Posts Tagged kolassa
Sovereign debt litigation in Kuhn: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. CJEU holds litigation falls outside of Brussels I Recast. Pays lip-service only to Fahnenbrock.
Update 22 November 2018 see yesterday’s comments by prof Mankowski here. He is right to point out the reduction in practice of defence mechanisms to Greece, to sovereign immunity. However that defence is of course a strong one, as I pointed out here, given that even the German courts have acepted it.
I had earlier reviewed Bot AG’s Opinion in C-308/17 Leo Kuhn, in which the Court held on Thursday. The case concerns the retrofit introduction of CACs – Collective Action Clauses, in Greek bonds, allowing the amendment to the initial borrowing terms by decisions adopted by a qualified majority, of the remaining capital owed and applying also to the minority.
Along the lines suggested by the AG, the Court finds the litigation not to relate to civil and commercial matters (likely also leading to a finding on the basis of national law, of sovereign immunity).
Extensive reference is made of course to Fahnenbrock , among others. Yet the Court pays lip service only to Fahnenbrock: in that judgment, it launched the ‘direct and immediate’ formula: in that case it found it was the bondholders’ vote, which led directly and immediately to changes to the financial conditions of the securities in question, not the public authorities’ actions essentially dictating it: therefore that litigation was held not to be actum iure imperii, and it was found to be subject to the service of documents Regulation.
In Kuhn, Brussels I Recast is engaged and here the Court would seem to be inclined to follow (also) Bot AG’s Opinion in Fahenbrock (where he was not so followed): there, Bot AG had opined that the Greek State’s intervention in the contracts was direct and not at a distance from the contract. His focus was more on the circumstances of the case than on the legal nitty-gritty. There are certainly many similarities between Fahnenbrock and Kuhn: in the latter, the crammed-down haircut was formally the result of a majority decision of bondholders to accept the restructuring offer made by the Greek State. Not unlike Fahnenbrock were as noted it was also a bondholders’ vote which was the formal trigger.
In Kuhn, the Court emphasises the context, like Bot to no avail had done in Fahnenbrock: after a succinct tour d’horizon of the debt crisis leading to the CACs, the Court concludes ‘It follows that, having regard to the exceptional character of the conditions and the circumstances surrounding the adoption of Law 4050/2012, according to which the initial borrowing terms of the sovereign bonds at issue in the main proceedings were unilaterally and retroactively amended by the introduction of a CAC, and to the public interest objective that it pursues, the origin of the dispute in the main proceeding stems from the manifestation of public authority and results from the acts of the Greek State in the exercise of that public authority, in such a way that that dispute does not fall within ‘civil and commercial matters’ within the meaning of Article 1(1) of Regulation No 1215/2012.’
I suggested at the time that ‘direct and immediate effect’ is not a criterion which is easy to handle. Yet in solely emphasising context, the Court now casts the net too wide in my view, and at the very least leads to more speculation (pun intended) in the litigation context of sovereign debt.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.
Jurisdiction re prospectus liability. CJEU reiterates Universal Music in Löber v Barclays. Unfortunately fails to identify the exact locus damni and leaves locus delicti commissi unaddressed.
I reviewed Advocate-General Bobek’s Opinion in C-304/17 Löber v Barclays here. The following issues in particular were of note (I simply list them here; see the post for full detail): First, the AG’s view, coinciding with mine, that the CJEU’s finding in CDC that locus damni for a pure economic loss, in the case of a corporation, is the place of its registered office, is at odds with precedent (he made the same remark in flyLAL). Next, on locus delicti commissi, the AG suggests that despite Article 7(2)’s instruction, a single ldc within the Member State in the case at hand cannot be determined. Further, for locus damni, I disagree for reasons explained in the post with the AG’s suggestions.
The Court held on Wednesday. At 26 it immediately cuts short any expectation of clarification on locus delicti commissi: ‘In the present case, the case in the main proceedings concerns the identification of the place where the damage occurred.’
The referring court’s questions were much wider, asking for clarification on ‘jurisdiction’ full stop. Yet the Court must have derived from the file that only locus damni was in dispute. A missed opportunity for as I noted, Bobek AG’s views on that locus delicti commissi are not obvious.
On locus damni then, I may be missing a trick here but the Court simply does not answer the referring court’s question. As the AG notes, Ms Löber in order to acquire the certificates, transferred the corresponding amounts from her current (personal) bank account located in Vienna, to two securities ‘clearing’ accounts in Graz and Salzburg. Payment was then made from those securities accounts for the certificates at issue. The Court refers to Kolassa and to Universal Music, to reiterate that the simple presence of a bank account does not suffice to establish jurisdiction: other factors are required, such as here, at 33,
‘besides the fact that Ms Löber, in connection with that transaction, had dealings only with Austrian banks, it is furthermore apparent from the order for reference that she acquired the certificates on the Austrian secondary market, that the information supplied to her concerning those certificates is that in the prospectus which relates to them as notified to the Österreichische Kontrollbank (Austrian supervisory bank) and that, on the basis of that information, she signed in Austria the contract obliging her to make the investment, which has resulted in a definitive reduction in her assets.’
