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.

CHEP. When employees’ alleged conspiracy ‘relates to’ contract of employment.

CHEP Equipment Pooling BV v ITS Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 2485 (Comm) concerns in the main when a claim between two parties who are in a relation of employment, ‘relates to’ that employment contract. (In the case concerned, leading to lack of jurisdiction against one of the defendants).

At issue is whether 3 former senior employees had essentially defrauded claimant by negotiating on its behalf, price-inflated audit and supply agreements with corporations which those employees (in)directly owned and /or controlled. Causes of action are breach of fiduciary duty; dishonest assistance of the breaches of fiduciary duty by the other former employees; and unlawful means conspiracy.

Whether any of these claims engage A22 jurisdiction needs to be assessed viz each claim separately: [44]: Cuneo Resources NV and others v Daskalakis and others [2019] EWHC 87 (Comm).  Among others Bosworth was discussed in the subsequent analysis. After reviewing ia the employment history of defendant with the claimant, and the bond between the alleged dishonesty and the employment contract,  Jacobs J concludes [107]

the claims relate to Mr de Laender’s contract of employment, and also …the connection between Mr de Laender’s contract and the conduct relied upon is material. It cannot be described as tenuous, or a small part of the picture, or simply part of the history. I also consider that the legal basis of the claims can reasonably be regarded as a breach of his contract, so that it is indispensable to consider the contract in order to resolve the matters in dispute.

Obiter the judge reviews locus delicti commissi and locus damni under A7(2). For Handlungsort, Jacobs J holds that the claimant has the better of the argument that that is located in England: particularly seeing as the main alleged conspirator was domiciled in England at the time the various strands of the action materialised. For locus damni – Erfolgort, the conclusion [133] is one of Mozaik per Shevill, particularly in view of a corporate reorganisation (incl a move to England) which occurred midway through the conspiracy.

Geert.

Rantos AG in TOTO. Important considerations on lis pendens and provisional measures, and on contractual drafting of choice of court.

Advocate General Rantos opined two weeks ago in C-581/20 Skarb Państwa Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej reprezentowany przez Generalnego Dyrektora Dróg Krajowych i Autostrad v TOTO SpA – Costruzioni Generali et al. – I propose we shorthand the case as ‘TOTO’.

Following public procurement, the Polish treasury granted the works for the construction of a stretch of motorway to an Italian consortium. In the contract, choice of court is made for Poland. The necessary guarantees eg for payment of fines in the event of late completion, were underwritten by a Bulgarian insurance company, whose guarantee is subject to Polish law. The consortium  to no avail sought negative declaratory relief (with a view to obtaining a finding that no fines are due under the contract) and injunctive relief (with a view to prohibiting the Polish authorities from exercising the guarantee) with the Polish court with substance matter jurisdiction. However it subsequently secured the injunctive relief from a Bulgarian court with Article 35 Brussels Ia provisional measures jurisdiction. This relief expressed itself inter alia in custodial attachment of the guarantees which the Polish authorities had sought to exercise with a European Order for Payment form. That Bulgarian relief is now before the Bulgarian Supreme Court.

The questions before the court are  whether the provisional measures can at all be ordered under the A35 gateway given that they might concern acta iure imperii and not civil and commercial matters; and if the matter is within the scope of BIa, whether the A35 court may still order such measures if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has denied them. Finally, whether if the issue is within the scope of BIa, the ordinarily applicable Bulgarian rule that no such relief may be ordered against public authorities, must be set aside.

The Advocate-General suggests the Court settle the questions mainly by recourse to the lis pendens rule of A29 ff of the Regulation, rather than by the alternative of focusing on the ‘provisional’ nature of the measures imposed by the A35 court. A29 ff do not limit their application to substance matter proceedings hence if and when the lis pendens conditions are met, the court last seized must (identical cases) or may (related cases) relinquish its jurisdiction. The opposite is true, as well: if the A35 court has been seized first, the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has been gazumped at least for provisional measures.

The AG also (55 ff) suggests that choice of court must be read to include authority for the chosen court to issue provisional measures, but not (unless expressly agreed; an issue of contractual interpretation which must be left to the national judge to assess) the exclusion of other courts to exercise their A35 jurisdiction.

