Protecting employees under Rome I (and the Convention). The French SC takes a fork in the road view on setting aside choice of law.

I am in blog queue clear-out mode today. Thank you Maxime Barba for flagging the French SC’s December judgment on the application of Rome I’s (in fact the Rome Convention but the provisions have not materially changed) protective regime for employees. At issue is a contract for which parties had chosen Moroccan law, with the Court of Appeal setting aside that choice under A6 Rome Convention, now A8 Rome I, in favour of the French law’s provisions for dismissal, binding upon the employer by virtue of a collective labour agreement.

As Maxime notes, an interesting reference is the SC’s view on what law has to be considered ‘more favourable’. This weighing is a consequence of A6 stipulating

in a contract of employment a choice of law made by the parties shall not have the result of depriving the employee of the protection afforded to him by the mandatory rules of the law which would be applicable under paragraph 2 in the absence of choice.

Clearly setting aside only occurs when the default law (the one that applies in the absence of choice) is more favourable to the employee. How though does one assess that more protective character? Piecemeal, checking every part of the employment relationship? Or more ‘global’, which would mean the exercise might let the employee down on some of the consequences. And once the comparison made, how much of the offending law does one set aside? The SC first of all notes that

[12] D’abord, la détermination du caractère plus favorable d’une loi doit résulter d’une appréciation globale des dispositions de cette loi ayant le même objet ou se rapportant à la même cause.

The judge’s exercise must limit itself to those parts of labour law which are at issue in the dispute: not an overall comparison, in other words. However as I understand the judgment, the employer had argued that once the comparison made (here: French law including a longer list of dismissal without cause than Moroccan law), the judge must only give sectional priority to the default law: here: the judge, it is argued, must treat the end of the relationship as one without cause, but must then resurrect Moroccan law’s consequences to such dismissal without cause. The SC on the other hand puts a fork in the road: once the road to French ‘dismissal without cause’ taken, French consequences for same apply. (The SC does in the end annul on the basis of a wrong calculation of the severance package, under French law).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 3.2.5.

Court Amsterdam on the impact of the lex fori prorogati’s consumer laws for choice of court. A high net value Australian businessman sails away from Dutch jurisdiction.

I am catching up a little on recent case-law and am focussing it seems on the consumer section (see also yesterday’s post). This Court Amsterdam judgment published on 8 September caught my eye for it discusses choice of court, applicable law for the substantive validity of same, and ‘consumers’ in the context of buying yachts (now that I write that, in my exams I often have consumers buying yachts). Thank you Haco van der Houven van Oordt for signalling the case.

A purchase agreement for a yacht worth €5.4 million was signed in Singapore between buyer, an Australian living in Australia, and a Dutch shipyard. Seller’s GTCs mention

‘Article 17 – Settlement of disputes 1. Each agreement between [claimant] and the other party is subject exclusively to the laws of the Netherlands. 2. Any disputes which arise between the other party and [claimant], including disputes relating to the interpretation of these terms and conditions, will be put exclusively before the competent judicial body in Amsterdam.’

Pre-delivery was scheduled for December 2018 in Italy. Buyer changes his mind a week after signature, saying he will not be able to honour the agreed price. Vendor pursues the contractual penalty clause of 25% of the sale price. 

The judge finds the consent to choice of court to have been validly expressed on the basis of A25 BIa, under the classic Colzani formula. References to the GTCs had been properly made in the written contract. A duly diligent contracting party could and should have read these GTCs. Defendant’s argument that the choice of court clause in the GTCs should have been the subject of specific negotiation, is rejected [4.3.3].

As for the substantive validity of choice of court, the Dutch court (unlike eg the Belgian Supreme Court in Happy Flights) does add renvoi to the mix per recital 20 BIa. Dutch private international law (like the BE rules, nota bene) makes Rome I applicable to contracts even for the subject-matter excluded of its scope of application, among which choice of court agreements. Lex voluntatis therefore rules and the court holds that the choice of law for Dutch law for the contract as a whole, extends to choice of law for the forum clause [4.3.7].

The defendant finally alleges invalidity of the choice of court agreement on the basis of the lex fori prorogati’s rules on ‘potestative’ (unreasonably onerous) clauses. On this point, the defence succeeds: [4.3.9]: the defendant has to be qualified as a consumer under Dutch law, despite his high net value and the object of purchase, and the GTCs per article 6.236 n BW should have included a clause giving the consumer the option to opt for the default court with jurisdiction (which one that would be is not clear to me and the judgment does not specify it).

