Posts Tagged ECJ

Notaries, national certificates of succession and the concept of ‘court’. Bot AG in WB.

Case C-658/17 WB is one of the first in which the annoying new rule on anonymisation at the CJEU kicks in. At issue is the characterisation of notaries as ‘court’ under the EU succession Regulation 650/2012.

Particularly with regard to succession law, notaries in the Member States carry out tasks which can be considered ‘judicial’. In some jurisdictions (especially in the Anglo-Saxon world) a court is involved in transferring the estate from the deceased to those inheriting. This is not the case in most Member States with a so-called ‘Latin’ office of notary. A private international law regulation concerning inheritance can therefore not solely be aimed at courts in the traditional sense of the word. In particular, notaries and registry offices, but also testamentary executors entrusted with judicial authority, need to be integrated.

The rules with regard to jurisdiction and applicable law included in the Regulation have to be complied with by all above-mentioned legal professions, though only to the extent that they exercise judicial functions. The Regulation therefore adopts, in Article 3(2), a functional approach of a ‘court’:

For the purposes of this Regulation, the term ‘court’ means any judicial authority and all other authorities and legal professionals with competence in matters of succession which exercise judicial functions or act pursuant to a delegation of power by a judicial authority or act under the control of a judicial authority, provided that such other authorities and legal professionals offer guarantees with regard to impartiality and the right of all parties to be heard and provided that their decisions under the law of the Member State in which they operate:

(a)     may be made the subject of an appeal to or review by a judicial authority; and

(b)    have a similar force and effect as a decision of a judicial authority on the same matter.

The Member States shall notify the Commission of the other authorities and legal professionals referred to in the first subparagraph in accordance with Article 79.

Outside of the exercise of judicial functions, notaries are not bound by the rules on jurisdiction, and the authentic instruments they issue circulate in accordance with the provisions on authentic instruments rather than ‘judgments’.

In accordance with Article 79 of the Regulation, the Commission (on the basis of notifications by the Member States) has established a list of the authorities and legal professions which need to be considered as ‘courts’ in accordance with this functional determination. This list will also be particularly interesting for internal national use.

However I have always emphasised to Member States compiling their lists, that unlike in the Insolvency Regulation, where the extent of cover of national proceedings is entirely in the hands of the Member States, for the Succession Regulation it is an autonomous EU  definition which drives cover by the Regulation.

Bot AG agrees (Opinion of 28 February; not available in English). whether or not a particular office and /or function is included in the national notification is not determinant. An EU definition of Court kicks in. He refers in particular to his overview in C-484/15 Zulfikarpašić. Reference is also made to Pula Parking. Applied to the case at issue, Polish notaries by virtue of Polish law may only issue the Polish (not: EU) certificate of succession if there is consensus among the parties and no disagreement e.g. re jurisdiction. No judicial functions therefore and the certificate travels as an authentic instrument, not a judgment.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

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BUAK. The concept of ‘court’ (Article 267 TFEU), ‘civil and commercial’, and the social security exception in the Brussels I Recast.

I reported on Bot AG’s Opinion in  Case C-579/17 BUAK (Bauarbeiter-Urlaubs- u. Abfertigungskasse v Gradbeništvo Korana d.o.o.) here. He focussed on admissibility viz the preliminary review procedure. He left the questions on ‘civil and commercial’, and the social security exception unanswered, suggesting these are now acte claire. The Court at the end of February did answer all questions. (For completeness sake I already note that for the latter, the CJEU referred to secondary EU law to find the payment not to be one in social security).

First, on the issue of admissibility under Article 267 TFEU. In the absence of discussion by the original court on the applicability of Brussels Ia, by determining whether it is competent to issue the certificate under Article 53 Brussels Ia (replacing exequatur), the court of origin implicitly confirms that the judgment given in default which must be recognised and enforced in another Member State falls within the scope of application of that Regulation: for evidently the issue of the certificate is possible only on that condition. That procedure in those circumstances is judicial in character, with the result that a national court ruling in the context of such a procedure is entitled to refer questions to the Court for a preliminary ruling. (But only in those circumstances: for otherwise the issuing of the certificate becomes a potential anchor for stalling quick enforcement, via preliminary review to Luxembourg).

