Posts Tagged Fraud

MB v TB. When is a court ‘seized’ under EU civil procedure /private international law?

When is a court ‘seized’ under EU civil procedure /private international law? The question is highly relevant in light of the application of the lis alibi pendens principle: the court seized second in principle has to cede to the court seized first. Williams J in [2018] EWHC 2035 (Fam) MB v TB notes the limited attempt at harmonisation under EU law and hence the need for the lex fori to complete the procedural jigsaw.

On 8 July 2016 MB (the wife) issued a divorce petition seeking a divorce from TB (the husband). On 16 August 2016 the husband issued a divorce petition against the wife out of the Munich Family Court. On the 22 August 2016 the husband filed an acknowledgement of service to the wife’s petition asserting that the German court was first seized because it was ‘not accepted England is first seized, owing to failures to comply with art. 16 and 19 of Council Regulation (EC 2201/2003) and relevant articles of the EC Service Regulation (EC 1393/2007).

At issue were two considerations: whether seizure of the English courts had been effected; and whether the wife’s issuing of the petition on 8 July 2016 is an abuse of process on the basis that the wife did not at that time consider the marriage to have irretrievably broken down but was issuing a petition simply to secure the English jurisdiction in the event that a divorce was needed? This latter element amounts to disciplining a form of fraus, on which I have reported before – eg here that there is very little EU law.

In Regulation ‘Brussels IIa’ (2201/2003) – concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, as in the other Regulations, ‘seising of a Court’ is defined as:

  1. A court shall be deemed to be seised: 

(a) at the time when the document instituting the proceedings or an equivalent document is lodged with the court, provided that the applicant has not subsequently failed to take the steps he was required to take to have service effected on the respondent;

or

(b) if the document has to be served before being lodged with the court, at the time when it is received by the authority responsible for service, provided that the applicant has not subsequently failed to take the steps he was required to take to have the document lodged with the court.

These ‘steps required’ are not further defined under EU law and hence rest with national law. Under relevant English law, Williams J held that the husband was aware of the wife’s petition before it was validly served on him, and that this was enough for the English courts to have been validly seized.

Geert.

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The Aldi principle applied in BVI.

I reported earlier on the Aldi abuse of process principle: a party who intends to bring a subsequent action against existing parties or their privies must raise the issue with the court, which on case-management grounds may hold that all claims must be brought simultaneously.

In 2016 BVIHC 0059 (COM) Serena Chi Yang Hsueh et al v Equity Trustee ltd. et al Chivers J has now held that the principle applies in the British Virgin Islands. Harneys have the report here, and a big thank you to Kimberley Crabbe-Adams and Ian Mann for providing me with copy. Telling, at 94 is Chivers J’s conclusion (following review of authority) that while the specific Aldi requirement may not as such have been promulgated in BVI, there can be no doubt of the obligation of a litigant to put all their cards on the table, before the other party and the court, at an early stage. The CPR demand so, specifically as their overall objective (at 90, referring to CPR 1.1(1) is to deal with cases ‘justly’.

I have pondered before whether there ought not to be an Aldi rule in EU conflicts law, however one can see the difficulty particularly as in the EU context an Aldi principle might favour the actor sequitur forum rei rule to the detriment of special jurisdictional rules: not an outcome supported by the current rules.

Geert.

 

 

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Altun: Fraud and social dumping. The CJEU emphasises the double sides of the mutual trust coin.

Postscript 19 July 2018 in C-356/15 EC v Belgium, the Court runs through its Altun judgment, confirming the possibility of rejection of ‘A1 certificates’, however emphasising the ad hoc nature and the need to respect the procedures running via the European Commission.

