Posts Tagged Locus standi

CJEU finds Aarhus does not add value in Belgian VAT case.

As a practising lawyer registered to the Belgian Bar I had more than a passing interest in C‑543/14 Orde van Vlaamse Balies v Ministerraad. The case was held on 28 July. At issue is the reversal of the Belgian exemption of legal services from value-added tax (VAT). Of interest for this blog was the Bar Council’s argument that making legal services subject to VAT endangers access to court for individuals. Corporations recover said VAT from the tax their own sales incur. For them, making legal services subject to VAT has zero impact on their books.

The Bar Council sought support among others in the Aarhus Convention, particularly Article 9(4) and (5) on access to court:

‘3.       In addition and without prejudice to the review procedures referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 above, each Party shall ensure that, where they meet the criteria, if any, laid down in its national law, members of the public have access to administrative or judicial procedures to challenge acts and omissions by private persons and public authorities which contravene provisions of its national law relating to the environment.

4.       In addition and without prejudice to paragraph 1 above, the procedures referred to in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 above shall provide adequate and effective remedies, including injunctive relief as appropriate, and be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive. Decisions under this article shall be given or recorded in writing. Decisions of courts, and whenever possible of other bodies, shall be publicly accessible.

5.       In order to further the effectiveness of the provisions of this article, each Party shall ensure that information is provided to the public on access to administrative and judicial review procedures and shall consider the establishment of appropriate assistance mechanisms to remove or reduce financial and other barriers to access to justice.’

Perhaps taking inspiration from the Grand Chamber’s approach in Vereniging Milieudefensie, and consistent with the suggestion of Sharpston AG, the five judges Chamber dismissed direct effect for Articles 9(4) and (5) of Aarhus, mostly because of the Conventions deference in Article 9(3) to ‘national law’.

Given the increasing (but as noted recently qualified; see also here) cloud the CJEU’s Grand Chamber had been given Aarhus, this finding by a five judge chamber that Aarhus Articles 9(4) and (5) do not have direct effect is a little awkward. It also puts the Grand Chamber itself in a challenging position. There are quite a number of Aarhus-related cases pending. Will this chamber’s view on 9(4) and (5) be followed by the assembled top dogs? And if it is not, can the Grand Chamber overrule or distinguish without embarrassment?

Geert.

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Who am I? USSC to rule on a trust’s citisenship in AMERICOLD LOGISTICS.

Update May 2016 the USSC held in March 2016. It held ‘ For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, Americold’s citizenship is based on the citizenship of its members, which include its shareholders.’. I confess I do not know what that means – no doubt others do.

One night this week I was teaching a taster class to final year secondary school students (17-18yr olds). I decided I should make it challenging enough. This, I surmised, would help all those present. Either they would now run a mile from Law School, never to look back (thus taking away all doubt). Or their curiosity would be tickled enough for them to want to learn more (thus for them, too, taking away all doubt). I settled on CSR and conflicts: the Shell Nigeria case, with links to Kiobel (and Adam Smith, David Ricardo; special purpose vehicles; and the impending merger between Leuven’s AB Inbev and SAB Miller. All very exciting stuff!, in an allocated tome slot of 30 minutes). I hope readers will agree that conflict of laws does just the trick referred to above: scare off the doubters; pull in the doubters.

Anyways, that class was at the back of my mind as I was reading up on Americold Logistics. I am not a US trained or US qualified lawyer hence this posting may not be howler-proof however I understand that one particular avenue to gain access to US federal courts (as opposed to State courts; and over and above the issue being an issue based on federal law), is so-called ‘diversity jurisdiction’. This means the federal courts can hear a case if the citisenship of the parties involved is diverse: i.e. of at least two different US States or one of them being foreign. I also understand that to determine corporate citisenship, reference is made to the principal place of business (not therefore generally co-inciding with place of incorporation).