The Court concludes that ‘taken as a whole, the specific circumstances of the present case contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the Austrian courts.’
That however was not seriously in doubt: the more specific question is which one: Vienna? (which had rejected jurisdiction) Graz and /or Salzburg? Article 7(2) requires identification of a specific court (which the AG had identified in his opinion: I may not follow his argumentation, but it did lead to a specific court): not merely a Member State, and the Oberster Gerichtsthof had specifically enquired about the need for centralisation of the claim in one place.
All in all a disappointing judgment which will not halt further questions on jurisdiction for prospectus liability.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168.7
Kuhn: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. Bot AG applies Fahnenbrock’s ‘direct and immediate effect’ and distinguishes Kolassa.
Advocate-General Bot opined on 4 July 2018 in the case of C-308/17 Leo Kuhn, domiciled at Vienna, who had purchased through an Austrian bank, Greek sovereign bonds. Pursuant to a forced exchanged /haircut carried out by Greece in March 2012, the bonds were replaced with new bonds with a lower nominal value. Mr Kuhn sued to have the initial borrowing terms enforced.
The Advocate-General is of course aware of the similarities with Fahnenbrock – in which he himself had also opined but was not followed by the Court. He first of all points out the similarities between the service Regulation and the Brussels I Recast (both e.g. limiting their scope of application to ‘civil and commercial’ matters), however also flags the specific recitals (in particular: recital 12) suggesting that in the context of the services Regulation the analysis needs to be done swiftly hence only cases which prima facie fall outside the scope of application (including where they manifestly (see the dictum of Fahnenbrock and para 50 of the AG’s Opinion in Kuhn) are not covered by that Regulation.
Coming next to the consideration of the application of ‘civil and commercial’, the facts of this case reflect very much the hybrid nature of much of sovereign debt litigation. In my view yes, the haircut took place within the wider institutional nature of Greece’s debt negotiations with the EU. Yet the ‘collective action clause’ (CAC) which was not part of the original terms and conditions (there was no CAC in the original lex causae, Greek law, but there is one in the newly applicable lex causae, English law: at 63 of the Opinion), was negotiated with the institutional holders of the bond and crammed down the minority holders like Mr Kuhn (at 66). The AG suggest that this does not impact on the qualification of the changes being ‘immediate and direct’, this being the formula employed by the Court in Fahnenbrock.
I am not so sure of the latter but it will be up to the CJEU to decide.
The Advocate General note bene subsequently ‘completes the analysis’ in case the CJEU disagrees with this view, and finds that if the issue is civil and commercial, it can be litigated under Article 7(1)’s rule on special jurisdiction for contractual obligations (the AG at para 88 ff distinguishes the case from C-375/13 Kolassa (in which the CJEU saw no contractual bond between the issuer of the bonds and the acquirer on the secondary market), the obligation at issue, he suggests, having to be performed in Greece. As for the latter element, the Advocate General does refer for the determination of the place of performance to the initially applicable law: Greek law, leaving the later lex causae, English law, undiscussed.
Whether the Court will follow the AG remains of course to be seen.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.
Jurisdiction re prospectus liability (misrepresentation) before the CJEU again. Bobek AG in Löber v Barclays.
Even Advocate-General Bobek has not managed to turn jurisdictional issues re prospectus liability into the prosaic type of analysis which many of us have become fond of. His Opinion in C-307/17 Löber v Barclays is a lucid, systematic and pedagogic review of the CJEU’s case-law on (now) Article 7(2)’s jurisdiction for tort in the context of ‘prospectus liability’ aka investment misrepresentation. Starting with the direct /indirect damage distinction; and focusing of course on the determination of pure economic loss.
Ms Helga Löber invested in certificates in the form of bearer bonds issued by Barclays Bank Plc. In order to acquire those certificates, the corresponding amounts were transferred from her current (personal) bank account located in Vienna, Austria to two securities accounts in Graz and Salzburg. Payment was then made from those securities accounts for the certificates at issue.
Note immediately that the jurisdictional discussion is a result of Article 7(2) not just identifying a Member State: it identifies specific courts within that Member State. Here: claimant brought her claim before a court in Vienna, the place of her domicile. This is also where her current bank account is located, from which she made the first transfer in order to make the investment. The first- and second-instance courts in Vienna however decided that they did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. The case is now pending before the Oberster Gerichtshof (Supreme Court, Austria). That court is asking, in essence, which of the bank accounts used, if any, is relevant to determine which court has jurisdiction to hear the claim at issue.
