I have reported before on the jurisdictional consequences of CJEU Vereniging van Effectenbezitters v BP. In this post for the European Association of Private International Law, I give my views on the impact for applicable law.
Update 21 May 2021 for additional analysis see Mathias Lehmann here.
As I suggested when I reviewed the Advocate-General’s Opinion in C‑709/19 Vereniging van Effectenbezitters, the CJEU was likely to be much more succinct, which has proven true with the judgment this morning (no English version available as yet).
The CJEU ignored of course the AG’s calls fundamentally to reconsider the locus damni introduction in Bier. Yet it re-emphasised its willingness to reign in the repercussions of Bier, insisting places of jurisdiction under Article 7(2) Brussels Ia need to correspond to those with a certain link to the case. Its core reference throughout is its judgment in Lober, itself an odd case for the court did not assign territorial jurisdiction (an issue also sub judice in Volvo Trucks). Clearly Universal Music features heavily, too.
The Court’s instruction in Universal Music, that the mere presence of a bank account in which damages materialise, does not suffice to establish jurisdiction, is expanded in Vereniging van Effectenbezitters with the use of statutory reporting requirements:  For listed companies (clearly, an entry for distinguishing: how about those unlisted?), only the courts of the Member States in which they are under a statutory reporting duty with a view to its listing, are reasonably foreseeable to it, as places in which a market in its financial instruments may emerge.
The Court also adds  that the collective action nature of the suit is of no relevance. The referring court had asked whether in such suits the domicile of the aggrieved could be dropped as being relevant, however the CJEU insisted that domicile has no stand-alone relevance in purely financial damage at all, even in non-collective action.
To the degree that the existence of such statutory obligations is not exhaustively harmonised across the EU (on that subject, I am no expert), this opens op possibilities of course for Member States to assist its consumers with forum shopping, by expanding reporting requirements. (Albeit such extra requirements may themselves by vulnerable under free movement of establishment and /or services; but now my mind is racing ahead).
The Court’s limiting approach here is in stark contrast with the much wider consequences of its findings on jurisdiction viz material consumer products in Volkswagen.
EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.459
When I flagged the Dutch SC reference to the CJEU in C‑709/19 Vereniging van Effectenbezitters, asking for clarification of the Universal Music case-law on purely economic damage, I signalled the specificities of this case: the case concerns a class action, not that of an individual shareholder; no prospectus was specifically addressed at Dutch investors, who instead feel they received incomplete and misleading information that was made public through press releases, websites and public statements by directors; finally the Dutch Supreme Court questions the CJEU on an e-Date accessibility type jurisdictional basis.
BP plc, defendant, is domiciled in the UK.
Sanchez-Bordona AG Opined last Thursday (apologies I did not make the Twitter-promised Friday review). He kicks off his Opinion with calling into question the very premise of the Universal Music case-law: at 24
the fact that the applicant’s account is located in that Member State is a relevant consideration in any non-contractual action for damage suffered by investments as a result of defective information, even when supplemented by other factors. While noting that the Court of Justice has inclined towards that view, in my opinion it is an open question.
That is a bold proposition not borne out by either CJEU or national case-law. Arguably better formulated is the position at 28 that the interest of the location of the bank account ‘should not be overstated’.
At 32 ff the AG repeats his call (joining a list of AG’s) to abandon the Bier Handlungsort Erfolgort distinction which he also expressed in his Opinion in Volkswagen. He emphasises again that in cases like these, the procedural decision on jurisdiction requires the judge too intensive an engagement with the substance of the case, consequently (at 36) ‘the very nature of the criterion may well create uncertainty among legal practitioners and encourage procedural delaying tactics, as well as divergent interpretations in Member States and further requests to the Court of Justice for preliminary rulings.’
At 37 (and with reference to national case-law) follows a repeat of the call to ‘ruling out the place where the investment account is located’. However the AG himself then acknowledges that call is likely to fall on deaf CJEU ears (at 39):
having regard to the wording of the questions referred, I shall answer them in accordance with their own premisses, that is to say, in the light of the existing case-law of the Court of Justice
hence he continues the Opinion taking Universal Music and its descendants into account:
at 46: ‘the fact that the financial damage took place in an investment account located in the Netherlands cannot be accepted as a ‘sufficient connecting factor for the international jurisdiction’ of the courts of that State.’ – I agree.
