Posts Tagged flyLAL

Fly lal: Locus delicti commissi for anticompetitive agreements still has not properly landed.

Time to tackle the judgments left over from the exam queue. I reviewed Bobek AG’s Opinion in C-27/17 flyLAL here. The CJEU held early July.

Pro memoria: the AG’s suggested for locus damni not place of financial loss, rather the place within the markets affected by the competition law infringement where the claimant alleges loss of sales: damage located in a Mozaik fashion in other words; for locus delicti commissi with full jurisdiction, the AG distinguishes between Article 101 TFEU (place of the conclusion of the agreement) and 102 TFEU (place where the predatory prices were offered and applied); finally with respect to (now) Article 7(5), the activities of a branch: offering the fixed prices or otherwise having been instrumental in concluding contracts for services at those prices suffices for that branch to have participated in the tort.

The Court itself,

  • for locus damni reminds us of the findings in Marinari (which tempered the implications of Bier), implying that one needs to decide whether loss of income of the kind alleged by flyLAL may be regarded as ‘initial damage’, or whether it constitutes solely consequential financial damage which cannot, in itself, lead to a forum under Article 7(2). The Court, like the AG, opts for Mozaik, referring inter alia to its judgment in Concurrences: each place where the loss of income consisting in loss of sales occurred, that is to say, the place of the market which is affected by that conduct and on which the victim claims to have suffered those losses, opens up partial jurisdiction. As I noted in my review of the Opinion, this interpretation aids the tortfeasor: locus damni leading to shattered jurisdiction facilitates anti-competitive behaviour.
  • for locus delicti commissi, under Article 101 TFEU (cartels), with reference to CDC, the CJEU opts for courts for the place in which the agreement was definitively concluded: this truly is extraordinary for it allows for forum shopping by the cartel participants. For Article 102 TFEU (abuse of dominant position)
    • Prima facie at 52 there is one consolation for those suffering anti-competitive behaviour: the Court holds that the event giving rise to the damage in the case of abuse of a dominant position is not based on an agreement, but rather on the implementation of that abuse, that is to say, the acts performed by the dominant undertaking to put the abuse into practice, in particular by offering and applying predatory pricing in the market concerned. That would seem to suggest full jurisdiction for each of those places where the pricing is offered and applied. However in that para 52 the Court does not verbatim links this to jurisdiction: this it does do in
    • Para 53: ‘If it were to be established that the events giving rise to the main proceedings were part of a common strategy intended to oust flyLAL from the market of flights to and from Vilnius Airport and that those events all contributed to giving rise to the damage alleged, it would be for the referring court to identify the event of most importance in implementing such a strategy out of the chain of events at issue in the main proceedings.Courts holding on jurisdiction must not delve too deep into the substance of the case but still have to employ, without looking too deeply at the merits of the case, the lex causae for the anti-competitive behaviour (per Rome II) to identify that event of most importance. In para 54 too the Court emphasises the need to limit the amount of potential jurisdictions (reference here is also made to Universal Music). I cannot be sure: does the combination of paras 52 and 53 suggest that the Court does not accept jurisdiction for all places where the pricing is offered and applied?
  • Finally with respect to Article 7(5), the CJEU at 64 holds that the national courts must in particular review whether the activities carried out by the branch included actual acts of offering and applying the predatory pricing alleged and whether such participation in the alleged abuse of a dominant position was sufficiently significant to be regarded as a close link with the dispute in the main proceedings. Separate accounts are not required to conduct that exercise (at 65).

Essentially therefore the Court firmly pulls the Brussels I Recast’s ‘predictability’ card. This is in the interest of companies behaving anti-competitively. I do not read in this judgment a definitive answer however for as I suggested, the combination of paras 52 ff is simply not clear.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law), 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

 

 

 

 

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Fly lal: Locus delicti commissi for anticompetitive agreements. And application of Article 7(5)’s extension to branch domicile.

Bobek AG opined about a little while ago in C-27/17 flyLAL. (Readers may also find my recent posting on NBK useful, re Article 7(5)).

