Posts Tagged Rome I
Vinyls Italia: Szpunar AG on the chemistry between the Insolvency Regulation and Rome I. And again, on the pauliana.
In C-54/16 Vinyls Italia (in full: Vinyls Italia SpA, in liquidation v Mediterranea di Navigazione SpA) Szpunar AG opined last week (the Opinion is not available in English). At the core of the case is the application of Article 13 of the Insolvency Regulation 2000 (Article 16 in the 2015 version; see my general review here), however the case opens an interesting discussion on the meaning of ‘international’ in ‘private international law’.
For the general context of Article 13 (16 new) I should like to refer to my review of Lutz and Nike. At issue in the case at hand are payments made by Vinyls to Mediterranea for the transport of chemicals of the former by the latter. Both are Italian registered companies. Shipment was presumably carried out in Italy (an extra-Italian element in the actual transport does not feature in the factual analysis re ‘international’, which I refer to below). However the contract made choice of law in favour of English law. Mediterranea makes recourse to Article 13 juncto English law as the lex contractus to ward off an attempt by Vinyls to have the payments return to its books.
First up is the question whether courts should apply Article 13 ex officio: for Mediterranea’s claim was made after the procedural deadline foreseen by Italian law. Szpunar AG in my view justifiably suggest it does not: he refers to the Virgos Schmit report [„Article 13 represents a defence against the application of the law of the State of the opening, which must be pursued by the interested party, who must claim it” – § 136 of that report, para 43 of the AG’s Opinion) and to the CJEU’s finding in C-310/14 Nike at 26. The AG does point to the particulars of the case: Mediterranea seemingly had provided proof supporting its view that the substantial conditions of Article 13 had been met (in particular an expert opinion by an English lawyer) but had not expressis verbis requested its application. Szpunar refers the final say to the Italian court, which needs to judge on the basis of Italian civil procedure however does suggest that it seems fairly inconceivable to have provided proof for the fulfillment of a legal proviso, without meaning to request its application.
The question on the applicability of Rome I at all (which is required if Mediterranea want to make recourse to the provisions of English law as lex contractus per Rome I or the Rome convention) may not make it to the CJEU. As Szpunar AG notes, the underlying contract dates prior to 17 December 2009, which is the cut-off date of the Rome I Regulation. The referring court being a court of first instance, it is not in a position to request preliminary review of Rome I’s predecessor, the 1980 Rome Convention. The AG completes the analysis anyway (the Court itself will not, should it find Rome I not to be applicable) and takes in my view the right, expansionist approach (one which I also defend in my handbook): especially given the presence of Article 3(3)’s proviso for ‘purely domestic’ contracts, it is clear that it suffices for Rome I to be applicable that parties make choice of court in favour of a foreign law. Further in the opinion (137 ff) he also suggests that such application is not tantamount to fraude a la loi (fraus legis) and again I agree: the relevance of fraus has been seriously diminished by the provisions on party autonomy in both Rome I and the Rome Convention.
The use of choice of law per Rome I (or the Convention) in turn serves as a jack to trigger the application of the insolvency Regulation. That too is correct in my view, and with undramatic consequences. Choice of law for the underlying contract only identifies its lex causae (where relevant, with an impact on Article 13 of the Insolvency Regulation). It does does not of course in and of itself determine the lex concursus: the latter is determined by the Insolvency Regulation once /if insolvency occurs. Parties have no means to manipulate this at the time of the formation of the contract.
Exciting, conceptual stuff. Most probably the Court itself will not be in a position to assess it all.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.1; Heading 220.127.116.11; chapter 5; Heading 5.7.1.
It does not get more The Hague than this. Footballing around jurisdiction, applicable law and corporate finance in ADO Den Haag v United Vansen (PRC)
Thank you Bob Wessels for alerting me to ADO Den Haag v United Vansen (of China). ADO Den Haag NV (the corporate vehicle of a Dutch Premier League club) domiciled at The Hague, sue United Vansen International Sports Co. Ltd, domiciled at Beijing, essentially for the latter to pay a deposit on the premium due for the shares it acquired in the club. Vansen did not appear.
