Posts Tagged Hof van Justitie
Tronex. Determining ‘waste’ in reverse logistics chains. CJEU supports holders’ duty of inspection, rules out consumer return under product guarantee as ‘discarding’.
I reviewed Kokott AG’s Opinion in C-624/17 OM v Tronex here. The Court yesterday essentially confirmed her Opinion – readers may want to have a quick read of my previous posting to get an idea of the issues.
The Court distinguishes between two main categories. First, redundant articles in the product range of the retailer, wholesaler or importer that were still in their unopened original packaging. The Court at 32: ‘it may be considered that those are new products that were presumably in working condition. Such electrical equipment can be considered to be market products amenable to normal trade and which, in principle, do not represent a burden for their holder.’ However (at 33) that does not mean that these can never be considered to be ‘discarded’: the final test of same needs to be done by the national court.
The second category are electrical appliances returned under the product guarantee. At 43: goods that have undergone a return transaction carried out in accordance with a contractual term and in return for the reimbursement of the purchase price cannot be regarded as having been discarded. Where a consumer effects such a return of non-compliant goods with a view to obtaining a reimbursement of them under the guarantee associated with the sale contract of those goods, that consumer cannot be regarded as having wished to carry out a disposal or recovery operation of goods he had been intending to ‘discard’ within the meaning of the Waste Framework Directive. Moreover per C-241/12 and C-242/12 Shell, the risk that the consumer will discard those goods in a way likely to harm the environment is low.
However such a return operation under the product guarantee does not provide certainty that the electrical appliances concerned will be reused. At 35: ‘It will therefore be necessary to verify, for the purposes of determining the risk of the holder discarding them in a way likely to harm the environment, whether the electrical appliances returned under the product guarantee, where they show defects, can still be sold without being repaired to be used for their original purpose and whether it is certain that they will be reused.’
At 36: if there is no certainty that the holder will actually have it repaired, it has to be considered a waste. At 40 ff: In order to prove that malfunctioning appliances do not constitute waste, it is therefore for the holder of the products in question to demonstrate not only that they can be reused, but that their reuse is certain, and to ensure that the prior inspections or repairs necessary to that end have been done.
The Court ends at 42 with the clear imposition of a triple duty on the holder (who is not a consumer, per above): a duty of inspection, and, where applicable, a duty of repair and of packaging.
(Handbook of) EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, Oxford, OUP, Chapter 1, 1.149 ff.
Tronex. Circular economy, reverse logistics qualifying as wastes return to the CJEU. Kokott AG suggests a duty of prompt inspection.
Kokott AG Opined in C-624/17 OM v Tronex end of February (I had flagged the case summarily earlier): whether consumer returns of electrical appliances some of which are no longer usable because defective, and residual stock are to be regarded as waste that may be exported only in accordance with the Waste Shipment Regulation. – Reminiscent of the issues in Shell: in that case in a B2B context.
Tronex’ export consignment that was stopped, consisted of appliances which had been returned by consumers under a product guarantee, on the one hand, and goods which, because of a change to the product range, for example, were or could no longer be sold (normally), on the other. A number of the boxes in which the appliances were packaged carried a notice stating their defects. The glass in some of the glass kettles was damaged. The shipment was to take place without notification or consent in accordance with the Waste Shipment Regulation.
The AG takes a sensible approach which distinguishes between consumer and collector. At 31 ff: The mere fact that objects have been collected for the purpose of reuse does not in itself necessarily support the assumption that they have been discarded. Indeed, it seems sensible, both economically and from the point of view of the efficient use of resources, to make appliances which can no longer be sold on the market for which they were originally intended available on other markets where they may still sell. Particularly in the case of residual stock which is still in its unopened original packaging, therefore, the request for a preliminary reference contains insufficient evidence to support the conclusion that there has been any discarding.
Returned appliances which, on account of serious defects, are no longer usable and can no longer be repaired at reasonable cost, on the other hand, must unquestionably be regarded as waste. Kokott AG suggests waste classification as the default position. At 39: in so far as there are doubts as to the reuse of the goods or substance in question being not a mere possibility but a certainty, without the necessity of using any of the waste recovery processes referred to in the Waste Directive prior to reuse, only the possibility of ‘prompt’ dispelling of the doubt by an inspection of the appliances, can shift the presumption of it being waste.
