Posts Tagged ECJ
Enforcement of unfair trading practices and ‘civil and commercial’. Szpunar AG extensively in Movic (re ticket touts).
Advocate-General Szpunar in his Opinion in C-73/19 Belgische Staat v Movic BV et al refers in footnote to the comment made by Yours Truly (much humbled) on p.38 of the Handbook, that the seminal Eurocontrol and Steenbergen judgments on the concept of ‘civil and commercial’ in the Brussels regime, each posit dual criteria for the concept but only ever have one of their two legs applied. The Opinion in general testifies to the complex picture that emerges in case-law on the issue.
The issue is a knock-out point under Brussels Ia and the majority of EU private international law instruments. If the case is not civil and commercial, European PIL does not apply and residual national law takes over. Despite or perhaps because of this core relevance, the debate on the concept is far from settled. I reported on it as recently as a few weeks back (Øe AG in C-189/19 Supreme Site; and a little before that C-421/18 Dinant Bar v maître JN,) and I expressed a need for serious chewing over following different strands of focus among the CJEU’s chambers (my post on C-579/17 Buak).
The case at issue concerns enforcement of Belgium’s unfair trading act, not as in C‑167/00 Henkel by a consumer group but rather by the public authorities of the Member State.
Movic BV of The Netherlands and the others defendants practices ticket touting: resale of tickets for leisure events. Belgium in recent years has been cracking down on the phenomenon and in conflict terms, has expressed an eagerness to qualify big chunks of e-commerce laws as lois de police. One assumes this explains the reluctance of the defendants to be hauled in front of a Belgian judge.
At 12: what the Belgian authorities are seeking, is
first, findings of infringement in respect of conduct constituting, inter alia, unfair commercial practices, secondly, an order for the cessation of such infringement, thirdly, an order for publicity measures to be taken at the expense of the defendants; fourthly, the imposition of a penalty payment in a fixed sum, due in respect of each and every infringement which may be found to have taken place after service of the judgment, and fifthly, permission for the fact of such infringement to be certified simply by means of a report drawn up by a sworn official of one of the authorities in question.
At 16: arguments against the issue being of a civil and commercial nature, are
first, unlike any other person, the Belgian authorities are not required to demonstrate that they have an interest of their own in bringing proceedings of the kind illustrated by the main proceedings, secondly, their powers of investigation are not available to legal persons governed by private law, and thirdly, they also have enforcement powers which are not available to such persons.
As for the issue of lack of requirement of showing interest:
The first authority signalled is C‑551/15 Pula Parking: acting in the public interest does not equate acting in the exercise of State authority. Per the same case and per Fahnenbrock, and Kuhn, neither, the AG points out, does origin of authority in Statute, equate acta iure imperii. The fact that a power was introduced by a law is not, in itself, decisive in order to conclude that the State acted in the exercise of State authority (at 32). Neither does it follow from C-271/00 Baten that that the mere fact of exercising a power which the legislature has specifically conferred on a public authority automatically involves the exercise of public powers (at 34).
The AG then more specifically discusses the issue of lack of requirement to show interest to establish standing. Here there are plenty of similarities with the consumer organisations at issue in Henkel (37 ff). The exemption does not mean that the entity enjoys a prerogative under which it has powers altering the civil or commercial nature of its legal relationship with the private law entities, or the subject matter of the proceedings in which a cessation action is brought. Similarly, it has no such powers as regards the procedural framework within which the proceedings arising out of those relationships are heard, which is identical whatever the status of the parties to the proceedings may be.
Further, with respect to the powers of investigation: here the AG reads C‑49/12 Sunico as meaning that to exclude proceedings from the scope of ‘civil and commercial matters’, (at 53)
it is not sufficient to identify national provisions which, in abstracto, authorise a public authority to gather evidence through the use of its public powers and to use such evidence in legal proceedings. Equally, it is not sufficient to find that that evidence has in fact been used in the proceedings. In order to exclude the proceedings from the scope of that expression, it must also be determined, in concreto, whether, by virtue of having used that evidence, the public authority is not in the same position as a person governed by private law in analogous proceedings.
