Posts Tagged Jurisdiction

Qualifying ‘consumers’ on social media and in the case of assignment. Bobek AG in Schrems v Facebook.

Bobek AG must have picked up his knack for colourful language at Teddy Hall. His Opinion last week in C-498/16 Schrems v Facebook is a delight and one does best service to it by simply inviting one reads it. Now, that must not absolve me of my duty to report succinctly on its contents – the Court itself I imagine will be equally short shrift with claimant’s arugments.

When I asked my students in the August exam to comment on the case, I simply gave them the preliminary questions and asked them how the CJEU should answer them:

1 Is Article 15 of Regulation 44/2001 to be interpreted as meaning that a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of that provision loses that status, if, after the comparatively long use of a private Facebook account, he publishes books in connection with the enforcement of his claims, on occasion also delivers lectures for remuneration, operates websites, collects donations for the enforcement of his claims and has assigned to him the claims of numerous consumers on the assurance that he will remit to them any proceeds awarded, after the deduction of legal costs?

2. Is Article 16 of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 to be interpreted as meaning that a consumer in a Member State can also invoke at the same time as his own claims arising from a consumer supply at the claimant’s place of jurisdiction the claims of others consumers on the same subject who are domiciled

a. In the same Member State, b. In another Member State: or c. In a non-Member State,

if the claims assigned to him arise from consumer supplies involving the same defendant in the same legal context and if the assignment is not part of a professional or trade activity of the applicant, but rather serves to ensure the joint enforcement of claims?

 

The long and the short of the case is whether the concept of ‘consumer’ under the protected categories of Brussels I (and Recast) is a dynamic or a static one; and what kind of impact assignment has on jurisdiction for protected categories.

On the first issue, I expected my students to point to the CJEU’s precedent of applying the Regulation with a view to predictability and legal certainty; specifically for consumers, to Gruber and the burden of proof in cases of dual use; and to the Court’s judgment in Emrek. Other than the last issue, the AG points to all. Predictability points to a static approach: I would suggest the AG is right. Bobek AG does leave the door ajar for a dynamic interpretation: at 39: in exptional cases, a ‘dynamic’ approach to consumer status should not be entirely excluded. This could be potentially relevant in the event that a contract does not specify its aim, or it is open to different uses, and it lasts a long period of time, or is even indeterminate. It is conceivable that in such cases, the purpose for which a certain contractual service is used might change — not just partially, but even completely. Social media contracts may lead to such circumstances, one imagines, however there would be many ifs and buts to such analysis: including, I would suggest, the terms of the contract wich the service provider initially drew up.

On the issue of assignment the AG’s approach is entirely logical and not surprising: evidently Herr Schrems cannot have claims assigned to him and then exercise those claims using any other jurisdictional prerogatives then present in the original claim. While these may allow him to sue in the forum actoris of the original consumer, there is no valid argument whatsoever to suggest he could join them to his own domicile. The arguments made de lege ferenda (need for forum shopping in collective consumer redress) are justifiably rejected.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

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Close, but no sigar. The CJEU on libel, internet and centre of interests in Bolagsupplysningen.

The Court held some weeks ago in C-194/16 Bolagsupplysningen OÜ on the application of the Shevill rule, as supplemented by e-Date advertising, to infringements of a company’s personality rights over the internet. I held back reporting on the case for exam reasons – yep, some of the places I teach at already have exams.

Judgment was issued in Grand Chamber. There can be no clearer indication of the relevance the Court attaches to the question. The CJEU introduces in my view further complication in the Article 7(2) rule (jurisdiction for torts) by requiring the court seized carry out analysis of ‘main economic activity’ with those same courts being told not to get carried away however in that analysis. The judgment does not I believe offer a solid conclusion for the issues of removal and rectification.

An Estonian company operating in Sweden was blacklisted for its allegedly questionable business practices on the website of a Swedish employers’ federation. The website attracted a number of hostile comments from its readers. The Estonian company brought an action before the Estonian courts against the Swedish federation. It complained that the published information has negatively affected its honour, reputation and good name. It asked the Estonian courts to order that the Swedish federation rectify the information and remove the comments from its website. It also requested damages for harm allegedly suffered as a result of the information and comments having been published online.

Can the Estonian courts assert jurisdiction to hear this action on the basis of the claimant’s ‘centre of interests’, a special ground of jurisdiction that the Court previously applied to natural persons, but so far not legal persons? If they can, then second, how should the centre of interests of a legal person be determined? Third, if the jurisdiction of the Estonian courts were to be limited to situations in which the damage occurred in Estonia, the referring court wonders whether it can order the Swedish federation to rectify and remove the information at issue.