When I reported on Saugmandsgaard ØE’s Opinion in C-359/16 Altun, I emphasised the issue of mutual trust. I noted that the AG effectively flipped the coin: sincere co-operation requires sincerity on both sides (my words, not the AG’s). The AG had recalled the Halifax case-law of the CJEU: EU law cannot be relied on for abusive or fraudulent ends and that national courts may, case by case, take account — on the basis of objective evidence — of abuse or fraudulent conduct on the part of the persons concerned in order, where appropriate, to deny them the benefit of the provisions of EU law, in the light of the objectives pursued by the provisions of EU law concerned. In November 2017 the CJEU confirmed in C-251/16 Cussens that this principle has direct effect and is directly applicable: it is a general principle of EU law which does not require a national measure transposing it.

In the case at issue, the facts point to non-fulfillment of one of the substantive criteria for the E101 certificate to be issued, namely that only an undertaking which habitually carries on significant activities in the Member State in which it is established may be issued an E101 of that State.

The Court today has confirmed the AG’s view (only the Dutch and French version were available at the time of writing). Mutual trust implies responsibilities on both sides. Upon receiving indications of fraud, the Member State of origin is duty-bound to investigate diligently and either confirm or refute the suspicions. (In the event of continuing divergence, there is an appeals procedure within the relevant secondary law, and if need be the possibility for the host State to pursue infringement proceedings with the home State). Like its AG, the Court emphasises that the fraud must be established in the context of adversarial proceedings with legal guarantees for the persons concerned and in compliance with their fundamental rights, in particular the right to an effective remedy enshrined.

This remains relevant even after the planned changes to the posted workers Directive. In the future system, too, Member States will issue certificates, feed data into the newly created register etc.

Geert.

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Looking for PhD topic in civil procedure? How about procedural estoppel.

And I would be very happy to supervise. Thank you Nicolas Contis for flagging  Stockholm National Museum v X at the French Supreme Court /Cour de Cassation. Nul ne peut se contredire au détriment d’autrui: aka (here: procedural) estoppel. (The newly out Encyclopedia of Private international law, edited by Basedow, Ruhl, Ferrari and de Miguel Asensio, has a very good entry on it, discussing both public and private international law).

On the eve of a hearing on the ownership of an ancient artefact, a cup, defendants changed their stance and argued that the cup had belonged to their mother, for whom they were acting as representatives only. Previously, they had always presented themselves as owners. They suggested therefore that the suit was misdirected, hoping to sink it. The Court of Appeal dismissed the defendants’ motion on account of procedural estoppel. The Supreme Court disagreed: its stance means, as Nicolas summarises, that ‘to face the procedural penalty of dismissal, not only must the change of stance happen throughout the judicial proceedings (ie, notably, that a contradiction including a repeated allegation made before the launching of a suit could not pass the estoppel test), but the party at fault must also have changed its ‘pretentions’ – that is, its legal claims (meaning that changing the factual allegations presented to the courts could not pass the test either)’.

I do not see entirely clear in French civil procedure law but as I saw the case reported, the thought struck me: this would be a good topic for a PhD: a comparative study in procedural estoppel, specifically in a private international law context (especially if one were also to throw a comparison with arbitration in the mix).

Happy to discuss. Geert.

 

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Saugmandsgaard ØE in Altun: Detection of fraud /fighting social dumping trumps mutual trust.

Update 15 January 2018: Judgment on 6 February.

Saugmandsgaard ØE’s would seem fast to become the CJEU’s Advocate General of choice in matters of social dumping – witness the recent Ryanair litigation. In C-359/16 Altun, at issue is the binding nature of the E101 certificate. This certifies that a worker moving within the EU is covered by the social security scheme of the Member State (‘MS’) to which the issuing institution belongs. Standing case-law is that the host MS is not entitled to scrutinise the validity of an E101 certificate in the light of the background against which it was issued: this is the result of the mutual trust built into the relevant secondary law.

In current case the Belgian Supreme Court queries whether that case-law applies where a court of the host MS finds that an E101 certificate was obtained or invoked fraudulently.