Seeing as the choice of court agreement is held to be invalid, that the defendant is domiciled in Australia, and in the absence of a relevant bilateral agreement between the two countries, Dutch residual rules are applied to assess alternative grounds for jurisdiction. There is no Dutch forum contractus, given delivery in Italy [4.5.1, with reference ia to CJEU Car Trim] and no other jurisdictional grounds have any traction.

Conclusion: no jurisdiction for the Dutch courts. The case is good material for the lex fori prorogati rule and for the realisation that even outside the context of the consumer title of Brussels Ia (defendant not being domiciled in the EU, that title was not triggered), consumer law plays an important role in choice of court.

Geert.

Dooley v Castle. On Gibraltar, the Brussels Convention and trust management as consumer contracts.

After Eastern Pacific Chartering Inc v Pola Maritime Ltd, judgment in Dooley & Ors v Castle Trust & Management Services Ltd [2021] EWHC 2682 (Comm) is the second recent case to apply the 1968 Brussels Convention in relations between the UK and Gibraltar. This time it is the consumer section of the Convention which is at the core of the jurisdictional discussion.

Defendant is a company registered in Gibraltar which operates as a professional trustee company. The litigation concerns overseas pension schemes, promoted principally by Montegue Smythe, a Cypriot firm which operated from an English address. The court did not have before it any contractual terms evidencing the relationship between Castle and Montegue Smythe [66].

Common law negligence or breach of regulatory or statutory rules are the claim. Applicable law [15-16] is announced to be a contested issue at trial but not one that featured in the current jurisdictional challenge.

Readers may be aware that prior to the Brussels I Regulation (2001) amendments to the consumer section, requirements to trigger it were quite different. Defendants argue that the consumer section is not engaged for claimants have not shown that the conclusion of the contract was preceded in the consumer’s domicile by a specific invitation addressed to them or by advertising. In support of their case that the requirement of A13.3(b) Brussels Convention was satisfied, claimants plea an extract from Castle’s website which was said to be an act of advertising in the UK.

CJEU Kalfelis, Engler, Gabriel and Pammer (the latter mutatis mutandis and with focus on the CJEU’s view as to its own previous authority under the Convention; for Pammer Alpenhof is a Brussels I case) were the core cases discussed. At [64] Russen J rejects ia Petruchova and Reliantco as relevant authority given their Brussels I(a) context.

The judge emphasises the restrictive interpretation of the consumer section and holds that Castle’s obligations to claimants rested fundamentally upon its trusteeship of the QROPS rather than any separate contract for the provision of financial administration services. There is no plausible evidential basis for saying a contract was concluded for the supply of services outside those which were identified by the Deeds and the Rules which were incorporated by Castle [68].

Any claim against Castle based upon non-performance of services would have to be based upon the Trust Deeds and the Rules incorporated by them. Any such claim would fall within Article 5.6 (equivalent to A7(6) BIa) which would lead to the same court – the Gibraltar court – having jurisdiction as it would under the general rule of A2 Brussels Convention [70].

The judge also held that even on the assumption that a particular claimant read the extract on the website before investing in the QROPS, the fact is that there is no evidence to suggest that the territorial requirement identified in  CJEU Gabriel was satisfied.

The tort gateway under A5(3) Brussels Convention was not much entertained for claimants did not put much weight on it. At [73] the judge located locus delicti commissi in Gibraltar and did not hold on locus damni possibly being in England or the UK (the signing away of the transfer of the funds in the UK potentially qualifying as locus damni. With interesting potential discussion of course of the EU v the E&W approach on same per UKSC Brownlie I and II.

The jurisdictional challenge succeeds.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.1 and 2.2.9.2.2.

Commerzbank. The CJEU adopts a flexible approach on the ‘international’ in ‘private international law’, at least for the protected category of consumers.