But how about trusts? What identity does a trust have with a view to diversity jurisdiction? In Americold Logistics, the Tenth Circuit sua sponte queried whether there was full diversity of citizenship among the parties. In particular, the judges challenged whether the citizenship of Americold Realty Trust, a business trust, should be determined by reference to its trustees’ citizenship, or instead by reference to some broader set of factors. This issue has deeply split courts across the country. Joining the minority of courts, the Tenth Circuit held the jurisdictional inquiry extends, at a minimum, to the citizenship of a trust’s beneficiaries in addition to its trustees’ citizenship. In this case, doing so destroyed diversity of citizenship among the parties. The issue is disputed, following relevant (seemingly inconclusive) precedent, summarised by SCOTUS here.  The USCC has now granted certiorari.

This judgment will be of quite some relevance to US legal (trust) practice. I think readers will agree that it was wise not to pick it, and the wider issue of trust identity, for lawyers in spe.

Geert.

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Court of Justice dismisses Vereniging Milieudefensie in air quality appeal. Aarhus not always the jawbreaker in judicial review.

In Joined Cases C‑401/12 P to C‑403/12 P, the issues at stake are the scope of judicial review (in the specific context of information requests), the EU’s long and difficult relationship with locus standi in environmental matters (again though within the perhaps more narrow context of access to information), the correct implementation of the Aarhus Convention, and the direct effect of said Convention. The judgment which the ECJ issued yesterday, underlines the need to review the direct effect of international law on a case-by-case and indeed article-by-article basis. While it is clear that the European Court of Justice overall has great sympathy for the binding impact of the Aarhus Convention (see i.a. my postings on the ECJ’s judgments in cases related to the cost of environmental litigation), in this case the relevant environmental organisations failed to convince the ECJ that Article 9 of the Convention has direct effect.

Article 9 Aarhus provides a review procedure in the event requests for information have been refused. (Readers may wish to consult Article 9 themselves to judge direct effect or lack of it themselves).

Regulation 1367/2006 implements the Aarhus Convention is-a-vis the EU Institutions. The case concerns Article 10 of that regulation, entitled ‘Request for internal review of administrative acts’, which provides in paragraph 1 thereof: ‘Any non-governmental organisation which meets the criteria set out in Article 11 is entitled to make a request for internal review to the Community institution or body that has adopted an administrative act under environmental law or, in case of an alleged administrative omission, should have adopted such an act.

Article 2(1)(g) of that Regulation defines ‘administrative act’ as meaning: ‘any measure of individual scope under environmental law, taken by a Community institution or body, and having legally binding and external effects’.

The Netherlands, in accordance with Article 22 of the ambient air quality Directive, Directive 2008/50, had notified the Commission that it had postponed the deadline for attaining the annual limit values for nitrogen dioxide in nine zones and that it was availing itself of a specific exemption from the obligation to apply the daily and annual limit values for particulate matter. The Commission accepted that postponement. Vereniging Milieudefensie and Stichting Stop Luchtverontreiniging Utrecht submitted a request to the Commission for internal review of that decision pursuant to aforementioned Article 10(1). The EC refused internal review.  The Commission considered the request inadmissible as the concerned acts in their view were not “administrative acts” as defined in Article 2(1)(g), not being, the EC argued , of ‘individual scope’ but rather of general application.

The General Court sided with applicants: because Article 10(1) of Regulation 1367/2006 limits the concept of “acts” that can be challenged by NGOs to “administrative acts” defined in Article 2(1)(g) of the Regulation as “measures of individual scope”, it argued that the Regulation is not compatible with Article 9(3) Aarhus. That judgment was appealed by many. The AG in current case also sided with the applicants. (Albeit following a different reasoning than the General court).

The ECJ itself disagreed. The provisions of an international agreement to which the European Union is a party can be relied on in support of an action for annulment of an act of secondary EU legislation or an exception based on the illegality of such an act only where, first, the nature and the broad logic of that agreement do not preclude it and, secondly, those provisions appear, as regards their content, to be unconditional and sufficiently precise. (Ex multi, the ECJ quoted its judgment in the Emissions Trading Scheme case, C-366/10).