(In the case at issue there are no such indications). This reading of Sunico makes the exemption exercise very much a factual one – which is not in itself unusual in the context of the case-law on ‘civil and commercial’. One hopes the Court itself will give clear guidance on how Sunico must be read.
The AG also zooms in on the request for penalty payments. Here, the core reference is C‑406/09 Realchemie. At 72 (after having analysed the issue): a procedure in which such payment is sought, falls within the scope of ‘civil and commercial matters’ where,
‘first, the purpose of the penalty payment is to ensure the effectiveness of the judicial decision given in the proceedings, which fall within the scope of that expression, and secondly, the penalty payment is a normal measure of civil procedure which is also available to private individuals, or which is imposed without exercising special powers that go beyond those arising from the rules of general law applicable to relationships between private individuals.’
(With both these boxes ticked in casu). This I believe is most sound.
Within the same context, the last argument refers to the need or not to instruct a bailiff to certify the existence (and frequency) of continued infringement: the relevant Belgian authorities can suffice with an oath by a civil servant. This is in fact not a point signalled by the referring court however the Belgian Government at hearing seemingly sought insurance cover as it were, effectively seeking sanction of its use of a civil servant statement in lieu of what ordinary parties would have to do, which is to instruct a bailiff. This, the AG suggest (at 75), does amount to exercise of public authority, but only then for that part of the claim (the penalty payment( against the Dutch defendants): weapons which an ordinary person could not avail themselves of (I would refer to C-271/00 Steenbergen here).
All in all the case illustrates the relatively narrow room for abstract pondering of the issue of ‘civil and commercial’. The Opinion is highly factual, and admirably on point viz the extensive CJEU authority. The need for highly factual considerations sits uneasily with the Regulation’s expressed DNA of predictability. However this squares with the CJEU case-law on same. And it bodes interestingly when we will start applying the corresponding Hague Judgments Convention provisions…
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2.
In  EWHC 40 (Ch) Easygroup v Easyfly and ATR Aircraft the issue is the jurisdiction of the English court to hear claims of trade mark infringement, passing off and conspiracy against a Colombian domestic airline, its founder and chief executive, and a French aircraft manufacturer. As always the blog’s interest is not in the substantive issues concerning trademark and passing off, they do however make for interesting reading.
Nugee J considers the jurisdictional issues at 26 ff with respect to the first two defendants and with respect to the French defendant, in para 127 ff. Here the relationship between the EU Trade Mark Regulation 2017/1001 and Brussels Ia comes to the fore. (I continue to find my colleague Marie-Christine Janssens’ 2010 paper most informative on the issues; see also the link to Tobias Lutzi’s analysis of AMS Neve in my report of same). The relevant provisions of the Regulation (previously included in Regulation 207/2009, applied ia in CJEU AMS Neve), read
Article 125. International jurisdiction
1. Subject to the provisions of this Regulation as well as to any provisions of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 applicable by virtue of Article 122, proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 124 shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the defendant is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment.
2. If the defendant is neither domiciled nor has an establishment in any of the Member States, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the plaintiff is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment.
3. If neither the defendant nor the plaintiff is so domiciled or has such an establishment, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State where the Office has its seat.
4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraphs 1, 2 and 3:
(a) Article 25 of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 shall apply if the parties agree that a different EU trade mark court shall have jurisdiction;
(b) Article 26 of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 shall apply if the defendant enters an appearance before a different EU trade mark court.
5. Proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 124, with the exception of actions for a declaration of non-infringement of an EU trade mark, may also be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the act of infringement has been committed or threatened, or in which an act referred to in Article 11(2) has been committed.
Article 126. Extent of jurisdiction
1. An EU trade mark court whose jurisdiction is based on Article 125(1) to (4) shall have jurisdiction in respect of:
(a) acts of infringement committed or threatened within the territory of any of the Member States;
(b) acts referred to in Article 11(2) committed within the territory of any of the Member States.
2. An EU trade mark court whose jurisdiction is based on Article 125(5) shall have jurisdiction only in respect of acts committed or threatened within the territory of the Member State in which that court is situated.
