Posts Tagged Jurisdiction
The CJEU’s locus damni determination in Volkswagen dismisses a US style minimum contacts rule. Like the passat, it risks picking up suits and landing them almost anywhere.
Update 10 July 2020 a few hours after posting: I revisited the pending, distinct reference by the Austrian Supreme Court (see Rouzbeh Moradi’s flag here) on type approval issues (which the High Court has actually dealt with as acte clair in  EWHC 783 (QB), referred to here). I was hoping there might be scope in those questions for the CJEU to fill in the blanks signalled below. I fear there is not.
I earlier reviewed Sánchez-Bordona AG’ opinion in C‑343/19 Verein für Konsumenteninformation v Volkswagen. I noted then that despite attempts at seeing system in the Opinion, the ever unclearer distinction between direct and indirect aka ‘ricochet’ damage under Article 7(2) Brussels Ia is a Valhalla for reverse engineering.
The AG did not suggest a wild west of connecting factors for indirect damage (please refer to my full post for overview), instead suggesting a Universal Music style requirement of extra factors (over and above the location of damage) to establish jurisdiction. In particular he put forward a minimum contacts rule such as in US conflict of laws: at 75: ‘the defendant’s intention to sell its vehicles in the Member State whose jurisdiction is in issue (and, as far as possible, in certain districts within that State).’
The CJEU’s judgment yesterday was received as giving ‘consumers’ the right to sue Volkswagen in their state of domicile. This however is not quite correct. Firstly, the parties at issue are not ‘consumers’ at least within the meaning of European conflicts law: the suit is one in tort, not contract, let alone one that concerns a consumer contract. Further, the AG was clear and the CJEU arguably held along the same lines, that it is only if the car was purchased by a downstream (third party) buyer and the Volkswagen Dieselgate story broke after that purchase, that the damage may be considered to only then have come into existence, thus creating jurisdiction. See the CJEU at 29 ff:
29. That said, in the main proceedings, it is apparent from the documents before the Court, subject to the assessment of the facts which it is for the referring court to make, that the damage alleged by the VKI takes the form of a loss in value of the vehicles in question stemming from the difference between the price paid by the purchaser for such a vehicle and its actual value owing to the installation of software that manipulates data relating to exhaust gas emissions.
30 Consequently, while those vehicles became defective as soon as that software had been installed, the view must be taken that the damage asserted occurred only when those vehicles were purchased, as they were acquired for a price higher than their actual value.
31 Such damage, which did not exist before the purchase of the vehicle by the final purchaser who considers himself adversely affected, constitutes initial damage within the meaning of the case-law recalled in paragraph 26 of the present judgment, and not an indirect consequence of the harm initially suffered by other persons within the meaning of the case-law cited in paragraph 27 of the present judgment.
That ‘case-law cited’ is the classic lines of cases on locus damni per A7(2) BIa, with Trans Tibor as its latest expression.
The CJEU does not qualify the damage as purely financial: at 33, citing the EC’s court opinion: ‘the fact that the claim for damages is expressed in euros does not mean that the damage is purely financial.’: the car, a tangible asset, actually suffers a defect, over and above the impact on its value as an asset. That is a statement which cuts many a corner and which has relevance beyond the EU regime for all ‘money judgments’ (think of e.g. the Hague Judgments Convention). Update 10 July 2020 after initial posting: thank you Gordon Nardell QC for pointing out that the CJEU view here is at odds with the English conflicts rules (and with many other, I reckon) on characterisation of loss as pecuniary.
Predictability, which is firmly part of the Brussels Ia Regulation’s DNA, the Court holds, is secured seeing as a car manufacturer which ‘engages in unlawful tampering with vehicles sold in other Member States may reasonably expect to be sued in the courts of those States (at 36).
Finally, the Court throws consistency with Rome II in the mix, by holding at 39
Lastly, that interpretation satisfies the requirement of consistency laid down in recital 7 of the Rome II Regulation, in so far as, in accordance with Article 6(1) thereof, the place where the damage occurs in a case involving an act of unfair competition is the place where ‘competitive relations or the collective interests of consumers are, or are likely to be, affected’. An act, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which, by being likely to affect the collective interests of consumers as a group, constitutes an act of unfair competition (judgment of 28 July 2016, Verein für Konsumenteninformation, C‑191/15, EU:C:2016:612, paragraph 42), may affect those interests in any Member State within the territory of which the defective product is purchased by consumers. Thus, under the Rome II Regulation, the place where the damage occurs is the place in which such a product is purchased (see, by analogy, judgment of 29 July 2019, Tibor-Trans, C‑451/18, EU:C:2019:635, paragraph 35).