Next, on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’, some usual suspects are discussed including in particular Pula Parking. flyLAL, and Sapir (but not Fahnenbrock or Kuhn). What needs to be examined, is firstly the legal relationship between the parties to the dispute and secondly the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of the action.

As to the former, BUAK may be governed by public law however its calculations of wage supplements and annual leave, the formula for which is determined by decree, are superimposed upon wage negotiations which employers either negotiate entirely freely with employees or agree so on the basis of collective agreements between employers and employees to which employers freely consent. And at 54: ‘in so far as the employer’s obligation to pay the wage supplements is intrinsically linked with the rights, which are of a civil nature, of workers to annual leave pay, …BUAK’s claim and, therefore, an action for payment of that claim, is also of a civil nature.’ (Note that Eurocontrol, not too dissimilar in context (here too the root cause of the debt incurred is one of free will: whether to use certain airspace and airports or not), did lead to a finding of non-civil and commercial matters). I do not find this application straightforward at all; ‘the parties’ are the employer (Korana, a Slovenian company which had posted workers to Austria) and BUAK. Their legal relationship is removed from the contract and /or collective agreements negotiations.

As for the second criterion, the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of the action, unlike purely internal situations, in which BUAK may itself issue an execution title in the form of a statement of arrears, with respect to arrears relating to posted workers who do not have their habitual place of work in Austria it must initiate legal proceedings for the payment of unpaid wage supplements. However there is divergence of views between the referring court and Austria and the EC before the CJEU: the former maintains that its hands are tied and that it cannot pursue a de novo review of the application by BUAC; the latter suggest the court seized does carry out a full review of all of the elements of the application. The CJEU at 60 would seem to lean on the side of the referring court but leaves it to take the final decision.

I will turn to this again when I work on the third edition of the handbook this summer yet it is clear that the formula for deciding civil and commercial is still not entirely settled. The First chamber issued Fahnenbrock (Tizzano (Rapporteur), Rodin, Levits, Berger and Biltgen), and Kuhn (Silva de Lapuerta (Rapporteur), Bonichot, Regan, Fernlund and Rodin; the latter the only common denominator in both), which are arguably more like the Lechoritou formula, which in turn applies Eurcontrol: exclusion of certain legal actions and judicial decisions from the scope of Regulation No 1215/2012, by reason either of the legal relationships between the parties to the action or of the subject matter of the action.

The Second chamber (K. Lenaerts, A. Prechal, Toader, Rosas and Ilešič; quite a few conflicts scholars indeed including the President of the CJEU) now focuses 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 current 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 criterion of ‘subject matter’ of the action).

To ponder over the summer.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1.

 

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Milivojević v Raiffeisenbank: Free movement of services yet also protected categories and rights in rem /personam.

The CJEU held in C-630/17 Milivojević v Raiffeisenbank on 14 February. The case in the main concerns Croatian legislation restricting financial services with Banks other than Croatian ones – a free movement of services issue therefore which the CJEU itself explains in its press release.

Of relevance to the blog is the issue of jurisdiction under the consumer title and Article 24(1)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule.

The Croatian legislation at issue, in the context of disputes concerning credit agreements featuring international elements, allows debtors to bring an action against non-authorised lenders either before the courts of the State on the territory of which those lenders have their registered office, or before the courts of the place where the debtors have their domicile or registered office and restricts jurisdiction to hear actions brought by those creditors against their debtors only to courts of the State on the territory of which those debtors have their domicile, whether the debtors are consumers or professionals.

Croatian law therefore first of all infringes Article 25(4) juncto Article 19 Brussels Ia. Their combined application does not rule out choice of court even between a business and a consumer (subject to limitations which I do not discuss here). It moreover infringes Article 25 (and Article 4) in and of itself for it precludes choice of court even in a B2B context.

Next, may a debtor who has entered into a credit agreement in order to have renovation work carried out in an immovable property which is his domicile with the intention, in particular, of providing tourist accommodation services be regarded as a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of Article 17(1) Brussels Ia? Reference is made ex multi to Schrems, emphasising the difficult balancing exercise of keeping exceptions to Article 4’s actor sequitur forum rei rule within limits, yet at the same time honouring the protective intention of the protected categories.

