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.

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.

ZX v Ryanair: Branch jurisdiction and voluntary appearance under Brussels Ia.

In C-464/18 ZX v Ryanair, the CJEU last week succinctly held on branch jurisdiction (Article 7(5)) and on voluntary appearance under Article 26.

The Court first reminds readers of the exclusion of simple contracts of transport (as opposed to combined tickets /package travel) from the consumer title of the Regulation: aee Article 17(3): the consumer title ‘shall not apply to a contract of transport other than a contract which, for an inclusive price, provides for a combination of travel and accommodation’.

Surprisingly perhaps (and /or due to lobbying), this did not come up for amendment in the recent Recast, despite the massive increase on travel tickets bought online in particular since transport was first carved out from the consumer title in the Brussels Convention. At 160 the Jenard Report explains the carve-out by reference to international agreements – yet these too could probably do with a refit – but I am straying.

The Court also reminds us that the flight compensation Regulation 261/2004 does not contain conflict of laws rules – these remain subject to the general instruments.

To the case at hand then: ZX purchased a ticket online for a flight operated by Ryanair between Porto (Portugal) and Barcelona (Spain). Applicant  is neither domiciled nor resident in Spain, defendant has its registered office in Ireland, and has a branch in Girona (Spain). ZX, the passenger, did not justify jurisdiction pro Girona on the basis of forum contractus. Per C‑204/08 Rehder, this would have been place of arrival or departure.

Branch jurisdiction per Article 7(5) featured most recently in C-27/17 flyLAL, and is quite clearly not engaged here: the ticket was purchased online. There is no element in the order for reference indicating that the transport contract was concluded through that branch. Furthermore, the services provided by the branch of Ryanair in Girona appear to be related to tax matters.

That leaves Article 26: how and when may it justify the international jurisdiction of the court seised by virtue of a tacit acceptance of jurisdiction, on the ground that the defendant in the main proceedings does not oppose that court having jurisdiction? The case-file reveals that following the invitation from the registry of that court to submit observations on the possible international jurisdiction of that court, Ryanair failed to submit written observations. The Court finds this does not amount to tacit acceptance.

Article 26 requires that the defendant enter an appearance. However what exactly this requires hitherto I believe to quite a degree has been subject to lex fori – particularly the local procedural law. One might have expected a more extensive CJEU consideration e.g. revisiting 119/84 Capelloni v Pelkmans.

A missed opportunity.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.7.

Expect some final turbulence. CJEU wrongfoots Ryanair and Crewlink on ‘place where the employee habitually carries out his work’.

Update June 2019 just a quick note to flag that the case has undoubtedly influenced the agreements which Ryanair have recently reached with its staff.

I reported earlier on Saugmandsgaard ØE’s opinion in Cases C‑168/16 and C‑169/16, Nogueira et al and Osacar v Ryanair. The CJEU yesterday held and as I put it in immediate comment on the case reported in the FT, the Court’s view clearly resonates with the current mood against social dumping.

The case here ostensibly concerns jurisdiction only, however the Rome I Regulation includes mandatory protection of the employee guaranteed by the laws of the same place where (s)he habitually carries out his /her work. Hence a finding in the context of the Brussels I Recast inevitably has an impact on applicable law, too.

Firstly the Court has no mercy for the limiting choice of court agreement in the relevant contracts (at 53): in the case of employment contracts, a jurisdiction clause cannot apply exclusively and thus prohibit the employee from bringing proceedings before the courts which have jurisdiction under the protective regime of the Brussels I Recast.

The Court then essentially reiterates its AG: The concept of ‘place where the employee habitually carries out his work’ must be interpreted as referring to the place where, or from which, the employee in fact performs the essential part of his duties vis-à-vis his employer (at 59). Referring to its earlier case-law, the Court reiterates that national courts must, in particular, determine in which Member State is situated (i) the place from which the employee carries out his transport-related tasks, (ii) the place where he returns after his tasks, receives instructions concerning his tasks and organises his work, and (iii) the place where his work tools are to be found. (at 63). The place where the aircraft aboard which the work is habitually performed are stationed must also be taken into account (at 64).