‘Repair’ is what the AG proposes as the distinctive criterion: at 40: if the inspection shows that the item is still capable of functional use, its status as waste is precluded. The same is true of goods with minor defects which limit functionality only negligibly, meaning that these goods can still be sold without repair, in some cases at a reduced price. At 41: ‘In so far as the inspection identifies defects which need to be repaired before the product is capable of functional use, however, that product constitutes waste, since there is no certainty that the retailer will actually carry out the repair. Whether the repair is less or more expensive cannot be decisive in this regard, since a product that does not work constitutes a burden and its intended use is in doubt.’ The same goes for goods (other than those in the original packaging, per above) which have not been inspected at all.
At 45 ff the AG supports this conclusion with reference to instruction in Annexes to the WEEE Directive. She also suggests that her interpretation, given the criminal law implications, be limited to those instances occurring after the eventual CJEU judgment.
(Handbook of) EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, Oxford, OUP, Chapter 1, 1.149 ff.
I have review of Shell at the CJEU here, and final judgment in Rotterdam here. Next Thursday the hearing takes places in C-624/17 Tronex which echoes many of the issues in Shell. When, if at all, is the definition of waste triggered in a reverse logistics chain: with a focus on the relationships between the various professional parties in the chain (that the consumer is not handling waste when returning a product in these circumstances is now fairly established).
Questions referred are below.
Handbook of EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, OUP, 1.166 ff and 1.189 ff.
1. (a) Is a retailer which sends back an object returned by a consumer, or an object in its product range that has become redundant, to its supplier (namely the importer, wholesaler, distributor, producer or anyone else from whom it has obtained the object) pursuant to the agreement between the retailer and its supplier to be regarded as a holder which discards the object, within the meaning of Article 3.1 of the Framework Directive? 1
(b) Would the answer to Question 1.(1) be different if the object is one which has an easily repairable fault or defect?
(c) Would the answer to Question 1.(1) be different if the object is one which has a fault or defect of such extent or severity that it is, as a result, no longer suitable or usable for its original purpose?
2. (a) Is a retailer or supplier which sells on an object returned by a consumer, or an object in its product range which has become redundant, to a buyer (of residual consignments) to be regarded as a holder which discards the object, within the meaning of Article 3.1 of the Framework Directive?
(b) Is the answer to Question 2.(1) affected by the amount of the purchase price to be paid by the buyer to the retailer or supplier?
(c) Would the answer to Question 2.(1) be different if the object is one which has an easily repairable fault or defect?
(d) Would the answer to Question 2.(1) be different if the object is one which has a fault or defect of such extent or severity that it is, as a result, no longer suitable or usable for its original purpose?
3. (a) Is the buyer which sells on to a (foreign) third party a large consignment of goods bought from retailers and suppliers and returned by consumers, and/or goods that have become redundant, to be regarded as a holder which discards a consignment of goods, within the meaning of Article 3.1 of the Framework Directive?
(b) Is the answer to Question 3.(1) affected by the amount of the purchase price to be paid by the third party to the buyer?
(c) Would the answer to Question 3.(1) be different if the consignment of goods also contains some goods which have an easily repairable fault or defect?
(d) Would the answer to Question 3.(1) be different if the consignment of goods also contains some goods which have a fault or defect of such extent or severity that the object in question is no longer, as a result, suitable or usable for its original purpose?
(e) Is the answer to Questions 3.(3) or 3.(4) affected by the percentage of the whole consignment of the goods sold on to the third party that is made up of defective goods? If so, what percentage is the tipping point?
The ECJ this morning held in Case C-241/12 and C-242/12 Shell Nederland Verkoopmaatschappij NV and Belgian Shell. The judgment was not yet uploaded unto the ECJ website however it should be soon (and presumably also in English). I reported earlier on the AG’s Opinion which was not very favourable. There is much more hope in today’s judgment.
Most important to me is the finding by the Court (at 46) that in order to determine whether client who received the off-spec product, discards it, particular attention needs to be paid to the fact that the (Belgian) client returned the off-specification fuel with a view to obtaining repayment in accordance with the sales agreement. As I discuss in my posting on the Opinion, the Advocate General generally and unjustifiably dismissed the relevance of the contractual context.
