Sodmilab. The Paris Court of Appeal on lois de police, Rome I, II and commercial agency.

Thank you Maxime Barba for flagging the judgment in the Paris Court of Appeal Sodmilab et al. (Text of the judgment in Maxime’s post). The case concerns the ending of a commercial relationship. Part of the contract may be qualified as agency with lex causae determined under the 1978 Hague Convention. On this issue, the Court of Appeal confirmed French law as lex causae.

Things get messy however with the determination of that part of the contract that qualifies as distribution (a mess echoing DES v Clarins), and on the application of Rome II.

The Court of Appeal first (at 59) discusses the qualification of A442-6 of the French Code du commerce, on unfair trading practices (abrupt ending of a commercial relationship), dismissing it as lois de police /overriding mandatory law under Article 9 Rome I. As I noted in my review of DES v Clarins, this is a topsy turvy application of Rome I. The qualification as lois de police is up to the Member States, within the confines of the definition in Rome I. The Court of Appeal holds that A442-6 only serves private interests, not the general economic interest, and therefore must not qualify under Rome I. Hitherto much of the French case-law and scholarship had argued that in protecting the stability of private interests, the Act ultimately serves the public interest.

Next (as noted: this should have come first), the Court reviews the application of A4f Rome I, the fall-back position for distribution contracts – which would have led to Algerian law as lex causae. It is unclear (62 ff) whether the Court reaches its conclusion as French law instead either as a confirmation of circumstantial (the court referring to invoicing currency etc.) but clear choice of law under Article 3, or the escape clause under Article 4(3), for that Article is mentioned, too.

Rome I’s structure is quite clear. Why it is not properly followed here is odd. That includes the oddity of discussing French law under Article 9 if the court had already confirmed French law as lex causae under A3 or 4.

Finally, corners are cut on Rome II, too. Re the abrupt ending of the relationship (at 66ff). French law again emerges victorious even if the general lex locus damni rule leads to Algerian law. The court does not quite clearly hold that on the basis of Article 4(3)’s escape clause, or circumstantial choice of law per A14. The court refers to ‘its findings above’ on contractual choice of law, however how such fuzzy implicit choice under Rome I is forceful enough to extend to choice of law under Rome II must not be posited without further consideration. Particularly seeing as Article 6 Rome II excludes choice of law for acts of unfair trading.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9; Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 3.2.8.3; Chapter 4).

 

It does not get more The Hague than this. Footballing around jurisdiction, applicable law and corporate finance in ADO Den Haag v United Vansen (PRC)

Thank you Bob Wessels for alerting me to ADO Den Haag v United Vansen (of China). ADO Den Haag NV (the corporate vehicle of a Dutch Premier League club) domiciled at The Hague, sue United Vansen International Sports Co. Ltd, domiciled at Beijing, essentially for the latter to pay a deposit on the premium due for the shares it acquired in the club. Vansen did not appear.

First of all, were Vansen properly summoned in accordance with the Hague Service Abroad Convention (which both China and The Netherlands have ratified)? The court holds that it cannot yet decide that this has actually happened (relevant steps taken via the Dutch judicial authorities only recently having taken place) however it applies Article 15(3)’s provisions for extreme urgency: ‘Notwithstanding the provisions of the preceding paragraphs the judge may order, in case of urgency, any provisional or protective measures.

Next up: do the Dutch courts have jurisdiction? Given the defendant’s domicile outside of the EU and the non-applicability of any of Brussel I’s rules where domicile is irrelevant, the Court applied Dutch residual rules of private international law. These grant it jurisdiction essentially in respect of urgent proceedings of attachment.

Of more interest to this blog is the court’s consideration of applicable law, which the Court conducts with reference to Rome I. The share purchase agreement seemingly did not contain choice of law, either implicit or explicit: at 2.15, the court suffices with a mere observation of the absence of choice of law. None of the standard contracts of Article 4(1) Rome I applies [there is some discussion in scholarship whether share purchase is covered by Article 4(1)a’s ‘contract for the sale of goods’], hence the relevance of Article 4(2)’s ‘characteristic performance’ test. Here, the Court declared unequivocally that the characteristic performance is the transfer of the share premium. The habitual residence of the party required to carry out that performance is the relevant connecting factor. In casu therefore, Chinese law in principle is the applicable law.

This in fact is not as straightforward as it may sound. Other legal regimes may find perhaps entry in the shareholder registry following payment, to be the characteristic performance; or the initiation of negotiations to pay a share premium; etc.