The first two defendants are not based in the EU. Here, Article 125(2) grants jurisdiction to the UK courts.
Controversially, at 36 Nugee J applies a forum non conveniens test. It is disputed whether this is at all possible in the Trademark Regulation. He decides England clearly is the appropriate forum: ‘there is no other court that can try the UK trade mark claims, and for the reasons just given [French and Spanish courts might have partial jurisdiction, GAVC] no other court that can grant pan-EU relief in respect of the EU trade mark claims.’
At 37 ff Nugee J then also still considers with reference ia to CJEU Pammer and the discussions on ‘accessibility’ (see also ia Football Dataco) whether there is a ‘serious issue to be tried’ and answers in the affirmative. Here I am assuming this must be seen as part of case-management rather than a jurisdictional test (viz Article 8(1) BIa’s anchor defendant mechanism, a ‘serious issue to be tried’ test is said to be part of the ‘related cases’ analysis; see related discussions ia in Privatbank), unless he reformulates the application of Article 126 as a ‘serious issue to be tried’ test – the structure of the judgment is leaving me confused.
Eventually however the previous Order made by the High Court, granting permission to serve out of jurisdiction, is set aside by Nugee J on grounds of lack of full and frank disclosure at the service hearing – an issue less exciting for this blog however dramatic nevertheless.
The French defendant (who issued a relevant press release (only 11 copies of which were distributed at the Farnborough airshow; this was found to be de minimis; not as such a mechanism available under the EUTMR I don’t think; but it might be under case management) and was also responsible for organising (ia by having the logo painted) the offending branding in France), at the jurisdictional level is dealt with in para 127 ff., first with respect to the trademark claim.
‘By art. 125(1) the default position is that the proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State where the defendant is domiciled: in ATR’s case this is France. Neither art. 125(2) nor art. 125(3) applies to ATR because each only applies if the defendant is neither domiciled nor has an establishment in a Member State. Art. 125(4) does not apply as it is not suggested that ATR has either (a) agreed that the English court should have jurisdiction, or (b) entered an appearance before the English court. That leaves art. 125(5) under which proceedings may also be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the act of infringement has been committed or threatened. In the present case that would also be France (and possibly Spain). It follows that none of the provisions of art. 125 confer jurisdiction on the English court to hear actions based on acts of infringement said to have been carried out by ATR in France and Spain.’
Counsel for EasyGroup accepted ia per AMS Neve that the Trademark Regulation is lex specialis vis-à-vis Brussels Ia but that nevertheless the general spirit of BIa should blow over Regulation 2017/1001. They refer at 130 to the ‘general desirability of avoiding duplicative proceedings and the risk of inconsistent judgments (as exemplified by arts 29 and 30 of Brussels I Recast),’ and argue that ‘it followed that once the English court had jurisdiction over the Defendants for the acts taking place in France (as it undoubtedly did under art. 125(2)), then it must also have jurisdiction over anyone else alleged to be jointly liable for the same acts of infringement.’
This therefore is a makeshift joinder mechanism which Nugee J was not impressed with. He pointed to the possibility under A125(5) to sue the other defendants and the French defendants in one jurisdiction, namely France. An A7(2) BIa action is not possible: A122(2)(a) EUTMR expressly provides that in proceedings based on A124, A7(2) BIa does not apply.
Finally, a claim in conspiracy against the French defendant is not covered by the EUTMR and instead by A7(2) BIa, discussed at 142 ff with reference to (Lugano) authority  UKSC 19, which I discussed here. Locus delicti commissi, Nugee J finds, is not in England: no conspiratorial agreement between ATR and the Defendants in relation to the branding of the aircraft took place in England. At 145: ‘the Heads of Agreement, and Sale and Purchase Agreement, were each signed in France and Colombia, and there is nothing that can be pointed to as constituting the making of any agreement in England.’