I reviewed Bobek AG’s Opinion here – let me recap core issues: Bobek AG suggested there are two novelties in the questions referred: a legal person (not a natural one) is primarily asking for rectification and removal of information made accessible on the internet (and only secondarily for damages for the alleged harm to its reputation). This factual setting, the AG suggests, leads to the question of how far the seemingly quite generous rules on international jurisdiction previously established in Shevill with regard to libel by printed media, and then further extended in eDate to the harm caused to the reputation of a natural person by information published on the internet, may be in need of an update.

At the real root of course of the generous rules on jurisdiction for tort, lies the Court’s judgment in Bier. Bobek AG joined Szpunar AG in severely questioning the wisdom of the Bier rule (both locus delicti commissi and locus damni lead to jurisdiction) in the age of internet publications. Not unexpectedly, the Court of Justice further refined Bier, but did not overrule it.

It held first of all that legal persons like natural persons can claim for damages in their centre of interests (at 38): the split in Bier was introduced for reasons of judicial suitability (‘sound administration of justice’), not personal interest of the plaintiff hence the qualification of that plaintiff has no bearing on the rule.

Following e-Date, the national court therefore needs to determine a centre of interests for a legal person just as it would for a natural person. At 41: for legal persons, this centre of interests ‘must reflect the place where its commercial reputation is most firmly established and must, therefore, be determined by reference to the place where it carries out the main part of its economic activities. While the centre of interests of a legal person may coincide with the place of its registered office when it carries out all or the main part of its activities in the Member State in which that office is situated and the reputation that it enjoys there is consequently greater than in any other Member State, the location of that office is, not, however, in itself, a conclusive criterion for the purposes of such an analysis.’ As one knows from the definition of ‘domicile’ under the Brussels I Regulation, leading to positive jurisdictional conflicts (it is perfectly possible for more than one Member State considering itself the domicile of a corporation), it is far from self-evident to determine where a company’s ‘main’ economic activities are located.

At 43 the Grand Chamber reminds the national courts that their role in the application of the Brussels I Recast is limited to the jurisdictional stage: they must not go into the merits (yet), hence if it is ‘not clear from the evidence that the court must consider at the stage when it assesses whether it has jurisdiction that the economic activity of the relevant legal person is carried out mainly in a certain Member State’, the Court must conclude that the Article 7(2) locus damni for the full damage is not available to that claimant.

 

The Court then distinguishes actions for rectification of false information and removal of comments: there is no jurisdiction before the courts of each Member State in which the information published on the internet is or was accessible. The Court follows Bobek AG’s Opinion on this point (although the AG also employed it to support his view on withdrawal of Bier altogether) at 48: ‘in the light of the ubiquitous nature of the information and content placed online on a website and the fact that the scope of their distribution is, in principle, universal …an application for the rectification of the former and the removal of the latter is a single and indivisible application and can, consequently, only be made before a court with jurisdiction to rule on the entirety of an application for compensation for damage [the Court refers to Shevill and e-Date] and not before a court that does not have jurisdiction to do so.’

On this latter point, the judgment is bound to create a need for further clarification: Shevill and e-Date confirm full jurisdiction for the courts of the domicile of the defendant and of the locus delicti commissi. These do not necessarily coincide but do raise the same difficulty of claims for rectification and removal by nature being single and indivisible. With more than one court having such full jurisdiction I do not see a solution in the Court’s approach.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.

 

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Koza v Akcil: The Court of Appeal on exclusive jurisdiction for company matters.

Thank you Angharad Parry for flagging  [2017] EWCA Civ 1609 Koza v Akcil – Angharad has excellent factual background. The case concerns the application of Article 24(2) of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, which assigns exclusive jurisdiction to the Courts of the Member State of the seat in matters relating to the life and death of companies and of the validity of decisions made by their organs:

in proceedings which have as their object the validity of the constitution, the nullity or the dissolution of companies or other legal persons or associations of natural or legal persons, or of the validity of the decisions of their organs, the courts of the Member State in which the company, legal person or association has its seat. In order to determine that seat, the court shall apply its rules of private international law;

Referring particularly to C-144/10 BVG and to C-372/07 Hassett, the Court of Appeal at 28 correctly suggests Article 24’s exclusive jurisdictional rules need to be interpreted with their limited purpose in mind: ‘when article 24(2) speaks of proceedings having an “object” it is not referring to the purpose of the proceedings. Rather that phrase is to be interpreted as “proceedings which are principally concerned with” one of the types of subject matter within the article.’ At 37: ‘The task for the court in each case is therefore to determine whether the proceedings relate principally to the validity of the decisions of an organ of the company. A mere link to a decision of the company, or an issue raised which is ancillary to the heart of a contractual or some other dispute, is insufficient to bring the proceedings within the exclusive jurisdiction.’