However the Dutch court finally settles for Dutch law after all, employing Article 4(3)’s escape clause. It holds that all circumstances of the case indicate that Dutch law is more closely connected: at 2.15: the agreement originated in The Netherlands; the performance has to be carried in The Netherlands (transfer of the sums into a Dutch bank account), and the transfer of the premium will benefit a Dutch company. Although the judgment does not give much detail on the contract, its origins etc., it would seem that in finally opting for Dutch law, the court does make proper application of the rather strict conditions of Article 4(3).

A good illustration of Article 4’s waterfall /cascade.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.6.

 

 

Wahl AG offers substantive criteria for ‘closer connection’ test for contracts of employment

In his Opinion in Schlecker v Boedeker, Wahl AG offers a number of substantive criteria for national courts to apply the ‘closer connection’ test of Article 8(4) of the Rome I Regulation on the law applicable to contracts – albeit formally his Opinion is on the application of the similar provision in its predecessor, the 1980 Rome Convention (the relevant provisions have not materially changed). The Convention reads in relevant part

Article 6 – Individual employment contracts

1. Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 3, in a contract of employment a choice of law made by the parties shall not have the result of depriving the employee of the protection afforded to him by the mandatory rules of the law which would be applicable under paragraph 2 in the absence of choice.

2. Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 4, a contract of employment shall, in the absence of choice in accordance with Article 3, be governed: (a) by the law of the country in which the employee habitually carries out his work in performance of the contract, even if he is temporarily employed in another country ; or

(b) if the employee does not habitually carry out his work in any one country, by the law of the country in which the place of business through which he was engaged is situated;

 unless it appears from the circumstances as a whole that the contract is more closely connected with another country, in which case the contract shall be governed by the law of that country.

In the case at issue, Schlecker is a company governed by German law which is active in the retailing of beauty and health products. Although Schlecker is established in Germany, it has many branches in several Member States of the European Union. Under an initial employment contract, Mrs Boedeker – a German national and resident – was employed by Schlecker and performed her duties in Germany from 1 December 1979 to 1 January 1994. Under a further contract, concluded on 30 November 1994, Mrs Boedeker was appointed by Schlecker, with effect from 1 March 1995 until the summer of 2006, as distribution manager (‘Geschäftsführerin/Vertrieb’) for the entire territory of the Netherlands. In that capacity, Mrs Boedeker in fact performed her duties in the Netherlands. By letter of 19 June 2006, Schlecker informed Mrs Boedeker that her position as manager for the Netherlands would be abolished with effect from 30 June 2006 and invited her to take up, under the same contractual conditions, the post of head of accounts (‘Bereichsleiterin Revision’) in Dortmund (Germany), with effect from 1 July 2006. Although Mrs Boedeker lodged an objection on 4 July 2006 against that notice of amendment (‘Änderungskündigung’), she took up her post as regional manager in Dortmund. On 5 July 2006, Mrs Boedeker declared herself unfit for work on medical grounds. As from 16 August 2006, she received benefits from a German health insurance fund (‘Krankenkasse’). Subsequently, various actions were brought both by Mrs Boedeker and by Schlecker before the courts.

In the absence of explicit choice of law by the parties to the contract, the connecting factors sub a) and b) need to be looked at consecutively: i.e. with the ‘habitual’ workplace having priority. Both have been looked in detail by previous case-law. The ‘escape clause’ of the final part of the Article, however has so far not been interpreted by the ECJ.

Wahl AG takes the opportunity to firstly set out the overall logic of the choice of law process under Article 6 (now 8), with an important insight (and the helpful use of moot examples; often used by us in class but not often in Opinions of the AG) into the issue of favor laboratoris. Article 6(1) obliges the national court to test any express choice against the laws which would apply in the absence of choice, and to have the strictest of these (i.e. the most favourable towards the employee) – albeit only for those stricter provisions –  trump even express choice of law. In the absence of choice, however, this comparison need no longer be made: whichever law is identified by Article 6(2) applies in full, even if it is not the most protective towards the employee.

He subsequently advises in favour of giving the escape clause the widest possible remit, trumping the presumptions of Article 6(1) a) and b), also in the particular situation in which an employee has performed an employment contract habitually, for a lengthy period and without interruption, in a single country. In determining what the AG calls the  ‘centre of gravity of the employment relationship’, it is suggested that inter alia the following criteria are relevant: place of habitual performance; the fact that the employee pays taxes and contributions in a particular country, relating to the income from his activity and the fact that he is covered by the social security scheme there and the various pension, sickness insurance and invalidity schemes; In each of these, the AG suggests, the court has to review in fact whether these particular choices were not imposed on the employee, but rather chosen consensually.

As always, one has to wait and see what the Court says – however this case is certain to be very relevant to employment law practice.

Geert.