A person who concludes a contract for a dual purpose, partly for use in his professional activity and partly for private matters, can rely on those provisions only if the link between the contract and the trade or profession of the person concerned was so slight as to be marginal and, therefore, had only a negligible role in the context of the transaction in respect of which the contract was concluded, considered in its entirety (per Schrems following C-464/01 Gruber). Whether Ms Milivojević can so be described as a ‘consumer’ is for the national court to ascertain.

Finally, does Article 24(1)’s rule on an action ‘relating to rights in rem in immovable property’, apply to an action for a declaration of the invalidity of a credit agreement and of the notarised deed relating to the creation of a mortgage taken out as a guarantee for the debt arising out of that agreement and for the removal from the land register of the mortgage on a building?

Reference here is made to all the classics, taking Schmidt v Schmidt as the most recent portal to earlier case-law. At 101: with regard to the claims seeking a declaration of the invalidity of the agreement at issue and of the notarised deed related to the creation of a mortgage, these ‘clearly’ (I assume based on the national law at issue) are based on a right in personam which can be claimed only against the defendant.

However at 102: re the request for removal from the land register of the registration of a mortgage, it must be noted that the mortgage, once duly constituted in accordance with the procedural and substantive rules laid down by the relevant national legislation (see indeed my comment above re passerelle of national law), is a right in rem which has effects erga omnes. Such an application does fall within Article 24(1). At 104 the Court again inadvertently or not highlights the potential for a procedural strategy, opening up forum connexitatis hinging unto A24(1) exclusivity: ‘in the light of that exclusive jurisdiction of the court of the Member State in which the immovable property is situated to the request for removal from the land register for the registration of mortgages, that court also has a non-exclusive jurisdiction based on related actions, pursuant to Article 8(4) of Regulation No 1215/2012, to hear claims seeking annulment of the credit agreement and the notarised deed related to the creation of that mortgage, to the extent that these claims are brought against the same defendant and are capable, as is apparent from the material in the file available to the Court, of being joined.’ (idem in Schmidt v Schmidt).

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

 

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Martins v Dekra Claims. Limitation periods as ‘overriding mandatory rules’ under Rome II.

Case C‑149/18 Martins v Dekra Claims gave the Court of Justice an opportunity (it held end of January) essentially to confirm its Unamar case-law, specifically with respect to limitation periods.

The Portuguese claimant’s vehicle was damaged in an accident in Spain in August 2015. He issued proceedings in Portugal in November 2016 to recover his uninsured losses. Under Portuguese law, the lex fori, the limitation period is 3 years. Under Spanish law, the lex causae per Rome II, limitation is fixed at 1 year.

The Court first of all re-emphasises the importance of co-ordinated interpretation of Rome I and II, here with respect to the terminology of the two Regulations which in the French version in particular differs with respect to the use of the term ‘lois de police’ (Article 9 Rome I) and ‘dispositions impératives dérogatoires’  (Article 16 Rome II). The lois de police of Rome I (albeit with respect to the Rome Convention 1980) had already been interpreted in Unamar, leading to the first of the two conditions discussed below.

The Court effectively held there is little limit content-wise to the possibility for courts to invoke the lois de police /overriding mandatory law provision of Article 9 Rome II. Despite Article 15 Rome II verbatim mentioning limitation periods as being covered by the lex causae (but see the confusion on that reported in my post on Kik this week), limitation periods foreseen in the lex fori may be given priority.

This is subject to two conditions:

firstly, the national court cannot interpret any odd lex fori provision as being covered by the lois de police exception: here the Court re-emphasises the Rome I /II parallel by making the Unamar test apply to Rome II: at 31: ‘the referring court must find, on the basis of a detailed analysis of the wording, general scheme, objectives and the context in which that provision was adopted, that it is of such importance in the national legal order that it justifies a departure from the applicable law.’ Here, the fact that limitation periods are mentioned in so many words in Article 15, comes into play: at 34: given that express reference, the application of the overriding mandatory law exception ‘would require the identification of particularly important reasons, such as a manifest infringement of the right to an effective remedy and to effective judicial protection arising from the application of the law designated as applicable pursuant to Article 4 of the Rome II Regulation.’

secondly, and of course redundantly but worth re-emphasising: the rule at issue must not have been harmonised by secondary EU law. As Alistair Kinley points out, the Motor Insurance Directive (MID) 2009/103 is currently being amended and a limitation period of minimum 4 years is being suggested – subject even to gold plating. That latter prospect of course opens up all sorts of interesting discussions particularly viz Article 3(4) Rome I.