Again with reference to his Opinion in Volkswagen, and using the initial justification of the CJEU in Bier to put forward locus damni, the AG at 49-50 reiterates that
the ‘specific circumstances’ relevant to attributing jurisdiction are those which demonstrate the proximity between the action and the jurisdiction, and the foreseeability of that jurisdiction, .. Those circumstances must include: factors that facilitate the sound administration of justice and the smooth operation of proceedings; and factors that may have helped the parties to determine where they should institute proceedings or where they might be sued as a result of their actions.
He then rejects, for reasons succinctly explained in the Opinion, as being relevant: BP’s settlement with other shareholders; the status as consumer of some of the shareholders; BP’s information about its shares.
He concludes on this point at 60 ff that there simply is not a locus damni that meets with A7(2) Brussels Ia’s conditions. He refers as he did in Volkswagen pro inspiratio to the CJEU’s similar holding viz A7(1) forum contractus in C-56/00 Besix: that we are dealing with an obligation which ‘is not capable of being identified with a specific place or linked to a court which would be particularly suited to hear and determine the dispute relating to that obligation’.
Finally the AG deals with the question whether the nature of the action brought by VEB (the fact that it is a collective action) and the fact that it is purely an action for a declaratory judgment, should have an impact. The referring court fears that extending the CJEU rule of CDC, that the transfer of claims by each original creditor to the applicant does not affect the determination of the court having jurisdiction under Article 7(2), would make collective action ineffective.
The AG points out first of all that following ia Folien Fischer, the courts of the Member State in which either the causal event took place or the harm occurred or may occur may lawfully accept jurisdiction by virtue of A7(2) in actions in which specific damages have not (yet) been sought.
He then suggests at 79 that he sees ‘no difficulty in applying [A7(2)] to declaratory actions such as that brought by VEB, in advance of subsequent actions for damages which may be brought only by the individual injured parties, whose identity and residence are unknown at the time of the (first) action.’ Here I do not quite follow. The questions asked by VEB are not merely provisional in an A35 sense (indeed that Article is not discussed). VEB are asking the court to hold
that the courts in the Netherlands have international jurisdiction to hear the claims for compensation brought by the BP shareholders; that the rechtbank Amsterdam (District Court, Amsterdam) has territorial jurisdiction to hear those claims; that BP acted unlawfully towards its shareholders inasmuch as it made incorrect, incomplete and misleading statements about: (i) its safety and maintenance programmes prior to the oil spill on 20 April 2010; or (ii) the extent of the oil spill; or (iii) the role and responsibility of BP in regard to the oil spill; that, had it not been for the unlawful conduct on the part of BP, the purchase or sale of BP shares by the BP shareholders would have been effected at a more favourable market price, or not at all; that there is a conditio sine qua non link between BP’s unlawful conduct and the loss suffered by the BP shareholders due to the fall in the share price in the period between 16 January 2007 and 25 June 2010.
Surely these kinds of questions can only be entertained by court that has A7(2) jurisdiction which, the AG had just opined, is highly unlikely (although the referring court will have the last word on that). That he sees ‘no difficulty in applying [A7(2)] to declaratory actions such as that brought by VEB’ either then contradicts what he just advised (unlikely) or reinforces it cynically (as in ‘no difficulty in applying it, meaning there is no such jurisdiction’) – also perhaps unlikely. Am I missing something?
Finally at 95 the AG (not further discussing Qs 3 and 4) concurs with Bobek AG in Schrems: on the issue of assignment, it is not up to the CJEU to write the law.
EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.459.
Thank you AKD for flagging the Dutch Hoge Raad (Supreme Court) reference to the CJEU in what at the Court is now known as case C-709/19 Vereniging van Effectenbezitters (VEB) v BP. The Hoge Raad’s decision is here, AKD have the questions in English.
The case essentially seeks clarification of Kolassa, Universal Music and Lober, given the specifics in the VEB case as pointed out in the AKD summary: the case concerns a class action, not that of an individual shareholder; no prospectus was specifically addressed at Dutch investors, who instead feel they received incomplete and misleading information that was made public through press releases, websites and public statements by directors; finally the Dutch Supreme Court questions the CJEU on an e-Date accessibility type jurisdictional basis.
