responsibility of BP in regard to the oil spill; that, had it not been for the unlawful conduct on the part of BP, the purchase or sale of BP shares by the BP shareholders would have been effected at a more favourable market price, or not at all; that there is a conditio sine qua non link between BP’s unlawful conduct and the loss suffered by the BP shareholders due to the fall in the share price in the period between 16 January 2007 and 25 June 2010.

Surely these kinds of questions can only be entertained by court that has A7(2) jurisdiction which, the AG had just opined, is highly unlikely (although the referring court will have the last word on that).  That he sees ‘no difficulty in applying [A7(2)] to declaratory actions such as that brought by VEB’ either then contradicts what he just advised (unlikely) or reinforces it cynically (as in ‘no difficulty in applying it, meaning there is no such jurisdiction’) – also perhaps unlikely. Am I missing something?

Finally at 95 the AG (not further discussing Qs 3 and 4) concurs with Bobek AG in Schrems: on the issue of assignment, it is not up to the CJEU to write the law.

Most relevant.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.459.

 

Not in a gambling mood. CJEU in Peil confirms dynamic interpretation of BIa consumer title, and the Petruchová /Reliantco approach towards knowledge of the market.

Update 15 December 2021. Tobias Lutzi has concurring analysis here. Since he refers to me, we may now have started a renvoi vortex that, with some luck, wil swallow 2020 whole.

The CJEU held last week in C-774/19 AB and BB v Personal Exchange International Limited. I propose for the sake of our memories that we call it Personal Exchange International Limited or even PEIL. (No English version of the judgment available at the time of writing).

May an online poker playing contract, concluded remotely over the internet by an individual with a foreign operator of online games and subject to that operator’s general terms and conditions, also be classified as a contract concluded by a consumer for a purpose which can be regarded as being outside his trade or profession, where that individual has, for several years, lived on the income thus obtained or the winnings from playing poker, even though he has no formal registration for that type of activity and in any event does not offer that activity to third parties on the market as a paid service?

The case echoes Schrems, Petruchová and Reliantco and the CJEU refers to the two former extensively.

At 21 the referring court had signalled the linguistic difference in e.g. the Slovenian and the English version of Article 17 BIA (A15 in BI which is discussed in the judgment), where mention is made of elements over and above the  use of ‘professional’ in the other language versions (e.g ‘trade and profession’ in the English version). The CJEU at 27 refers to the classic collective authentic force of the various language versions to dismiss paying too much attention to this difference.

With reference to Petruchová, the Court at 23 dismisses the relevance of whether the player’s winnings allow him to earn a living. Since the player does not beforehand know those winnings, the consumer title would become unpredictable which is of course a big no-no.

At 37 ff the intimate knowledge of the market is dismissed, too, with reference to Schrems: for this would make the title too dependent upon the subjective situation of the individual.

At 41 ff the Court does reiterate the dynamic interpretation of the title per Schrems (reminder: that has only so far been held in the direction of losing the protection one once has a consumer).

Finally, the frequency and length of play does not constitute a singularly relevant criterion either (at 46), even if they can be taken into account. However the Court confusingly (and unlike eg in  Salvoni) does here refer to substantive consumer law in which it has held (eg in C‑105/17 Kamenova) that these elements do play some role.

All in all a fairly standard re-emphasis of earlier case-law. The referring court is asked to do the remaining math itself.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.235 ff.

 

 

 

Servier Laboratories. The UK Supreme Court on the narrow window for res judicata authority of CJEU decisions.

Rather like I note in my report on Highbury Poultry Farm,  Secretary of State for Health & Ors v Servier Laboratories Ltd & Ors [2020] UKSC is another example of why the UK Supreme Court and counsel to it will be missed post Brexit.

The case in essence queries whether a CJEU annulment (in General Court: Case T-691/14, currently subject to appeal with the CJEU) of a finding by the European Commission that companies breached Article 101 and 102 TFEU’s ban on anti-competitive practices, is binding in national proceedings that determine issues of causation, remoteness and mitigation of loss. The answer, in short: no, it does not.

The case essentially revolves around the difficulty of applying common law concepts of authority and precedent to the CJEU’s more civil law approach to court decisions. For those with an interest in comparative litigation therefore, it is a case of note.

The essence in the national proceedings is whether Claimants [who argue that Servier’s breaches of EU and UK competition law led to a delay in generic Perindopril entering the UK market, resulting in higher prices of Perindopril and financial loss to the NHS) failed to mitigate the loss they claim to have suffered as a result of Servier’s (the manufacturer of the drug) infringement of the competition rules. The Court of Appeal’s judgment is best read for the facts.

In T-691/14 Servier SAS v European Commission, the General Court of the EU had annulled only part of the European Commission’s decision by which it was found that the Appellants had infringed Article 102 TFEU. In the present proceedings, Servier seek to rely on a number of factual findings made by the
GCEU in the course of its judgment and argue that the English courts are bound by those findings. The High Court and the Court of Appeal have held that the propositions on which the Appellants seek to rely are not res judicata.