Geert.

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

 

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Non multa, sed multum. Sovereign debt litigation in Kuhn leads to surprising final (?) curtain in Vienna.

In C-308/17 Leo Kuhn the CJEU held that Brussels Ia was not engaged for the matter is acta iure imperii. I suggested in my review of the judgment that in solely emphasising context, the Court casts the net too wide. I also emphasised that Greece’s sovereign immunity defense, lonely an argument as it may be, is a strong argument (I referred to the German approach to same): non multa sed multum.

Thank you Stephan Walter for alerting us to, and analysing the final judgment in Vienna: Greece enjoys immunity; and even if it had not (this is how I understand Stephan’s analysis – I trust he will correct me should I be wrong), the court would have declined jurisdiction given that the ‘assets held in Austria’ head of jurisdiction, was not mentioned in the particulars of claim.

Stephan clearly is not happy with the judgment: the Supreme Court not only reverses its earlier stance on immunity; it also could be argued it should be estopped as it were (my words, not Stephan’s) from disciplining a claimant’s absence of reference to residual private international law rules, given that hitherto the Supreme Court had never strayed from steering the course of Brussels Ia applying.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.

 

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Kokott AG in Kerr v Postnov(a): How house association meetings turn into a jurisdictional and applicable law potpourri.

Advocate General Kokott opined end of January in C-25/18 Brian Andrew Kerr v Pavlo Postnov and Natalia Postnova (let’s call the case Kerr v Postnov(a)). The case concerns the application of Brussels I Recast’s Articles 24(1) and (2) exclusive jurisdictional rules, cq the application of Article 7(1) jurisdictional rules on contracts, and applicable law consequences of same.

Incidentally, Ms Kokott’s use of ‘Brussels Ia’ instead of the Brussels I Recast Regulation adds to the growing chorus to employ Brussels Ia (lower case, no space between I and a) instead of Brussels I Recast, Brussels bis, or as recently seen at the High Court, BIR (BrusselsIRecast).

The Advocate General’s Opinion is a useful and succinct reminder of CJEU authority, suggesting the issue is acte clair really, except there are one or two specific issues (e.g. the enforcement issue, discussed below) which justify clarification.

The case concerns proceedings concerning claims for payment arising from resolutions made by an association of property owners without legal personality in connection with the management of the property in question. Mr Kerr, appellant in the proceedings before the referring court, is a manager of an association of owners of a property situated in the town of Bansko (Bulgaria). He brought proceedings before the Razlog District Court, Bulgaria against two property owners, Mr Postnov and Ms Postnova, concerning payment of contributions that were owed by them wholly or in part for the maintenance of communal parts of the building on the basis of resolutions made by the general meeting of the property owners in the period from 2013 to 2017. According to the appellant in the main proceedings, an action to secure enforcement of the claim pursued was brought with the application.

Address of the defendants used by the court at first instance is in the Republic of Ireland. (As the AG notes, whether service was properly given is relevant for the recognition of the eventual judgment; this however is not the subject of the current proceedings neither is it detailed in the file.)

Coming to the first issue: Article 24(1) requires strict and autonomous interpretation. The main proceedings have as their object the payment of outstanding contributions purportedly owed by two co-owners for the management and maintenance of the property concerned. At 34: It is thus a matter of obligations — to use the words of the referring court — arising from ownership of shares in the commonhold as rights in rem in immovable property. At 38: to be covered by 24(1) the right in question must have effect erga omnes and that the content or extent of that right is the object of the proceedings (reference ex multi to Schmidt and Komu).