Finally if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has taken a definitive decision viz the provisional measures, that decision travels under Title III BIa and A45 does not seem to offer room to object to recognition and enforcement. Should that decision not yet be definitive, the ordinary lis pendens rules must apply.

This is a case with rather important contractual drafting and civil procedure consequences.

Geert.

EU Private International law, 3rd ed 2021, 2.512ff, 2.550 ff, 5.584 ff.

 

Yet again on distinguishing contract from tort (and on enforcement jurisdiction). Saugmandsgaard Oe reigns in forum delicti and forum contractus in HRVATSKE ŠUME.

Saugmandsgaard Oe AG opined (no English version at the time of writing) last week in C‑242/20 HRVATSKE ŠUME on the classic conflict of laws issue of distinguishing contract from tort.. He, oddly perhaps, unless some technical reason for it escapes me, does not entertain the question on the scope of Article 24(5) Brussels Ia’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for ‘proceedings concerned with the enforcement of judgments’.

The Opinion is a Qualificationfest.

The case concerns actions for recovery of sums unduly paid, in other words, undue enrichment. This enrichment came about by a Croatian court having  earlier ordered Hrvatske Šume, debtor of  Futura, both of Croatia, to pay its debt to Futura directly to BP Europe SA, successor to Burmah Oil, both domiciled in Germany. Hrvatske appealed that order however that appeal did not halt the payment. Now that the appeal has turned out to be successful, Hrvatske want their money back yet so far Croatian courts have held that they do not have jurisdiction under Article 7(2) BIa (the case actually went under the the predecessor, Brussels I however there is no material difference).

As the referring court notes, there is no delicti commissi in the case of unjust enrichment: it is a non-contractual obligation in which no delict is committed. (This is the very reason Rome II includes a separate heading for unjust enrichment). One might suggest this would leave forum damni only under A7(2), however the AG correctly in my view re-emphasises the seminal statements in CJEU Kalfelis, that actions under A7(2) concern ‘all actions which seek to establish liability of a defendant  and which are not related to a ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article [7](1)’. Unjust enrichment not seeking to establish liability, A7(2) is not engaged. Along the way, note his discussion of linguistics and his seeking support in Rome II.

At 71 ff the AG distinguishes the wide interpretation of ‘establishing liability’ in CJEU Austro Mechana.

A clear implication of the Opinion is that it confirms a disjoint in BIa /Rome II: not all non-contractual obligations for which Rome II identifies a lex causae, are caught by A7(2) BIa’s forum delicti rule.

The AG also engages with the possibility of Croatia being forum contractus  (he kicks off his Opinion with this issue) and dismisses it, seeking support inter alia in CJEU Handte and also in Rome II specifically providing for an unjust enrichment heading. This part of the Opinion is more optimistically straightforward than one might have expected. Following flightright, Wikingerhof etc., A7(1) has been (unduly, in my view) stretched and it would be good to have the CJEU further clarifying same. (C-265/21, in which I have been instructed, might be just the case).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.419 ff.

Windhorst v Levy. The High Court on the narrow window to refuse a Member State judgment under Brussels Ia, which subsequently got caught up in insolvency.

Windhorst v Levy [2021] EWHC 1168 (QB) has been in my in-tray a little while. The court was asked to consider whether registration of a German judgment under Brussels Ia should be set aside when the judgment debt in question was subsequently included within a binding insolvency plan, which is to be recognized in E&W pursuant to the European Insolvency Regulation  – EIR 1346/2000 (not materially different on this point to the EIR 2015). Precedent referred to includes Percival v Moto Novu LLC.

Appellant argues the registration order should be set aside as the initial 2003  judgment is no longer enforceable, having been waived as part of a binding insolvency plan, which came into effect by order of a German court on 31 August 2007 (“the Insolvency Plan”), and which this court is bound to recognize under the Insolvency Regulation.

In CJEU C-267/97 Coursier v Fortis Bank SA (held before the adoption of the EIR) it was held that enforceability of a judgment in the state of origin is a precondition for its enforcement in the state in which enforcement is sought. However that judgment then at length discussed what ‘enforceability’ means, leading to the Court holding that it refers solely to the enforceability, in formal terms, of foreign decisions and not to the circumstances in which such decisions may in practice be executed in the State of origin. This does not require proof of practical enforceability. The CJEU left  it to ‘the court of the State in which enforcement is sought, in appeal proceedings brought under [(now) Brussels Ia], to determine, in accordance with its domestic law including the rules of private international law, the legal effects of a decision given in the State of origin in relation to a court-supervised liquidation.’

