On the Beach v Ryanair. A clairvoyance stretch in assessing an Article 30 ‘related actions’ stay.

Another overdue post following up on earlier Twitter flag. In On the Beach Ltd v Ryanair UK Ltd & Anor [2022] EWHC 861 (Ch) is a competition law ‘stand-alone’ damages suit. OTB  is an online travel agent. It claims against Ryanair on the basis of abuse of dominant position. Ryanair have claimed against ia OTB in Ireland, on the basis among others of infringement of intellectual property rights. (Ryanair prefer to sell directly to consumers and  do not generally co-operate with online or other travel agents). OTB suggest the Irish claim is effectively warehoused and that an Irish court will soon hold the claim be dismissed for want of ‘prosecution’.

Nugee LJ considered in particular whether in assessing the relatedness of proceedings, the judge can indeed may have to take into account what is likely to be pleaded by way of defence in both actions (here: OTB is likely to plead competition law arguments should the case continue in Ireland). He held [52] he can:

the better view is that where an application for a stay is made at a stage when the defence to an action has not yet been pleaded, the Court can have regard to the substance of a defence that it can confidently predict is likely to be pleaded.

However [53] ff on the facts he then sided with OTB which argued

that the Court can hardly proceed on the basis that OTB is likely to plead any particular matter by way of defence in the Irish OTB proceedings as if its motion to dismiss the action for want of prosecution succeeds, there never will be a defence. At that point any chance of the two actions being related will disappear.

This is where the reasoning becomes contradictory. The judge [54] concedes that he ‘was not asked by either party to form any view of the likely outcome of OTB’s motion to dismiss, and I would in any event be very reluctant to do so as this is self-evidently a matter for the Irish court’ . However [55] he says that

if one looks at the Irish proceedings as they stand, with no competition issues yet raised, there does not seem to me much overlap between the claims there made and Ryanair’s prospective defence in England which will be focused very largely on competition issues.

This I believe amounts to a form of judicial and litigation clairvoyance which goes too far, even in the wide remit which Article 30 gives to the judge assessing relatedness and the appropriateness of an Article 30 stay.

[57] ff Nuggee LJ holds obiter that had the cases been related, he would have exercised his discretion not to stay.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.521 ff.

ValueLicensing v Microsoft. The High Court, in rejecting forum non conveniens, puts great emphasis on only English courts determining the course of English law post Brexit.

In JJH Enterprises Ltd (Trading As ValueLicensing) v Microsoft Corporation & Ors [2022] EWHC 929 (Comm) Picken J makes a debatable point in his discussion of a forum non conveniens application by defendants, Microsoft.

In the proceedings ValueLicensing claim damages arising from alleged breaches of competition law by Microsoft. The claim is a ‘stand alone’ one, not a ‘follow-on’ one. There is no underlying infringement decision of the European Commission (or any domestic competition regulator) on which ValueLicensing can rely to establish that an infringement of competition law has been committed.

Some of the Microsoft entities firstly seek summary dismissal of the case against them, arguing they cannot be held liable for an alleged infringement of either Article 101 or 102 TFEU as a result of an overall Microsoft ‘campaign’ in which they did not demonstrably take part. Here [31] ff there is interesting discussion ia of Provimi (Roche Products Ltd. & Ors v Provimi Ltd [2003] EWHC 961 (Comm)), which held that an entity that implements an agreement in breach of A101 to which a member of the same undertaking is a party can be held liable for the infringement even though the implementer itself does not know of the infringement. Specifically, whether Provimi was wrongly decided following from Cooper Tire Europe Ltd v Bayer Public Co Ltd [2010] EWCA Civ 864  – this is an issue for which CJEU referral is not possible post Brexit.

The judge however refers to the broader concept of ‘undertaking’ in the A101-102 sense following eg CJEU C-882/19 Sumal SL v Mercedes Benz Trucks Espana SL. Sumal, Picken J holds [44], is relevant authority both pre and post Brexit.

Quite how parties see a difference in the lex causae for the competition law infringement pre and post Brexit is not clear to me. Pre Brexit it is said to be ‘English law’ (held to include 101-102 TFEU prior to Brexit), full stop, while post Brexit that law is said to be determined by (retained) Article 6 Rome II, which for same of the claim will be English law as being one of the ‘affected markets’ per A6 Rome II.

