Posts Tagged FB
Thank you Stephen Pittel for flagging 2017 SCC 33 Douez v Facebook Inc. Stephen also discusses the forum non conveniens issue and I shall leave that side of the debate over to him. What is interesting for comparative purposes is the Supreme Court’s analysis of the choice of court clause in consumer contracts, which it refuses to enforce under public policy reasons, tied to two particular angles:
- ‘The burdens of forum selection clauses on consumers and their ability to access the court system range from added costs, logistical impediments and delays, to deterrent psychological effects. When online consumer contracts of adhesion contain terms that unduly impede the ability of consumers to vindicate their rights in domestic courts, particularly their quasi-constitutional or constitutional rights, public policy concerns outweigh those favouring enforceability of a forum selection clause.’ (emphasis added)
Infringement of privacy is considered such quasi-constitutional right.
- ‘Tied to the public policy concerns is the “grossly uneven bargaining power” of the parties. Facebook is a multi-national corporation which operates in dozens of countries. D is a private citizen who had no input into the terms of the contract and, in reality, no meaningful choice as to whether to accept them given Facebook’s undisputed indispensability to online conversations.’
With both angles having to apply cumulatively, consumers are effectively invited to dress up their suits as involving a quasi-constitutional issue, even if all they really want is their PSP to be exchanged, so to speak. I suspect however Canadian courts will have means of sorting the pretended privacy suits from the real ones.
A great judgment for the comparative binder (see also Jutta Gangsted and mine paper on forum laboris in the EU and the US here).
As I noted at the time, the long and the short of the case is whether the concept of ‘consumer’ under the protected categories of Brussels I (and Recast) is a dynamic or a static one; and what kind of impact assignment has on jurisdiction for protected categories.
On the first issue, Mr Schrems points to his history as a user, first having set up a personal account, subsequently, as he became the poster child for opposition to social media’s alleged infringement of privacy, a Facebook page. Each of those, he suggests, are the object of a separate contract with Facebook. FB suggests they are part of one and the same, initial contractual relationship. This one assumes, would assist FB with its line of argument that Herr Schrems’ initial use may have been covered by the forum consumentis, but that his subsequent professional use gazumps that initial qualification.
The Court suffices at 36 with the simple observation that the qualification as a single or dual contract is up to the national court (see inter alia the Gabriel, Engler and Ilsinger conundrum: Handbook, Chapter 2, Heading 220.127.116.11.a and generally the difficulties for the CJEU to force a harmonised notion of ‘contract’ upon the Member States), yet that nevertheless any such qualification needs to take into account the principles of interpretation of Brussels I’s protected categories: in particular, their restrictive interpretation. Whence it follows, the Court holds, that the interpretation needs to be dynamic, taking into account the subsequent (professional or not) use of the service: at 37-38: ‘il y a notamment lieu de tenir compte, s’agissant de services d’un réseau social numérique ayant vocation à être utilisés pendant une longue durée, de l’évolution ultérieure de l’usage qui est fait de ces services. Cette interprétation implique, notamment, qu’un requérant utilisateur de tels services pourrait invoquer la qualité de consommateur seulement si l’usage essentiellement non professionnel de ces services, pour lequel il a initialement conclu un contrat, n’a pas acquis, par la suite, un caractère essentiellement professionnel.’
The Court does add at 39-40 that acquired or existing knowledge of the sector or indeed the mere involvement in collective representation of the interests of the service’s users, has no impact on the qualification as a ‘consumer’: only professional use of the service does. (The Court in this respect refers to Article 169(1) TFEU’s objective to assist consumers with the representation of their collective interest).
On this point therefore the Court unlike the AG attaches more weight to restrictive interpretation than to predictability. (Bobek AG’s approach to the issue of dynamic /static was expressed more cautiously).
As for the assignment issue, the Court sides squarely with its AG: the assigned claims cannot be pursued in the jurisdiction which is the domicile of the assignee. That in my view de lega lata makes perfect sense.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168.
Qualifying ‘consumers’ on social media and in the case of assignment. Bobek AG in Schrems v Facebook.
Bobek AG must have picked up his knack for colourful language at Teddy Hall. His Opinion last week in C-498/16 Schrems v Facebook is a delight and one does best service to it by simply inviting one reads it. Now, that must not absolve me of my duty to report succinctly on its contents – the Court itself I imagine will be equally short shrift with claimant’s arugments.
