Posts Tagged Protected categories
Yukos v Merinson: A Brussels I jurisdictional bonanza. Particularly the issue of ‘after the issue has arisen’ for protected categories.
I have been posting a series of comments in recent weeks, with more on the way, on cases that caught my attention pre-exam period. They were all candidates for exam questions except much as I would want to, I can only subject my students to that many developments in conflict of laws. Another one in this series of ‘overdue’ postings:  EWHC 335 (Comm) Yukos v Merinson.
From Salter DJ’s summary of the facts: (excuse their length – this is rather necessary to appreciate the decision)
_____________The defendant was employed by the first claimant under a contract of employment governed by Dutch law. Various proceedings were commenced before the Dutch courts by the defendant and entities within the claimant group in relation to the defendant’s employment. The parties reached terms of settlement of those proceedings, which were embodied in a settlement agreement executed by the parties and subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Dutch courts. The settlement agreement was in turn approved by the Dutch courts, with the effect that it became a “court settlement” within the meaning of article 2 of Brussels I Recast. Subsequently, upon certain additional facts as to the defendant’s conduct being learnt by the claimants, they brought a claim against the defendant in England, where the defendant was then domiciled, seeking damages for losses allegedly suffered as a result of the defendant’s breach of duties under his employment contract (“the damages claims”) and a declaration that the settlement agreement did not bar the damages claims, alternatively an order that the settlement agreement should be annulled under Dutch law on the grounds of error and/or fraud (“the annulment claims”). The defendant applied for a declaration that the courts of England and Wales had no jurisdiction to try the claims brought and an order that the claim form be set aside, on the grounds that all of the claims fell within the settlement agreement conferring exclusive jurisdiction on the Dutch courts, which therefore had exclusive jurisdiction by operation of Article 25 Brussels I Recast, and (1) in respect of the annulment claims, Article 25 could not be overridden by Articles 20(1) and 22(1) requiring proceedings to be brought in the courts of the state of the defendant’s domicile at the time of issue of the claim form, since those claims were not “matters relating to [an] individual contract of employment” within the meaning of Article 20(1); (2) in respect of all claims, Article 23(1) allowed the rule in Articles 20(1) and 22(1) to be departed from, since the settlement agreement had been entered into after the dispute had arisen; and (3) the settlement agreement being a juridical act of the Dutch courts, the English courts were precluded by Article 52 from reviewing its substance in respect of the annulment claims and, the settlement agreement also being a court settlement, the English courts were required by Articles 58 and 59 to recognise and enforce it unless it was manifestly contrary to public policy._______________
All in all, plenty of issues here, and as Salter DJ was correctly reassured by counsel for the various parties, not any that the CJEU has had the opportunity to rule on. Four issues were considered:
1. Are the Damages Claims and/or the Annulment Claims “matters relating to [an] individual contract of employment” within the meaning of Article 20(1)?>>>Salter DJ’s Answer: 25 ff: YES. His main argument: the Settlement Agreement set out the terms on which Mr Merinson’s contract of employment came to an end. In so doing, it also varied the terms of that contract of employment. The terms of the Settlement Agreement now form part of the contractual terms on which Mr Merinson was employed, and which govern the rights and liabilities arising out of the employment relationship between him and the Yukos Group. In my view this finding should not have been made without considering the lex causae of the employment contract: Rome I in my view should have been engaged here.
2. If so, is the Settlement Agreement “an agreement .. entered into after the dispute has arisen” within the meaning of Article 23(1)?>>>Answer (on the basis of extensive reference to Brussels Convention and Regulation scholarship): a dispute will have “arisen” for the purposes of these Articles only if two conditions are satisfied: (a) the parties must have disagreed upon a specific point; and (b) legal proceedings in relation to that disagreement must be imminent or contemplated. Salter DJ correctly emphasises the protective policy which underlies these provisions, however I am not confident he takes that to the right conclusion. Common view on the protective regime is that when parties have had the privilege of legal advice, they can be assumed to have been properly informed: the position of relative weakness falls away.
3. Further, is the English court, in any event, precluded from entertaining the Annulment Claims by Chapter IV of the Recast Judgments Regulation? >>>The issue of court settlements was specifically considered in the Brussels Convention, and the Jenard Report, given their importance in Dutch and German practice. In C-414/92 Solo Kleinmotoren the CJEU (at 17) held ‘to be classified as a “judgment” within the meaning of the Convention, the act must be that of the court belonging to a Contracting State and ruling on its own authority on points in dispute between the parties.’: considering Dutch expert evidence on the issue, the decision here is that despite the limited authority under Title III Brussels I Recast for other Courts to refuse to recognise a court settlement (ordre public in essence), it is not a ‘judgment’. Salter DJ concludes on this point that normal jurisdictional rules to challenge the settlement apply. At 81 he suggests, provisionally, that ‘it would nevertheless be open to this court in those circumstances to case manage the enforcement application and the set-aside action, so that they are dealt with together, the result of the action determining the enforcement application. Fortunately, I am not required to wrestle with those practical complexities in order to determine the present application, and I make no decision one way or another on any of these matters. There is no application before me to enforce the Dutch Court Settlement, merely an application for a declaration that the court “has no jurisdiction to try the Claimants’ claims”.‘
This insight into the case-management side of things, however, does highlight the fact that the findings on the jurisdiction /enforcement interface appear counterintuitive. Particularly in cases where the English courts would not have jurisdiction viz the settlement, but would be asked to enforce it – which they can only refuse on ordre public grounds, the solution reached would not work out at all in practice.