It is in the forum non application that the judge posits [78] that an important consideration of England as the more appropriate forum, is

it is clear that Microsoft UK’s position at trial will be that in certain material respects English law has taken a divergent path from EU law. In such circumstances, it would be wholly inappropriate, and certainly undesirable, for a court in Ireland to be determining whether Microsoft UK is right about this. On the other hand, there would be no difficulty with the Court here applying EU competition law, either as part of English law (in respect of the pre-Brexit period and, if that is what the Court determines is the case, also in respect of the post-Brexit period) or as part of the laws of other EU/EEA member states, since the Court here is very experienced in doing just that.

If it is true that under forum non, only English courts can be held properly to determine the direction of English law post Brexit, the hand of many a claimant in forum non applications will surely be strengthened.

Geert.

Vestel v Philips. Court of Appeal rejects attempt to ground jurisdiction on a claim requalified from abuse of dominance to patent DNI.

In Vestel Elektronik Sanayi Ve Ticaret A.S. & Anor v Access Advance LLC & Anor [2021] EWCA Civ 440 – also known as Vestel v Philips, the Court of Appeal has rejected an attempt to establish jurisdiction for the Courts of England and Wales in a stand-alone competition law damages case.

Hacon J had earlier rejected jurisdiction in the claim which at first instance was formulated as an abuse of dominance claim. That claim was now reformulated with Birss LJ’s permission [30], with the relevant tort being the tort of patent infringement, and in effect the claim a negative declaration relating to that patent. That a claim for declaration of non-liability in tort (‘a ‘negative declaration’) may be covered by A7(2) BIa, was confirmed by the CJEU in C-133/11 Folien Fischer. In the case art issue, it would require Vestel to show it had not infringed a valid IP right. However Birss LJ holds that Vestel’s claim, aimed at obtaining a FRAND declaration for the patented technology (Vestel needs a licence for the technology patented by Philips, and wants it at FRAND terms: Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory).

The declarations sought by Vestel, after dropping the abuse of dominance plea, are in this form [49]: i) A declaration that the terms offered are not FRAND; ii) A declaration that the terms of Vestel’s counter-offer are FRAND; and  iii) Alternatively, a declaration as to the terms which would be FRAND. these, is it held, are not declarations of non-liability in tort. Vestel have not been given right to access the IPRs. They seek that right in specified terms. They cannot claim that a hypothetical right of entry can proactively ground jurisdiction on the ground that the non-existing access has not been transgressed. As Birss LJ puts it: ‘Vestel’s position is like that of a trespasser with no right to enter the property claiming that if they had permission then it would not be a trespass.’

This was a creative jurisdictional attempt. I think it justifiably failed.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.198; para 2.454.

Vestel v HEVC Advance (Delaware) and Philips (NL). High Court denies stand-alone competition law damage both on the basis of Article 7(2) BRU Ia and residual CPR rules.

In [2019] EWHC 2766 (Ch) Vestel Elektronik v HEVC Advance and Koninklijke Philips NV, Hacon J found no jurisdiction in a stand-alone competition law damages case (no finding of infringement yet; claim is one of abuse of dominant position). He rejected the existence of jurisdiction against Philips NV (of The Netherlands) on the basis that no damage existing or potential could be shown grounding Article 7(2) Brussels Ia tortious Jurisdiction. Against the Delaware defendant, the relevant CPR rules applied per Four Seasons v Brownlie did not lead to jurisdiction either.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

 

Stand alone cartel damages suits: The High Court in Media Saturn Holding v Toshiba on anchoring jurisdiction.

In [2019] EWHC 1095 (Ch) Media Saturn Holding v Toshiba et al, Barling J is concerned with stand-alone damages suits following the European Commission decision in COMP/39437 – TV and Monitor TubesNone of the Defendants was an addressee of the Decision (some of their parent companies were). The claims are, therefore, “standalone” rather than “follow-on” actions, and the Decision is not binding on the court so far as the claims against the Defendants are concerned, as it would have been had the Defendants been addressees. Nevertheless, Claimants place considerable reliance upon the evidential effect of the Decision.

Claims are strike out and summary judgment application, intertwined with challenges to jurisdiction. These essentially relate to there being no arguable claim against the “anchor” defendants, particularly Toshiba Information Systems UK ltd – TIS.