As for locus damni, at 148 Nugee J holds this not to have been or potentially be in England:
‘The foundation of easyGroup’s claims in relation to the branding of the aircraft is that once painted they were flown on test flights, and en route to Colombia, in full view of the public. But the public which might have viewed the planes were the public in France and Spain, not the public in the UK. That might amount to a dilution in the brand in the eyes of the French and Spanish public, but it is difficult to see how it could affect the brand in the eyes of the UK public, or otherwise cause easyGroup to sustain loss in the UK. Mr Bloch said that if such a plane crashed, the news would not stop at the Channel and it might adversely affect easyGroup’s reputation in the UK, but no such damage has in fact occurred, and it seems to me far too speculative to say that it may occur. As already referred to, Mr Bloch also relied on easyGroup having suffered damage on the user principle (paragraph 82 above), but it seems to me that damages awarded on this basis would be damages for the loss of an opportunity to exploit easyGroup’s marks by licensing them to be used in France and Spain, and that for the purposes of the first limb of art. 7(2) such damage would therefore be suffered in France and Spain as that is where the relevant exploitation of the asset would otherwise take place.’
This last element (place where the relevant exploitation of the asset would otherwise take place) is interesting to me in Universal Music (purely economic loss) terms and not without discussion, I imagine.
Conclusions, at 152:
(1) There is a serious issue to be tried in relation to each of the claims now sought to be brought by easyGroup against the non-EU defendants.
(2) There was however a failure to make full, frank and fair disclosure at the service out of jurisdiction hearing, and in the circumstances that Order should be set aside.
(3) The question of amending to bring claims against the French defendant. But if it had, Nugee J would have held that there was no jurisdiction for the English court to hear the claims based on the acts in France (or Spain), whether based on trade mark infringement or conspiracy. There is jurisdiction to hear the claims based on the issue of the Press Release in the UK, but Nugee J would have refused permission to amend to bring such claims on the basis that they were de minimis.
A most interesting and thought provoking judgment.
Sánchez-Bordona AG in Volkswagen. The locus damni engine is clearly revving. Locus delicti commissi in my view left underdiscussed.
Update 8 June 2020 Matthias Lehmann flags a challenging court ruling in Germany here, which not only, as Matthias points out, is questionable from a Rome II point of view but it would seem to me, also challengeable from an EFTA free movement of services angle.
Sánchez-Bordona AG issued his opinion in C‑343/19 Verein für Konsumenteninformation v Volkswagen last Thursday. He relies heavily of course on CJEU authority almost all of which is reviewed on the blog – with Tibor Trans making a star appearance given its recent nature as well as its focus, like in Volkswagen, on financial damage.
Not long after, yesterday, the High Court in England in  EWHC 783 (QB) held on a first preliminary issue in the class action suit pending there. Matthias Weller has already reviewed that judgment here and Matthias Lehmann adds a slightly different focus (on mutual recognition of administrative decisions) here. In that judgment, a lex causae argument on the binding authority of a German public body’s decision was advanced by claimants in subsidiary fashion. This was not entertained by the High Court for it had already found a binding effect on other grounds. Incidentally, the nature and timing of the High Court’s ruling suggest that there is no contestation of jurisdiction being brought forward by Volkswagen – I am enquiring with counsel in the case. Update 10 April 2020 VW are indeed not constesting jurisdiction in the UK.
Returning to CJEU C-343/19, though: Raphael de Barros Fritz has analysis here and I am happy to refer, for timing for the release of my own ponderings on the Opinion suffered from a Friday afternoon call on injunctive relief and jurisdiction. A few additional notes of interest and subject to further pondering:
Firstly, the AG is too kind when he suggests that the Brussels Convention had left open the (now) Article 7(2) question. The Court’s locus damni /locus delicti commissi distinction was not at all required by then Article 5(3). Much as the distinction may have been clear to make in the Bier case itself, it was not at all advanced by the text of the Brussels Convention. Many of us have been pointing out the fallacy, including Cruz Villalon AG in his Opinion in Pez Hejduk, case C-441/13 which I reviewed here and Szpunar AG in his Opinion in Universal Music reviewed here. As Sánchez-Bordona AG points out in Volkswagen, the distinction has become a paradigm (at 2); ‘obstinance’ might also be a good word for it. The result of the CJEU refusing formally to reverse its Bier distinction, means itself and the national courts have been having to conjure up all sorts of distinguishing to respect both the Handlungsort /Erfolgort distinction, and the predictability of Brussels Ia as well as the need to interpret special jurisdictional rules restrictively.
