Posts Tagged Regulatory taking
The perfect (take home) exam question. Court of Appeal plain packaging v Bundesverfassunsgericht Energiewende.
Isn’t it just a perfect exam question for a graduate course, nay this question involves so many issues it could arguably serve as one single exam for a whole law degree: such is the intensity of legal areas at issue: constitutional law, international law, international trade, regulatory law and risk analysis, intellectual property law…
Discuss why the Court of Appeal for England and Wales denied Government wrongdoing in plain packaging, while the German Bundesverfassungsgericht rejected an argument of expropriation in Energiewende yet held that German Government must nevertheless pay compensation to the energy companies involved (E.ON, RWE and Vatenfall).
Source tip: you may want to consult my former student Dr Catherine Banet’s excellent analysis on the Vatenfall issue.
Issues tip: a good way to go about it would be to draft a table of issues that both cases have in common and those which they do not (eg the Court of Appeal’s review of intellectual property). A discussion of the precautionary principle would not go amiss (in the plain packaging case: specifically whether precaution applies to uncertainty as to efficiency of remedies rather than uncertainty as to a phenomenon). A point of discussion may also be why the CA refers profusely to European precedent while the Bundesverfassungsgericht does not. Finally, any consideration of the link between the latter proceedings and the concurrent ISDS procedure, will gain you brownie points.
To fellow faculty out there: if you do use this exam Q, please do share good student answer copies.
In Lone Pine Resoures v Canada, the company involved has filed a claim under NAFTA’s Chapter 11, which protects investors against ‘regulatory takings’. Quebec has placed a moratorium on fracking (shale gas exploration) by revoking all permits pertaining to oil and gas resources under the St Lawrence river.
I shall be reporting tomorrow on the rejection by the French Constitutional Court of the challenge to the French moratorium. In a related (not to fracking but to regulatory takings) development, the European Commission has posted an interesting defence of Biltateral Investment Treaties here. Reference is made ia to the ongoing Philip Morris and Vatenfall (Nuclear energy) issues, both high profile cases of alleged regulatory taking.
In Koontz, the United States Supreme Court further specified the limitations applicable to agencies when they impose limitations to the use of private property. In Koontz, under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), the owner of the land was denied wetland related permits. The relevant agency had demanded that Koontz either reduce the scope of the project and accept limiting conditions of use over the remainder, or finance conservation-related improvements to publicly held land some distance away.
The Supreme Court had earlier held in Nolan per the regulatory taking doctrine, that there must be an “essential nexus” between a “legitimate state interest” and the condition that the reviewing agency seeks to impose. In Koontz, it applies this limitation not just to the restrictions which the owner of the land has to accept vis-a-vis his own property, but also to any other government measure which imposed a financial burden on said owner. The lower courts had argued that the Nolan criteria do not apply to demands for money. The Supreme Court held that they do.
The finer details may escape me (see for excellent analysis Daniel Richmond and in Jeremy Kozin in the New York Law Journal) however it would seem that there is excellent comparative analysis to be made re the laws on regulatory takings and compensation measures in nature conservation.
Geert (thank you to Ludo Veuchelen for alerting me to the judgment).
Update 25 May 2015 BAT and PMI now have also launched in the High Court in the UK .with BAT putting aside the Australian ruling, reported below, as distinguishable, and PMI focusing on EU trade mark laws.
As reported earlier, the High Court of Australia held in the summer that the Australian Plain Packaging regulations are not unconstitutional. It has now also released its reasons for finding so. The relevant Commonwealth constitutional provision is Section 51(xxxi) which confers upon the Commonwealth Parliament the power to make laws with respect to:
“[t]he acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws”.
‘Just terms’ (including compensation) are only due if there is an ‘acquisition’; this, the High Court held, is not the case here. It notes (per French CJ)
‘Taking involves deprivation of property seen from the perspective of its owner. Acquisition involves receipt of something seen from the perspective of the acquirer. Acquisition is therefore not made out by mere extinguishment of rights.‘ (footnotes omitted).
‘Importantly, the interest or benefit accruing to the Commonwealth or another person must be proprietary in character. On no view can it be said that the Commonwealth as a polity or by any authority or instrumentality, has acquired any benefit of a proprietary character by reason of the operation of the TPP Act on the plaintiffs’ property rights.’
