Posts Tagged Erkenning en tenuitvoerlegging
Belgium’s Lernout & Hauspie case recently entered a further stage in its civil law chapter. The case is part of Belgium’s (and especially Flanders’) collective memory as an illustration of what can go wrong when markets and investors alike are fooled by corporate greed. Is it world-famous, in Belgium: for those outside, Wiki should help.
Of interest to this blog is the recent judgment of the Gent criminal court on the civil chapter of the case: see my colleague proximus Stefaan Voet’s analysis here. Stefaan has helpfully translated the most relevant sections of the judgment, in particular the court’s rejection of the argument that the US opt-out class action settlement were contrary to Belgium’s ordre public. The court, in my view entirely justifiably, holds that Belgium’s Private international law act does not oppose recognition and enforcement. Of note is the extensive comparative reference which the court makes not just to existing Belgian law on class actions (the Belgian legal order can hardly oppose what it tentatively has introduced itself), but also to a European Recommendation on comparative class action law in the EU (a sort of Ius Commune idea).
Recognition and enforcement rarely makes it to substantive review in Belgian case-law. This judgment is one of note.
flyLAL-Lithuanian Airlines – ECJ holds on ‘civil and commercial’, ordre public and Article 22(2)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule all in the context of competition law.
Postscript 21 December 2016: it has been brought to my attention that the Latvian Supreme Court in October 2015 ultimately held that the Lithuanian judgment would not be recognised, on the grounds of ordre public. See here for an overview of the arguments.
flyLAL seeks compensation for damage resulting, first, from the abuse of a dominant position by Air Baltic on the market for flights from or to Vilnius Airport (Lithuania) and, second, from an anti-competitive agreement between the co-defendants. To that end, it applied for provisional and protective measures. The relevant Lithuanian court granted that application and issued an order for sequestration, on a provisional and protective basis, of the moveable and/or immoveable assets and property rights of Air Baltic and Starptautiskā Lidosta Rīga. A relevant Latvian court decided to recognise and enforce that judgment in Latvia, in so far as the recognition and enforcement related to the sequestration of the moveable and/or immoveable assets and property rights of defendants. Application by flyLAL for a guarantee of enforcement of that judgment was rejected.
Defendants submit that the recognition and enforcement of the judgment are contrary to both the rules of public international law on immunity from jurisdiction and the brussels I Regulation. They argue that the present case does not fall within the scope of that regulation. Since the dispute relates to airport charges set by State rules, it does not, they submit, concern a civil or commercial matter within the meaning of that regulation.
On the scope of application issue (‘civil and commercial‘), the ECJ held with reference to previous case-law, that the provision of airport facilities in return for payment of a fee constitutes an economic activity. (This is different from the foundation judgment in Eurocontrol, which in turn was cross-referred in Sapir (to which the ECJ in current judgment refers repeatedly): Eurocontrol is a public body and the use of its services by airlines is compulsory and exclusive). The amount of shares held by government in the relevant airlines is irrelevant.
That the exclusive jurisdictional rule of Article 22(2) may be at issue (which might have led the court with whom enforcement is sought, to refuse such) was clearly a desperate attempt to rebuke jurisdiction. The national court should not have entertained it, let alone sent it to Luxemburg. (The Court replies courteously that ‘seeking legal redress for damage resulting from alleged infringements of European Union competition law, must (not) be regarded as constituting proceedings which have as their object the validity of the decisions of the organs of companies within the meaning of that provision.’) One assumes the flimsiest of arguments might have been that the board or a director would have had to approve the actions leading to the infringement.
Finally, according to Article 34(1), a judgment is not to be recognised if such recognition is manifestly contrary to public policy in the Member State in which recognition is sought. The referring court is unsure, first, as to the consequences to be drawn from the failure to state reasons for the methods of determining the amount of the sums concerned by the provisional and protective measures granted by the judgment in respect of which recognition and enforcement are sought and, second, as to the consequences linked to the amount of those sums.