I reviewed the AG’s Opinion in C-296/20 Commerzbank here. The CJEU held a few weeks back, rejecting the AG’s main proposal and instead following him on the subsidiary argument – I lean towards the AG’s first option. For the consumer section, it now suffices the international element surfaces only after the contract has been concluded, provided of course (I am assuming; the CJEU refers to the case but is not quite clear) the contract at issue meets with the Pammer Alpenhof criteria: the business concerned need not necessarily actively pursue a commercial activity in the State in which the consumer is now domiciled, yet its organisation of operations and marketing is such as to meet the ‘directed at’ criteria of the consumer section.

It is to be assumed that the Court’s flexible interpretation (for which it relies to a large degree on mBank) of the international element to this far-reaching extent, only applies given the protective intent of Lugano’s (and Brussels Ia’s) consumer, potentially employees’ and insurance title. It carries far les authority for B2B contracts I would suggest.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.222 ff.

Khalifeh v Blom Bank. On the availability of anti-suit to deter consumer contract proceedings ex-EU.

At issue in  Khalifeh v Blom Bank S.A.L. [2021] EWHC 1502 (QB) is inter alia whether an anti-suit injunction is available to  a claimant who purports to have the protection of Section 4 of the Brussels Ia Regulation. That is the section which protects consumers by granting them a forum actoris and by limiting suits against them to, in principle (limited extensions are possible) their place of domicile. The contract is one in the banking sector, for the opening of 2 USD accounts. Defendant is a Lebanon-incorporated bank. The proceedings which are to be restrained, take place in Lebanon. Current order concerns anti-suit only. Other issues, including applicable law per Rome I (where of course the consumer title also plays a role) are not addressed.

The case is part of my essay questions in a conflicts exam at Leuven today. I would expect students to refer to the discussions in Gray v Hurley and to any reasons for EU courts to exercise, or not, judicial muscle-power in upholding the jurisdiction of courts in the EU as against that of courts outside it.

Claimants calls in support upon Samengo-Turner v J & H Marsh [2007] EWCA Civ 723 and Petter v EMC Europe Ltd [2015] EWCA Civ 828. In those cases, concerning employees, anti-suit was employed viz employers’ potential action outside the EU. Defendant doubts the authority of both (and in particular of Samengo-Turner, a first instance judgment). It refers to both scholarly criticism of the position, and to the Court of Appeal’s recent finding in Gray v Hurley, referred to the CJEU but unfortunately (for reasons of legal certainty) since dropped.

At [38] Freedman J holds he need not make a ‘binary’ decision at this stage, and refuses the application for anti-suit, leaving the discussion for full debate at trial. Part of his reason for doing so is defendant’s commitment not to take the case in Lebanon any further at this stage (no commitment has been made of it to be dropped). At that trial, the ATI debate may continue (this, one imagines, will depend on defendant’s actions in Lebanon), as of course will the applicability of Rome I’s protected categories of consumers.

A trial to look out for.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.24.

Semtech v Lacuna. When do proceedings alleging copyright violation ‘relate to’ contract of employment.

Semtech Corporation & Ors v Lacuna Space Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 1143 (Pat) at its core concerns an alleged breach of copyright between competitors, with former employees of one acting as a trojan horse in the conspiracy. Purvis DJ held [52 ff] with little difficulty (and with reference ia to Bosworth) that the claim however ‘relates to’ the contract of employment of the two main alleged culprits: ‘ the issues of the scope of their authority and the question of vitiation will be at the centre of their defence, and will have to be considered by reference to the contracts of employment which set out their duties and obligations with regard to Semtech. Thus, the employment contracts are not merely context and opportunity, they provide the entire legal framework for resolving Sornin and Sforza’s defence.’ The case against the two therefore needs to be brought in the employees’ domicile, France, and not in E&W.

Directing the judge away from what seems a prima facie applicable gateway in Brussels Ia is something creative counsel may of course attempt. In the case at issue, the employment DNA was all over the place rather than merely incidental. At 73-74 the judge adds that the protected categories section must of course be considered in isolation to give it its full effect: that the litigation will now splinter against various defendants cannot be rescued by an A8(1) anchor mechanism ‘sound administration of justice’ argument, nor any type of forum conveniens analysis.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.278 ff.

Gruber Logistics, Samidani Trans. Sanchez-Bordona AG on true consent and correction of choice of law re minimum wage in employment contracts.

Update 16 July 2021 the CJEU yesterday held along the exact same lines.