Close reference is made to Kolassa. In my posting on that case at the time, I noted that the many factual references which the Court built in in its decision, gave it dubious precedent value. Bobek AG in Löber necessarily therefore distinguishes many factual situations. The almost sole focus lies on 7(2): unlike in Kolassa, contracts neither consumer contracts are an issue.
Here are a few things of note:
First, in his review of the existing case-law the AG at 38 points out like I did at the time of the judgment, that the CJEU’s finding in CDC that locus damni for a pure economic loss, in the case of a corporation, is the place of its registered office, is at odds with precedent (he made the same remark in flyLAL).
Next, on locus delicti commissi, the AG suggests that despite Article 7(2)’s instruction, a single ldc within the Member State cannot be determined. The relevant point in his view is the moment from which the prospectus can, by operation of law, start influencing the investment behaviour of the relevant group of investors. In the present case, and considering the national segmentation of the capital market regulation at issue, that relevant group is made up of investors on secondary markets in Austria. At 65: once it became possible to offer the certificates on the Austrian secondary market, that possibility was immediately available for the whole territory of Austria. ‘The nature of the tort of misrepresentation at issue does not allow for the identification of a location within the national territory because once the author of the tort is allowed to influence the given national territory, that influence immediately covers the whole territory, irrespective of the actual means used for the publication of a specific prospectus.’ As we know from CDC, the Court does not readily accept that a single ldc cannot be determined.
Further, for locus damni, the AG suggests (at 78) ‘The place where…a legally binding investment obligation is factually assumed… The exact location of such a place is a matter for the national law considered in the light of available factual evidence. It is likely to be the premises of a branch of the bank where the respective investment contract was signed, which may correspond, as in the Kolassa case, to the place where the bank account is held.‘ That in my view first of all is not a warranted outcome. The investor in Löber is not a consumer within the protected categories of the Regulation. Suggesting the place of conclusion of the obligation leaves room for the claimant to manipulate the forum of any future suit in tort. This is exactly what the Court objected to in Universal Music. Moreover, note the reference to ‘the national law’. It is quite unusual to suggest such a role for lex fori in light of the principle of autonomous interpretation. Unless the AG in fact means the ‘lex contractus’, presumably to be determined applying Rome I.
In summary there are quite a few open questions here – not something of course which I would necessarily object to.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124.7
Many thanks Michael Verhaeghe (whom I have the pleasure with jointly to be representing a client) for alerting me to Lodi Trading in which the Belgian Supreme Court applied (and distinguished) Kolassa. Lodi Trading is registered in The Netherlands and seemingly had been duped into transferring funds to a gang of fraudsters. As always, the judgment is very very scant on factual reference, and I have not been able to find the Court of Appeals’ judgement: if anyone can: Court of Appeal Gent, 8 December 2015.
Like the CJEU itself did clearly in Universal Music, the Hof van Cassatie distinguished Kolassa (although it does not refer to Universal Music in this part of the judgment) by insisting there be circumstances specific to the case, over and above the simple presence of a bank account, which point to the damage occurring in that State.
In Universal Music the CJEU had emphasised the need for case-specific facts for bank accounts to be a relevant factor in determining jurisdiction, by holding that ‘it is only where the other circumstances specific to the case also contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the courts for the place where a purely financial damage occurred, that such damage could, justifiably, entitle the applicant to bring the proceedings before the courts for that place.’ (emphasis added).
What seems (but again: see the joint caveat of the Supreme Court’s judgment being scant and the Court of Appeal’s judgment being untraceable) to be specific to this case is that the Court of Appeal had held in favour of the location of the bank account of recipient of the funds being locus damni, given that ‘internal law’ (by which I take it reference is made to Belgian, not Dutch law) determines that the time of payment is determined by the moment of accreditation of the funds to the beneficiary’s account: not (the alternative reading; but again I am assuming for the judgment’s 10 brief paras do invite speculation) the time of the funds leaving the account holder’s account.
It could well be therefore that the Supreme Court is rebuking the Court of Appeal for having Belgian law enter the equation, given the need for autonomous interpretation of European civil procedure. But I am not entirely sure.
(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52.7
The CJEU has in my view taken the sensible approach in C-366/13 Profit Investment Sim, on (among others) whether choice of court included in a bond prospectus, binds not just the original transactional parties but also the buyers of such bonds on the secondary markets or via intermediaries. (An issue which many of us pondered in Kolassa but which was not sub judice there).