The respondent contends that, applying the test laid down in Coursier v Fortis, the 2003 Judgment plainly remains enforceable in formal terms under German law.

The judge, at 52 ff, refers ia to CJEU Prism Investments and Salzgitter to emphasise the very narrow window for refusal of recognition, and holds [56] that the German judgment clearly is still formally enforceable in Germany (where enforcement is nota bene only temporarily stayed pending appeal proceedings). The effects of the German insolvency plan, under German law, are not such that the 2003 judgment has become unenforceable [58].

The request for a stay of execution is also denied, seeing as the appellant chose not to pursue a means available to it under German law and before the German courts, to seek a stay (it would have required it to put down the equivalent sum as court security).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.560 ff, 5.141 ff.

Winslet & Ors v Gisel. Textbook application of De Bloos and looking over the fence to determine forum contractus.

Winslet & Ors v Gisel, The Estate of [2021] EWHC 1308 (Comm) is a brilliant example to teach the ‘looking over the fence’ method for determining forum contractus under Article 7(1), for contracts that do not fall within the default categories and whence the CJEU De Bloos place of performance bumps into the limits of harmonisation following CJEU Tessili v Dunlop. Confused?: the judgment certainly helps.

Claimants, domiciled at England, seek to recover from the estate of a late friend, a considerable sum by way of repayment of principal in respect of a number of interest-free loans between friends (the borrower domiciled at France).

At [16] Butcher J holds (despite considering the broad interpretation of ‘services’ by the AG in Corman-Collins /Maison du Whiskey) ‘In my judgment, the simple provision of money to a friend, which is not undertaken as part of a business of lending money, probably does not qualify as the provision of a service’ (per A7(2), GAVC – reference is made to C-533/07 Falco Privatstiftung v Weller-Lindhorst [29]: “The concept of services implies, at the least, that the party who provides the service carries out a particular activity in return for remuneration.”

The answer to the question ‘what is the place of performance of the obligation to repay’ therefore leads to Rome I per CJEU Tessili v Dunlop and to Article 4(2) Rome I. [26]

‘In the context of banking services, it is, at least ordinarily, the lender that renders characteristic performance of a loan agreement in providing the principal sum to the borrower’ (reference to CJEU Kareda). [27] ‘The question of which party renders the characteristic performance of a loan agreement outside the sphere of financial services has been viewed as rather less clear cut.’ [32] ‘pursuant to the contracts of loan which are in issue, claimants loaned money in return for a promise to repay.’ They, it is held, rendered characteristic performance under the Loans.

As a result, the Loans are governed by English law, as England is the place where each claimant has his or its habitual residence, and English law therefore determines the place of performance, which it does at the creditor’s place of residence or business (contrary it would seem to the position under French law.

Superbly clear analysis.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.401 ff.

Volvo Trucks. The CJEU unconvincingly on locus damni in follow-on damages suit for competition law infringement.

The CJEU held yesterday in C-30/20 Volvo Trucks. I reviewed Richard de la Tour AG’s Opinion here.

After having noted the limitation of the questions referred to locus damni [30]  (excluding therefore the as yet unsettled locus delicti commissi issues) the CJEU confirms first of all [33] that Article 7(2) clearly assigns both international and territorial jurisdiction. The latter of course subject to the judicial organisation of the Member State concerned. If locus damni x has no court then clearly the Regulation simply assigns jurisdiction to the legal district of which x is part. However the Court does not rule out [36] per CJEU Sanders and Huber that a specialised court may be established nationally for competition law cases.

The Court then [39] applies C‑343/19 Volkswagen (where goods are purchased which, following manipulation by their producer, are of lower value, the court having jurisdiction over an action for compensation for damage corresponding to the additional costs paid by the purchaser is that of the place where the goods are purchased) pro inspiratio: place of purchase of the goods at artificially inflated prices will be locus damni, irrespective of whether the goods it issue were purchased directly or indirectly from the defendants, with immediate transfer of ownership or at the end of a leasing contract [40].