The extent to which A6 Rome II applies to acts of unfair competition being litigated by ‘consumers’ (in the non-technical sense of the word), is however not quite clear and in my view certainly not settled by this para in the Court’s judgment.
Finally, on locus delicti commissi as I noted at the time, the AG had not in my view given a complete analysis. The CJEU is silent on it.
Not many will feel much sympathy for Volkswagen facing cluster litigation across the EU given its intention to cheat. However the rejection of a minimum contacts approach under A7(2) will have implications reaching small corporations, too. The Volkswagen ruling has many loose ends and will need distinguishing, with intention to defraud the consumer arguably a relevant criterion for distinction given the Court’s finding in para 36.
It is to be feared that many national judges will fail to see the need for distinguishing, adding to the ever expanding ripple effect of locus damni following the Court’s epic Bier judgment.
Ps reference to the Passat in the title is of course to the VW Passat, named after the Germanic name for one of the Trade winds.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199.7
Szpunar AG in Ellmes Property Services. Again, on rights in rem and, more challenging, on forum contractus and the spirit of CJEU De Bloos.
Acte clair is in the eyes of the beholder, I assume. However a confident judge would have sufficient CJEU authority to help them hold on the A24(1) BIa issues in C‑433/19 Ellmes Property Services in which Szpunar AG opined last week. (No EN version available at the time of publication of this post).
Do actions brought by a co-owner seeking to prohibit another co-owner from carrying out changes to his property subject to co-ownership, in particular to its designated use, arbitrarily and without the consent of the other co-owners, concern the assertion of a right in rem? In the negative, is the forum contractus per A7(1)(a) Brussels Ia the location of the property? The less clear issue in my view is the forum contractus element.
The location is Zell am Zee, contested use is, not surprisingly, tourist accomodation. Applicant in the national proceedings is an individual who lives in the apartment building. Defendant is a UK corporation who uses it for short-term lets despite the residential designation assigned to the building as a whole in the co-ownership agreement.
From CJEU authority including C-438/12 Weber v Weber it should be clear that other than the hardcore cases of ownership of real estate, the erga omnes v in personam character of rights in real estate depends on national law. The Advocate General in this respect points out that for the rights of co-owners in the case at issue to be rights in rem, Austrian law would have to be enable them to exercise these rights not just vis-a-vis the other co-owners, but also vis-a-vis third parties such as tenants. Whether this is the case in Austrian law has not been sufficiently explained in the reference, it seems.
For the impact of entry in the land register (where third parties can consult the co-ownership agreement), Szpunar AG reviews and contrasts C‑417/15 Schmidt v Schmidt, and C-630/17 Milivojević v Raiffeisenbank. Mere registration does not always entail erga omnes impact.
The Advocate General reminds us of the overall interpretation of Article 24, including the need for restrictive interpretation, and flags (with reference inter alia to the Handbook, p.73, for which I am, as always, sincerely humbled) that it is not just, or not even so much sound administration of justice which underlies A24. At least partially, Member States’ strategic interests are served by the issues listed in the Article.
Ellmes Property Services does not seem to raise additional issues such as we saw in C-25/18 Kerr. The Austrian courts could have dealt with this on their own, and seeing as the referring judge did not provide the kind of detail for the CJEU to judge, the AG’s suggestion is to leave it up to them to verify the erga omnes character.
That leaves (whether it will be needed depends on what the eventual insight will be on the erga omnes element), the forum contractus under A7(1). Parties differ as to the qualification of the contractual duty: is it a positive one (do!) or a negative one (must not!). The AG opts for the latter, with reference to CJEU 14/76 De Bloos: A7(1) refers to the contractual obligation forming the basis of the legal proceedings. I find the precedent value of De Bloos problematic in light of the many changes that have been made to Article 7 since, and in light of the engineering possibilities it hands to parties.
The AG advises that forum contractus will have to be determined by the Italian judge following the conflicts method per CJEU 12/76 Tessili v Dunlop, with little help from European harmonisation seeing i.a. as the initial co-ownership agreement dates back to 1978.
