Posts Tagged forum prorogati

Happy Flights v Ryanair. Belgian Supreme Court (only) confirms proper lex causae for validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia.

Thank you alumna and appreciated co-author Jutta Gangsted for flagging Charles Price’s (former learned colleague of mine at Dibb Lupton Alsop) and Sébastien Popijn’s alert on the Belgian Supreme Court’s ruling of 8 February last in C.18.0354.N Happy Flights v Ryanair. Happy Flights are a Belgium-based online claim agency to which disgruntled passengers may assign claims for compensation under Regulation 261/2004.

At issue is the validity of Ryanair’s choice of court in its general terms and conditions, referring consumers to Irish courts. The Brussels Commercial court on 30 May 2018 seemingly first of all did not assess whether the agency may be considered a ‘consumer’ within the terms of Irish consumer protection law (itself an implementation of Directive 93/13), having been assigned the consumers’ claims. The May 2018 decision itself is unreported <enters his usual rant about the lack of proper reporting of Belgian case-law>.

The Supreme Court (at 2, line 47) notes this lack of assessment by the lower court. It does not however complete the analysis sticking religiously to its role to interpret the law only, not the facts. Per CJEU Schrems mutatis mutandis I would suggest an affirmative answer (the agency having been assigned the consumers’ rights).

Do note that the use of the word ‘consumer’ in this context must not confuse: the consumer title of Brussels Ia itself does not apply unless the contract is one of combined travel and accommodation (or other services); the Regulation excludes contracts for travel only, from the scope of application of the consumer title.

The Brussels Commercial court subsequently and again from what one can infer from the Supreme Court’s ruling, discussed the validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia, reviewing its formal conditions (formation of consent) yet judging the material validity under the lex fori, Belgian law, not the lex fori prorogati, Irish law. This is a clear violation of A25 juncto recital 20 Brussels Ia. The Supreme Court suggests that the relevant Irish implementation of the unfair consumer terms Directive 93/13 does imply invalidity of the clause (again: if the claim is held to fall under the consumer title, this analysis will become superfluous).

Note that the SC omits recital 20’s renvoi instruction, keeping entirely schtum about it: clearly misapplying the Regulation.

The Court’s judgment unlike the understandably enthusiastic briefing by Happy Flight’s counsel does not quite yet mean that Ryanair’s terms and conditions on this issue have been invalidated. However it is likely they will be upon further assessment on the merits – with hopefully the Court of Appeal not omitting Brussels Ia’s renvoi instruction. As I note above first up there will be the issue of assignment rather than the issue of A25.

For your interest, I gave a Twitter tutorial on a related issue (consumer law, lex causae, compulsory referral to arbitration) recently.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.

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Kaefer Aislamientos v AMS Drilling et al. Article 25’s new clothes exposed.

[2019] EWCA Civ 10 Kaefer Aislamientos v AMS Drilling et al is a good illustration of the difficulty of privity of contract (here: privity of choice of court), and the limits to the harmonisation of the rules on choice of court under Article 25 Brussels I Recast.

Herbert Smith Freehills have analysis of the wider issues of the case (over and above Article 25) here. The appeal considers among others the approach that courts should adopt when, as will usually be the case at the interim stage when a jurisdiction challenge is launched, the evidence before the Court is incomplete. Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco as well as Brownlie were referenced.

Appellant contends that the Court has jurisdiction to determine the claim against defendants AT1 and Ezion under Article 25 Brussels I Recast. It is said that the relevant contract contains an English exclusive jurisdiction clause and the relevant contract was concluded by AMS Mexico and/or AMS on behalf of AT1 and/or Ezion as undisclosed principals and, it follows, the contract, including its jurisdiction agreement, bound AT1 and Ezion.

At 81 Lord Green refers to the Privy Council in Bols [2006] UKPC 45 which itself had referred to Colzani and Coreck Maritime (staple precedent at the CJEU; students of conflict of laws: time to worry if you read this around exam time and haven’t a clue). In Bols Lord Rodgers leading, held that CJEU precedent imposed on the court the duty of examining “whether the clause conferring jurisdiction upon it was in fact the subject of a consensus between the parties” and this had to be “clearly and precisely demonstrated“. The purpose of the provisions was, it was said, to ensure that the “consensus” between the parties was “in fact” established.

Lord Green (this is not part of the decision in Bols) adds that the Court of Justice has however recognised that the manner of this proof is essentially an issue for the national laws of the Member States, subject to an overriding duty to ensure that those laws are consistent with the aims and objectives of the Regulation. He does not cite CJEU precedent in support – but he is right: Article 25 contains essential, yet precious little bite in determining just how to establish such consensus. Prima facie complete, it leaves a vault of issues to be determined, starting with the element of ‘proof’ of consensus.

Of interest is that before deciding the issue, Lord Green notes at 85 Abela v Baardani [2013] UKSC 44 (“Abela“) at paragraphs [44] and [53] per Lord Clarke and Lord Sumption, that to view permission to service out of jurisdiction as more often than not exorbitant, is unrealistic in the modern era: routinely where service out is authorised the defendant will have submitted contractually to the jurisdiction of the domestic courts (or there would be an argument to that effect) and in any event litigation between residents of different states is a normal incident of modern global business. As such the decision to permit service out is, today, more generally viewed as a pragmatic decision predicated upon the efficiency of the conduct of litigation.

It was eventually held that the evidence pointed against AT1 and Exion being undisclosed principals and that therefore the Court of Appeal was right in rejecting jurisdiction.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.

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