Ryanair v DelayFix. The CJEU dots some i’s on choice of court and unfair terms in consumer contracts; defers to national law on the assignment issue; and keeps schtum on renvoi in Article 25 Brussels Ia.

Update 18 November 2022 see application by Advocate-General Vlas to the Dutch Supreme Court, in ECLI:NL:PHR:2022:453 Netjets Management (UK) v [Pilot].

In C-519/19 Ryanair v DelayFix, the CJEU held yesterday. The case echoes the facts in Happy Flights v Ryanair at the Belgian Supreme Court.

Following inter alia  CJEU Jana Petruchova, the (absence of) impact of substantive European consumer protection rules on the consumer section of European private international law is now fairly settled. The separation between the two sets of laws seems quite clear for the application of the consumer section itself.

However under A25 BIa, EU consumer law might still play a role in those circumstances where the conditions of the consumer Section are not met (dual-use contracts, contracts for transport (such as here) etc.) yet where one of the parties may qualify as a consumer under substantive EU consumer protection law.

A core issue of contention is the consideration of the EU unfair terms in consumer contracts Directive 2019/2161 and its predecessor Directive 93/13 , which was applicable in Ryanair v DelayFix. Via Article 25’s lex fori prorogati rule on substantive validity for choice of court, the Directive plays an important role.

In the case at issue at the CJEU, Passenger Rights, now DelayFix, a company specialised in the recovery of air passengers’ claims under the EU Regulation on air passenger rights, has requested the courts at Warsaw to order Ryanair,  to pay EUR 250 in compensation, a passenger on the relevant flight having assigned DelayFix their claim with respect to that airline.

The CJEU first of all looks at the issue from the limited extent of what is actually materially regulated by A25: the requirement of ‘consent’ (as well as the formal expression of that consent. It holds, not surprisingly, that in principle of course a jurisdiction clause incorporated in a contract may produce effects only in the relations between the parties who have given their agreement to the conclusion of that contract (referring ex multi to Refcomp).  In the case at issue,  a jurisdiction clause incorporated in the contract of carriage between a passenger and that airline cannot, in principle, be enforced by the latter against a collection agency to which the passenger has assigned the claim.

However, at 47, there is a gateway for the choice of court nevertheless to extend to third parties, namely when the third party not privy to the original contract had succeeded to an original contracting party’s rights and obligations, in accordance with national substantive law. At 49, referring to A25(1), that law is the lex fori prorogati. Here: Irish law.

Recital 20 BIa in fact instructs to include the lex fori prorogati’s conflict of laws rules (in other words: an instruction for renvoi) to be part of the referral. In the aforementioned Belgian SC ruling in Happy Flights, renvoi was simply ignored. Here, the CJEU does not mention renvoi, even if it does not expressly exclude it.

The CJEU does point out that Directive 93/13 on unfair terms in consumer contracts of course is part of the Irish lex fori prorogati, as it is of all the Member States. In making that reference it would seem to have answered in the negative the question whether the ‘consent’ provisions of that Directive have not been superseded in the context of the ‘consent’ requirements of Article 25 Brussels Ia, as recently discussed obiter in Weco Projects.

Per previous case-law, the capacity of the parties to the original agreement at issue is relevant for the application of the Directive, not the parties to the dispute.  Further, a jurisdiction clause, incorporated in a contract between a consumer and a seller or supplier, that was not subject to an individual negotiation and which confers exclusive jurisdiction to the courts in whose territory that seller or supplier is based, must be considered as unfair under Article 3(1) of Directive 93/13 if, contrary to requirement of good faith, it causes significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations arising under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer. Reference is made in particular to Joined Cases C‑240/98 to C‑244/98 Océano Grupo (at 58).

It will be up to the national courts seised of a dispute, here: the Polish courts, to draw legal conclusions from the potential unfairness of such a clause (at 61). DelayFix therefore are not quite yet home and dry.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. February 2021, Chapter 2, para 2.240.

Gray v Hurley. Court of Appeal refers to Luxembourg on anti-suit to support EU jurisdiction against ex-EU action.