The AG summarises the relevant investigation at 10: ‘The Sociale Inspectie (Social Inspectorate, Belgium) conducted an investigation into the employment of the staff at Absa NV, an undertaking governed by Belgian law active in the construction sector in Belgium. That investigation established that from 2008 Absa had practically no staff in its employ and outsourced all manual labour to Bulgarian undertakings under subcontracting agreements. Those Bulgarian undertakings had no activities to speak of in Bulgaria and posted workers to work under subcontracting agreements in Belgium for Absa, partly with the involvement and cooperation of other Belgian companies. The employment of the workers concerned was not notified to the Belgian institution responsible for the collection of social security contributions, as they held E 101 certificates issued by the competent Bulgarian authority, certifying that they were covered by the Bulgarian social security system.’

What follows is essentially the Belgian authorities alleging that their Bulgarian counterparts, having been asked to withdraw the certificates, only answered halfheartedly if at all. The Court of Appeal found that the certificates had been obtained by fraud.

Saugmandsgaard ØE emphasises that the EU social security rules at issue effectively establish a private international law system for social security. They assign authorities competent to issue certificates; they designate the social security law applicable. The principle of mutual trust /sincere co-operation, laid down in Article 4(3) TEU, ensures that authorities in the host MS respect the certificates issued in the home MS. However, the AG then effectively flips the coin: sincere co-operation requires sincerity on both sides (my words, not the AG’s).

The AG recalls the Halifax case-law of the CJEU: EU law cannot be relied on for abusive or fraudulent ends and that national courts may, case by case, take account — on the basis of objective evidence — of abuse or fraudulent conduct on the part of the persons concerned in order, where appropriate, to deny them the benefit of the provisions of EU law, in the light of the objectives pursued by the provisions of EU law concerned. [Postscript 22 November 2017: The CJEU confirmed today in C-251/16 Cussens that this principle has direct effect and is directly applicable: it is a general principle of EU law which does not require a national measure transposing it).

The AG does not just refer to case-law on the very secondary law at issue. He opens up the debate to the wider implications of social dumping and regulatory competition:

At 46: ‘socio-economic considerations likewise support priority being given to the combating of fraud in such a situation. In the context of the system of conflict of laws established by … Regulation No 1408/71, fraud linked to the issue of E 101 certificates represents a threat to the coherence of the Member States’ social security schemes. In that regard, I consider that Member States have a legitimate interest in taking appropriate steps to protect their financial interests and to ensure the financial balance of their social security systems. In addition, the use of E 101 certificates obtained or invoked fraudulently is, in my view, a form of unfair competition and calls into question the equality of working conditions on national labour markets.‘ (footnotes omitted)

At 49, the AG suggest a finding of fraud requires the satisfaction of an objective criterion and of a subjective criterion. The objective criterion consists in the fact that the conditions for obtaining the advantage sought are not in fact satisfied. At 51, the subjective factor:  it is to be established that the persons concerned had the intention of concealing the fact that the conditions for the issue of the E 101 certificate were not in fact met, in order to obtain the advantage stemming from that certificate. Proof of the existence of such fraudulent intent may consist in an intentional act, in particular an inaccurate presentation of the true situation of the posted worker or of the undertaking posting that worker, or in an intentional omission, such as the non-disclosure of relevant information.

(In the case at issue, the facts point to non-fulfillment of one of the substantive criteria for the E101 to be issued, namely that only an undertaking which habitually carries on significant activities in the Member State in which it is established may be issued an E101 of that State).

The fraud must be established in the context of adversarial proceedings with legal guarantees for the persons concerned and in compliance with their fundamental rights, in particular the right to an effective remedy enshrined (at 52).

If the AG’s Opinion is followed, and taking into account Commissioner Thyssen’s recent progress on the reform of the relevant laws, the social dumping window is closing yet a bit more.

Geert.

 

 

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Don’t leave the store without asking. Joinders, and the Aldi principle applied in Otkritie. On the shopping list for the EU?

Postscript 21 November 2017: For an application in Hong Kong see Far Wealth Ltd v Lo Ki Mou, reported here:  proceedings dismissed as an abuse of process because the plaintiffs could have protected their position by way of a counterclaim in prior proceedings commenced against them by the defendants.