Prima facie this would mean that Article 24(1) must be ruled out: at 39: in the main proceedings, the action brought by the manager is based on claims in personam of the association of owners for payment of contributions for the maintenance of communal areas of the property. The rights in rem of the defendant co-owners of the commonhold — in the form of intangible ownership shares — initially remain unaffected. However, at 40 Ms Kokott signals the enforcement issue: that action could affect the defendants’ rights in rem arising from their ownership shares, for example by restricting their powers of disposal – an assessment subject to the applicable law, which is for the referring court to make. In footnote the Advocate General suggests the potential involvement in that case of Article 8(4)’s combined actio in rem and in personam.

The case therefore illustrates the potential for engineering even in Article 24 cases: firstly, by varying the claim (the content or extent of the rights contained in Article 24 has to be the ‘object’ of the proceedings; claimant can manipulate the claim to that effect); second, the prospect of adding an enforcement claim to an otherwise contractual action. This engineering evidently clashes with the objective and forum-shopping averse interpretation of Article 24, however as I have repeatedly discussed on this blog, abusive forum shopping is a difficult call for the CJEU and indeed national courts to make.

The discussion of Article 24(2) does lead to a clear conclusion: the forum societatis is not engaged. Article 24(2) covers only proceedings which have as their object the legal validity of a decision, not proceedings which have as their object the enforcement of such decisions, like the action at issue seeking payment of contributions based on such a decision (at 44).

As for Article 7(1) forum contractus the usual Handte et al suspects feature in the Opinion as does Case 34/82 Peters Bauunternehmung.  The association is joined through voluntary acquisition of an apartment together with ownership shares of the communal areas of the property (at 54): there is a ‘contract’. [Advocate General Kokott already pre-empts similar discussion in Case C‑421/18, where the Court will have to clarify whether these considerations can also be applied to a case in which a bar association is taking legal acion to assert claims for payment of fees against one of its members].

The AG makes a brief outing into Rome I to point out that Rome I has a lex societatis exception. Under the conflict-of-law rules, claims for payment made by a legal association against its members are not to be assessed on the basis of the Rome I Regulation, even though such claims are to be regarded as ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation (at 60).

However for the purposes of Article 7(1), where the CJEU to find that it is engaged, place of performance needs to be decided. If none of the default categories of Article 7(1) apply, the conflicts method kicks in and Rome I’s lex societatis exception is triggered (residual conflict of laws will determine the applicable law which in turn will determine place of obligation; see also at 74 and the reference to the Tessili rule).

Is the management activity itself is carried out for remuneration (as required per Falco Privatstiftung and also Granarolo) or at least an economic value per Cormans-Collins? The facts of the case do not clearly lay out that they are but even if that were the case (appointment of a specialist commercial party to carry out maintenance etc.), the contributions to be paid to the association by the co-owners are intended in no small part to cover taxes and duties, and not therefore to fulfil contractual obligations towards third parties which were entered into on behalf of and for the account of the association of owners (at 71). All in all, the AG opines, the non-uniform nature of these contributions leads to non-application of the service rule of Article 7(1)b and therefore a resurrection of the classic Tessili formula.

Not so acte clair perhaps after all.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, 2.2.11.1

 

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Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook. Hate speech at the CJEU.

In Case C-18/18, Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook, the Austrian Supreme Court has referred a ‘hate speech’ case to Luxembourg – hearing will be tomorrow, 12 February. The Case revolves around Article 15 of the E-Commerce Directive: one sentence Twitter summary comes courtesy of Tito Rendas: does Article 15 prohibit the imposition on a hosting provider (Facebook, in this case) of an obligation to remove not only notified illegal content, but also identical and similar content, at a national or worldwide level?

Mirko Brüß has more extensive analysis here. I used the case in my class with American University (my students will be at the hearing tomorrow), to illustrate the relationship between secondary and primary law, but also the art in reading EU secondary law (here: A15 which limits what can be imposed upon a provider; and the recitals of the Directive which seem to leave more leeway to the Member States; particularly in the light of the scant harmonisation of tort law in the EU). To readers of the blog the case is probably more relevant in light of the questions on territorial scope: if a duty to remove may be imposed, how wide may the order reach? It is in this respect that the case is reminiscent of the Google etc. cases.

Yet another one to look out for.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.8.2.5.

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