Update 2 October 2020 the case is know at the CJEU as C-946/19 MG v HH, the questions referred are also here, and Marta Isidro now reports that the request has been retracted following settlement.

Update 6 July 2020  for a case-note by Mukarrum Ahmed see here.

Update a few hours after posting. For the New Zealand perspective see Jan Jakob Bornheim’s thread here.

I reviewed the High Court’s decision (refusal of anti-suit) in Gray v Hurley here. The Court of Appeal [2019] EWCA Civ 2222 has now referred to Luxembourg.

As I noted at the time, the High Court discussed the matrimonial exception of Brussels Ia, as well as the exclusive jurisdictional rule of Article 24(1), and (briefly) Article 25’s choice of court. The appeal however only concerns the application of Article 4’s domicile rule. Was Mr Hurley domiciled in England on 26 March 2019, when the court was seized?  Article 62(1) Brussels Ia refers to the internal law. Lavender J decided that Mr Hurley was not domiciled in England, however that Lindner should be read as extending to the defendant’s last known domicile in a case where the Court: (1) is unable to identify the defendant’s place of domicile; and (2) has no firm evidence to support the conclusion that the defendant is in fact domiciled outside the European Union. I suggested at the time that this is a very relevant and interesting reading of Lindner, extending the reach of Brussels Ia as had been kickstarted by Owusu, with due deference to potential New Zealand jurisdiction (New Zealand domicile not having been established).

Note also that Mr Hurley had initially also relied on A34 BI1 however later abandoned this line. Article 34 is however cross-referenced in the discussion on Article 4’s domicile rule.

The Court of Appeal has concluded that the meaning of Article 4(1) and its applicability in this case is not acte clair and has referred to Luxembourg. The focus of the discussion was not whether or not Ms Gray was domiciled in England (see however my doubts as to the extension of Linder in the case at issue). Rather, the focus is on anti-suit and Article 4: Ms Gray submits that Article 4(1) provides her with a right not to be sued outside England, where she is domiciled, and that the court is obliged to give effect to this right by the grant of an anti-suit injunction to restrain proceedings in a third State.

As the Court of Appeal notes, the consequences of her arguments are that an EU-domiciled tortfeasor who was being sued only in a third State could require the court of his domicile to grant an anti-suit injunction – in contrast to the ‘flexible mechanism’ under Articles 33 and 34 in cases where the same or related proceedings exist in both jurisdictions. By the same token, if there are proceedings in a Member State, the defendant could seek an anti-suit injunction to prevent the claimant from taking or continuing unrelated proceedings in a third State. And, as appears from the present case, it is said that it makes no difference that the claimant’s case is not one that the courts of the Member State could themselves entertain, meaning that the ‘right’ said to be conferred on the claimant by Article 4(1) would have no content.

Yet again therefore interesting issues on the use of anti-suit to support EU (rather than: a particular Member State) jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal is minded not to side with Ms Gray, for comity reasons (anti-suit being a serious meddle in other States’ jurisdictional assessment) and because the use of anti-suit here would not serve the Regulation’s objectives of sound and harmonious administration of justice. At 52 it suggests the MS Gray line of reasoning would have profound consequence which would be expected to be explicit in the Regulation and not to be arrived at sub silentio – but refers to the CJEU for certainty.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2 practically in its entirety.

 

Gray v Hurley [2019] EWHC 1636 (QB). Engages big chunks of Brussels Ia and eventually relies on Lindner to uphold Article 4 jurisdiction.

Thank you Jan Jakob Bornheim for flagging Gray v Hurley [2019] EWHC 1636 (QB), in which as he puts it, ‘there is a lot going on’. Judgment is best referred to for facts of the case. On 25 March 2019 Mr Hurley commenced proceedings against Ms Gray in New Zealand. On 26 March 2019 Ms Gray issued the claim form in the present action and obtained an order for alternative service.

Of interest to the blog is first of all the matrimonial exception of Brussels Ia, nota bene recently applied by the CJEU in C-361/18 WeilArticle 1(2)(a) Brussels Ia (Lavender J using the English judges’ shorthand ‘Judgments Regulation’) provides that it does not apply to matters relating to: “…rights in property arising out of a matrimonial relationship or out of a relationship deemed by the law applicable to such relationship to have comparable effects to marriage.”