First of all, were Vansen properly summoned in accordance with the Hague Service Abroad Convention (which both China and The Netherlands have ratified)? The court holds that it cannot yet decide that this has actually happened (relevant steps taken via the Dutch judicial authorities only recently having taken place) however it applies Article 15(3)’s provisions for extreme urgency: ‘Notwithstanding the provisions of the preceding paragraphs the judge may order, in case of urgency, any provisional or protective measures.‘
Next up: do the Dutch courts have jurisdiction? Given the defendant’s domicile outside of the EU and the non-applicability of any of Brussel I’s rules where domicile is irrelevant, the Court applied Dutch residual rules of private international law. These grant it jurisdiction essentially in respect of urgent proceedings of attachment.
Of more interest to this blog is the court’s consideration of applicable law, which the Court conducts with reference to Rome I. The share purchase agreement seemingly did not contain choice of law, either implicit or explicit: at 2.15, the court suffices with a mere observation of the absence of choice of law. None of the standard contracts of Article 4(1) Rome I applies [there is some discussion in scholarship whether share purchase is covered by Article 4(1)a’s ‘contract for the sale of goods’], hence the relevance of Article 4(2)’s ‘characteristic performance’ test. Here, the Court declared unequivocally (and most probably correctly) that the characteristic performance is the transfer of the share premium. The habitual residence of the party required to carry out that performance is the relevant connecting factor. In casu therefore, Chinese law in principle is the applicable law.
However the Dutch court finally settles for Dutch law after all, employing Article 4(3)’s escape clause. It holds that all circumstances of the case indicate that Dutch law is more closely connected: at 2.15: the agreement originated in The Netherlands; the performance has to be carried in The Netherlands (transfer of the sums into a Dutch bank account), and the transfer of the premium will benefit a Dutch company. Although the judgment does not give much detail on the contract, its origins etc., it would seem that in finally opting for Dutch law, the court does make proper application of the rather strict conditions of Article 4(3).
A good illustration of Article 4’s waterfall /cascade.
(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.6.
Something to digest quietly, to start this new year: in Gaz de France v STS the French Conseil d’Etat annuled an arbitral award for breach of ordre public. The Conseil objected in particular to the panel’s denial of mandatory French (administrative) law. Reed Smith have analysis here, including of the issue on jurisdiction (Conseil d’Etat or Court de Cassation).
Upon reading the judgment, my question is this (just putting it in the group, as it were): does the Conseil have terminology right where it seems to classify breach of mandatory law as a violation of ordre public (it is the latter only which justifies annulment under the New York Convention)? Incidentally (at 5) it also refers to the possibility of mandatory EU law being part of this interpretation of ordre public. This structure is clearly inspired by the Rome I Regulation where, as I have noted before, the presence of mandatory law, overriding mandatory law, and ordre public, is causing confusion.
Happy New Year, happy reading, Geert.
Thank you Steve Peers for alerting me to the relevance of the conflict of laws and the Rome I Regulation in particular in the recent Aslam et al v Uber Employment Tribunal decision. The case essentially revolves around whether claimants are employees – it is a pivotal case determining the immediate regulatory context for this part of the ‘sharing economy’. Para 87 is a particularly delightful expression of scepticism towards the sharing economy’s claims (further highlights are here).
Conflict of laws is addressed at para 103 onwards, a completion of the analysis in case of rejection of the tribunal’s view that the UK company in the Uber group employs claimants, and instead one would have to regard Uber BV (of The Netherlands) as employer. I do not think the tribunal expresses itself entirely clearly on Rome I.
If Uber BV is the employer, reclassification of the contract as one of employment (as opposed to one for the provision of services), makes the choice of law for Dutch law partially inoperable (not, as the tribunal notes at para 105 in fine, replaced with the laws on England and Wales). Next the tribunal (paras 106-109) continues to speak of ’employer’ but reviews application of Article 3 (including the application of Article 3(3)’s ‘purely domestic contracts’. If there is a contract of employment, in my view only Article 3(1) and (2) can have any impact on the analysis: the remainder of Article 3 concerns provisions for which Article 8 itself provides exhaustive rules.
From para 110 onwards, the tribunal does more tidily address Article 8 Rome I and holds, after reference to counsel view, that if indeed the Dutch BV is the employer (for it does not suggest that the contract would have to be qualified as one of services), Dutch law would largely apply, except for a limited number of provisions of English law by way of mandatory rules. (Reference to Article 21’s ordre public is justifiably rejected).
I am assuming Uber are appealing. Expect the conflicts analysis to return.