With respect to the alleged failure to state reasons, the ECJ confirms (at 51 ff) that the observance of the right to a fair trial requires that all judgments be reasoned in order to enable the defendant to understand why judgment has been pronounced against him and to bring an appropriate and effective appeal against such a judgment (see ia Trade Agency). However that was not the case at issue: there is no lack of reasoning, since it is possible to follow the line of reasoning which led to the determination of the amount of the sums at issue. Parties concerned moreover had the opportunity to bring an action against such a decision and they exercised that option. Therefore, the basic principles of a fair trial were respected and, accordingly, there are no grounds to consider that there has been a breach of public policy.
As regards the amount of the sums, the concept of ‘public policy’ within the meaning of Article 34(1)seeks to protect legal interests which are expressed through a rule of law, and not purely economic interests. The mere invocation of serious economic consequences does not constitute an infringement of the public policy of the Member State in which recognition is sought (at 58).
Once again the Court’s emphasis is on the exceptional nature of the ordre public exception.
Granted, only Monday mornings arguably may excuse such lame pun in a blog’s posting. However the slightly lousy title should not take away from the relevance of Celtic Salmon v Aller Acqua in which the Irish High Court partially refused recognition of a Danish judgment.
Hogan J summarised the issue as follows: Where a defendant in foreign proceedings governed by the Brussels Regulation (Council Regulation No. 44/2001 EC) fails to advance and maintain a counter-claim for damages for (sic) in those proceedings, is that party then barred by the doctrine of res judicata or by the provisions of the Brussels Regulation itself from re-litigating that counterclaim for damages for breach of contract and negligence in existing proceedings in this jurisdiction where it sues as plaintiff?
Celtic Salmon used Aller Ireland, the Irish subsidiary, as anchor defendant. The mother company, Aller Denmark, was duly joined to the proceedings. Vets, commissioned by Celtic Atlantic, had established a deficiency in the feed supplied by Aller Denmark. The dispute between the parties then started with a letter sent by Celtic Atlantic in July, 2008 claiming damages for the (allegedly) defective fish feed. Aller Denmark responded by denying liability, but also claimed for unpaid invoices in respect of the fish feed. In November 2008, aller Denmark fired the first shot in litigation, suing in Denmark. There were two separate claims. First, Aller Denmark claimed in respect of certain unpaid invoices for the fish feed (“claim 1”). (It also reserved its position to make further claims in this regard. The claim taken forward only related to a fraction of the feed actually supplied). Second, it sought an order that “Celtic be ordered to admit that the delivered feed on which Aller Acqua’s claim is based is in conformity with the contract.” (“claim 2”).
Celtic’s Irish solicitors, according to the judgment, advised that it would be unwise to bring a counter-claim in the Danish proceedings, because to do so “would preclude us from bringing proceedings in Ireland for damages for breach of contract.” In May 2009, Irish proceedings were brought by Celtic. These amounted to a claim for damages for negligence and breach of contract by reason of the allegedly defective nature of the fish feed.
The Danish courts accepted jurisdiction on the basis of Article 5 based upon (whether this had been agreed was disputed between parties) delivery (incoterm) ex works /ex factory. This is the point were procedural difficulties started (hence the relevance of lexi fori). The reports earlier commissioned by Celtic, turned out not to be admissible (or at the very least would be regarded with suspicion) by the Danish courts given that under Danish civil procedure, the court appoints its own experts. However at the time this would have been carried forward, both fish and fish feed were no longer. Celtic Atlantic elected not to pursue the counterclaim in respect of the defective feed, and reserved the right to do so at a later date (without specific reference to Danish or Irish courts).
The Danish court eventually sided with Aller in respect of two claims: claim 1 for debt in respect of the two unpaid invoices in the sum €58,655 plus interest. Claim 2” that “Celtic [Atlantic] be ordered to admit that the delivered feed on which Aller [Denmark]’s claim is based is in conformity with the contract. There was subsequently discussion among Danish experts in the Irish courts, whether the Danish judgment was in default of appearance, given the absence of defence against at least part of it.
The question now sub judice was the fate of the Irish proceedings, Hogan J justifiably concluded that Article 27 JR (the lis alibi pendens rule) no longer had any relevance, given that the Danish proceedings had come to an end. Rather, whether Celtic’s claims in the Irish courts were the same as those entertained in Denmark (and hence continuing them in Ireland, per se abusive, ia given comity) and /or whether Aller could waive the Danish judgment in defence of the Irish claims. The latter would imply recognition of the Danish judgment.
