The CJEU in Ellmes Property Services. Forum contractus in the case of real estate co-ownership with echoes of De Bloos.

The CJEU held yesterday in C‑433/19 Ellmes Property Services.

On the application of Article 24(1) Brussels Ia rights in rem it confirms Szpunar AG’s Opinion which I discussed here: the erga omnes charachter or not of the rights relied upon needs to be confirmed by the referring court for A24(1) to be engaged.

I suggested the forum contractus analysis was the more exciting one. The Advocate General advised it be determined by the Italian judge following the conflicts method per CJEU 12/76 Tessili v Dunlop, with little help from European harmonisation seeing i.a. as the initial co-ownership agreement dates back to 1978.

The Court held at 39 that the fact that a downstream co-owner was not a party to the co-ownership agreement concluded by the initial co-owners has no effect on there being a contract per A71(a)  BIa, per Ordre des avocats du barreau de Dinant and Kerr

Unlike the AG, however, the CJEU does not hold that the Tessili Dunlop looking over the fence test is required. It comes seemingly uncomplicated to the conclusion of the locus rei sitae as the forum contractus. At 44, yet linking it to the intention of the contractual obligations:

It seems that that obligation is thus intended to ensure the peaceful enjoyment of the property subject to co-ownership by the owner of that property. Subject to verification by the referring court, that obligation relates to the actual use of such property and must be performed in the place in which it is situated.

This may however harbour more uncertainty than first meets the eye. The CJEU here seems to suggest the original contractually designed ‘peaceful enjoyment by the owner’ , which indicates the contractual performance as being one of ‘actual use’ as determining the forum contractus.  A claim relating to a more immaterial use of the property, such as arguably letting the property for financial gain, or indeed an intention to divest the property, would in this perception not necessarily be linked to the locus rei sitae – which brings one back to the discussion entertained by the AG: depending on who brings which claim and how that claim is formulated (an echo from De Bloos, whose usefulness is currently sub judice in Wikingerhof), forum contractus will vary.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.1 (cited by the AG) and Heading 2.2.11.1.

(Third edition forthcoming February 2021).

Szpunar AG in Ellmes Property Services. Again, on rights in rem and, more challenging, on forum contractus and the spirit of CJEU De Bloos.

Acte clair is in the eyes of the beholder, I assume. However a confident judge would have sufficient CJEU authority to help them hold on the A24(1) BIa issues in C‑433/19 Ellmes Property Services in which Szpunar AG opined last week. (No EN version available at the time of publication of this post).

Do actions brought by a co-owner seeking to prohibit another co-owner from carrying out changes to his property subject to co-ownership, in particular to its designated use, arbitrarily and without the consent of the other co-owners, concern the assertion of a right in rem? In the negative, is the forum contractus per A7(1)(a) Brussels Ia the location of the property? The less clear issue in my view is the forum contractus element.

The location is Zell am Zee, contested use is, not surprisingly, tourist accomodation. Applicant in the national proceedings is an individual who lives in the apartment building. Defendant is a UK corporation who uses it for short-term lets despite the residential designation assigned to the building as a whole in the co-ownership agreement.

From CJEU authority including C-438/12 Weber v Weber it should be clear that other than the hardcore cases of ownership of real estate, the erga omnes v in personam character of rights in real estate depends on national law. The Advocate General in this respect points out that for the rights of co-owners in the case at issue to be rights in rem, Austrian law would have to be enable them to exercise these rights not just vis-a-vis the other co-owners, but also vis-a-vis third parties such as tenants. Whether this is the case in Austrian law has not been sufficiently explained in the reference, it seems.

For the impact of entry in the land register (where third parties can consult the co-ownership agreement), Szpunar AG reviews and contrasts C‑417/15 Schmidt v Schmidt, and C-630/17 Milivojević v Raiffeisenbank. Mere registration does not always entail erga omnes impact.

The Advocate General reminds us of the overall interpretation of Article 24, including the need for restrictive interpretation, and flags (with reference inter alia to the Handbook, p.73, for which I am, as always, sincerely humbled) that it is not just, or not even so much sound administration of justice which underlies A24. At least partially, Member States’ strategic interests are served by the issues listed in the Article.

Ellmes Property Services does not seem to raise additional issues such as we saw in C-25/18 Kerr. The Austrian courts could have dealt with this on their own, and seeing as the referring judge did not provide the kind of detail for the CJEU to judge, the AG’s suggestion is to leave it up to them to verify the erga omnes character.

That leaves (whether it will be needed depends on what the eventual insight will be on the erga omnes element), the forum contractus under A7(1). Parties differ as to the qualification of the contractual duty: is it a positive one (do!) or a negative one (must not!). The AG opts for the latter, with reference to CJEU 14/76 De Bloos: A7(1) refers to the contractual obligation forming the basis of the legal proceedings. I find the precedent value of De Bloos problematic in light of the many changes that have been made to Article 7 since, and in light of the engineering possibilities it hands to parties.

The AG advises that forum contractus will have to be determined by the Italian judge following the conflicts method per CJEU 12/76 Tessili v Dunlop, with little help from European harmonisation seeing i.a. as the initial co-ownership agreement dates back to 1978.

I am curious to see how far the Court will go in entertaining the issues at stake.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.1 (cited by the AG) and Heading 2.2.11.1.