(Handbook of) European private international law, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.
In relation to the manner of performance and the steps to be taken in the event of defective performance, regard shall be had to the law of the country in which performance takes place.
Lex loci solutionis supplements lex contractus for factual considerations such as closing times.
In the case at issue, between parties, a notice had to be served ‘by close of business’. A relevant fax transmission started at 5:54 PM and ended at 6:02 PM. Close of business by sender, it was alleged, was understood to be 7 PM. Recipient claimed COB was 5 PM. Blair J in para 147 ff justifiably points to the intention of flexibility behind the notion of COB: had parties wanted a precise cut-off time, they would and should have specified it. The High Court therefore relied on the (little) evidence given as to COB and accepted that in the modern world of commercial banking and even leaving aside the near non-existence of closing hours for investment bankers and the like, more or less 7 PM should be considered COB. (It was specifically stated that no precedent value can be attached to that time slot).
(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3.
Which strap on which boot? CJEU rejects von Munchausen in Nikiforidis, without suggesting alternative. And it leaves effet utile stranded in the mud.
As my review of Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-135/15 Nikiforidis highlighted, on the issue of temporal applicability to continued contracts, the AG suggested along the lines of Rome I Article 10’s regime (the von Munchausen or the ‘bootstrap’ principle) that the lex causae has to determine the moment of ‘conclusion’.
The employment relationship at issue is conducted in Germany and subject to German law, which does not permit reductions in remuneration similar to those to which the Hellenic Republic had recourse (as a result of austerity).
The Court held last week and points out (at 20) that if the Rome I Regulation did not apply to the main proceedings, Article 34 of the EGBGB (the relevant provisions of residual German private international law concerning contractual relationships) would permit it to take into account the overriding mandatory provisions of another State. Provisions like those are exactly why the UK and Luxembourg in particular (concerned about financial services contracts subject to their laws) insisted on Article 9 Rome I seriously constraining the room for manoeuvre of the forum.
Different from its AG, the Court squarely rejects (at 30) any role here for Article 10. In support, it refers to the original proposal of the European Commission with a view to the adoption of what eventually became Rome I. COM(2005) 650 referred to ‘contractual obligations’: ‘‘contractual obligations arising after its entry into application’; as opposed to the Regulation’s eventual use of ‘‘contracts’ concluded as from 17 December 2009.
At 34: ‘Whilst the reference, proposed by the Commission, to contractual obligations arising after the entry into application of that regulation covered, in addition to contracts concluded after its entry into application, the future effects of contracts concluded before then, that is to say, obligations arising from the latter after then, this is not so in the case of the wording of Article 28 of the Rome I Regulation, which covers exclusively contracts concluded on or after 17 December 2009, the date on which that regulation became applicable pursuant to Article 29 thereof. It follows that, contrary to what the referring court envisages, any agreement by the contracting parties, after 16 December 2009, to continue performance of a contract concluded previously cannot have the effect of making the Rome I Regulation applicable to that contractual relationship without thwarting the clearly expressed intention of the EU legislature.’
Now, I have admittedly only quickly scanned the travaux preparatoires in writing up this post, yet I do think the Court’s conclusion on this point may be misguided. It was Parliament which introduced ‘contracts’ as opposed to ‘contractual obligations’. It did so in response to the EC’s proposed sentence which read in full
‘It shall apply to contractual obligations arising after its entry into application. However, for contractual obligations arising before its entry into application, this Regulation shall apply where its provisions have the effect of making the same law applicable as would have been applicable under the Rome Convention of 1980.’
Parliament proposed lifting the first sentence into a separate Article and to drop the second sentence altogether, citing ‘Unlike in the case of torts and delicts, contracts are entered into deliberately and voluntarily. It is essential for the parties to know that the provisions on applicable law contained in this Regulation will apply only to contracts concluded after its date of application. Therefore proceedings brought after the date of application concerning contracts concluded before that date will apply the Rome Convention.’
This intervention therefore I believe was targeted at avoiding debates on equality between Rome I and Rome Convention outcomes. No indication was given that the change from ‘contractual obligations’ to ‘contract’ was of any specific relevance for the debate.
