Posts Tagged Special jurisdiction
E-date Advertising for companies. Libel, internet and centre of interests. Bobek AG in Bolagsupplysningen OÜ.
Bobek AG opined mid July in C-194/16 Bolagsupplysningen OÜ on the application of the Shevill rule, as supplemented by e-Date advertising, to infringements of a company’s personality rights over the internet. This is one of those Opinions where summaries fall much, much short of the contents of the original document and I should urge readers to consult the Opinion in full.
An Estonian company operating in Sweden was blacklisted for its allegedly questionable business practices on the website of a Swedish employers’ federation. The Advocate General dryly notes ‘(a)s inevitably happens in the era of anonymous internet bravery, universally known for its genteel style, subtle understanding, and moderation, the website attracted a number of hostile comments from its readers. The Estonian company brought an action before the Estonian courts against the Swedish federation. It complained that the published information has negatively affected its honour, reputation and good name. It asked the Estonian courts to order that the Swedish federation rectify the information and remove the comments from its website. It also requested damages for harm allegedly suffered as a result of the information and comments having been published online.
Can the Estonian courts assert jurisdiction to hear this action on the basis of the claimant’s ‘centre of interests’, a special ground of jurisdiction that the Court previously applied to natural persons, but so far not legal persons? If they can, then second, how should the centre of interests of a legal person be determined? Third, if the jurisdiction of the Estonian courts were to be limited to situations in which the damage occurred in Estonia, the referring court wonders whether it can order the Swedish federation to rectify and remove the information at issue.
The Advocate General suggests there are two novelties in the questions referred: a legal person (not a natural one) is primarily asking for rectification and removal of information made accessible on the internet (and only secondarily for damages for the alleged harm to its reputation). This factual setting, the AG suggests, leads to the question of how far the seemingly quite generous rules on international jurisdiction previously established in Shevill with regard to libel by printed media, and then further extended in eDate to the harm caused to the reputation of a natural person by information published on the internet, may be in need of an update. At the real root of course of the generous rules on jurisdiction for tort, lies the Court’s judgment in Bier. Bobek AG joins Szpunar AG in severely questioning the wisdom of the Bier rule in the age of internet publications.
Now, human rights scholars will enjoy the Advocate General’s tour d’horizon on whether and to what extend companies may enjoy human rights. On the whole I believe he is absolutely right in suggesting that there ought to be no difference between legal persons and natural persons when it comes to the very possession of personality rights (such as the right not to be libelled) and that neither is there any ground to distinguish between natural persons and legal persons when it comes to the jurisdictional consequences of upholding these rights.
Then, to the jurisdictional consequences (para 73 onwards): the AG suggests that ‘putting Shevill online’ (the AGs words) essentially means granting the forum to a large number of jurisdictions simultaneously, 28 within the European Union. That is because allegedly false or libelous information on the internet is instantly accessible in all Member States. Bobek AG suggests such multiplicity of fora stemming from the distribution criterion is very difficult to reconcile with the objective of predictability of jurisdictional rules and sound administration of justice enshrined in recital 15 of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, and does not serve the interests of claimant (although the AG concedes that in litigation practice, sending the defendant on a goose chase throughout the EU may be an attractive proposition). Now, in Bier the CJEU upheld jurisdiction for both locus damni and for locus delicti commissi on the grounds that this was attractive from the point of view of evidence and conduct of proceedings: this gives both the ‘special link’ which the special jurisdictional rules require. Whether the Court will be swayed by the argument that in the internet context, neither is of relevance, remains to be seen. It is true that number of clicks, which presumably is the relevant criteria to establish ‘damage’ in the context of Article 7(2), can be established just as well outside the jurisdiction as inside it (Google Analytics being used in a variety of national proceedings). It is also true however that Bier and Shevill are dogma for the Court and it is unlikely that it will simply abandon or even vary them.
Variation is all the more unlikely in the direction of the alternative suggested by the AG: locus delicti commissi relates to whoever is in charge of publishing and altering the content of the online information. So far so good: this is a useful clarification of Shevill in the internet age and one that has as such been so applied by national courts. Harm then would in the AG’s view have to be defined as where the reputation of the claimant was most strongly affected. That is the place of his centre of interests. The AG further suggests (at 104 ff) that in the case of a profit-making legal person, that is, a company, the jurisdiction is likely to correspond to the Member State where it attains the highest turnover. In the case of non-profit organisations, it is likely to be the place where most of its ‘clients’ (in the broadest sense of the word) are located. In both cases, such a Member State is likely to be the one where the damage to reputation and therefore to its professional existence is going to be felt the most. However in all cases, assessments needs to be fact-specific, and moreover, more than one centre of interests could potentially be established (at 116); that latter concession of course is not likely to endear the AG to the Court, given the requirement of predictability.