Raphael makes a most valiant effort to do justice to the AG’s attempt at systemisation, yet the reality remains that most certainly on the locus damni front, the ever unclearer distinction between direct and indirect aka ‘ricochet’ damage is a Valhalla for reverse engineering – and we have not even thrown Lazar into the mix.
The AG suggests that not only the first purchasers of the vehicle may be direct victims, but also downstream purchasers of second-hand vehicles, however in each case constrained (if I understand the Opinion properly) to those purchasers, first or not, where the loss of value of the vehicles did not become a reality until the manipulation of the engines was made public: at 41; ‘ The loss of value of the vehicles did not become a reality until the manipulation of the engines was made public. In some instances, the applicants may be end users who obtained the vehicle from another, previous buyer; however, the latter did not experience any loss because, at that time, the damage was latent and was not disclosed until later when it affected the then owner. Therefore, it is not possible to describe the damage as being passed on from the original buyers to successive buyers.’
Further, given that the location of the vehicle is unforeseeable, the Advocate General considers that the place where the damage occurred is the place where that transaction was concluded, pursuant to which the product became part of the assets of the person concerned and caused the damage. However even for these cases other elements (per Universal Music) will have to be shown to avoid forum shopping and for these other elements, the AG suggests in particular a minimum contacts rule such as in US conflict of laws: at 75: ‘the defendant’s intention to sell its vehicles in the Member State whose jurisdiction is in issue (and, as far as possible, in certain districts within that State).’
On locus delicti commissi, the AG suggests at 34 that the event giving rise to the damage in this case consists of the installation, during the vehicle manufacturing process, of software which alters the vehicle’s emissions data. I do not think that is the only possible Handlungsort: other events in the Dieselgate chain arguably may qualify as Handlungsort, too: the executive decision to go ahead with the program, for instance. Or the regulatory steps (including type approval under EU law such as discussed in  EWHC 783 (QB), above; or other steps required under EU or national law) needed to market the product in the country.
The last words on this Opinion have far from been said.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 184.108.40.206.7
CJEU confirms Saugmandsgaard ØE in Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia: ‘contractual relation’ broadly interpreted, restraint on the consumer section, even for package travel.
The CJEU last week confirmed Saugmandsgaard ØE AG’s Opinion in C-215/18 Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia. In a package of services acquired from a travel agent, where there is no direct agreement with the airline carrying out the flight part of the package, there is a ‘contract’ between the individual and the airline within the meaning of Article 7(1) BIa. However the consumer section of BIa must be interpreted less extensively. Only the direct relationship between the travel agent and the consumer is covered by that section, not the relationship with the airline who merely carries out the transport side of the arrangement. (Note again the different balance struck by the AG and now the CJEU as opposed to e.g. the High Court in Bonnie Lackey).
(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 220.127.116.11.
Confédération Paysanne, precaution and GMOs. French High Court issues its final ruling taking CJEU findings to their logical conclusion.
A short post to flag the French Conseil d’Etat’s final ruling in which on 7 February it held that organisms obtained via in-vitro mutagenesis techniques should be subject to GMO regulation and that consequently as EurActiv summarise the French authorities must update regulation to include such crops within six months, which includes identifying the agricultural plant varieties which have been obtained by these techniques and subjecting them to the assessments applicable to GMOs.
The ruling follows the CJEU’s mutagenesis finding in C-528/16, reviewed at the time on Steve Peers’ blog here and subsequently by KJ Garnett in RECIEL here. The ruling put agro-bio industry narrators in a spin but in essence is an utterly logical consequence of EU law.
Spin Master Ltd. CJEU supports speed and efficiency over specialisation in provisional measures re the Community design.