4. And finally what are the consequences, as regards jurisdiction, of the decisions on the first three of these issues?>>>Held: the English court, as the court of the Member State in which Mr Merinson was domiciled at the date this action was commenced, has jurisdiction in relation to all of the claims made in the present action.
There is much more to be said on each of the arguments – but I must not turn the blog into a second Handbook, I suppose.
In C-1/17 Petronas Lubricants, the CJEU held end of June, entirely justifiably, that assigned counterclaims may be brought by the employer in the forum chosen by the employee under (now) Article 20 ff Brussels I Recast to bring his claim. In the case at issue, the employer had only obtained the claim by assignment, after the employee had initiated proceedings.
The Court pointed to the rationale underlying Article 22(1), which mirrors all other counterclaim anchor provisions in the Regulation: the sound administration of justice. That the counterclaim is merely assigned, is irrelevant: at 28: ‘…provided that the choice by the employee of the court having jurisdiction to examine his application is respected, the objective of favouring that employee is achieved and there is no reason to limit the possibility of examining that claim together with a counter-claim within the meaning of Article 20(2)’ (Brussels I, GAVC).
Evidently the counterclaim does have to meet the criteria recently re-emphasised in Kostanjevec.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168.
Hofsoe: Scope ratione personae of Brussels I’s protected categories in cases of assignment (specifically: insurance).
In C‑106/17 Hofsoe, the CJEU held late January that the Brussels I Recast Regulation jurisdictional rules for jurisdiction in matters relating to insurance, do not apply in case of assignment to a professional party. A B2C insurance contract assigned to a professional party therefore essentially turns into a B2B contract: the rules for protected categories are meant to protect weaker parties only. The Court also rejects a suggestion that the assignee ought to be able to prove that in fact it merits the forum actoris protection (on account of it being a sole insurance practitioner with little practice): the weakness is presumed and not subject to factual analysis.
Conclusion: at 43: ‘a person such as Mr Hofsoe, who carries out a professional activity recovering insurance indemnity claims against insurance companies, in his capacity as contractual assignee of such claims, should not benefit from the special protection constituted by the forum actoris.’
Predictability, and restrictive interpretation of the Regulation’s exceptions to the actor sequitur forum rei rule, are the classic lines along which the CJEU holds the case.
I for one continue to find it difficult to get my head round assignment not leading to the original obligation being transferred full monty; including its jurisdictional peculiarities. The referring court in this respect (at 28) refers to the applicable national law which provides for as much:
‘In that regard, the referring court points out, under Article 509(2) of the Civil Code, ‘all rights associated with the claim …shall be transferred with the claim’. In those circumstances, the assignment of the claim should include that of the benefit of jurisdiction.’
Indeed in Schrems the Court emphasises the impact of the assignor’s rights on the rights of the assignee. By contrast in Hofsoe, the assignee’s qualities (here: as a professional) call the shots. The Court essentially pushes an autonomous and not necessarily consistent EU law on assignment here. In Rome I, the issue has triggered all sorts of discussions – not least the relevant BICL study and the EC 2016 response to same. Under Brussels I Recast, the discussion is more silent.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.
As I noted at the time, the long and the short of the case is whether the concept of ‘consumer’ under the protected categories of Brussels I (and Recast) is a dynamic or a static one; and what kind of impact assignment has on jurisdiction for protected categories.
On the first issue, Mr Schrems points to his history as a user, first having set up a personal account, subsequently, as he became the poster child for opposition to social media’s alleged infringement of privacy, a Facebook page. Each of those, he suggests, are the object of a separate contract with Facebook. FB suggests they are part of one and the same, initial contractual relationship. This one assumes, would assist FB with its line of argument that Herr Schrems’ initial use may have been covered by the forum consumentis, but that his subsequent professional use gazumps that initial qualification.