I am curious to see how far the Court will go in entertaining the issues at stake.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52 (cited by the AG) and Heading 184.108.40.206.
In Senior Taxi Aereo Executivo LTDA & Ors v Agusta Westland S.p.A & Ors  EWHC 1348 (Comm) Waksman J discusses the same issues which I analysed in my review of Sabbagh v Koury (and he refers to that case at 51 ff). Proceedings arise out of the fatal crash of an Agusta Westland AW 139 twin turbine helicopter on 19 August 2011, during a flight from the Petrobras P-65 offshore oil platform in the Atlantic, west of Rio de Janeiro, to Macae Aerodrome in Brazil.
First and third defendant are an Italian company. Second defendant, AgustaWestland Ltd is an English company and the anchor defendant per A8(1) Brussels IA. At 32:
‘Defendants’ contention is that in order for Article 8 (1) to apply at all, the claim against the anchor defendant must at least be a sustainable one. I described this as “the Merits Test”. For present purposes, the requirement of sustainability can be equated with “viability”, “a real prospect of success”, a “serious issue to be tried” or a “good arguable case”. Neither party sought to argue that any fine point of distinction between these various expressions was relevant here.’
Reisch Montage and Freeport of course are CJEU authority referred to. As is Kolassa for the CJEU consideration of ‘merits review’ (particularly there: taking account of both defendant and claimant’s arguments) under A25 and A26 BIA) and CDC for the CJEU’s most recent proper discussion of the issue (at 86 Waksman J suggest CDC is not a ruling on the merits issue).
At 65 ff Waksman J follows the majority in Kabbagh, and not the dissent of Lady Justice Gloster – I as noted was more enclined to agree with her. Having confessed to his preference for there being a merits test, he then seeks to distinguish the CJEU in Reisch by focusing on the CJEU there finding on the basis of a ‘procedural bar’ in the Member State of the anchor defendant. At 83:
‘I do not find the reasoning of the CJEU here persuasive and I consider that the decision should be distinguished if possible. It can be distinguished because it is very clear from the judgments that the focus was on a national rule as to admissibility of the claim. Even allowing for differences of language, the expression “procedural bar” is not apt to include a lack of any substantive merit. Reisch is not therefore an obstacle to deciding that there is a Merits Test.’
And at 85:
‘that the reasoning of the court in Reisch was concerned more with what it simply saw as an illegitimate incursion of a domestic procedural rule (a bankrupt cannot without more be sued in ordinary litigation) into the operation of Article 6 (1). That, in and of itself decided the point. It was a question of form and not substance. But the Merits Test is a matter of substance.
Held: there is a Merits Test which must be satisfied before A8(1) can be invoked. That merits test is not met in casu.
A8(1)’s ‘so closely connected’ test clearly requires some appreciation of the facts and the legal arguments, as well as a certain amount of taking into account the defendant’s arguments. Yet this in my view does not amount to a merits test, and ‘sustainability’, “viability”, “a real prospect of success”, a “serious issue to be tried” or a “good arguable case” may well be synonyms – but there are not the same as an A8(1) merits test.
One to watch upon appeal.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 220.127.116.11
Gtflix Tv. The French Supreme Court queries the CJEU on further specification of Bolagsupplysningen and jurisdiction for libel over the internet.
Thank you Helene Peroz for flagging the French Supreme Court on 13 May last referring to the CJEU for clarification of the Bolagsupplysningen case-law. The case concerns Gtflix Tv which I understand is a Czech adult entertainment corporation, who is suing Mr X, himself a producer of porn and domiciled at Hungary, arguing Mr X has defamed them in public comments.
Gtflix claim both retraction and correction of the comments, and symbolic damages. X argues the French courts do not have jurisdiction and the Court of Appeal at Lyons agreed. It held that Gtflix cannot suffice with a simple show of accessibility of the comments in France: for it to establish jurisdiction, Gtflix was required to show real damage to its reputation in France.
The Supreme Court first of all held that Bolagsupplysningen is good authority for acts of unfair competition between competitors – a finding which was not as such made in Manitou v JCB and on which the court does not refer to the CJEU. The applicable law issues which I discussed earlier in the week, were not subject of the Cour de Cassation’s assessment.