The Court also emphasises that Shell at any rate cannot have been considered to have discarded the product before it was discovered that the product was off-spec (as a result of contamination). The ECJ instructed the Court at Rotterdam to discover Shell’s true intention, taking into account in particular the possibility to sell the off-spec product to another buyer in its off-spec state; the fact that no waste operations (disposal or recovery) such as outlined in the Waste Framework Directive had to be carried out; that the market value of the off-spec product sold corresponds almost one to one to the value of the on-spec product; and Shell’s acceptance of the product with a view to blending so as to re-market it. This latter point is important: blending is not seen by the Court as a waste recovery operation.
Back to Rotterdam therefore without a definitive answer however with another piece in the waste definition jigsaw laid (in particular: the contractual context). Very very important judgment.
Court Judgment in Solvay: Roche distinguished, jurisdiction for provisional measures upheld in spite of Article 22(4) JR.
Solvay, case C-616/10 [I reported on the AG’s Opinion here; readers may want to have a quick look at that post before or after reading on], was decided by the Court on Thursday, 12 July. AG and Court revisited a number of old chestnuts in the application of the Brussels I Regulation (the Jurisdiction Regulation or ‘JR’): the exclusive ground of jurisdiction with respect to intellectual property rights, of Article 22(4); multipartite litigation in Article 6 JR; and finally provisional measures, referred to in Article 31.
Solvay accuses Honeywell Flourine Products Europe BV and Honeywell Europe NV of performing the reserved actions in the whole of Europe and Honeywell Belgium NV of performing the reserved actions in Northern and Central Europe. In the course of its action for infringement, on 9 December 2009 Solvay also lodged an interim claim against the Honeywell companies, seeking provisional relief in the form of a cross-border prohibition against infringement until a decision had been made in the main proceedings. In the interim proceedings, the Honeywell companies raised the defence of invalidity of the national parts of the patent concerned without, however, having brought or even declared their intention of bringing proceedings for the annulment of the national parts of that patent, and without contesting the competence of the Dutch court to hear both the main proceedings and the interim proceedings.
On the applicability of Artice 6 (multipartite litigation), the Court agrees with the AG that Roche still holds: the same situation of law cannot be inferred where infringement proceedings are brought before a number of courts in different Member States in respect of a European patent granted in each of those States and those actions are brought against defendants domiciled in those States in respect of acts allegedly committed in their territory. A European patent continues to be governed, per the Munich Convention, by the national law of each of the Contracting States for which it has been granted.
However in the specific circumstances of a case, Roche may be distinguished: whether there is a risk of irreconcilable judgments if those claims were determined separately, is for the national court to determine. The Court of Justice instructs the national court to take into account, inter alia, the dual fact that, first, the defendants in the main proceeding are each separately accused of committing the same infringements with respect to the same products and, secondly, such infringements were committed in the same Member States, so that they adversely affect the same national parts of the European patent at issue.
On the application of Article 22(4), the Court emphasises the very different and unconnected nature of Article 22 and Article 31. They are part of different titles of the Regulation, etc. However, on the other hand, the application of one part of the Regulation may of course have an impact on the remainder, hence one cannot simply apply different parts of the Regulation in splendid isolation.
The COJ notes that according to the referring court, the court before which the interim proceedings have been brought does not make a final decision on the validity of the patent invoked but makes an assessment as to how the court having jurisdiction under Article 22(4) of the Regulation would rule in that regard, and will refuse to adopt the provisional measure sought if it considers that there is a reasonable, non-negligible possibility that the patent invoked would be declared invalid by the competent court. Hence there is no risk of conflicting decisions: the interim proceedings have been brought will not in any way prejudice the decision to be taken on the substance by the court having jurisdiction under Article 22(4) .
‘…does not make a final decision’: this effectively means that the Court simply states that as long as the main condition of Article 31 is met [measures covered by Article 31 need to be ‘provisional’; see also Case C-261/90 Reichert], Article 22(4) does not interfere with a court’s jurisdiction under Article 31.