In Joined Cases C‑152/20 and C‑218/20 Gruber Logistics and Samidani Trans (my shortening of the many parties involved, Advocate-General Sanchez-Bordona opined yesterday (no English version available at the time of writing).

The Opinion showcases a number of complex levels in Article 8 Rome I, the protective regime for individual employment contracts. The case also points to the complex task in addressing social dumping in the EU. The two cases involve a classic case of such dumping, namely international freight transport.

The AG first of all reminds the referring judges that they must consider whether Directive 96/71’s provisions on minimum wage for posted workers might not be applicable in the case (the referral decisions suggest they are not and the issue is not part of the preliminary reference).

He then dissects the cascade of Article 8 which, similarly to consumer contracts, gives parties full autonomy for choice of law with however a correction for the mandatory provisions of the default law which would apply if no choice of law is made. Whether provisions are mandatory or not, including for minimum wage and despite CJEU support for them being mandatory (Sähköalojen ammattiliitto, Case C‑396/13) continues to be the subject of national assessment: there is no EU harmonisation on same.

As for whether employees have truly consented, the odd provision of Article 3(5) Rome I means that it is the putative law which determines consent (this is notably different for the issue of consent for choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia). He does suggest that the Romanian statute at issue in one of the cases, should it (an issue left for the referring judge to decide) in fact oblige employees to consent to choice of law for Romanian law, negates true consent.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 3.36 ff.

Jamieson v Wurttemburgische Versicherung. On being seized for lis alibi pendens purposes, and on whether the protected categories regimes ought to gazump torpedo actions.

Jamieson v Wurttemburgische Versicherung AG & Anor [2021] EWHC 178 (QB) has been in my draft folder for a while – Master Davison refused an application for a stay on the basis of A29 Brussels I’a’s lis alibi pendens rule, holding that the issue of which court was being seized first, was properly sub judice in the German courts, as is the issue whether litigation subject to the protected categories, should rule out a stay in cases where the weaker party is being disadvantaged.

James Beeton has the background to the case here. Claimant was injured in a road traffic accident in Munich. He was working as a commodities broker for the second defendant. He was attending the Oktoberfest with clients, whom he was entertaining. He was walking from the beer hall to his hotel. He crossed a busy highway and was struck by a taxi, sustaining very severe injuries. The precise circumstances of the collision are in dispute. The taxi was insured by the first defendant, against whom the claimant has a direct right of action.

I tell students and pupils alike that too strong a hint of judicial action in pre-litigation action may trigger a torpedo suit in a court not preferred by client. That is exactly what happened in this case. In pre-action correspondence the insurers for the taxi were asked to confirm that they would not issue proceedings in another jurisdiction – to which they never replied other than by issuing proceedings in Germany for a negative declaration, i.e. a declaration that they were not liable for the accident. Those proceedings had been issued on 18 July 2017. Claimants then issued protectively in England on 10 May 2018. The to and fro in the German proceedings revealed that the correct address for the English claimant was not properly given to the German courts until after the English courts had been seized. 

Hence two substantive issues are before the German courts: when were they properly seized (a discussion in which the English courts could formally interfere using A29(2) BIa); and if they were seized first, is A29 subordinate to the protected categories’ regime: for if the German torpedo goes ahead, claimant in the English proceedings will be bereft of his right to sue in England.

The suggestion for the second issue is that either in Brussels Ia, a rule needs to be found to this effect (I do not think it is there); or in an abuse of EU law (per ia Lord Briggs in Vedanta) argument (CJEU authority on and enthusiasm for same is lukewarm at best).  Despite Master Davison clear disapproval of the insurer’s actions at what seems to be an ethical level, he rules out a stay on the basis of comity and of course CJEU C-159/02 Turner v Grovit: the English High Court must not remove a claim from the jurisdiction of the German courts on the basis of abuse of EU law before those courts.

A most interesting case on which we may yet see referral to the CJEU – by the German courts perhaps.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, Heading 2.2.9.4, 2.2.15.1.

Markt24: CJEU emphasises predictability of place of habitual employment.

There is a benefit to the pace of work becoming so hectic that I cannot post on CJEU case-law swiftly: others have analysis to which I can refer. In the case of CJEU C-804/19 BU v Markt24 GmbH, Anna Wysocka-Bar has posted analysis this morning (Opinion Saugmandsgaard Øe here).