Core CJEU authority discussed is Joined Cases C-442/03P and C-471/03P P&O European Ferries (Vizcaya) SA and Diputación Foral de Vizcaya v Commission.

Lord Lloyd-Jones reaches the crux of his reasoning, on the basis of CJEU authority, at 39:

The principle of absolute res judicata gives dispositive effect to the judgment itself. It is the usual practice of EU courts to express the outcome of the action in a brief final paragraph of the judgment referred to as the operative part. While this will have binding effect, it will be necessary to look within the judgment beyond the operative part in order to ascertain its basis, referred to as the ratio decidendi. (EU law has no system of stare decisis or binding precedent comparable to that in common law jurisdictions and this EU concept of ratio decidendi is, once again, distinct from the concept bearing the same name in the common law.) It will be essential to look beyond the operative part in this way in order to identify the reason for the decision and in order that the institution whose act has been annulled should know what steps it must take to remedy the situation. In a case where the principle of absolute res judicata applies, it will extend to findings that are the necessary support for the operative part of the annulling judgment.

The GC’s findings were based on a limited ground only, relating to too narrow a market definition under A102 TFEU. As presently constituted, the claim in the national proceedings is a claim for breach of statutory duty founded on alleged infringements of article 101 TFEU. No question arises in the proceedings before the national court as to the relevant product market for the purposes of A102 or the applicability of A102.

The national proceedings therefore concern causation, remoteness and mitigation of loss in the arena of article 101 TFEU. The narrow res judicata window, it was held, clearly does not apply to them and that is acte clair which needs no referral to Luxembourg.

Geert.

 

 

Groundhog day, but with Unicorns. Bobek AG in Obala v NLB i.a. on ‘civil and commercial’.

Update 15 December 2020. I have now had help from a little Kirchberg bird in cracking the Groundhog Day mystery:  Bobek AG most most probably did not refer to Groundhog Day in the Opinion discussed in current post, for he had already done so a few weeks earlier in C-505/19 at 121. A case on Interpol and Schengen (I follow a lot of CJEU issues; but this one had escaped me).

Probably precisely because it would have been obvious, Bobek AG did not refer in the opening lines of his Opinion in C-307/19 Obala v NLB to Groundhog Day, which, following Pula Parking, this case certainly is. He did at 2 summarise why the issue, essentially on the notion of ‘civil and commercial’ under Brussels Ia and the Service Regulation 1393/2007 keeps on coming before the CJEU (this time in no less than 9 long questions):

The crux of the problem appears to be a certain double privatisation carried out by the Croatian legislature at both management and enforcement level. A matter commonly perceived in other Member States to be administrative in nature is entrusted to private entities. The subsequent enforcement of such a claim is also not designed to be a matter for the courts, but rather, at least at first instance, for notaries.

The EC had objected to quite a few questions on the basis that they engaged too much the substance of the case, which the AG disagrees with: at 31 he suggest that inevitably in conflict of laws jurisdictional advice, ‘telescopic analysis of the substance’ is needed.

On the issue of ‘civil and commercial’, Germany and Slovenia submit the origin of the power under which the contract was concluded and which is enforced in this respect that is determinant.  The applicant, the Croatian Government and the Commission take the opposite view: to them, it is not the origin of the power but rather the modalities of its exercise which represent the determinative element for identifying ‘civil and commercial matters’. It is quite extraordinary that we should still not have consensus on this after to many cases, however as I noted in my review of Buak, the divergent emphasis by different chambers of  the Court has not helped.

At 42 ff Bobek summarily revisits the case-law under BIa (he concedes at 53-54 that case-law on other instruments does not add much), concluding at 52 that the CJEU has used both the ‘subject matter’ approach and the ‘legal relationship’ approach, without expressing a preference for either.

At 59 the Advocate-General opts for the ‘legal relationship’ approach, arguing that path ‘most reliably performs the function of the figurative railroad switch point guiding the dispute from one procedural track to another in search of the ‘right’ institutional path in a Member State at the preliminary stage of jurisdiction’. That path is also the one which as I point out in my review of Buak, was followed by the Second (which includes President Lenaerts, the chair of conflict of laws at Leuven prior to my immediate predecessor, Hans van Houtte) and not the First Chamber:

The Second chamber (K. Lenaerts, A. Prechal, Toader, Rosas and Ilešič in Buak, focus on Sapir which was issued by the third Chamber, comprising at the time Toader (Rapporteur), Ilešič, Jarašiūnas, Ó Caoimh,  Fernlund. Toader and Ilešič are the common denominator with judment in BUAK. Sapir has focus also firstly on the legal relationship between the parties to the dispute, but secondly the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of the action (not: the to my knowledge never applied Eurocontrol criterion of ‘subject matter’ of the action).

At 66 the AG offers ‘pointers’ within the ‘nature of the legal relationship’ approach which he believes may be of assistance to any public power assessment:

‘(i) start with the legal relationship which characterises the dispute; (ii) assess it against the framework generally applicable to private parties; and (iii) establish whether the dispute arises from a unilateral exercise of public powers outside that normal private ‘reference framework’.’

which applied to the case at issue, he concludes at 87, leads to a finding of there not appearing to be an exercise of public powers.