There is no EU-wide harmonisation of the conflict of law rules for matrimonial property. The UK is not party to the enhanced co-operation rules in the area and Lavender J did not consider any role these rules might play in same. Rome I and Rome II have a similar exception as Brussels Ia and at 111 Lavender J takes inspiration from Recital 10 Rome II which states that this exception “should be interpreted in accordance with the law of the Member State in which the court is seised.” Discussion ensues whether this is a reference to the substantive law of the court seized (Ms Gray’s position; English law does not deem their relationship to have comparable effects to marriage) or the private international law rules of same (Mr Hurley’s position; with in his view residual English private international law pointing to the laws of New Zealand, which does deem their relationship to have comparable effects to marriage). Lavender J does not say so expresses verbis but seems to side with the exclusion of renvoi: at 115: ‘I do not consider that the relationship between Ms Gray and Mr Hurley was a relationship deemed by the law applicable to such relationship to have comparable effects to marriage.’ Brussels Ia’s matrimonial exception therefore is not engaged.

Next, the application of the exclusive jurisdictional rule of Article 24(1) is considered. Ms Gray’s claim here essentially aims to establish her full ownership of the ‘San Martino’ property in Italy. Webb v Webb is considered, as are Weber v Weber and Komu v Komu (readers of the blog are aware that A24(1) cases often involve feuds between family members). Lavender J concludes that Ms Gray’s claim essentially is like Webb Sr’s in Webb v Webb: Ms Gray is not seeking an order for the sale of San Martino (and it does not appear that the right of pre-emption would be triggered by a judgment in her favour, as it would be by an order for sale). Nor is she seeking to give effect to her existing interest in San Martino. Rather, she claims that Mr Hurley holds his interest in San Martino on trust for her.

Application of Article 25 choice of court is summarily dismissed at 131 ff: there was choice of court and law (pro: Italy) in the preliminary sales and purchase agreement between the seller and Ms Gray. However, this clearly does not extend to the current dispute.

Next comes the application of Article 4’s domicile rule. Was Mr Hurley domiciled in England on 26 March 2019, when the court was seized?  Article 62(1) Brussels Ia refers to the internal law. Application is made by Lavender J of inter alia [2018] EWHC 160 (Ch), Shulman v Kolomoisky which I also included here; he also considers the implications of CJEU C-327/10 Lindner, and eventually decides that Mr Hurley was not domiciled in England, however that Lindner should be read as extending to the defendant’s last known domicile in a case where the Court: (1) is unable to identify the defendant’s place of domicile; and (2) has no firm evidence to support the conclusion that the defendant is in fact domiciled outside the European Union. This is a very relevant and interesting reading of Lindner, extending the reach of Brussels Ia as had been kickstarted by Owusu, with due deference to potential New Zealand jurisdiction (New Zealand domicile not having been established).

Final conclusion, therefore, is that Ms Hurley may rely on Article 4 Brussels Ia. Quite what impact this has on the New Zealand proceedings is not discussed.

Interesting judgment on many counts.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2 practically in its entirety.

 

Happy Flights v Ryanair. Belgian Supreme Court (only) confirms proper lex causae for validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia.

Thank you alumna and appreciated co-author Jutta Gangsted for flagging Charles Price’s (former learned colleague of mine at Dibb Lupton Alsop) and Sébastien Popijn’s alert on the Belgian Supreme Court’s ruling of 8 February last in C.18.0354.N Happy Flights v Ryanair. Happy Flights are a Belgium-based online claim agency to which disgruntled passengers may assign claims for compensation under Regulation 261/2004.

At issue is the validity of Ryanair’s choice of court in its general terms and conditions, referring consumers to Irish courts. The Brussels Commercial court on 30 May 2018 seemingly first of all did not assess whether the agency may be considered a ‘consumer’ within the terms of Irish consumer protection law (itself an implementation of Directive 93/13), having been assigned the consumers’ claims. The May 2018 decision itself is unreported <enters his usual rant about the lack of proper reporting of Belgian case-law>.