The Court then somewhat puzzlingly adds [40] that ‘that approach implies that the purchaser that has been harmed exclusively purchased goods affected by the collusive arrangements in question within the jurisdiction of a single court. Otherwise, it would not be possible to identify a single place of occurrence of damage with regard to the purchaser harmed.’

Surely it must mean that if purchases occurred in several places, Mozaik jurisdiction will ensue rather than just one locus damni (as opposed to the alternative reading that locus damni jurisdiction in such case will not apply at all). However the Court then also confirms [41 ff] its maverick CDC approach of the buyer’s registered office as the locus damni in the case of purchases made in several places.

Here I am now lost and the simply use of vocabulary such as ‘solely’, ‘additionally’ or ‘among others’ would have helped me here. Are we now to assume that the place of purchase of the goods is locus damni only if there is only one place of purchase, not if there are several such places (leaving a lot of room for Article 7(2) engineering both by cartelists and buyers); and that, conversely, place of registered office as locus damni only applies in the event of several places of purchase, therefore cancelling out the classic (much derided) Article 7(2) Mozaik per Shevill and Bier – but only in the event of competition law infringement? This, too, would lead to possibility of forum engineering via qualification in the claim formulation.

I fear we are not yet at the end of this particular road.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.8.

 

Mixing the blank rounds with the live bullets. The Court of Appeal (obiter) on Article 33 Brussels Ia, forum non conveniens light, in Ness Global Services.

In Perform Content Services Ltd v Ness Global Services Ltd [2021] EWCA Civ 981 the Court of Appeal yesterday dismissed the appeal against the High Court judgment which I discussed here.

Two grounds of appeal were at play [34]:

(1) The Court was wrong as a matter of law to interpret Article 33 to mean that jurisdiction was not “based on” domicile by reason of a non-exclusive English court jurisdiction clause that conferred prorogated jurisdiction on the English Court pursuant to Article 25;

(2) The Court was wrong to conclude that a stay was not necessary for the proper administration of justice within the meaning of Article 33(1)(b). The court wrongly failed to place any or any sufficient weight on the fact that the NJ and English proceedings were mirror image proceedings giving rise to the risk of irreconcilable judgments, the core purpose of Article 33 and a core feature of the concept of the administration of justice under the Article. The court wrongly took account of the non-exclusive English court jurisdiction clause and/or an English governing law clause and/or wrongly took account of its assessment that the centre of gravity was Slovakia and/or failed to place any or any sufficient weight on the material connections between the parties and the United States and/or wrongly placed significant reliance on connections between the parties, the dispute and the UK.

On the first issue Flaux C refers ia to UCP and to Citicorp (the latter had not been referred to by the first instance judge, I suggested it could have been), to hold that choice of court under A25 BIa being exclusive or not has no relevance. Like the first instance judge, he rules that A33-34 cannot apply if choice of court has been made in favour of an EU court, exclusive or not.

He then deals obiter, like the judge had done, with the issue whether an A33-34 stay would have been in the interest of the sound administration of justice. He emphasises [66] the wide catchment area of ‘all the circumstances of the case’ per recital 24, and suggests this must potentially also include the connections which the case has with the EU Member State and indeed the specific court (per the choice of court clause) concerned.

On that he is right. But he is wrong in my view to support Turner J’s analysis at [67] in Municipio, without any nuance.

Turner J and Flaux C are both right that, the fact itself that the factors which a judge considers in holding that the proper administration of justice does not require a stay, might theoretically have also been relevant in a common law forum non conveniens exercise, does not invalidate the judge’s approach under A33-34. However the problem with the judge’s A33-34 analysis in Municipio is,

Firstly, that it is a case of the tail wagging the dog. The proper administration of justice analysis, exclusively populated by forum non criteria indeed with full reference to that forum non analysis, was put to the front without proper engagement with the substantive conditions for A33-34 to apply at all.

Further, the DNA of A33-34 as I have reported before ( I am preparing an overview for publication), is much, much different from the forum non DNA. By cutting and pasting of the criteria indeed by cross-reference to the forum non criteria without further ado, the A33-34 analysis is irreparably broken. It becomes a case of mixing the blank rounds with the live bullets.

It is worth emphasising that the limited A33-34  analysis are obiter findings only.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.539 ff.