I conclude my overview of ‘civil and commercial’ at para 2.65 of the third ed of the Handbook (forthcoming February 2021) with

the acte clair doctrine (meaning that national courts need not refer to the CJEU when the interpretation of EU law is sufficiently clear either by virtue of that law itself or following CJEU interpretation in case-law) implies that national courts by now ought to have been given plenty of markers when applying this condition of application of the Brussels I and Recast Regulation. Except of course the acte might not be that clair at all, as the above overview shows.

Bobek AG seems to have a similar end in mind: at 65: there is no unicorn, a truly autonomous interpretation of ‘civil and commercial’.

The Opinion continues with the classic themes of whether notaries are courts, and a firm opinion that leaving your car in a public parking space provokes contractual relations.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, paras 2.28 ff concluding at 2.65.

The CJEU in Wikingerhof on distinguishing tort from contract between contracting parties. No Valhalla for those seeking further clarification of Brogsitter, let alone De Bloos.

Update 25 November 10:38 AM:  Readers  may want to refer to the discussion posted to Tobias Lutzi’s view on the case, which I will not copy /paste here save for my initial reply: ‘I believe Tobias’ biggest take-away from the judgment is the Court’s emphasis on ‘indispensability’ of contractual interpretation for A(7)1 to be triggered (he will correct me if I am wrong).
As I argue in my review of the judgment, I think that’s a change of emphasis viz Brogsitter and e.g. Apple v eBizcuss rather than a change in nature of the CJEU approach.
However assuming one applies the authority that courts must not dwell too long on merits in assessing jurisdictional gateways, it does follow that A7(1) will only be engaged in those cases where the contract prima facie is overwhelmingly needed to solve the underlying dispute. This still leaves room for manoeuvre for the creative claimant (see also the AG’s points on forum shopping), but not as much as might have been expected prior to this judgment.’

 

The CJEU held yesterday (Tuesday) in C-59/19 Wikingerhof v Booking.com. I reviewed the AG’s Opinion here and the Court follows the AG’s minimalist interpretation. The case was held in Grand Chamber, which might have provoked expectations yet the judgment is not exactly a bang. Neither however can it be described a whimper. As I note in my review of the Opinion, the case in my view could have been held acte clair. The AG did take the opportunity in his Opinion to discuss many issues which the CJEU was bound not to entertain, at least not in as much detail as the AG did.

Let me first signal what I believe might be the biggest take-away of the litigation, if at least the referring court is followed. That is the Bundesgerichtshof’s finding that  there is no durable record of the alleged consent by Wikingerhof of the amended GTCs, including choice of court, effected via amendments on the ‘Extranet’, which is the portal via which the hotel may update its information and retrieve reservations. 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). Parties will still argue on the merits whether the initial consent to the primary GTCs was strong-armed because of booking.com’s dominant position.

With respect to to the jurisdictional issue, the CJEU in a succinct judgment firstly points to the need for restrictive interpretation. It points at 29 to the claimant being the trigger of A7(1) or (2). Without a claimant’s decision to base a claim on the Articles, they simply do not get to be engaged. That is a reference to the forum shopping discussion of the AG. Still, the court hearing the action must assess whether the specific conditions laid down by those provisions are  met.

At 32, with reference to Brogsitter, ‘an action concerns matters relating to a contract within the meaning of [A7(1)(a) BIa] if the interpretation of the contract between the defendant and the applicant appears indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter’.  ‘That is in particular the case of an action based on the terms of a contract or on rules of law which are applicable by reason of that contract’ (reference to Holterman and to Kareda, with the latter itself referring to De Bloos). At 33  ‘By contrast, where the applicant relies, in its application, on rules of liability in tort, delict or quasi-delict, namely breach of an obligation imposed by law, and where it does not appear indispensable to examine the content of the contract concluded with the defendant in order to assess whether the conduct of which the latter is accused is lawful or unlawful, since that obligation applies to the defendant independently of that contract, the cause of the action is a matter relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict’.

At 32 therefore the CJEU would seem to confirm De Bloos’ awkward (given the Regulation’s attention to predictability) support for forum shopping based on claim formulation yet corrected by what is more akin to Sharpston AG’s approach in Ergo and the Court’s approach in Apple v eBizcuss, a judgment not referred in current judgment: namely that the judge will have to consider whether contractual interpretation is strictly necessary (the Court uses ‘indispensable’) to judge the case on the merits. Update 25 November 2020 as Tobias Lutzi notes here, it is the repeated (after its first use in Brogsitter) emphasis on ‘indispensable’ which might be the core clue of the CJEU: it would make the threshold for the 7(1) gateway in cases like these, high. A change in emphasis compared to Brogsitter, rather than one in substance.

Here, Wikingerhof rely on statutory German competition law (at 34-36): therefore the claim is one covered by Article 7(2).

The judgment confirms the now very fine thread between jurisdictional and merits review for the purposes of tort-based litigation between two contracting parties.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9. 3rd ed. 2021 para 2.469.