[The High court carries out a review of the Danish court’s jurisdiction under Article 5(1) and 3, with reference as for the latter inter alia to Folien Fischer however in doing so I would argue it surpassed its brief: other than for exclusive jurisdictional rules, under the current Brussels I regime, there is no room for other courts to second-guess the application of the Regulation by other courts].
Article 34(1) of the Brussels Regulation provides that “A judgment shall not be recognised: 1. If such recognition is manifestly contrary to public policy in the Member State in which recognition is sought…..” Hogan J emphasises procedural rights per Krombach, and the Charter, and concludes that by reason of the manner in which the Danish Administration of Justice Act operated in this case, the effective procedural rights of Celtic Atlantic were violated so far as claim 2 is concerned. He insisted that (only) on ‘the special and particular facts of this case, the existence and operation of the Danish law operated (…) as an “insuperable” procedural obstacle which barred the effective prosecution of its claim.’ (at 124).
A considerate judgment and one which, if only because of its rarity and the insight it offers into procedural and tactical considerations in entertaining, or not, counterclaims, stands out in national case-law on the Brussels I- Regulation.
Swiss ‘Sabena’ judgment interprets Lugano insolvency exception. Eventual recognition not impossible.
Update 22 January 2016 An amendment to the relevant parts of the Swiss PIL code is being suggested, which would make recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings less cumbersome.
In SAirLines AG v Masse en faillite ancillaire de Sabena SA, the Swiss Bundesgericht (Federal High Court) held that the request by the liquidators of Sabena (the former Belgian national carrier) to have a Brussels Court of appeal judgment recognised and enforced in Switserland, falls within the ‘insolvency’ exception of the Lugano Convention (2007). It cannot therefore enjoy the swift recognition procedure included in that Convention. Instead, a claim under standard Swiss private international law in my view is still possbible (although, going by the Court’s obiter, see below, not promising).
The Brussels Court of Appeal in 2011 held SAirLines AG ( the holding company of the former Swiss Air Group) responsible for the insolvency of Sabena, by the misapplication of a number of crucial investment agreements (I summarise; that however is the gist of the dispute). SAirlines AG is itself being liquidated in Switserland. The Bundesgericht relied heavily on precedent in C-111/08 Alpenblumme where the insolvency exception of the Brussels I-Regulation was held as as applying to a judgment of a court of Member State A regarding registration of ownership of shares in a company having its registered office in Member State A, according to which the transfer of those shares was to be regarded as invalid on the ground that the court of Member State A did not recognise the powers of a liquidator from a Member State B in the context of insolvency proceedings conducted and closed in Member State B.
It also referred to Gourdain. Per Gourdain, an action is related to bankruptcy only if it derives directly from the bankruptcy and is closely linked to proceedings for realising the assets or judicial supervision. It is the closeness of the link, in the sense of the case-law resulting from Gourdain, between a court action and the insolvency proceedings that is decisive for the purposes of deciding whether the exclusion in Article 1(2)(b) of the JR is applicable.
The mere fact that the liquidator is a party to the proceedings is not sufficient to classify the proceedings as deriving directly from the insolvency and being closely linked to proceedings for realising assets.
(Incidentally, for a Lugano-bound court to rely on the ECJ’s case-law on the insolvency exception may in my view in future be less obvious, at least as far as the ECJ’s case-law post the entry into force of the insolvency Regulation is concerned: the ECJ’s judgment on the respective scope of both Regulations is now obviously subject to there being the other, closely related Regulation. The Insolvency Regulation however does not apply to Switserland whence arguably the scope of the stand-alone Lugano insolvency exception need not necessarily evolve alongside that of the Brussels I-Insolvency exception).
In the case at hand, it might indeed be difficult to argue that the Belgian liquidators’ action while having an impact on the insolvency and the division of the assets, does not directly derive from the bankruptcy and would have existed even without such insolvency occurring.