There is plenty of scope for distinguishing the Australian constitutional arguments from other jurisdictions (indeed the judgment itself refers to distinctions with the US Constitution). Moreover, as I have already flagged in an earlier posting, the legal fronts on which this battle is fought are very wide. Immediate reactions during the summer (along the lines of ‘with this judgment there is no stopping plain packaging regulations’) seemed a bit premature to me – they do all the more now that we have had a chance to read the actual judgment.
Update 10 June 2020 a lot has happened of course since this post – for the latest on the WTO front see the AB report confirming the legality of the measures under World Trade Organisation (TBT) rules.
Postscript January 2016 Reportedly the Permanent Court of Arbitration under UNCITRAL rules, has declined jurisdiction. The award is to be made public here once it has been cleared of confidential data.
Postscript June 2015: I have many other posts on the issue however I thought I”d here that in June 2015, Ukraine suspended its complaint against Australia. Simon Lester collates why. And end of May 2015, Norway Norway TBT plain packaing notification its plain packaging plans to the WTO TBT Committee, with extensive pre-emption of legal arguments against it.
Postscript 22 10 2013: on the BIT front, see the interesting defence by the European Commission of BITs in October 2013 here. Reference is made ia to the ongoing Philip Morris and Vatenfall (Nuclear energy) issues.
Faculty everywhere have been handed a treasure trove of exam questions, courtesy of ‘plain packaging’ (students please look away now). A variety of States are in the process of introducing ‘plain packaging’ requirements on tobacco products. Although they of course vary in detail, they generally require tobacco manufacturers to strip packaging of all tailored corporate content, resorting instead to prescribed generic packaging. The ‘plain’ packaging required is generally limited to brand name in standardised fashion (font size and lettering, colour…), joined by a number of health warnings (including, sometimes, images), excise duties requirements and ingredients listings.
Plain packaging ticks all the boxes of a classic ‘domestic regulatory autonomy’ dispute. It pitches the freedom of a sovereign State to pursue ‘regulatory’ interests (environment, public health, consumer protection, stability of the economy etc.) against the free trade commitments which the same State has voluntarily committed to. These trade commitments take the form of multilateral (such as the WTO, the EU’s Internal Market, or NAFTA) or bilateral (such as bilateral free trade agreements and customs unions) agreements. They most often do not, but sometimes do include procedural rights for private parties (as opposed to simply the States which have concluded the agreement) to launch legal proceedings should free trade (arguably) have been infringed. Such standing for private parties is the case in many BITs, i.e. Bilateral Investment Treaties, as well as for instance (subject to a number of whistles and bells), NAFTA.
Free trade agreements are not generally oblivious to the continuing desire of participating States to regulate the interests referred to above. Consequently they include room for ‘domestic regulatory autonomy’ to continue after the conclusion of the agreement, subject of course to checks and balances.
This fragile balance between free trade and regulatory autonomy is exactly what the current debate on plain packaging is all about. The issue is being fought on many fronts: At the World Trade Organisation, Ukraine have filed a complaint in March 2012 against Australia’s plain packaging laws on the basis of the TRIPS (intellectual property) and TBT (technical barriers to trade; product regulations) Agreements. Ukraine’s complaint is supported by a number of WTO Members with tobacco manufacturing interests.
At a constitutional level, issues include free (commercial) speech (see here for the related issue of graphic warnings), expropriation (of the trademark), non-discrimination (why no plain packaging on alcohol, for instance).
At a level of BITs, the issue has rejuvinated the ‘regulatory takings’ debate (do new regulatory requriements of host States amount to a ‘regulatory taking’ (as compared to a straightforward expropriation) that may be incompatible with investment protection requirements. The Uruguay-Switserland (see here and enter search term ‘ICSID Case No. ARB/10/7’) and Australia-Hong Kong BITs are among those affected. One imagines that the necessity of the measure will be hotly contested, as the actual health impact of the measure is not entirely certain. See the (controversial) ruling of the European Free Trade Association’s Court on the related issue of display bans here and the excellent analysis of prof Alemanno.
One will have gathered: all of this is excellent material for those of us teaching Trade and regulatory law. Geert.