The title of this piece is optimistic. Broadly defined many of the conflicts issues I address touch upon civil procedure of course. Yet I rarely address civil procedure pur sang (see here for an example). C-637/17 Cogeco was held by the European Court of Justice yesterday.
The Court held that the EU (competition law) damages Directive 2014/104 does not apply ratione temporis to the facts at issue.
The Directive includes two recitals on limitation periods:
Recital 36 argues
‘National rules on the beginning, duration, suspension or interruption of limitation periods should not unduly hamper the bringing of actions for damages. This is particularly important in respect of actions that build upon a finding by a competition authority or a review court of an infringement. To that end, it should be possible to bring an action for damages after proceedings by a competition authority, with a view to enforcing national and Union competition law. The limitation period should not begin to run before the infringement ceases and before a claimant knows, or can reasonably be expected to know, the behaviour constituting the infringement, the fact that the infringement caused the claimant harm and the identity of the infringer. Member States should be able to maintain or introduce absolute limitation periods that are of general application, provided that the duration of such absolute limitation periods does not render practically impossible or excessively difficult the exercise of the right to full compensation.’
Recital 49 adds
‘Limitation periods for bringing an action for damages could be such that they prevent injured parties and infringers from having sufficient time to come to an agreement on the compensation to be paid. In order to provide both sides with a genuine opportunity to engage in consensual dispute resolution before bringing proceedings before national courts, limitation periods need to be suspended for the duration of the consensual dispute resolution process.’
Article 10 then foresees expressis verbis
1. Member States shall, in accordance with this Article, lay down rules applicable to limitation periods for bringing actions for damages. Those rules shall determine when the limitation period begins to run, the duration thereof and the circumstances under which it is interrupted or suspended.
2. Limitation periods shall not begin to run before the infringement of competition law has ceased and the claimant knows, or can reasonably be expected to know:
(a) of the behaviour and the fact that it constitutes an infringement of competition law;
(b) of the fact that the infringement of competition law caused harm to it; and
(c) the identity of the infringer.
3. Member States shall ensure that the limitation periods for bringing actions for damages are at least five years.
4. Member States shall ensure that a limitation period is suspended or, depending on national law, interrupted, if a competition authority takes action for the purpose of the investigation or its proceedings in respect of an infringement of competition law to which the action for damages relates. The suspension shall end at the earliest one year after the infringement decision has become final or after the proceedings are otherwise terminated
Article 11 adds for joint and several liability
‘Member States shall ensure that any limitation period applicable to cases under this paragraph is reasonable and sufficient to allow injured parties to bring such actions.’
and finally Article 18(1) reads
‘Member States shall ensure that the limitation period for bringing an action for damages is suspended for the duration of any consensual dispute resolution process. The suspension of the limitation period shall apply only with regard to those parties that are or that were involved or represented in the consensual dispute resolution.’
Of note in my view is first of all the unavailing nature of much of the recitals quoted above. As the overview shows, the recitals are more or less verbatim repeated in the actual rules; or the other way around: the Articles’ provisions are copy /pasted into the recitals. To that there is not much point.
Further, the minimum period imposed by the Directive (not applicable, as noted, ratione temporis) is five years. (Compare in the mooted amendment of the motor insurance Directive 2009/103: minimum 4 years is being suggested – subject to gold plating). The Court could not evidently read that minimum period as being ius commune. However it did read much of the qualitative requirements of recitals and articles effectively as ius commune using the effective enforcement of EU competition law as an anchor. It held that the Portuguese limitation period of three years, which, first, starts to run from the date on which the injured party was aware of its right to compensation, even if the infringer is not known and, secondly, may not be suspended or interrupted in the course of proceedings before the national competition authority, renders the exercise of the right to full compensation practically impossible or excessively difficult.
I realise it is a bit of a stretch to see this as a move towards a European Ius Commune on limitation periods. Yet it might be a first cautious step.