Thank you Huib Berendschot for alerting me to a CJEU judgment which had escaped me. In C-678/18 Procureur Generaal bij de Hoge Raad der Nederlanden (Re: Spin Master Ltd) at issue is Regulation 6/2002 on Community designs.
The Regulation provides among others (Article 81) that Community design courts (as appointed in the individual jurisdictions) have exclusive jurisdiction for infringement actions. At issue was whether Member States may extend the exclusivity to provisional measures (Article 90). The Netherlands had done so, however as Huib explains more extensively, the CJEU has now given speed at the level of provisional measures, priority over specialisation: at 41: ‘ whilst the pursuit of that objective of uniform interpretation is entirely justified in the case of court proceedings the substance of which concerns infringement or invalidity actions, the EU legislature also pointed out, in recital 29 of Regulation No 6/2002, that the exercise of the rights conferred by a design must be enforced in an efficient manner throughout the territory of the European Union. The EU legislature was therefore able to ensure that, in the case of requests for provisional measures, including protective measures, concerning infringement or invalidity, the requirements of proximity and efficiency should prevail over the objective of specialisation.’
A most interesting judgment.
Gray v Hurley. Court of Appeal refers to Luxembourg on anti-suit to support EU jurisdiction against ex-EU action.
Update a few hours after posting. For the New Zealand perspective see Jan Jakob Bornheim’s thread here.
As I noted at the time, the High Court discussed the matrimonial exception of Brussels Ia, as well as the exclusive jurisdictional rule of Article 24(1), and (briefly) Article 25’s choice of court. The appeal however only concerns the application of Article 4’s domicile rule. Was Mr Hurley domiciled in England on 26 March 2019, when the court was seized? Article 62(1) Brussels Ia refers to the internal law. Lavender J decided that Mr Hurley was not domiciled in England, however that Lindner should be read as extending to the defendant’s last known domicile in a case where the Court: (1) is unable to identify the defendant’s place of domicile; and (2) has no firm evidence to support the conclusion that the defendant is in fact domiciled outside the European Union. I suggested at the time that this is a very relevant and interesting reading of Lindner, extending the reach of Brussels Ia as had been kickstarted by Owusu, with due deference to potential New Zealand jurisdiction (New Zealand domicile not having been established).
Note also that Mr Hurley had initially also relied on A34 BI1 however later abandoned this line. Article 34 is however cross-referenced in the discussion on Article 4’s domicile rule.
The Court of Appeal has concluded that the meaning of Article 4(1) and its applicability in this case is not acte clair and has referred to Luxembourg. The focus of the discussion was not whether or not Ms Gray was domiciled in England (see however my doubts as to the extension of Linder in the case at issue). Rather, the focus is on anti-suit and Article 4: Ms Gray submits that Article 4(1) provides her with a right not to be sued outside England, where she is domiciled, and that the court is obliged to give effect to this right by the grant of an anti-suit injunction to restrain proceedings in a third State.
As the Court of Appeal notes, the consequences of her arguments are that an EU-domiciled tortfeasor who was being sued only in a third State could require the court of his domicile to grant an anti-suit injunction – in contrast to the ‘flexible mechanism’ under Articles 33 and 34 in cases where the same or related proceedings exist in both jurisdictions. By the same token, if there are proceedings in a Member State, the defendant could seek an anti-suit injunction to prevent the claimant from taking or continuing unrelated proceedings in a third State. And, as appears from the present case, it is said that it makes no difference that the claimant’s case is not one that the courts of the Member State could themselves entertain, meaning that the ‘right’ said to be conferred on the claimant by Article 4(1) would have no content.
Yet again therefore interesting issues on the use of anti-suit to support EU (rather than: a particular Member State) jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal is minded not to side with Ms Gray, for comity reasons (anti-suit being a serious meddle in other States’ jurisdictional assessment) and because the use of anti-suit here would not serve the Regulation’s objectives of sound and harmonious administration of justice. At 52 it suggests the MS Gray line of reasoning would have profound consequence which would be expected to be explicit in the Regulation and not to be arrived at sub silentio – but refers to the CJEU for certainty.
(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2 practically in its entirety.