The CJEU’s judgment then zooms in particularly on the notion of ‘home base’, a term used in relevant EU civil aviation law. The concept of ‘place where, or from which, the employee habitually performs his work’ cannot be equated with any concept referred to in another act of EU law (at 65).  However that does not mean that it is irrelevant to determine the place from which an employee habitually carries out his work. In fact, the Court held, the concept is likely to play a significant role in the identification of place of habitual employment in cases as these (at 69). In fact, taking account of the facts of each of the present cases, it would only be if applications, such as those at issue in the main proceedings, were to display closer connections with a place other than the ‘home base’ that the relevance of the latter for the identification of ‘the place from which employees habitually carry out their work’ would be undermined (at 73).

Nationality of the aircraft is summarily dismissed at 75, as being of any relevance at all.

At 62, the Court, importantly, also wars against fraudulent forum shopping: ‘That circumstantial method makes it possible not only to reflect the true nature of legal relationships, in that it must take account of all the factors which characterise the activity of the employee (see, by analogy, judgment of 15 March 2011, Koelzsch, C‑29/10, EU:C:2011:151, paragraph 48), but also to prevent a concept such as that of ‘place where, or from which, the employee habitually performs his work’ from being exploited or contributing to the achievement of circumvention strategies (see, by analogy, judgment of 27 October 2016, D’Oultremont andOthers, C‑290/15, EU:C:2016:816, paragraph 48 and the case-law cited).

The case now goes back to Mons howecer as has been reported, it is almost inconceivable for that court not to find Charleroi to be the place of habitual employment. Despite Ryanairs bravado, it is clear this judgment blows a hole in its regulatory strategy.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed 2016, Chapter 2, Heading , Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.

An update from the social dumping flightdeck. Saugmandsgaard ØE advises against Ryanair and Crewlink on ‘place where the employee habitually carries out his work’.

Saugmandsgaard ØE this morning Opined in Joined Cases C‑168/16 and C‑169/16, Nogueira et al and Osacar v Ryanair. Reference in the case was made by the Court of Appeal at Mons /Bergen in the Ryanair case I reported on in first instance. The weakest part of that judgment, I noted, was that it looked to the employer’s organisation as the most relevant criterion when deciding upon place of habitual employment. That clearly went against the favor laboris inherent in Article 19 of the Brussels I Recast Regulation.

The Advocate General at 100 in particular agrees with that view. Regular readers will know that I do not tend to paraphrase for the sake of it hence reference is best made to the AG’s Opinion as a whole. In summary:  Saugmandsgaard ØE recalls that CJEU case-law on the matter essentially requires the courts to either identify the ‘place where’ the employee principally carries out his obligations vis-à-vis his employer, or the ‘place from which’ he principally carries out those obligations. The workers at issue were employed as cabin crew on aircraft operated by Ryanair. Those employees performed their work in more than one Member State, namely in Belgium, where the airport of departure (Charleroi) was situated, the Member State of the airport of arrival and any other Member States crossed during the flight.  The AG suggests (at 92) that it is not possible, in such circumstances, to identify a ‘place where’ those employees principally carried out their obligations vis-à-vis their employers, for it is difficult to attach greater weight to the tasks carried out by those employees in the airport of departure, on board the aircraft or in the airport of arrival.

A ‘place from which’ those employees principally carried out their obligations vis-à-vis their employers, however, can be identified.  The referring court had listed a number of factual considerations among which the AG suggests the following as being highly relevant: (97 ff)

First, appellants started and ended their working day at Charleroi Airport. To the AG’s mind, that fact is of overriding importance, which he suggests is confirmed by the Court’s consistent case-law in particular Koelzch and Voogsgeerd.

Second, appellants received the instructions relating to their tasks and organised their work at Charleroi Airport, by consulting their employers’ intranet. (It is on this point that the AG rejects any relevance of the location of organisation of the work schedule by the employer).

Third, the aircraft operated by Ryanair, and on board which appellants worked as cabin staff, were based at Charleroi. Here the AG refers to CJEU case-law that, in the international transport sector, the place where the work tools are located constitutes a relevant indicium for the purposes of determining the place from which the worker principally fulfils his obligations vis-à-vis his employer.

Fourth, appellants were contractually required to live less than one hour from Charleroi Airport. It is noteworthy that this indication refers not to the worker’s actual place of residence but rather to the place of work near which he lives, namely Charleroi Airport in the main proceedings (at 103).