Answering then the query re injunctions (under the assumption that is an injunction sought by way of final remedy, not an interim measure), the AG employs the possibility of conflicting directions issued by courts with jurisdiction as to the merits of the case, as further argument to support his view on locus damni. This issue could raise interesting discussions on the usefulness of directions to remove internet content from particular websites only.
All in all, there is an awful lot of to the point analysis by the AG in this opinion. However the Court’s repeated reluctance to vary Bier and Shevill, a formidable obstacle.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199.
AMT v Marzillier: UK Supreme Court sides with relucant Court of Appeal on inducement to breach choice of court agreement.
I reported on AMT V Marzillier at the High Court, failed to flag its overturn in the Court of Appeal (it’s the Easter period: I am in a confessionary mood), and now report swiftly on the Supreme Court confirming the Court of Appeal’s view early April ( UKSC 13).
MMGR is a company incorporated under the laws of Germany and carries on business as a firm of lawyers in Germany. AMTF alleges that MMGR induced its former clients to issue proceedings against it in Germany and to advance causes of action under German law. AMTF’s clients were referred to it by ‘introducing brokers’; AMTF in turn is referred to as a non-advisory, “execution only”, derivatives broker. AMTF charged its clients commission for its service and paid commission to the introducing brokers. About 70 former clients, who were dissatisfied with the financial results of their transactions, commenced legal proceedings in Germany against both the introducing brokers and AMTF seeking damages under the German law of delict. The claim against the introducing brokers was that they had given bad investment advice or had failed to warn of the risks of the investments. The claim against AMTF was based on a liability which was accessory to that of the brokers: it was alleged that AMTF had encouraged the brokers to behave as they did by paying them commission from the transaction accounts which it operated for its clients and that it owed and had breached a duty in delict (tort) to the clients to prevent any transactions being undertaken contrary to their interests. AMTF challenged the jurisdiction of the German court. Many of the former clients have recovered damages from AMTF by way of settlement.
AMTF argues that the actions in Germany were in breach of the exclusive jurisdiction and applicable law clauses in their contracts with AMTF. It commenced proceedings in the High Court in London against MMGR, based on the tort, in English law, of inducing breach of contract. It seeks both damages and injunctive relief to restrain MMGR from inducing clients to bring further claims in Germany asserting causes of action under German law. AMTF argues that the English courts have jurisdiction over its claim under article 5.3 of the Brussels I Regulation (Article 7(2) in the Brussels I Recast), which gives jurisdiction in tort claims to the courts for the place in which the harmful event occurred or may occur. MMGR challenges the jurisdiction of the English courts to entertain this action.
Popplewell J in the High Court sided with AMTF – I reviewed his judgment in 2014. He decided that the relevant harm which gives rise to jurisdiction under article 5.3 occurred in England as AMTF had in each case been deprived of the benefit of the exclusive jurisdiction clause, which, he held, created a positive obligation on a former client to bring proceedings in England.
Clarke LJ concluded upon Appeal that the English courts did not have jurisdiction as the relevant harm had occurred in Germany. At 57 he wrote ‘I do not reach this conclusion with any great enthusiasm since there is much to be said for the determination of what is in essence an ancillary claim in tort for inducement of breach of contract to be made in the court which the contract breaker agreed should have exclusive jurisdiction in respect of that contract, rather than in the courts of the country where the inducement and breach occurred. But the governing law of the relationship between the former clients and AMTF (which did not have to be that of England & Wales) is not a determining factor in the allocation of jurisdiction under the Regulation.‘ It is not entirely clear what the German courts’ view is on the matter – the unsettled claims were still pending at the time of the Supreme Court’s judgment.
Lord Hodge, after noting the CA’s reluctance, agrees with its conclusion and does so by once again, concisely yet completely, reviewing the CJEU’s case-law on Article 5(3) [7(2)]. For an even more condensed version, see Jake Hardy. At 24: ‘The task for the court is to identify where the relevant harm occurred. That is relatively straightforward in most circumstances, where there is no need for any special rule such as those which the CJEU has developed when it has not been possible readily to identify one place where that harm occurred. It is straightforward in this case.‘ : namely Germany. ‘It is clear that AMTF did not get the benefit of having any dispute with the former clients determined under English law by English courts. But the former clients were under no positive obligation to sue AMTF, which could have no objection if it was not sued.’ (at 25).