When I asked my students in the August exam to comment on the case, I simply gave them the preliminary questions and asked them how the CJEU should answer them:
1 Is Article 15 of Regulation 44/2001 to be interpreted as meaning that a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of that provision loses that status, if, after the comparatively long use of a private Facebook account, he publishes books in connection with the enforcement of his claims, on occasion also delivers lectures for remuneration, operates websites, collects donations for the enforcement of his claims and has assigned to him the claims of numerous consumers on the assurance that he will remit to them any proceeds awarded, after the deduction of legal costs?
2. Is Article 16 of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 to be interpreted as meaning that a consumer in a Member State can also invoke at the same time as his own claims arising from a consumer supply at the claimant’s place of jurisdiction the claims of others consumers on the same subject who are domiciled
a. In the same Member State, b. In another Member State: or c. In a non-Member State,
if the claims assigned to him arise from consumer supplies involving the same defendant in the same legal context and if the assignment is not part of a professional or trade activity of the applicant, but rather serves to ensure the joint enforcement of claims?
The long and the short of the case is whether the concept of ‘consumer’ under the protected categories of Brussels I (and Recast) is a dynamic or a static one; and what kind of impact assignment has on jurisdiction for protected categories.
On the first issue, I expected my students to point to the CJEU’s precedent of applying the Regulation with a view to predictability and legal certainty; specifically for consumers, to Gruber and the burden of proof in cases of dual use; and to the Court’s judgment in Emrek. Other than the last issue, the AG points to all. Predictability points to a static approach: I would suggest the AG is right. Bobek AG does leave the door ajar for a dynamic interpretation: at 39: in exptional cases, a ‘dynamic’ approach to consumer status should not be entirely excluded. This could be potentially relevant in the event that a contract does not specify its aim, or it is open to different uses, and it lasts a long period of time, or is even indeterminate. It is conceivable that in such cases, the purpose for which a certain contractual service is used might change — not just partially, but even completely. Social media contracts may lead to such circumstances, one imagines, however there would be many ifs and buts to such analysis: including, I would suggest, the terms of the contract wich the service provider initially drew up.
On the issue of assignment the AG’s approach is entirely logical and not surprising: evidently Herr Schrems cannot have claims assigned to him and then exercise those claims using any other jurisdictional prerogatives then present in the original claim. While these may allow him to sue in the forum actoris of the original consumer, there is no valid argument whatsoever to suggest he could join them to his own domicile. The arguments made de lege ferenda (need for forum shopping in collective consumer redress) are justifiably rejected.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124.
I discussed this case with my students the day the judgment came out. Copy of the judgment has travelled with me far and wide. Yet I only now find myself getting round to posting on Anas v Facebook, at the courts at Würzburg back in February. Mr Anas came from Syria as a refugee and took a famous selfie with Frau Merkel. The photo later came to haunt him as fake news sites used it in connecting with accusations of terrorism. Mr Anas thereupon sued Facebook, requesting it to act more swiftly to remove the various content reporting on him in this matter. The Würzburg court obliged. I understand that in the meantime Mr Anas has halted further action against FB which I am assuming includes the appeal which FB must have launched.
Now, the interest for this blog lies not in the issue of fake news, but rather the jurisdictional grounds for the ruling. Mr Anas sued Facebook Ireland, not Facebook Inc. The latter, I would suggest, he might have done on the basis of the Brussels I Recast’s provisions on consumer contracts – albeit that the conditions for that title might not be fulfilled if Mr Anas became a FB user in Syria.
The court did not entertain the consumer title. It did uphold its jurisdiction on the basis of Article 7(2) of the Recast, as lex loci damni. (But without consideration of the Shevill limitation). Awkwardly, it then lest my German fails me, goes on to determine its internal jurisdiction on the basis of German civil procedure law. Plaintiff was domiciled in Berlin; not Würzburg. The judgment therefore turns into the proverbial cake and eating it: Article 7(2) does not just lay down jurisdiction for a Member State: it also identifies the very court in that MS that has jurisdiction. It cancels out internal rules of jurisdiction. With Mr Anas’ domicile in Berlin, Wurzburg as locus damni is not immediately obvious.
German speakers, if I am not reading this right please do comment.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.