One to look out for.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168.7
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 22.214.171.124.7
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 126.96.36.199.7
Mr Kolassa, as a consumer, through the Austrian bank direktanlage.at AG, invested just under Euro 70,000.00 in X1 Global EUR Index Certificates. The certificates were issued by Barclays Bank, registered in the UK, with a branch in Frankfurt. At the time of the issue of the certificates, Barclays distributed a base prospectus, ia in Austria. The portfolio was to be established and administered by X1 Fund Allocation GmbH, to which Barclays Bank had entrusted the investment of the money raised from the issue of the certificates. Most of that money has been lost.
The certificates were sold to institutional investors who sold them on, in particular, to consumers. In the present case, direktanlage.at ordered the certificates to which Mr Kolassa wished to subscribe from its German parent company, DAB Bank AG, with its seat in Munich (Germany), which in turn acquired the certificates from Barclays Bank. In each case, the orders were placed and carried out in the name of the respective bank. Direktanlage.at fulfilled Mr Kolassa’s order in accordance with its general terms and conditions ‘in securities account’, meaning that direktanlage.at holds the certificates as covering assets in its own name at Munich, on behalf of its clients.
Mr Kolassa sues Barclays in Vienna, on the basis of contractual, precontractual, tortious or delictual liability. Jurisdiction in Vienna in his view is present on the basis of Article 15 JR (consumer contracts), 5(1) (contract) or 5(3) (tort). Application of Article 15 JR is dismissed by the ECJ on the basis of there being no contract whatsoever between Barclays and Mr Kolassa. (Judgment in Maletic distinguished given that the consumer in that case was from the outset contractually linked, inseparably, to two contracting partners). Application of Article 5(1) is in some ways more flexible because there need not be proof of a contract between the two parties: what is required, though, is proof of a legal obligation freely consented to by one person towards another and on which the claimant’s action is based. (For otherwise there is no ‘obligation’ which constitutes the connecting factor under Article 5). No such legal obligation ‘freely consented’ was apparent from the case hence Article 5(1) was dismissed, too.
That left Article 5(3). Per Kronhofer (also referred to in the Hoge Raad’s referral in Universal), the mere fact that the applicant has suffered financial consequences does not justify the attribution of jurisdiction to the courts of the applicant’s domicile if, per Kronhofer, both the events causing loss and the loss itself occurred in the territory of another Member State. On the basis of the facts of the case, the ECJ dismisses Austria as the locus delicti commissi: the decisions regarding the arrangements for the investments proposed by Barclays Bank and the contents of the relevant prospectuses, were taken in the Member State of Barclays’ seat, i.e. the UK.
The locus damni, the place where the loss occurred, is the place where the investor suffered it (at 54). ‘The loss occurred where the investor suffered it’ sounds like an abstract definition however the ECJ emphasises that that conclusion is fact-related, that is to say: it is a result of the that, first, the certificates’ loss of value was due, not to the vagaries of the market, but to the management of the funds in which the money from the issue of those certificates had been invested. Second, the actions or omissions alleged against Barclays with respect to its legal information obligations took place before the investment made by Mr Kolassa and were, in his view, decisive for that investment (at 51). If ‘the loss occurred where the investor suffered it’ is not an abstract but a fact related criterion, that puzzlingly may mean that there must be an alternative general criterion for purely financial loss if these are due to the ‘vagaries of the market’.
The Court further invites distinguishing by holding at 55 that ‘The courts where the applicant is domiciled have jurisdiction, on the basis of the place where the loss occurred, to hear and determine such an action, in particular when that loss occurred itself directly in the applicant’s bank account held with a bank established within the area of jurisdiction of those courts’. (Emphasis added).
Finally, the ECJ clarifies as much at it could, the balance between plaintiff’s allegations, and defendant’s rebuttal, at the jurisdictional level: what extent of evidence does the seized court need to review with a view to establishing its jurisdiction? The court holds ‘the national court seised is not, therefore, obliged, if the defendant contests the applicant’s allegations, to conduct a comprehensive taking of evidence at the stage of determining jurisdiction, it must be pointed out that both the objective of the sound administration of justice, which underlies Regulation No 44/2001, and respect for the independence of the national court in the exercise of its functions require the national court seised to be able to examine its international jurisdiction in the light of all the information available to it, including, where appropriate, the defendant’s allegations. (at 64). That of course is a thin line however I do not see how the ECJ can instruct otherwise.
In my view Kolassa invites further specification especially on the exact relevance of banks and bank accounts in cases of purely economic loss: Universal provides one such immediate opportunity.