AB flyLAL — Lithuanian Airlines (‘flyLAL’) operated flights from Vilnius airport in Lithuania until it was put into liquidation. According to flyLAL, its demise was caused by predatory (that is, below cost) pricing by the Latvian airline Air Baltic Corporation A/S (‘Air Baltic’). That predatory pricing was, it is alleged, part of an anticompetitive strategy agreed between Air Baltic and the operator of Starptautiskā lidosta Rīga (Riga international airport in Latvia, ‘Riga Airport’). Thus, Riga Airport and Air Baltic agreed to drastically reduce the prices paid by Air Baltic for services at Riga airport. The savings were then used by Air Baltic to finance the predatory pricing that drove flyLAL out of the market in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Can Air Baltic and Riga Airport for damages before the courts in Vilnius? The national court and parties refer to three alleged infringements of competition law: (i) abuse of dominance consisting in the system of reductions implemented by Riga Airport; (ii) an anticompetitive agreement between Riga Airport and Air Baltic; and (iii) abuse of dominance in the form of predatory pricing by Air Baltic. Those infringements, it is argued, were interrelated, forming part of a strategy to oust flyLAL from the market in Vilnius and move passengers to Riga airport to the benefit of both Riga Airport and Air Baltic.

There is a lot in the Opinion – among others because as the AG points out, the referring court’s description of the alleged infringement of competition law is not entirely clear. Bobek therefore sets out a set of variables. The Court itself is bound not to distinguish among quite so many. Of note are the AG’s suggestions

  • that locus damni here is not place of financial loss, rather the place within the markets affected by the competition law infringement where the claimant alleges loss of sales.That suggestion in my view is helpful for neither the Regulation’s aim of predictability, nor the protection of those damaged by infringement of competition law (the latter not however a stated aim of the Regulation). Put differently: damage located in a Mozaik fashion assists the tortfeasor. The Advocate General reaches this conclusion after a thorough revisit of the initial Bier judgment (and Capotorti AG’s Opinion in same), ditto Marinari and Dumez France. Yet the continuing need to conceptualise the Court’s Bier rule illustrates again in my view the mistake made in that original judgment, to introduce a forum damni despite the utter lack of textual support for same.
  • for locus delicti commissi with full jurisdiction, the AG distinguishes between Article 101 TFEU (as regards the alleged anticompetitive agreement between Air Baltic and Riga Airport, the place of the event giving rise to the harm (that is, the loss of sales by flyLAL), is the place of the conclusion of the agreement) and 102 TFEU (alleged predatory pricing by Air Baltic, the place of the event giving rise to the harm is the place where the predatory prices were offered and applied).  With respect to Article 101 TFEU, Bobek AG suggests this is identical to the Court’s judgment in CDC . I am not too sure but I am biased. As I noted above, in my view the Court should steer clear of an application of Article 7(2) which allows those infringing competition law to forum shop by manipulating the place of decision-making. In CDC the Court held that ‘the identification, in the jurisdiction of the court seised of the matter, of a specific event during which either that cartel was definitively concluded or one agreement in particular was made which was the sole causal event giving rise to the loss allegedly inflicted on a buyer’ cannot be ruled out. That implies that in other cases the identification of such singular event can be ruled out and that many places may be consider locus delicti commissi.  
  • finally with respect to (now) Article 7(5), the activities of a branch. The AG does not specify what must be meant by a ‘branch’ – for the national court has already concluded there is such branch. The Advocate General here is perhaps unusually deferential to the factual finding. Whether there is a sufficient nexus between the activities of the branch and the dispute, in the case of tort-based claims requires the branch participate in at least some of the actions constituting the tort (at 137). Offering the fixed prices or otherwise having been instrumental in concluding contracts for services at those prices suffices. In such cases, the branch has again participated in the commission of an act that constitutes a necessary precondition for the abuse (at 142).

A lengthy opinion. And it all started with the fairly straightforward facts of Bier…

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law), 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

 

 

 

 

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Siemens: Debt arising from the unjustified repayment (by the authorities) of a fine for infringement of competition law excluded from Brussels I.

The Court held in C-102/15 Siemens just before mine and their summer break. It had escaped my attention. At issue was whether debt arising from the unjustified repayment of a fine for infringement of competition law falls within the scope of application of the Brussels I Recast. It does not. The Court distinguished flyLAL: while private actions brought to ensure compliance with competition law fall within the scope of the Regulation, a penalty imposed by an administrative authority in the exercise of the regulatory powers conferred upon it under national legislation comes within the concept of ‘administrative matters’, excluded from the scope of Regulation No 44/2001 in accordance with Article 1(1) thereof.(at 35).

An action in unjust enrichment related to the interest due, following to and fro, imposition and rescinding, ending finally in confirmation of the fine, is intimately bound up with that fine and therefore follows it in the exclusion.

A judgment of note for those who wish to keep complete overview.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.2 ff.

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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.

Geert.

 

 

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