Fifth, the referring court noted that Ryanair and Crewlink jointly had a ‘crew room’ at Charleroi Airport. The existence of an office made available by the employer is another factor the relevance of which has been emphasised in the Court’s case-law. That this is not formally a ‘branch’ of either company, is irrelevant.

Finally, appellants were required to attend Charleroi Airport if they were unfit for work and in the event of disciplinary problems.

The AG points out that on the basis of the criteria, the Court at Mons formally will have to complete the analysis, however he concludes (at 107) that on the basis of the findings of fact communicated by that court in its request for a preliminary ruling, those six indicia unequivocally designate the courts of the place where Charleroi Airport is situated.

A few other issues are worth mentioning. Firstly (at 108) whether the worker is directly employed by Ryanair (Case C‑169/16) or assigned to Ryanair by Crewlink (Case C‑168/16) is irrelevant for the purposes of identifying the place where the work is habitually carried out, within the meaning of Article 19(2)(a) of Regulation No 44/2001. That place, the AG suggests, is independent of the legal link between the worker and the person who benefits from the work done.

Further, the AG suggests that the concept of ‘home base’ has  relevance to the analysis, albeit indirect. ‘Home base’ is a term used in relevant EU civil aviation law. At 109 ff: ‘place where the employee habitually carries out his work’, used in Article 19(2) of Regulation No 44/2001, should not have to depend on a concept in an act of Union law which belongs to a quite different area, namely that of the harmonisation of rules in the civil aviation sector.’ At 116: the relevance of the home base, for the purposes of identifying the place where the contract of employment is habitually carried out, is only indirect. Indeed, it should be taken into account only in so far as it supports the indicia mentioned above as relevant for the purposes of identifying that place.’ (Which it certainly did in casu).

Further and convincingly, the AG emphatically suggests that the nationality of the aircraft is entirely irrelevant for the discussion (118 ff).

Finally, at 73 ff the AG suggests that there ought to be parallel interpretation of the findings on jurisdiction, and the rules on applicable law, among others in the Rome I Regulation. Those rules were not included in the referring court’s request for preliminary ruling.

We have to await the Court’s judgment, of course. However all in al this is a convincing Opinion which, as specifically flagged by the AG (at 101), is instrumental in addressing forum shopping by employers and consequently will be extremely helpful in addressing social dumping in the EU.

Geert.

Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed 2016, Chapter 2, Heading , Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.

Ceci n’est pas une base Ryanair – The court in Charleroi on ‘place where the employee habitually carries out his work’

The title of this piece is taken from a press release by CNE, the trade union who represented plaintiff – and who provided me with a copy of the judgment for which many thanks. Where does an employee ‘habitually carry out his work’ within the meaning of Article 19 of the Brussels I Regulation? The court at Charleroi needed that to be Charleroi, for it to be able to exercise jurisdiction.  Ryanair’s domicile being in Ireland was not contested and no choice of court was made in the contract between plaintiff and the airline. The court referred to ECJ precedent, notably Mulox, Rutten, Weber, Koelzsch and Voogsgeerd. Had the ECJ had jurisdiction in C-533/03 Warbecq v Ryanair, current discussion might not have arisen, one imagines.

Plaintiff suggested a list of considerations which in his view led to Charleroi being the place of habitual carrying out of his work, including: journeys as a ‘cabin service agent’ (steward or stewardess to you and me) always started and ended at Charleroi airport; consequently he had to rent a flat in the Charleroi area; flight times were corresponded to plaintiff via a PC located at the airport; prior to each flight, he had to check in at the Charleroi office; staff issues were dealt with at the airport; equipment was provided from the airport; training and fitness et al tests were carried out at Charleroi.

The court however sided with Ryanair’s contention that its organisation at Charleroi was skeleton only, and that in having organised the work schedule from Dublin, there was no team at Charleroi which had the remit to manage the work schedule or anything else independently from Dublin.

I think Charleroi is missing a trick here: per the ECJ’s case-law, the criterion of the country in which the work is habitually carried out must be given a broad interpretation and must be understood as referring to the place in which or from which the employee actually carries out his working activities. Arguably, the employee’s activities lie at the heart of that analysis: not the employer’s, which is what the court at Charleroi has taken as its main clue.

Appeal is underway.

Geert.