The Court suffices at 36 with the simple observation that the qualification as a single or dual contract is up to the national court (see inter alia the Gabriel, Engler and Ilsinger conundrum: Handbook, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124.a and generally the difficulties for the CJEU to force a harmonised notion of ‘contract’ upon the Member States), yet that nevertheless any such qualification needs to take into account the principles of interpretation of Brussels I’s protected categories: in particular, their restrictive interpretation. Whence it follows, the Court holds, that the interpretation needs to be dynamic, taking into account the subsequent (professional or not) use of the service: at 37-38: ‘il y a notamment lieu de tenir compte, s’agissant de services d’un réseau social numérique ayant vocation à être utilisés pendant une longue durée, de l’évolution ultérieure de l’usage qui est fait de ces services. Cette interprétation implique, notamment, qu’un requérant utilisateur de tels services pourrait invoquer la qualité de consommateur seulement si l’usage essentiellement non professionnel de ces services, pour lequel il a initialement conclu un contrat, n’a pas acquis, par la suite, un caractère essentiellement professionnel.’
The Court does add at 39-40 that acquired or existing knowledge of the sector or indeed the mere involvement in collective representation of the interests of the service’s users, has no impact on the qualification as a ‘consumer’: only professional use of the service does. (The Court in this respect refers to Article 169(1) TFEU’s objective to assist consumers with the representation of their collective interest).
On this point therefore the Court unlike the AG attaches more weight to restrictive interpretation than to predictability. (Bobek AG’s approach to the issue of dynamic /static was expressed more cautiously).
As for the assignment issue, the Court sides squarely with its AG: the assigned claims cannot be pursued in the jurisdiction which is the domicile of the assignee. That in my view de lega lata makes perfect sense.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199.
Qualifying ‘consumers’ on social media and in the case of assignment. Bobek AG in Schrems v Facebook.
Bobek AG must have picked up his knack for colourful language at Teddy Hall. His Opinion last week in C-498/16 Schrems v Facebook is a delight and one does best service to it by simply inviting one reads it. Now, that must not absolve me of my duty to report succinctly on its contents – the Court itself I imagine will be equally short shrift with claimant’s arugments.
When I asked my students in the August exam to comment on the case, I simply gave them the preliminary questions and asked them how the CJEU should answer them:
1 Is Article 15 of Regulation 44/2001 to be interpreted as meaning that a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of that provision loses that status, if, after the comparatively long use of a private Facebook account, he publishes books in connection with the enforcement of his claims, on occasion also delivers lectures for remuneration, operates websites, collects donations for the enforcement of his claims and has assigned to him the claims of numerous consumers on the assurance that he will remit to them any proceeds awarded, after the deduction of legal costs?
2. Is Article 16 of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 to be interpreted as meaning that a consumer in a Member State can also invoke at the same time as his own claims arising from a consumer supply at the claimant’s place of jurisdiction the claims of others consumers on the same subject who are domiciled
a. In the same Member State, b. In another Member State: or c. In a non-Member State,
if the claims assigned to him arise from consumer supplies involving the same defendant in the same legal context and if the assignment is not part of a professional or trade activity of the applicant, but rather serves to ensure the joint enforcement of claims?
The long and the short of the case is whether the concept of ‘consumer’ under the protected categories of Brussels I (and Recast) is a dynamic or a static one; and what kind of impact assignment has on jurisdiction for protected categories.
On the first issue, I expected my students to point to the CJEU’s precedent of applying the Regulation with a view to predictability and legal certainty; specifically for consumers, to Gruber and the burden of proof in cases of dual use; and to the Court’s judgment in Emrek. Other than the last issue, the AG points to all. Predictability points to a static approach: I would suggest the AG is right. Bobek AG does leave the door ajar for a dynamic interpretation: at 39: in exptional cases, a ‘dynamic’ approach to consumer status should not be entirely excluded. This could be potentially relevant in the event that a contract does not specify its aim, or it is open to different uses, and it lasts a long period of time, or is even indeterminate. It is conceivable that in such cases, the purpose for which a certain contractual service is used might change — not just partially, but even completely. Social media contracts may lead to such circumstances, one imagines, however there would be many ifs and buts to such analysis: including, I would suggest, the terms of the contract wich the service provider initially drew up.
On the issue of assignment the AG’s approach is entirely logical and not surprising: evidently Herr Schrems cannot have claims assigned to him and then exercise those claims using any other jurisdictional prerogatives then present in the original claim. While these may allow him to sue in the forum actoris of the original consumer, there is no valid argument whatsoever to suggest he could join them to his own domicile. The arguments made de lege ferenda (need for forum shopping in collective consumer redress) are justifiably rejected.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52.
Thank you Jeffrey Neuburger for flagging Wiseley v Amazon. Jeffrey has excellent overview and analysis so I will suffice with identifying a few tags: the issue of click-wrap agreements (when does one agree to GTCs contained in pop-ups and hyperlinks and the like); application of a putable law to a contract (the von Munchausen or ‘bootstrap’ principle); comparative dispute resolution law: how would EU law look at the issues? Have fun.