Of note is Lord Hoge’s important emphasis (at 29) that the benefits of connecting factors, which justify the ground of jurisdiction, are not in and of themselves connecting factors. Idem for his instruction at 30 that ‘the inconvenience, which the separation of the resolution of the contractual claims against the former clients from the pursuit of the claims against MMGR entails, (does not) carry much weight when one considers the aims of the Judgments Regulation‘: ‘the CJEU has recognised that the scheme of the Judgments Regulation creates the difficulty that one jurisdiction may not be able to deal with all the related points in a dispute (at 32).
Finally reference to the CJEU was refused on the grounds that the issue is acte claire (at 43, with preceding reference to CJEU precedent).
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206.7).
Universal Music: Szpunar AG suggests the Bier case-law does not apply to purely economic loss under Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast.
I have earlier reported on the referral in Universal Music, Case C-12/15. Szpunar AG opined today, 11 March (the English text of the Opinion is not yet available at the time I write this post) and suggests (at 37) that the Court not apply its Erfolgort /Handlungsort distinction per Case 21/76 Bier /Minnes de Potasse. He reminds the Court of Bier’s rationale: a special link between the Erfolgort and the case at hand, so as to make that place, the locus damni, the place where the damage arises, well suited to address the substantive issues raised by the claim. (He also reminds the Court, at 30, that the language of what is now Article 7(2) only refers to the harmful event; not in the slightest to damage).
In cases where the only damage that arises is purely economic damage, the locus damni is a pure coincidence (in the case of a corporation suffering damage: the seat of that corporation), bearing no relation to the facts of the case at all (lest it be entirely coincidental). The Advocate General skilfully distinguishes all relevant CJEU precedent and in succinct yet complete style comes to his conclusion.
The Court itself embraces its Bier ruling more emphatically than its AGs do (see the similar experience of Cruz Villalon AG in Hejduk). That Universal Music is quite clearly distinguishable from other cases may sway it to follow the AG in the case at issue. However its fondness of Bier (judgment in 1976; it had been a hot summer that year) may I fear lead it to stick to its fundamental twin track of Erfolg /Handlungsort no matter the circumstances of the case.
European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168.7
I ask ergo I find out? Not necessarily so after judgment in Ergo Insurance and Gjensidige Baltic (distinguishing between contract and tort).
Is the relationship between two insurers, having covered liability for a towing vehicle cq a trailer, each subrogated in their insured’s rights and obligations, one of them currently exercising a claim against the other in partial recovery of the compensation due to the victim, non-contractual? I reviewed Sharpston AG’s Opinion here. I believe the Court has confirmed her Opinion. However I am not entirely certain for the judgment is awkwardly phrased.
Like its AG, the CJEU dismisses a suggestion that Directive 2009/103 (relating to insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles, and the enforcement of the obligation to insure against such liability) includes a conflict of laws (applicable law) rule which is lex specialis vis-a-vis the Rome I Regulation. Indeed the Directive’s provisions do not indicate whatsoever that they can be stretched.
Then comes the core of the issue, the nature of the relationship underlying the claim. The AG had suggested this is contractual, using as I noted in my earlier posting, ‘centre of gravity’ (‘the centre of gravity of the obligation to indemnify is in the contractual obligation’); ‘rooted in’ (‘the recourse action by one insurer against the other…is rooted in the contracts of insurance’); and ‘intimately bound up’ (‘[the action] is intimately bound up with the two insurers’ contractual obligation‘). (at 62).
The Court did not repeat any of this terminology. It first suggests that the national court where the case is pending, needs to determine using Article 4 of Rome II (lex locus damni) whether the law so determined ‘provides for apportionment of the obligation to compensate for the damage’. This the AG had not expressly pondered, rather it may be implicit in her use of the conditional ‘where two or more insurers are jointly and severally liable’ ((only) used at 71 of her Opinion). Next, the Court holds, if there is such apportionment, the law applicable to the action for indemnity between the insurers of the tractor cq the trailer, needs to be determined using Article 7 of Rome I (which applies to insurance contracts).
The referring courts were looking I believe for more straightforward advice. Instead I fear the many conditions precedent expressed in the judgment may well leave plenty of room for counsel to further confuse these national courts. This arguably may have a knock-on effect given the repeated insistence by the CJEU that the provisions of Brussels I (Recast) on contract and tort, need to be applied in parallel with those of Rome I and II (not something I necessarily agree with but have come to accept as standing CJEU precedent).