The Supreme Court (at 2, line 47) notes this lack of assessment by the lower court. It does not however complete the analysis sticking religiously to its role to interpret the law only, not the facts. Per CJEU Schrems mutatis mutandis I would suggest an affirmative answer (the agency having been assigned the consumers’ rights).

Do note that the use of the word ‘consumer’ in this context must not confuse: the consumer title of Brussels Ia itself does not apply unless the contract is one of combined travel and accommodation (or other services); the Regulation excludes contracts for travel only, from the scope of application of the consumer title.

The Brussels Commercial court subsequently and again from what one can infer from the Supreme Court’s ruling, discussed the validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia, reviewing its formal conditions (formation of consent) yet judging the material validity under the lex fori, Belgian law, not the lex fori prorogati, Irish law. This is a clear violation of A25 juncto recital 20 Brussels Ia. The Supreme Court suggests that the relevant Irish implementation of the unfair consumer terms Directive 93/13 does imply invalidity of the clause (again: if the claim is held to fall under the consumer title, this analysis will become superfluous).

Note that the SC omits recital 20’s renvoi instruction, keeping entirely schtum about it: clearly misapplying the Regulation.

The Court’s judgment unlike the understandably enthusiastic briefing by Happy Flight’s counsel does not quite yet mean that Ryanair’s terms and conditions on this issue have been invalidated. However it is likely they will be upon further assessment on the merits – with hopefully the Court of Appeal not omitting Brussels Ia’s renvoi instruction. As I note above first up there will be the issue of assignment rather than the issue of A25.

For your interest, I gave a Twitter tutorial on a related issue (consumer law, lex causae, compulsory referral to arbitration) recently.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.

Dankor. On the perils of forgetting to exclude renvoi in choice of law and court agreements.

It is one of the pinnacle theories of conflict of laws and when first introducing students to it, they almost invariably respond glassy-eyed. Renvoi has an unlimited ability to surprise parties and courts alike. It is best excluded, either by Statute, or by the parties, but frankly to be on the safe side: always and everywhere best by both. (Lest there are well considered arguments not to do so in a specific instance. As readers of my book know, the Brussels I Recast provisions on renvoi for choice of court (complicating less fori prorogati) is not such an instance: Handbook 2016, p.128-129, Heading 2.2.9.4.2).

At issue in Dankor [Dancor Construction, Inc. v. FXR Construction, Inc., 2016 IL App (2d) 150839] was the choice of court and governing law clause cited by the court at 44:

“The parties agree that this agreement was executed in Kane County, Illinois and shall be governed by the law of the State of Illinois. Any claims, lawsuits, disputes or claims arising out of or relating to this agreement shall be litigated in Kane County, Illinois.”

This clause could be a boilerplate or midnight clause except those routinely do exclude renvoi. ‘The law of the State of Illinois’ in the clause would then be followed by ‘excluding its choice of law rules’ or something of the kind. Why it was dropped here is entirely unclear. As Clifford Shapiro writes ‘So what happens when an Illinois general contractor fires a New York subcontractor who was working on a New York project under a subcontract that required Illinois law to apply and litigation to take place in Illinois? Unfortunately for litigants, what can happen is nearly three years of jurisdictional litigation in both New York and Illinois, and then dismissal of the Illinois case less than 60 days before trial with an order directing the case to be re-filed in New York.’

As the court notes (at 69) choice of court and choice of governing law are separate issues (for that reason they are als best dealt with in clearly separated contractual clauses). Relevant precedent for the validity of the former is Rieker 378 Ill. App. 3d 77, 86 (2007). Applying Rieker, and following Section 187(2) of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, the Court held (reference is best made to Clifford’s summary or to the judgment itself) that New York law applied to the validity of the clause, leading to its being void: New York law mandatorily prohibits application of another State’s law or litigation outside of the State for New York construction projects (Illinois incidentally has a mirror provision).

Need one say more? Renvoi is always best excluded. It would not necessarily have made this clause enforceable: ordre public discussions could always still be raised. However it sure as anything would have made the validity of the clause much more likely.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 1, Heading 1.4).

 

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