However, in the end that discussion in my view does not really matter because the Court itself does subsequently admit that its observation, that the Regulation cannot mean that ‘any, even minor, variation made by the parties, on or after 17 December 2009, to a contract initially concluded before that date were sufficient to bring that contract within the scope of the Rome I Regulation’ (at 35) , should not negate that
‘the possibility remains, as the Commission has pointed out in its written observations, that a contract concluded before 17 December 2009 may be subject, on or after that date, to a variation agreed between the contracting parties of such magnitude that it gives rise not to the mere updating or amendment of the contract but to the creation of a new legal relationship between the contracting parties, so that the initial contract should be regarded as having been replaced by a new contract, concluded on or after that date, for the purposes of Article 28 of the Rome I Regulation.’ (at 37).
Whether such ‘new legal relationship’ has been formed in casu, is down to the national court to decide. The CJEU does not give any indication whatsoever of what law is to guide that court in that decision. A European ius commune? I don’t see it. Lex fori? Perhaps. But that would encourage forum shopping. Lex causae? But the Court had dismissed Article 10 of having any relevance. I am at a loss.
Now, to the question of overriding mandatory requirements (please refer again to my review of Szpunar AG’s Opinion for context): here the Court I believe misses the mark. After pointing out, justifiably (and in contrast with the AG), that Article 9 needs to be interpreted restrictively, it holds that ‘the list, in Article 9 of the Rome I Regulation, of the overriding mandatory provisions to which the court of the forum may give effect is exhaustive. (at 49).
This means Article 9 of the Rome I Regulation must be interpreted ‘as precluding the court of the forum from applying, as legal rules, overriding mandatory provisions other than those of the State of the forum or of the State where the obligations arising out of the contract have to be or have been performed. Consequently, since, according to the referring court, Mr Nikiforidis’s employment contract has been performed in Germany, and the referring court is German, the latter cannot in this instance apply, directly or indirectly, the Greek overriding mandatory provisions which it sets out in the request for a preliminary ruling.’ (at 50).
But then, at 52:
‘On the other hand, Article 9 of the Rome I Regulation does not preclude overriding mandatory provisions of a State other than the State of the forum or the State where the obligations arising out of the contract have to be or have been performed from being taken into account as a matter of fact, in so far as this is provided for by a substantive rule of the law that is applicable to the contract pursuant to the regulation.‘
And in conclusion, at 53:
Accordingly, the referring court has the task of ascertaining whether Laws No 3833/2010 and No 3845/2010 are capable of being taken into account when assessing the facts of the case which are relevant in the light of the substantive law applicable to the employment contract at issue in the main proceedings.
Err, here I really do not follow. Surely such de facto circumvention of Article 9’s restrictive scope, negates its effet utile. If and when a law other than the lex causae may be taken into account ‘as a matter of fact’, the Rome modus operandi is to say so: see in this respect in particular Article 17 Rome II. And what would ‘taking into account as a matter of fact’ mean for the case at issue?
Now you see it, now you don’t. In West Tankers the Court took effet utile to extreme length. Here it arguably entirely negates it. I am not convinced.
(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5 , heading 3.2.8.
C-191/15 Verein für Konsumenteninformation v Amazon SarL is one of those spaghetti bowl cases, with plenty of secondary law having a say on the outcome. In the EU purchasing from Amazon (on whichever of its extensions) generally implies contracting with the Luxembourg company (Amazon EU) and agreeing to Luxembourg law as applicable law. Amazon has no registered office or establishment in Austria. VKI is a consumer organisation which acted on behalf of Austrian consumers, seeking an injunction prohibiting terms in Amazon’s GTCs (general terms and conditions), specifically those which did not comply with Austrian data protection law and which identified Luxembourg law as applicable law.
Rather than untangle the bowl for you here myself, I am happy to refer to masterchef Lorna Woods who can take you through the Court’s decision (with plenty of reference to Saugmandsgaard Øe’s Opinion of early June). After readers have consulted Lorna’s piece, let me point out that digital economy and applicable EU law is fast becoming a quagmire. Those among you who read Dutch can read a piece of mine on it here. Depending on whether one deals with customs legislation, data protection, or intellectual property, different triggers apply. And even in a pure data protection context, as prof Woods points out, there now seems to be a different trigger depending on whether one looks intra-EU (Weltimmo; Amazon) or extra-EU (Google Spain).
The divide between the many issues addressed by the Advocate General and the more narrow analysis by the CJEU, undoubtedly indeed announces further referral.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124.5.