Vereniging van Effectenbezitters. Prospectus liability, purely financial damage and collective actions. The CJEU reigns in jurisdiction using statutory reporting obligations, at odds with its approach in Volkswagen.

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: [35] 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 [36] 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.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.459

Jurisdiction for prospectus liability: Sanchez-Bordona AG in Vereniging van effectenbezitters attempts another go at Bier; leaves questions hanging on collective action.

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.

Most relevant.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.459.

 

Universal Music: The CJEU distinguishes Kolassa but just won’t give up on Bier.

Uppdate 4 October 2017 for the eventual Dutch judgment (Hoge Raad) see here. Thank you Michiel Poesen for flagging. UM had not invoked other factual elements linking the case to The Netherlands, than the payment of the settlement from a Dutch bank account.

As I had feared /as was to be expected, the CJEU did not follow Szpunar AG’s lead in formally letting go of Case 21/76 Bier‘s Erfolgort /Handlungsort distinction, even if it did accept the AG’s rejection in the case at issue, of the mere presence of a bank account triggering jurisdiction for tort under (now) Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast.

Kolassa upheld jurisdiction in favour of the courts for the place of domicile of the applicant by virtue of where the damage occurred, if that damage materialises directly in the applicant’s bank account held with a bank established within the area of jurisdiction of those courts. In Universal Music the CJEU distinguished Kolassa: for in the latter case there where ‘circumstances contributing to attributing jurisdiction to those courts.’ In general, the Court held in Universal Music, ‘purely financial damage which occurs directly in the applicant’s bank account cannot, in itself, be qualified as a ‘relevant connecting factor’‘ (at 38) . ‘ It is only where the other circumstances specific to the case also contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the courts for the place where a purely financial damage occurred, that such damage could, justifiably, entitle the applicant to bring the proceedings before the courts for that place.‘ (at 39).

The Court at 38 flags a rather interesting and relevant argument for dismissing pure presence of  a bank account as a determining connecting factor (a student of mine, Tony Claes, had made the same argument earlier this ac. year): a company such as Universal Music may have had the choice of several bank accounts from which to pay the settlement amount, so that the place where that account is situated does not necessarily constitute a reliable connecting factor. What the Court is essentially saying is that in such circumstance the applicant can manipulate jurisdiction and hence shop for a forum: which is not part of the jurisdictional rule for tort.

Crucially of course we are left having to ponder what exactly ‘other circumstances’ than location of bank account may imply.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 2.2.11.2, 2.2.11.2.7