The court then does refer to the CJEU to ask whether Bolagsupplysningen means that a claimant who requests both rectification /retraction and damages, has to necessarily turn to courts with full jurisdiction or whether they can continue to turn for the damages part, to all courts with locus damni jurisdiction.
The specific question referred, is
“Les dispositions de l’article 7, point 2, du règlement (UE) n° 1215/2012 doivent-elles être interprétées en ce sens que la personne qui, estimant qu’une atteinte a été portée à ses droits par la diffusion de propos dénigrants sur internet, agit tout à la fois aux fins de rectification des données et de suppression des contenus, ainsi qu’en réparation des préjudices moral et économique en résultant, peut réclamer, devant les juridictions de chaque État membre sur le territoire duquel un contenu mis en ligne est ou a été accessible, l’indemnisation du dommage causé sur le territoire de cet État membre, conformément à l’arrêt eDate Advertising (points 51 et 52) ou si, en application de l’arrêt Svensk Handel (point 48), elle doit porter cette demande indemnitaire devant la juridiction compétente pour ordonner la rectification des données et la suppression des commentaires dénigrants ?” ;
(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168
Yelp and Facebook. The German and Dutch courts on reputational damage, jurisdiction and applicable law.
Thank you Matthias Lehmann for flagging X v Yelp , held 14 January 2020 at the Bundesgerichthof (German federal court) and to Jef Ausloos for drawing our attention to X and Avrotros v Facebook BV and Facebook Ireland ltd held 15 May 2020. An English summary of that case is here. Note that the Dutch case is one in interlocutory proceedings. Both concern the application of Article 7(2) Brussels IA at the jurisdictional level, and Rome II at the applicable law level, with respect to reputational damage.
In the German Yelp case, a German gym had complained that Yelp’s review algorithm had created a distorted picture of its business. Jurisdiction was established under Article 7(2) Brussels Ia per CJEU Bolagsupplysningen: centre of interests in Germany. As to applicable law, the pickle is A1(2)(g) Rome II which excludes from its scope of application, “non-contractual obligations arising out of violations of privacy and rights relating to personality, including defamation”.
Under residual German PIL, claimant has a choice between lex locus damni or lex locus delicti commissi. Matthias points to the difficulty: if companies have ‘personality rights’ within the meaning of Rome II (Bolagsupplysningen clearly suggests they do; but that is a jurisdictional case) then the issue ought to be held exempt from Rome II. Except, a big chunk of unfair trading practices consists of thrashing a competitor’s reputation – and A6 Rome II has a specific lex causae for unfair trading practices.
The German court does not address the issue directly for it held that claimant had made an implicit choice for lex locus damni – German law: the same result as Rome II would have had.
In the Dutch case, the Court likewise holds jurisdiction on the basis of centre of interests, and then squarely applies A4 Rome II’s general lex locus damni rule (the action was based against Facebook, arguing that FB was not taking enough measures to block fake/fraudulent bitcoin ads on its platform).
On the choice of court suggestion of Facebook, the court holds that current dispute is not of a contractual nature and that FB’s contractual choice of court and law does not extend to same; it leaves undecided whether the celebrity at issue can be considered a ‘consumer’ for jurisdictional purposes (their FB use I imagine potentially having developed into, or even started as professional use: see the dynamic nature per CJEU C-498/16 Schrems). There must be more argument in there.
Interesting cases, with both courts cutting corners.
C-500/18 AU v Reliantco was held by the CJEU on 2 April, in the early fog of the current pandemic. Reliantco is a company incorporated in Cyprus offering financial products and services through an online trading platform under the ‘UFX’ trade name – readers will recognise this from  EWHC 879 (Comm) Ang v Reliantco. Claimant AU is an individual. The litigation concerns limit orders speculating on a fall in the price of petrol, placed by AU on an online platform owned by the defendants in the main proceedings, following which AU lost the entire sum being held in the frozen trading account, that is, 1 919 720 US dollars (USD) (around EUR 1 804 345).
Choice of court and law was made pro Cyprus.
The case brings to the fore the more or less dense relationship between secondary EU consumer law such as in particular the unfair terms Directive 93/13 and, here, Directive 2004/39 on markets in financial instruments (particularly viz the notion of ‘retail client’ and ‘consumer’).