The judgment does not mean that recognition and enforcement of the judgment is now totally out of the question (even the official court’s press release suggests as much in its title). Rather the Bundesgericht has simply held on the applicability of the Lugano Convention. As far as my legal German reaches (that may be an important caveat hence I would like to hear from Swiss, German or Austrian lawyers) the judgment does not prejudice enforceability under general Swiss private international law. (Although, with the same caveat, the language at para 10 of the judgment does not sound promising:
‘ Das belgische Urteil fällt aus den dargelegten Gründen nicht in den sachlichen Anwendungsbereich des Lugano-Übereinkommens. Dass das Urteil unter diesen Umständen nach den Regeln des IPRG anzuerkennen wäre, wird nicht geltend gemacht und ist aufgrund der insolvenzrechtlichen Natur der Streitsache auch nicht ersichtlich (vgl. BGE 139 III 236 E. 5.3). Bei dieser Sachlage kommt eine Anerkennung und Vollstreckbarerklärung von vornherein nicht in Frage, und es erübrigt sich, darüber zu befinden, ob die Anerkennungsvoraussetzungen gemäss dem LugÜ gegeben wären und ob die Beschwerdegegnerin überhaupt ein genügendes Rechtsschutzinteresse an einer selbstständigen Anerkennungsfeststellung und Vollstreckbarerklärung gemäss Art. 33 Abs. 2 und Art. 38 Abs. 1 LugÜ hätte, wie die Vorinstanz annahm, die Beschwerdeführerinnen hingegen bestreiten.).
To be continued, therefore?
The ECJ has issued its ruling in Gothaer, the AG’s Opinion in which I reported earlier. The Court first of all confirmed that the term ‘judgment’ within the meaning of Article 32 of Regulation No 44/2001 covers a judgment by which a court of a Member State declines jurisdiction on the ground of an agreement on jurisdiction, even though that judgment is classified as a ‘procedural judgment’ by the law of the Member State addressed.
Moreover, the ECJ held that the court in the Member State in which enforcement is sought, is bound by the finding of the first court – made in the grounds of a judgment, which has since become final, declaring the action inadmissible – regarding the validity of that clause. To justify its finding, it refers in principle to the very definition of recognition as highlighted in the Report Jenard: recognition must ‘have the result of conferring on judgments the authority and effectiveness accorded to them in the State in which they were given’. Accordingly, a foreign judgment which has been recognised under Article 33 of Regulation No 44/2001 must in principle have the same effects in the State in which recognition is sought as it does in the State of origin. It further emphasizes the same arguments as flagged by the AG in coming to its finding.
On the peculiarity that in the case at issue, the choice of court clause points way from the EU, which raises the question what effect can be given to such clauses under the Jurisdiction Regulation, the court concedes that Article 23 does not apply, however, like the AG, it refers to the Lugano Convention, which contains a proviso very much like Article 23 JR. That to me is a bit of an awkward finding: whether the choice of court clause points to a Lugano State or not ought to be irrelevant. It would, through the recognition process, make choice of court in favour of Lugano States in some way less ‘not covered’ by the JR than those pointing to non-Lugano States (and by flagging Lugano, the Court leaves open the question of jurisdiction clauses in favour of non-Lugano States). A further argument made by the court in my view is more convincing, namely the ‘but for’ argument:To allow a court of the Member State in which recognition is sought to disregard, as devoid of effect, the jurisdiction clause which a court of the Member State of origin has held to be valid would run counter to that prohibition of a review as to the merits, particularly in circumstances where the latter might well have ruled, but for that clause, that it had jurisdiction. (at 38)
Indeed typically the action in the court of origin is taken by the recalcitrant party (i.e. the one acting in spite of a choice of court clause), trying to convince the court of origin that it has jurisdiction on the basis of another Article in the JR, Whence indeed but for the clause, that court would most likely have exercised jurisdiction. A finding of validity of the clause therefore is likely to have been seriously considered. Allowing a court in another Member State to nevertheless exercise jurisdiction and refusing recognition and enforcement, would make the JR nugatory. This is in my view no different where as a result (such as here) no court in the EU will be able to hear the case.