Floyd LJ at 46 summarises the direction for courts: ‘I do not take from the English or European authorities which were cited to us any suggestion that one is required in all cases to disentangle issues which are interlinked in this way and apply Article 24(2) to each issue separately. On the contrary, faced with such proceedings, the court is required to form an overall evaluative judgment as to what the proceedings are principally concerned with. The position is obviously different from a case where two quite independent claims are made in the same proceedings. Exclusive jurisdiction in relation to each claim would, in those circumstances, have to be determined separately.’ In the case at hand the case was found overall and fundamentally to concern one and the same issue of the validity of decisions of the organs of the company

Consequently the issue is one of looking beyond the particulars of form and into the true nature of the proceedings. Not a decision always made with ease.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading

 

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Right to be forgotten v Right to know. In Townsend v Google Inc and Google UK the Northern Irish High Court emphasises public interest in open justice.

In [2017] NIQB 81 Townsend v Google Inc. & Anor the Northern Ireland High Court refused service our of jurisdiction in relation to a request for Google (UK and Inc.) to de-list a number of urls relating to reports on sexual and other criminal offences committed by plaintiff.

Plaintiff seeks an injunction inter alia requiring the defendants and each of them to withdraw and remove personal data relating to the plaintiff, making reference to or tending to reveal sexual offences committed by the plaintiff while a child, from their data processing and indexing systems and to prevent access to such personal data in the future. The Court references ia Vidal-Hall and Google Spain. I will leave readers to digest the ruling largely for themselves for there is a lot in there: consideration of Article 8 ECHR; Directive 95/46; aforementioned precedent; tort law etc.

Of particular note is Stephens J’s finding at 61 that ‘(t)here is a clear public interest in open justice. There is a clear right to freedom of expression. In such circumstances the processing was not unwarranted and that there is no triable issue in relation to any allegation that Google Inc. has not satisfied this condition.’

A judgment to add to the growing pile of internet, jurisdiction and balancing of interests in privacy considerations.

Geert.

 

 

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Fernandes v. Wal-Mart Canada: Presence-based jurisdiction is firmly on the shelves in Canada.

In Fernandes v. Wal-Mart Canada  2017 MBCA 96 the Court of Appeal of Manitoba offers great material for comparative conflict of laws. I will leave the Canadian analysis to the experts, in particular Chloe Snider who alerted me to the case. Suffice to say here that the gist of the ruling is that where a corporation carries on business in the territory (here: Wal MArt operating stores), this suffices to establish jurisdiction (here: re an employment issue): no ‘real and substantive connection’ test needs to be separately established. (Cue comparative litigation: compare with ‘domicile’ and extended notions of domicile in EU conflicts law).

The action was eventually still stayed on forum non conveniens grounds in favour of Ontario (extra cue for comparative review here: for this was so held despite the fact that the Ontario limitation period had probably expired).

Geert.

 

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Aspen Underwriting: When the domicile ship has sailed, litigation splinters. And distinguishing between contract and tort.

Aspen Underwriting v Kairos Shipping et al [2017] EWHC 1904 illustrates the splintering of claims which may well occur when plaintiff chooses to ignore Brussels I’s core jurisdictional rule of domicile of the defendant. Evidently such splintering often is the strategic intention of a plaintiff and even if it does inconvenience them, having part of the claims settled by one court rather than another may still be its overall preference. The case however also highlights important crossed wires between the common law and EU law on the qualification of ‘tort’, and the relation between Rome II and Brussels I (Recast).

The vessel ATLANTIK CONFIDENCE  sank in the Gulf of Aden in 2013. It had earlier been held in a limitation Action commenced by her Owners, the First Defendant, that the Vessel was deliberately sunk by the master and chief engineer at the request of Mr. Agaoglu, the alter ego of the Owners. In the current action the Hull Underwriters of the Vessel, who paid out on the hull and machinery policy (“the Policy”) in August 2013 but who now consider, on further investigation, that the Vessel was deliberately cast away by her Owners, claim recovery of the insurance proceeds which were paid to Owners and the Vessel’s mortgagees, Credit Europe Bank NV, the Third Defendant (“the Bank”).

The Bank is domiciled in the Netherlands. and maintains that under the Brussels Regulation the High Court has no jurisdiction to hear and determine the claim against the Bank. It must be sued in the courts of the Netherlands where it is domiciled. The Hull Underwriters maintain that the High Court does have such jurisdiction for three reasons. First, it is said that Bank is bound by a Settlement Agreement which confers exclusive jurisdiction on the court. Second, it is said that the Bank is bound by the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Policy. Third, it is said that the claims brought against the Bank are matters which relate to tort, delict or quasi-delict and the harmful event occurred in England.

Teare J rejected the first and second argument on the basis of analysis of the settlement. He then looks into Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast. The insurance heading of the Regulation does not apply as the relations concern those between two professional parties (at 72 the High Court refers to C-347/08 Voralberger; the CJEU confirmed later in C-521/14 Sovag).