Of tractors and trailers. Insurance contracts, subrogration, contracts and torts. Sharpston AG on the scope of Rome I and II.
First, a quick heads-up on precedent: the difference between ‘contract’ and tort’ in European private international law is crucial, as regular readers of this blog will have observed. Crucial, yet the concept is left undefined in the Brussels I (and Recast) Regulation (which has a different special jurisdictional rule for both), the Rome I Regulation on applicable law for contracts, and the Rome II Regulation on applicable law for torts. Undefined, for these foundational elements of private law are outside the reach of legal and political compromise in the legislative process. Yet courts of course do have to apply the rules and in doing so, have to distinguish between both.
The CJEU pushes an ‘autonomous’ EU definition of both concepts which in the past has led to the seminal findings in Jakob Handte (C-26/91) and Kalfelis. In Handte the Court held: the phrase ‘matters relating to a contract [ ] is not to be understood as covering a situation in which there is no obligation freely assumed by one party towards another.’ (the double negative exercised scholarship for some time). In Kalfelis the Court had earlier defined ‘tort’ as ‘all actions which seek to establish liability of a defendant and which are not related to a ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article 5(1).’ (5(1) has become 7(1) in the Recast).
Is the relationship between two insurers, having covered liability for a towing vehicle cq a trailer, each subrogated in their insured’s rights and obligations, one of them currently exercising a claim against the other in partial recovery of the compensation due to the victim, non-contractual?
Per Kalfelis, tort as a category is residual. Sharpston AG’s starting point in Joined Cases Ergo Insurance and AAS Gjensidige Baltic, Opinion issued yesterday, therefore is to examine whether the recourse action is essentially contractual in nature. In the negative, the action is non-contractual. The case is evidently made more complex by the underlying relationships between insurer and insured, and the presence of subrogration. In question is not therefore the relationship between the insurer and the victim: this is clearly non-contractual. The question is rather whether the action of one insurer against the other is contractual in nature, given the contractual relationship between insurer and insured, cq the non-contractual relationship between the insured and the victim.
Sharpston AG first gets two issues out of the way. Lithuania (both referred cases are pending in Lithuanian courts) is a signatory State to the Hague Convention on the law applicable to traffic accidents, which is left unaffected by Rome II by virtue of Article 28. However the Convention itself holds that it does not apply to recourse action and subrogation involving insurance companies. Further, a suggestion that Directive 2009/103 (relating to insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles, and the enforcement of the obligation to insure against such liability) includes a conflict of laws (applicable law) rule which is lex specialis vis-a-vis the Rome Regulation, was quickly dismissed. Indeed the Directive’s provisions do not indicate whatsoever that they can be stretched.
Then comes the core of the issue, the nature of the relationship underlying the claim. This, the AG suggests, is contractual. Relevant precedent referred to includes Brogsitter and OFAB. Essentially the AG puts forward an ancestry test: what is the ancestry of the action, without which the parties concerned would not be finding themselves pleading in a court of law?: she uses ‘centre of gravity’ (‘the centre of gravity of the obligation to indemnify is in the contractual obligation’); ‘rooted in’ (‘the recourse action by one insurer against the other…is rooted in the contracts of insurance’); and ‘intimately bound up’ (‘[the action] is intimately bound up with the two insurers’ contractual obligation‘). (at 62).
Incidentally, in para 20 of her Opinion the AG refers, in giving context, to the difference between Lithuanian and German law (the accidents both occurred in Germany) as regards the limitation periods for bringing a recourse action. In Rome II, limitation periods are included in Article 15 as being covered by the lex causae; ditto in Article 12 of Rome I. This pre-empts discussion on the matter for whether limitation periods are covered by lex fori (as a procedural issue) or the lex causae is otherwise not necessarily the same in all Member States.
If the CJEU confirms, preferably using the terminology of its AG, the tort /contract discussion in my view will have been helpfully clarified.
Postscript 24 September 2015: the incoterm ‘ex works’ was at issue in Cimtrode The Electrode Company GmbH v Carbide BV at Gerechtshof ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Judgment (on appeal) was issued 1 September 2015. The court held inter alia that whether the incoterm was actually part of the agreement between parties, could only be judged in accordance with the lex causae. The agreement was a verbal agreement, and any choice of court which one of the parties claimed had been made, had not been confirmed in writing. Reference to relevant standard terms and conditions on the invoices sent later, following execution of the agreement, could not, the court held, be regarded as confirmation of the choice of court.