BU whose place of residence is at Salzburg (Austria) signed an employment contract for carrying out cleaning work in Munich (Germany) for Markt24 GmbH, whose registered office is also located in Munich. The contract was signed in a bakery in Salzburg, where Markt24 also had an office. BU was never allocated any work, the employment contract was terminated and BU claims outstanding wage at the Landesgericht Salzburg.

The CJEU refers to Holterman to define employment [25] and holds [26] that the presence of a contract of employment is relevant for triggering the protective regime: not its actual exercise, at least if the lack of performance of the contract is attributable to the employer [28].

This issue was not sub judice however reasoning mutatis mutandis I would suggest the attributability or not to the employer be subject to the putative lex loci laboris per A8 Rome I.

Having established that A21 BIa applies, the question is how a ‘‘place where or from where the employee habitually carries out his work’ may be determined if no work has been carried out. At 41:

in the case where the contract of employment has not been performed, the intention expressed by the parties to the contract as to the place of that performance is, in principle, the only element which makes it possible to establish a habitual place of work (…) That interpretation best allows a high degree of predictability of rules of jurisdiction to be ensured, since the place of work envisaged by the parties in the contract of employment is, in principle, easy to identify

In casu, that place is Munich albeit [46] Salzburg might also still be an option given as A20 BIa makes A7(5)’s branch jurisdiction applicable (“as regards a dispute arising out of the operations of a branch, agency or other establishment, in the courts for the place where the branch, agency or other establishment is situated”). Whether the conditions for that Article apply, is for the court at Salzburg to determine.

The CJEU’s emphasis on predictability in my view also means that if a place is agreed yet the employee, without agreement from the employer, de facto carries out the work elsewhere, the agreed place must take precedent.

The CJEU also holds [34] that the employment title of BIA exhaustively harmonises jurisdiction: more favourable national CPR rules (in casu granting jurisdiction to the employee’s residence and /or place of payment of the remuneration) become inoperable.

An important judgment.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.278 ff.

Not in a gambling mood. CJEU in Peil confirms dynamic interpretation of BIa consumer title, and the Petruchová /Reliantco approach towards knowledge of the market.

Update 15 December 2021. Tobias Lutzi has concurring analysis here. Since he refers to me, we may now have started a renvoi vortex that, with some luck, wil swallow 2020 whole.

The CJEU held last week in C-774/19 AB and BB v Personal Exchange International Limited. I propose for the sake of our memories that we call it Personal Exchange International Limited or even PEIL. (No English version of the judgment available at the time of writing).

May an online poker playing contract, concluded remotely over the internet by an individual with a foreign operator of online games and subject to that operator’s general terms and conditions, also be classified as a contract concluded by a consumer for a purpose which can be regarded as being outside his trade or profession, where that individual has, for several years, lived on the income thus obtained or the winnings from playing poker, even though he has no formal registration for that type of activity and in any event does not offer that activity to third parties on the market as a paid service?

The case echoes Schrems, Petruchová and Reliantco and the CJEU refers to the two former extensively.

At 21 the referring court had signalled the linguistic difference in e.g. the Slovenian and the English version of Article 17 BIA (A15 in BI which is discussed in the judgment), where mention is made of elements over and above the  use of ‘professional’ in the other language versions (e.g ‘trade and profession’ in the English version). The CJEU at 27 refers to the classic collective authentic force of the various language versions to dismiss paying too much attention to this difference.

With reference to Petruchová, the Court at 23 dismisses the relevance of whether the player’s winnings allow him to earn a living. Since the player does not beforehand know those winnings, the consumer title would become unpredictable which is of course a big no-no.

At 37 ff the intimate knowledge of the market is dismissed, too, with reference to Schrems: for this would make the title too dependent upon the subjective situation of the individual.

At 41 ff the Court does reiterate the dynamic interpretation of the title per Schrems (reminder: that has only so far been held in the direction of losing the protection one once has a consumer).

Finally, the frequency and length of play does not constitute a singularly relevant criterion either (at 46), even if they can be taken into account. However the Court confusingly (and unlike eg in  Salvoni) does here refer to substantive consumer law in which it has held (eg in C‑105/17 Kamenova) that these elements do play some role.

All in all a fairly standard re-emphasis of earlier case-law. The referring court is asked to do the remaining math itself.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.235 ff.

 

 

 

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