Whether the claim of misrepresentation leading to the settlement, is one in tort or one in contract depends on how closely one finds it to be connected to the contract at issue (the Settlement). Plaintiff suggests that where such misrepresentations induce a contract, in this case the Settlement Agreement, the resulting claims are not matters relating to tort within the autonomous meaning of Article 7(2) but are matters relating to a contract within Article 7(1).

Teare J settles on the basis of the following convincing argument, at 76: ‘The court is concerned with a claim between the Hull Underwriters and the Bank. The Hull Underwriters allege that misrepresentations made by the Bank induced the Hull Underwriters to enter into the Settlement Agreement with the Owners. They seek to recover damages suffered by the Hull Underwriters as a result of the Bank’s misrepresentations. Whilst there is a factual connection between the claim and the Settlement Agreement I do not consider that that is enough to make the claim a matter relating to a contract and so within Article 7(1). Where there is a claim against the contracting party and it is alleged that the contract should be rescinded on the grounds of misrepresentations made by that party because such misrepresentations induced the contract it can sensibly be said that the subject-matter of the claim is the contract. But in the case of the claim against the Bank I do not consider that it can be fairly said that the subject-matter of the claim is the Settlement Agreement.

Oddly no reference here is made to relevant CJEU precedent including recently Granarolo and Kareda.

Now, the claim for damages based upon misrepresentation can be brought in England so long as the “harmful event” occurred in England (at 79; with reference to Bier /Mines de Potasse split into locus delicti commissi and locus damni). Jurisdiction for the claim based on misrepresentation can be brought fully in England because (at 79) ‘either the damage occurred in England (where Norton Rose Fulbright signed the Settlement Agreement and/or where the $22m. was paid to Willis’ bank account in London) or the event giving rise to the damage occurred in London (being the place where the misrepresentations were made and/or the place where the Hull Underwriters were induced).’

At 78 the High Court highlights the difficulty of the qualification viz conflict of laws of restitution based on unjust enrichment. The common law has the precedent of the House of Lords in Kleinwort Benson v Glasgow [1999] 1 AC 153.  Teare J summarises ‘In that case Lord Goff, with whom the other members of the court agreed on this point, said that a claim in restitution based upon unjust enrichment does not, save in exceptional circumstance, presuppose a harmful event and so is impossible to reconcile with the words of Article 7(2). He was not deterred from reaching this conclusion by the decision in Kalfelis. The claim for restitution in this case is based upon a mistake; it does not require a harmful event, though there might in fact be one as suggested by [plaintiff]. I consider that I am bound to follow the decision of the House of Lords and to hold that the claim in restitution based upon mistake is not within Article 7(2). It must follow that this court has no jurisdiction over that claim and that if it is to be pursued it must be pursued in the Netherlands where the Bank is domiciled.

The claim for unjust enrichment cannot be brought in England. Teare J observes the consequence of the Brussels I Regulation (at 80): ‘On case management grounds it is unsatisfactory to reach the conclusion that the tort claim may be brought in England but that the restitution claim may not be brought in England. However, this is the consequence of the Brussels Regulation as was accepted in Kalfelis. Of course, the entirety of the Hull Underwriters’ case against the Bank could be brought in the Netherlands but in circumstances where the Hull Underwriters’ case against the Owners and Managers is being brought in England that also is not satisfactory. The court cannot however base its jurisdictional decisions when applying the Brussels Regulation on considerations of forum conveniens.’

Of note finally is that Kleinwort Benson was issued post Kalfelis but prior to Rome II, which contains a specific heading on unjust enrichment. Notwithstanding its clear non-contractual nature (‘non-contractual’ being the generic title of Rome II which therefore encompasses more than just torts), it is not generally considered a tort: this continues to create issues in the application of Rome II.

A good case to illustrate the lasting challenges in distinguishing contracts from torts.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2.

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Bank Leumi. No calling for the EU’s Insolvency Regulation in intra-UK scenarios.

Thank you Ben Zielinski for flagging Bank Leumi (UK) Plc v Screw Conveyor Ltd [2017] CSOH 129. I believe Ben is right in writing that this is the first formal acknowledgement that Scottish judicial authorities have no insolvency business in respect of an English registered company, and the same applies to English courts and Scottish companies,  in spite of the EU’s Insolvency Regulation.

Even if a company carries out its main activities in Scotland, internal UK jurisdictional rules will assign insolvency jurisdiction to the English judicial authorities. That is a result of, as Lord Doherty writes, the Insolvency Regulations designating the ‘Member State the courts of which may open insolvency proceedings’ however ‘territorial jurisdiction within that Member State is established by the Member State’s national law’ (at 9).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.

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