Mittelbayerischer Verlag: the CJEU surprisingly reigns in Article 7(2) centre of interests jurisdiction in cases of online defamation.

I reviewed the AG’s Opinion in C-800/19 Mittelbayerischer Verlag KG v SM here. The CJEU held yesterday (no English version yet at the time of posting). Tobias Lutzi already has analysis up here.

As I reported at the time, the AG suggested that despite the need for restrictive interpretation of the special jurisdictional rules, in the case at issue there was foreseeability of many a Pole’s centre of interests as a tort gateway, given the predictable fall-out of protest among Poles given the contents and context of the article (please refer to earlier post for detail): an ‘objective foreseeability test’.

The CJEU however restricts the availability of the centre of interests gateway further:  [46]

article 7, point 2, du règlement no 1215/2012 doit être interprété en ce sens que la juridiction du lieu où se trouve le centre des intérêts d’une personne prétendant que ses droits de la personnalité ont été violés par un contenu mis en ligne sur un site Internet n’est compétente pour connaître, au titre de l’intégralité du dommage allégué, d’une action en responsabilité introduite par cette personne que si ce contenu comporte des éléments objectifs et vérifiables permettant d’identifier, directement ou indirectement, ladite personne en tant qu’individu.

The aggrieved needs to be identifiable, at the time of publication, as an individual, not as belonging to an abstract group of offended persons.

With Gtflix TV pending, the CJEU will have a further opportunity to clarify the A7(2) gateway for defamation.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.5, and para 2.598 in fine.

 

 

ZN v [Bulgarian Consulate]. Confirming Mahamdia and the ‘international’ in ‘private international law’.

In C-280/20, ZN v Generalno konsulstvo na Republika Bulgaria v grad Valensia, Kralstvo Ispania [the Bulgarian consulate], the CJEU last week essentially confirmed CJEU C-154/11 Mahamdia. ZN is a Bulgarian national residing in Sofia who holds a permit to reside in Spain, where she provided services relating to the activity of the Consulate General. ZN brought an action in Bulgaria against the Consulate General seeking, first, recognition of her employment relationship and, second, payment of compensation in lieu of paid annual leave not taken during a period in which she provided services concerning the receipt of documents. The Consulate General contests the jurisdiction of the Bulgarian courts and invokes the jurisdiction of the Spanish courts as the courts of ZN’s place of employment. The referring court has doubts as to the existence of cross-border implications in so far as the dispute at issue in the main proceedings concerns a Bulgarian employee and a Bulgarian employer, and the fact that their legal relationship is closely connected with the Republic of Bulgaria.  It also notes that Bulgarian law expressly provides that, in the case of contracts concluded between a Bulgarian employer established abroad and a Bulgarian national working abroad, any disputes may be examined only by the Bulgarian courts.

In Mahamdia the Court first of all applied the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and held that an embassy often acts iure gestionis, not iure imperii, and that under the Vienna rules, the EU is perfectly entitled to apply the Regulation given that it applies to ‘civil and commercial’ matters. In that vein, an embassy may very well have to be regarded as an ‘establishment’ within the meaning of Article 20(2) (on employment contracts). In ZN, the Court [28-29] suggests that services in connection with the receipt of documents in files opened at the consulate by Bulgarian nationals and the management of those files, do not fall within the exercise of public powers and do not risk interfering with the security interests of the Republic of Bulgaria. Hence it strongly suggests the issue is a ‘civil and commercial one’, leaving final determination of same to the referring court. I would intuitively have thought that processing documents at a country’s consulate quite au contraire, does engage closely with diplomatic functions that must be qualified as iure imperii, particularly seeing as before said processing one is likely not to have knowledge of the documents’ content.

On the issue of ‘international element’ required to trigger Brussels Ia, the Court per Mahamdia considers a consulate to be an ‘establishment’ of one Member State in another Member State. Hence one of the parties to the dispute must be considered to be domiciled or habitually resident in a Member State other than that of the court seised [37]: the cross-border element is clearly present, which will not surprise many of us. One also assumes that the  aforementioned Bulgarian rule on exclusive jurisdiction for employment disputes between Bulgarians even with an international element present, does not meet with EU law requirements.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.35, para 2.128.