Article 9(3) Aarhus, the Court held, does not contain any unconditional and sufficiently precise obligation capable of directly regulating the legal position of individuals and therefore does not meet those conditions: since only members of the public who ‘meet the criteria, if any, laid down in … national law’ are entitled to exercise the rights provided for in Article 9(3), that provision is subject, in its implementation or effects, to the adoption of a subsequent measure at the national level. The Aarhus Contracting Parties enjoy have a broad margin of discretion when defining the rules for the implementation of the ‘administrative or judicial procedures’ (at 59 in fine).

We were quite getting used to Aarhus being employed as a jawbreaker by the ECJ and national courts alike. I am not saying those days are over. However Vereniging Milieudefensie does show both that we cannot assume the Convention’s empowering effect for all of its provisions, and secondly, that at the level of the Convention itself, beefing up one or two articles would certainly assist its implementation. (That in itself, of course, may become more difficult the more frequent the ECJ and national courts both in the EU and elsewhere, employ Aarhus against unwilling State authorities).

Geert.

PS note that in Joined Cases C‑404/12 P and C‑405/12 P, Stichting Natuur en Milieu, the ECJ mirrors this judgment with respect to an internal review of a Regulation setting maximum residue levels for pesticides.

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Burgo Group: Some not altogether shocking revelations on the Insolvency Regulation. Useful revelations nevertheless.

There’s case-law of the Essent, Kylie Minogue (eDate Advertising), Seal Pups, or Kiobel type. And then there is case-law of the, well, Burgo type. In Burgo Group v Illochrama SA, Case C-327/13, the ECJ held on 4 September. The judgment does not reveal anything shocking. (Some might argue at least some of the questions could have been acte claire). However the Court’s findings nevertheless put to bed some concerns which insolvency practitioners might have had.

On 21 April 2008, the Commercial Court, Roubaix-Tourcoing (France) placed all the companies in the Illochroma group — including Illochroma, established in Brussels (Belgium) — into receivership and appointed Maître Theetten as agent. On 25 November 2008, it placed Illochroma in liquidation and appointed Maître Theetten as liquidator.

Burgo Group, established in Altavilla-Vicentina-Vicenza (Italy), is owed money by Illochroma for the supply of goods. On 4 November 2008, Burgo Group presented Maître Theetten with a statement of liability in the amount of EUR 359 778.48. Maître Theetten informed Burgo Group that the statement of liability could not be taken into account because it was out of time.

Burgo Group then requested the opening of secondary proceedings in respect of Illochroma. The referring court (The Brussels Court of Appeal) observed that the Insolvency Regulation defines ‘establishment’ as any place where the debtor carries out a non-transitory economic activity with human means and goods, which is the situation in the present case. Illochroma is a company with two establishments in Belgium, where it is the owner of a building, buys and sells goods and employs staff. Illochrama and the liquidator contend that, since Illochroma has its registered office in Belgium, it cannot be regarded as an establishment within the meaning of Regulation No 1346/2000. They argue that secondary proceedings are restricted to establishments without legal personality (issue 1).

Belgian law applicable to the present case provides that any creditor, including a creditor established outside Belgium, may bring an action before a Belgian court for the opening of insolvency proceedings against its debtor. However, Illochroma maintains that that right is restricted to creditors established in the Member State of the court before which the action seeking the opening of secondary proceedings has been brought, since the sole purpose of such proceedings is to protect local interests (issue 2).

Finally, the referring court observes that Regulation No 1346/2000 does not state whether the possibility for the persons referred to in Article 29 thereof to request, in the Member State within the territory of which the establishment is situated, the opening of secondary proceedings is a right that must be recognised by the court having jurisdiction in that regard or whether that court enjoys a discretion as to whether it is appropriate to grant that request, with a view, in particular, to protecting local interests (issue 3).