A posting out off the box here, so bear with me. Neither Brussels I nor the Recast include many requirements with respect to (now) Article 8(1)’s rule on joinders. A case against a defendant, not domiciled in the court’s jurisdiction, may be joined with that against a defendant who is so domiciled, if the cases are ‘so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together in order to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments’. There is of course CJEU case-law on what ‘so closely connected’ means however that is outside the remit of current posting.

As I reported recently, the CJEU has introduced a limited window of abuse of  process viz Article 8(1), in CDC. The Court’s overall approach to Article 8(1) is not to take into account the subjective intentions of plaintiff, who often identify a suitable anchor defendant even if is not the intended target of their action. The Court does make exception for one particular occasion, namely if it is found that, at the time the proceedings were instituted, the applicant and that defendant had colluded to artificially fulfil, or prolong the fulfilment of, (now) Article 8’s applicability.

What if at the time the proceedings were instituted, applicant artificially ignores the fulfilment of, (now) Article 8’s applicability?

The Aldi rule of the courts of England and Wales, and its recent application in Otkritie, made me ponder whether there is merit in suggesting that the CJEU should interpret Article 8(1) to include an obligation, rather than a mere possibility, to join closely connected cases. I haven’t gotten much further than pondering, for there are undoubtedly important complications.

First, a quick look at the Aldi rule, in which the Court of Appeal considered application of the Johnson v Gore Wood principles on abuse of process of the (then) House of Lords, to an attempt to strike out a claim for abuse of process on the basis that the claim could and should have been brought in previous litigation. Aldi concerned complex commercial litigation, as does Otkritie. The result of Aldi is that plaintiffs need to consult with the court in case management, to ensure that related claims are brough in one go. Evidently, the courts need to walk a fine rope for the starting point must be that plaintiffs have wide discretion in deciding where and when to bring a claim: that would seem inherent in Article 6 ECHR’s right to a fair trial.

In Otkritie [the case nota bene does not involve the Brussels Regulation], Knowles J strikes the right balance in holding that the Aldi requirement of discussing with the court had been breached (and would have cost implications for Otkritie in current proceedings) but that otherwise this breach did not amount to abuse of process.

Now, transporting this to the EU level: to what degree could /should Article 8 include a duty to join closely related proceedings? Should such duty be imposed only on plaintiff or also on the court, proprio motu? A crazy thought perhaps for the time being, but certainly worthwhile pondering for future conflicts entertainment.

Geert.

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van Buggenhout /van de Mierop: ECJ disagrees with its AG re protection of debtors

Postscript 18/12/2014: the Tribunal de Commerce held on 8 December 2014: in view of applicable Belgian law, and despite the Bank’s efforts to distinguish the ECJ’s ruling, the sum was awarded to the liquidators. Appeal may follow.

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I reported earlier on the AG’s Opinion in C-251/12, van Buggenhout /van de Mierop.  The ECJ yesterday disagreed: the AG had opined on the basis of teleological and linguistic analysis. The Court does so, too, however reaches a different conclusion, in particular on the basis of a narrow reading of ‘to the benefit of’ or ‘in favour of’ the debtor:

The Court refers amongst others (and in deciding fashion so it would seem (see para 30 of the judgment)) to Article 24(1)’s provision that the obligation honoured for the benefit of the insolvent debtor ‘should have been for the benefit of the liquidator‘. I am not so sure that ‘should have been’ applies in a case such as in the main proceedings where the whole point is that the third party paid a debt in favour of the debtor, subject to insolvency, bona fide not being aware of said insolvency.  ‘Should have been made’ may be so in the eyes of the liquidators, but not in the eyes of the unaware third party.

The ECJ does conclude ‘However, the fact that Article 24(1) of Regulation No 1346/2000 is not applicable to a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings does not, in itself, give rise to the obligation for the bank concerned to reimburse the disputed sum to the general body of creditors. The issue regarding any liability of that bank is governed by the applicable national law.’ In other words, the liquidators are not home and dry yet. (Update 18 December 2014: see however postscript).

Geert.

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