First up is the consumer title under Brussels Ia: Must A17(1) BIa be interpreted as meaning that a natural person who under a contract concluded with a financial company, carries out financial transactions through that company may be classified as a ‘consumer’ in particular whether it is appropriate, for the purposes of that classification, to take into consideration factors such as the fact that that person carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or that he or she invested significant sums in those transactions, or that that person is a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of A4(1) point 12 Directive 2004/39?
The Court had the benefit of course of C-208/18 Petruchová – which Baker J did not have in Ang v Reliantco. It is probably for that reason that the case went ahead without an Opinion of the AG. In Petruchová the Court had already held that factors such as
- the value of transactions carried out under contracts such as CFDs,
- the extent of the risks of financial loss associated with the conclusion of such contracts,
- any knowledge or expertise that person has in the field of financial instruments or his or her active conduct in the context of such transactions
- the fact that a person is classified as a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of Directive 2004/39 is, as such, in principle irrelevant for the purposes of classifying him or her as a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of BIa,
are, as such, in principle irrelevant to determine the qualification as a ‘consumer’. In Reliantco it now adds at 54 that ‘(t)he same is true of a situation in which the consumer carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or invested significant sums in those transactions.’
Next however comes the peculiarity that although AU claim jurisdiction for the Romanian courts against Reliantco Investments per the consumer title (which requires a ‘contract’ to be concluded), it bases its action on non-contractual liability, with applicable law to be determined by Rome II. (The action against the Cypriot subsidiary, with whom no contract has been concluded, must be one in tort. The Court does not go into analysis of the jurisdictional basis against that subsidiary, whose branch or independent basis or domicile is not entirely clear; anyone ready to clarify, please do).
At 68 the CJEU holds that the culpa in contrahendo action is indissociably linked to the contract concluded between the consumer and the seller or supplier, and at 71 that this conclusion is reinforced by A12(1) Rome II which makes the putative lex contractus, the lex causae for culpa in contrahendo. At 72 it emphasises the need for consistency between Rome II and Brussels IA in that both the law applicable to a non-contractual obligation arising out of dealings prior to the conclusion of a contract and the court having jurisdiction to hear an action concerning such an obligation, are determined by taking into consideration the proposed contract the conclusion of which is envisaged.
(Handbook of) EU private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124.
A reminder: Austrian courts apply CJEU Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook ruling. Limits removal to national territory only but does not rule out worldwide removal on principle.
I had already reported in March on the first application of the CJEU C-18/18 Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook ruling in an update to my post on the latter. I thought I’ld add a separate post on the ruling for it, well, deserves it: the court held that orders based on Austrian copyright are limited to Austria (given copyright’s territorial limitations), but if they are based on personal rights, the claimant has to specify the requested territorial reach (so potentially global).
IPKat have further analysis here. As one or two of us discussed at the time of the CJEU ruling: the infringement of personality rights angle is an important one.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199, Heading 188.8.131.52.5.
Fletcher v Estee Lauder and Clinique. New York judge rejects forum non argument in asbestos litigation. Sheds an interesting light on the perception of England as a forum for non-occupational exposure.
Personal injury cases never make for light reading and Fletcher v Estee Lauder and Clinique is not an exception to that rule. Mrs Fletcher, aged 45, claims that her lifelong use of the Estee Lauder talc and face powder and Clinique loose face powder, starting with puffs of powder purchased by her mother in New York in 1976, followed by regular purchases in the city in later years, caused her to develop mesothelioma.
Thank you Leigh Day, who represent Mrs Fletcher, for reporting on the case. In a preliminary ruling, Justice Mendez rejected a forum non conveniens argument made by the cosmetics giants, who had argued that England is a more natural and suitable forum for the case.
The case is interesting for my readers who follow my reports in the ‘comparative’ binder, for it is not that routine for judges to list arguments against the suitability of England as a forum.
Arguments made pro forum non are on p.2, claimant’s arguments on p.3, and Mendez J’s criteria to dismiss (having earlier established per authority that the burden of proof to dismiss is necessarily high for defendants with a substantial presence in New York) on p.5. Note his reference to the absence of no win no fee (and claimant’s limited resources); absence of jury trial; limited and expensive discovery; and a general hesitation of the legal profession in bringing cases like these (non-occupational exposure claims) against manufacturers.
Most relevant and interesting.