 

With respect to issue 1, the ECJ first of all dismissed any suggestions that COMI may be second-guessed by courts in other Member States. Even if the French courts erred in accepting primary jurisdiction, per Bank Handlowy the courts in other Member States have to stick by that judgment. Any challenge to it must be brought in the national courts of the Member States were main proceedings were opened. The Regulation nevertheless of course has inserted the possibility of secondary proceedings precisely to protect local interests in other Member States. (Even though correction of COMI was not as such thought of when secondary proceedings’ architecture was conceived, in practice they do serve to offset some of the consequences of (alleged) wrong COMI assessment).

‘Establishment’ is defined in Article 2(h) of Regulation No 1346/2000 as ‘any place of operations where the debtor carries out a non-transitory economic activity with human means and goods’. Per Interedil, the fact that that definition links the pursuit of an economic activity to the presence of human resources shows that a minimum level of organisation and a degree of stability are required. It follows that, conversely, the presence alone of goods in isolation or bank accounts does not, in principle, satisfy the requirements for classification as an ‘establishment’. On the other hand, the definition does not refer to the place of the registered office of a debtor company or to the legal status of the place in which the operations in question are carried out.The Member State where the company has its registered office clearly is not excluded from the definition: otherwise local interests would be denied the opportunity of seeking protection, which would exist in other Member States where an establishment is present.

As for the second issue, the Regulation draws a clear distinction between territorial proceedings opened prior to the opening of main proceedings, and secondary proceedings. It is only in relation to territorial proceedings that the right to request the opening of proceedings is limited by the Regulation to creditors who have their domicile, habitual residence or registered office within the Member State in which the relevant establishment is situated, or whose claims arise from the operation of that establishment (at 48, with reference to Zaza Retail). Any other conclusion would amount to indirect discrimination on the grounds of nationality, since non-residents are in the majority of cases foreigners (at 49).

Finally, with respect to issue 3, the Regulation grants broad discretion, with regard to the opening of secondary proceedings, to the court before which an action seeking the opening of secondary proceedings has been bought. Article 28 of the Regulation determines in principle as the law applicable to secondary proceedings, that of the Member State within the territory of which those secondary proceedings are opened. Whether opening of the proceeding is ‘appropriate’ has to be determined by that applicable law. EU law does have an impact on that assessment, though (at 64 ff): in deciding appropriateness, Member States must not discriminate on the basis of place of residence or registered office; the Regulation’s motifs for allowing secondary proceedings must be respected (in the main: protection of local interests, given that universal proceedings may be preferred however do often lead to practical difficulties); and finally the principle of sincere co-operation implies that the court assessing the secondary proceedings, must have regard to the objectives of the main proceedings.

 

All in all therefore very much a common sense judgment, with the final instruction to the courts being quite relevant: secondary proceedings must not operate as isolated incidents and they have to take some lead from the main proceedings.

Geert.

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EU Seal product ban upheld by the ECJ – (unsubstantiated) Inuit and traders’ arguments fall on deaf ears

Postscript: the ECJ equally dismissed, on 3 October 2013, the Inuit’s action against the basic Regulation: see case C-583/11P.

Postscript 2, 19 March 2015: Kokott AG suggests the appeal against the judgment in the posting below, be equally dismissed.

 

The European Court of Justice has dismissed an application by Inuit community group, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), and the Fur Institute of Canada, for the Commission’s Implementing legislation of the EU’s ‘Seal Pups Regulation‘ [seal products Regulation somehow has not made it into mainstream language] to be held illegal. The Regulation effectively bans all seal products from being placed on the EU market, with limited exceptions, and it does so on the basis of animal welfare considerations:

Article 3 - Conditions for placing on the market
1. The placing on the market of seal products shall be allowed only where the seal products result from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities and contribute to their subsistence. These conditions shall apply at the time or point of import for imported products.
2. By way of derogation from paragraph 1:
(a) the import of seal products shall also be allowed where it is of an occasional nature and consists exclusively of goods for the personal use of travellers or their families. The nature and quantity of such goods shall not be such as to indicate that they are being imported for commercial reasons;
(b) the placing on the market of seal products shall also be allowed where the seal products result from by-products of hunting that is regulated by national law and conducted for the sole purpose of the sustainable management of marine resources. Such placing on the market shall be allowed only on a non-profit basis. The nature and quantity of the seal products shall not be such as to indicate that they are being placed on the market for commercial reasons.
The application of this paragraph shall not undermine the achievement of the objective of this Regulation. (...)'

Further detail for the application of the exceptions was provided by the Commission in follow-up regulation . It is the follow-up (implementing) Regulation which was the subject of current action. The applicants in this case argued as follows:

1. The basic Regulation lacks legal basis (i.e. Heads of power), for it was adopted on the basis of the Internal Market article of the EU Treaties, while in fact it was animal welfare considerations which led to the initiative. The Court disagreed: Member States had differing regulations in place with respect to seal products, or were planning them. This threatened a clear EU view on the matter and hence disruption of that internal market, whence justifying Article 114 TFEU (at the time: Article 95 EC). Watertight conclusion under EU law – even if paradoxically in order to safeguard the Internal Market, the EU effectively resorted to scrapping that very market.

2. Failing argument 1, the Regulation at any rate is disproportionate and incompatible with the principle of subsidiarity. The latter was dismissed on similar grounds as the review of the legal basis, referred to above. The former seems to have not been helped by the vagueness of the claims of applicants. In particular, they had put forward the view that the Inuit exemption is dead letter, for the communities concerned have to rely on commercial outlets to market their products, not having any such outlets themselves. The Court rejected this argument as too vague and unsubstantiated. It also rejected labelling (testifying to the killing having been done ‘humanely’) as an alternative, for the feasibility of such an option was examined and rejected in the run-up to the legislation.

3. Human rights. Right to property arguments were rejected by the Court, for viz the Inuit, they could still trade in the products concerned and the Court had already established that the ‘dead letter’ argument was unsubstantiated. Viz the applicants which are commercial operations, the Court referred to its earlier case-law the guarantees accorded by the right to property cannot be extended to protect mere commercial interests or opportunities, the uncertainties of which are part of the very essence of economic activity.

4. Ultra vires. The arguments that the Commission implementing Regulation exceeded what the Commission was entitled to regulate, in particular, that its enforcement measures were such as to make trade in Inuit seal products effectively impossible, even if it was instructed to lay down rules leading to a viable Inuit trade, were swiftly rejected by the Court. Again, it referred to a complete lack of data in the file substantiating the claim that all such trade would effectively be impossible.

The actions at the ECJ cannot of course be seen completely detached from the ongoing litigation against the EU over at the World Trade Organisation, on which Robert Howse has posted near-complete records of the hearings which this week finished in Geneva: that Panel report is one to look forward to (although judging by the sounds coming out of Geneva, the Panel would not exactly seem on top of things).

Geert.

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Listing by ECHA of a substance as a candidate ‘substance of very high concern’ may be challenged in Luxembourg – The ECJ in Bilbaína de Alquitranes

In Bilbaína de Alquitranes, the ECJ (General Court) has held that producers of chemical substances may challenge the legality of the decision by ECHA to put a substance on the candidate list of ‘substances of very high concern’ under the REACH Regulation. The judgment is a useful addition to the strict conditions under the Treaty on European Union to seek judicial review of decisions made by the EU Institutions.

The appeal was rejected on substance, however both with respect to the issue of what are ‘final’ decisions that may be challenged, and on ‘individual’ and ‘direct’ concern, the judgment is worth a read. I have a summary of the issues pre-Lisbon over at SSRN. Especially in environmental matters, the Court’s case-law on locus standi has for a long time been very limiting.

Geert.

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