In Rhoonse Recycling & Service BV v BSS Heavy Machinery GmbH, the Court at Rotterdam first of all discussed the factual circumstance of a possible choice of court agreement between parties, in favour of the courts at Eberswalde (Germany). Such choice of court is made in the general terms and conditions of seller, BSS. Whether parties had actually agreed to these, was in dispute. Roonse suggests the reference on the front page of the order form to the general terms and conditions on the backside (‘umseitiger‘) was without subject for that back page was blank. The court therefore suggests that agreement depends on whether, as was suggested, the standard terms and conditions were attached (stapled, presumably) to the order form. Whether this was the case is a factual consideration which Rotterdam does not further entertain for even if the choice of court agreement is invalid, the court found it would not have jurisdiction under the only other alternative: Article 7(1) special jurisdictional rule for ‘contracts’.
Rhoonse suggest that the parties had agreed that the contract, a delivery of good, is performed in Rotterdam for that, it argues, is where delivery took place per the Incoterm CPT (carriage paid to). The CJEU has flagged the inconclusive effect of the mere use of Incoterms for the purposes of finding an agreement between parties under Article 7, in Electrosteel Case C-87/10 (in that case with respect to the use of ‘ex works’) and has generally insisted, per Car Trim Case C-381/08 that the courts need to make reference to all relevant terms and conditions in the agreement so as to determine the place of delivery.
Rotterdam in casu held the Incoterm CPT Rotterdam as being mostly a reference to costs, not place of delivery. Where it is impossible to determine the place of delivery on that basis, without reference to the substantive law applicable to the contract, that place at least for the sale of goods, the CJEU held, is the place where the physical transfer of the goods took place, as a result of which the purchaser obtained, or should have obtained, actual power of disposal over those goods at the final destination of the sales transaction. In casu, this was found to be in the geographical jurisdiction of the courts at Den Haag. Given that Article 7(1) does not merely identify the courts of a Member State but rather a specific court within a Member State, Rotterdam has no jurisdiction.
The case is a good reminder of the limited power of Incoterms to determine jurisdiction. Better have a specific choice of court clause (which here may or may not have presented itself here in the general terms and conditions of seller).
Universal: Dutch Supreme court (Hoge Raad) quizzes the ECJ on purely economic loss and the Brussels Regulation
(Thank you to Vincent Dogan and Freerk Vermeulen for flagging the case). In Universal, Case C-12/15, the Dutch Hoge Raad has asked the ECJ for assistance in determining whether and /or how Article 5(3) of the Brussels I Regulation (now Article 7(3) in the recast) needs to be applied to cases of purely economic loss (also known as purely financial loss).
Haven’t we seen that before? Yes, we have: in Zuid-Chemie, Case C-189/08, the same Hoge Raad asked essentially the same question, however the ECJ did not answer it, for there was also physical damage (with the same victim).
Universal Music International Holding BV is the mother company of among others a Czech group of companies, who acquired a target company in the Czech Republic. A calculation error by one of the lawyers advising the parties (Ouch. All us, lawyers, sympathise), led to Universal having to pay five times what it thought it was going to pay. Arbitration and settlement ensued. This included agreement that the holding company, plaintiff in the current proceedings, would pay the amount settled for. It duly did, from a Dutch bank account. It now sues the Czech lawyers who wrongly advised the Czech subsidiary and does so in The Netherlands, as the alleged Erfolgsort in its tortious relationship with these lawyers, is The Netherlands.
Questions referred, are whether purely economic loss sustained in the Erfolgort (and without direct loss, economic or otherwise, elsewhere) lead to jurisdiction for that Erfolgort; and if so, how one determines whether the damage is direct or indirect (‘follow-up’), and where that economic loss is to be located.
I have aired my unhappiness with the Erfolgort /Handlungsort distinction on this blog before. Most recently viz Hejduk. I blame Bier (the judgment. Not the (at least as it is spelled in Dutch) drink): extension of Article 5(3) seemed good in principle but led to a continuing need to massage the consequences. The court advisors to the Hoge Raad have sympathy for the view that Bier’s main justification for accepting jurisdiction for the Erfolgort (a close link with the case leading to suitability from the point of view of evidence and conduct of the proceedings) is not present in the case of purely economic loss, particularly where events for the remainder are entirely Handlungsort related. The ECJ may well follow this reasoning, although in doing so it might yet again create another layer of distinguishing in the Bier rule.