Parties at issue were Commerzbank (formerly Dresdner), the bond issuer; Redi, financial intermediary licensed by the UK FSA and subscriber of all relevant bonds on the primary market; and Profit, an Italian company, who bought part of the bonds of Redi, on the secondary market. Dresdner’s prospectus contains choice of court in favour of the English courts.
First, on the issue of the jurisdiction clause. The referring court asks, in essence, whether Article 23(1)(a) and (c) of Regulation 44/2001 (both now part of Article 25) must be interpreted as meaning that a jurisdiction clause, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, satisfies the formal requirements laid down in Article 23(1)(a) [‘in writing or evidenced in writing’] where (i) it is contained in a prospectus produced by the bond issuer concerning the issue of bonds, (ii) it is enforceable against third parties who acquire those bonds through a financial intermediary and (iii), in the event that the first two parts of the second question are answered in the negative, it corresponds to a usage in the field of international trade or commerce for the purpose of Article 23(1)(c).
Choice of court in the prospectus and the impact on the primary market.
The Court first of all holds that the ‘formal requirement’ of (now Article 25 a (a) ”in writing or evidenced in writing’ for the issue of choice of court between Dresdner and Redi is only met (along the lines of Colzani Case 24/76) if the contract signed by the parties upon the issue of the bonds on the primary market expressly mentions the acceptance of the clause by Redi, or contains an express reference to the prospectus. The latter in particular is quite likely.
Choice of court in the prospectus and enforceability against third parties acquiring through a financial intermediary.
Next, the Court (at 30) holds that the same two alternatives apply for the relationship between Redi and Profit. Here the court refers to Refcomp and distinguishes it, basically by pointing to the specific examples of bills of lading and choice of court in shareholders registries, cases in which the CJEU had previously accepted transferability of choice of court to third parties, in specific circumstances. (Please refer to both the Refcomp judgment and to current judgment (at 33 ff) for detail).
The Court consequently held (at 37) that choice of court contained in a prospectus produced by the bond issuer concerning the issue of bonds may be relied on against a third party who acquired those bonds from a financial intermediary if it is established, which it is for the referring court to verify, that (i) that clause is valid in the relationship between the issuer and the financial intermediary, (ii) the third party, by acquiring those bonds on the secondary market, succeeded to the financial intermediary’s rights and obligations attached to those bonds under the applicable national law, and (iii) the third party had the opportunity to acquaint himself with the prospectus containing that clause. (Emphasis added).
The emphasis I added is quite important: the CJEU does not hold that such succession is somehow part of an EU Ius Commune.
Finally, if the answer to the first two questions is negative, is there usage in international trade or commercial custom between the parties?
This, the Court holds, has to be determined by the national court. The CJEU (at 48) recalls its earlier case-law in particular C-106/95 MSG: actual or presumed awareness of a usage on the part of the parties may be made out, in particular, by showing either that the parties had previously had commercial or trade relations between themselves or with other parties operating in the sector in question, or that, in that sector, a particular course of conduct is sufficiently well known because it is generally and regularly followed when a particular type of contract is concluded, so that it may be regarded as being an established practice.
The Court does though give a few more practical things which the national court needs to look out for: at 49. In order to determine, in the main proceedings, whether the insertion into the prospectus of a jurisdiction clause constitutes a usage in the sector in which the parties operate, of which those parties were aware or ought to have been aware, the referring court must take into account, inter alia, the fact that that prospectus was approved in advance by the Irish Stock Exchange and made available to the public on the latter’s website, which does not seem to have been contested by Profit in the proceedings on the merits. In addition, the referring court must take account of the fact that it is undisputed that Profit is a company active in the field of financial investments as well as of any commercial relationships it may have had in the past with the other parties to the main proceedings. The national court must also verify whether the issue of bonds on the market is, in that sector, generally and regularly accompanied by a prospectus containing a jurisdiction clause and whether that practice is sufficiently well known to be regarded as ‘established’.
Lest one forgets, the Court’s judgment is also relevant for a more general query on the nature of (now) Article 7(1): must the action seeking the annulment of a contract and the restitution of the amounts paid on the basis of a document the nullity of which is established, be regarded as ‘matters relating to a contract’ (the existence of which plaintiff seeks to dispute)? Yes, it does: if only (at 54) to ensure that Article 7(1) cannot simply be torpedoed by one party claiming that there is no contract.
(The judgment also reviews the conditions of application of (now) Article 8(1), with respect to ‘irreconcilability’ of judgments).
This judgment is quite relevant in yet again the CJEU having to defer to national law on the issue of transferability (see the emphasis I added, above). The Court very clearly does not wish to overplay its hand in trying to force a European Ius Commune in private law, via the use of private international law.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law Chapter 2, Heading 184.108.40.206; Heading 220.127.116.11.a; 18.104.22.168;.22.214.171.124; 2.2.12