At 114: Claimants refute the suggestion that the claim has been brought against TIS on a speculative basis in the hope that something may turn up on disclosure and/or simply to provide an anchor defendant for jurisdictional purposes. They point to the Commission’s finding, at Recital 595, that the cartel was implemented in the EEA through sales of cartelised CPTs that had been integrated into the finished products.

The substantive law issue of implementation of the cartel therefore is brought in not just to argue (or refute) summary dismissal, but also to shore (or reject) the jurisdictional claim under Article 8(1) Brussels 1a.

Barling J establishes as common ground (at 90) that ‘as a matter of law an entity can infringe Article 101(1) TFEU and Article 53 EEA if it participates in relevant cartel activity, in the sense of being a party to an agreement or concerted practice which falls within that Article, or if it knowingly implements a cartel to which it may not have been a party in that sense. [counsel for defendants] submitted that there is no arguable case that TIS had the requisite knowledge. However, what is sufficient knowledge for this purpose is not common ground’.

At 300 ff the most recent CJEU authority is discussed: C-724/17 Vantaan kaupunki v Skanska of March 2019.

This leads to a relevant discussion on ‘implementation’ of the cartel, which mutatis mutandis is also relevant to Article 7(2) (locus delicti commissi). At 117-118:

‘TIS [similar arguments are discussed viz other defendants, GAVC] was involved in activities which were important to the operation of the cartel from the Toshiba perspective. These included the manufacture of CTVs using the cartelised product acquired from an associated company which itself was one of the established cartelists, and the onward sale of the transformed product. TIS also had direct commercial dealings with the Claimants relating to bonuses on sales of, inter alia, the transformed products. In my judgment there is an arguable case that those activities amounted to the actus reus of participation in and/or implementation of the cartel. The available material is sufficient to preclude the summary disposal of that issue.’ 

At 139 ff much CJEU and national authority is discussed, viz a variety of the defendants, on the issue of ‘implementation’ for summary dismissal on substantive grounds, a discussion which then at 259 ff is applied to the jurisdiction issue. Reference is made to Brownlie v Four Seasons, to C-103/05 Reisch Montage and of course to C-352/13 CDC. At 273 Barling J distinguishes excellently in my view between predictability as part of the DNA of CJEU Brussels Ia case-law on the one hand, and its treatment (and rejection) as a stand-alone criterion on the other hand:

‘[argument of counsel] is in danger of treating the statement of the CJEU in Reisch Montage as adding a free-standing and distinct criterion of foreseeability to the preconditions of application expressly set out in Article 8(1). If that criterion were to be applied generally, and without reference to those express pre-conditions, there would be a risk of the EU law principle of legal certainty being compromised, instead of respected as Reisch Montage expressly requires. That case states that the special rule in Article 8(1) must be interpreted so as to ensure legal certainty. The special rule’s express precondition is that “the claims are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments…” Therefore, by virtue of Reisch Montage, it is those words that must be interpreted strictly so as to respect legal certainty and thereby ensure foreseeability. In other words, foreseeability is inextricably linked to the closeness of the connection between the two sets of claims, and the criterion will be satisfied if a sufficiently close connection of the kind described in Article 8(1) exists.’

And at 276

‘It is correct that the anchor defendants were not addressees of the Decision and that there were no UK addressees. However, there is no reason why this should be significant. Article 8(1) is capable of applying in a competition claim regardless of whether a Commission infringement decision exists. What matters is that there is a claim that the anchor defendant is guilty of an infringement, and that the case against the non-anchor defendant is sufficiently “closely connected” to that claim within the meaning and for the purposes of Article 8(1). The fact that neither entity is an addressee of a Commission decision (if there is one) and that neither is the subject of any other regulatory process or civil claim relating to the cartel, is, if not immaterial, then of marginal relevance.’

For all anchor defendants the conclusion is that there is an arguable claim that they participated in and/or knowingly implemented the cartel. That strongly militates against the sole purpose of the (two sets of) proceedings being to oust the jurisdiction of the other EU courts. No abuse has occurred.

At 316 a final postscript is added suggesting summarily that the Supreme Court’s Vedanta might have an impact on the ‘abuse’ issue. The judgment concerned inter alia an alleged abuse of EU law in the context of the predecessor provision to Article 8(1). The Court gave consideration to the test for the “sole purpose” issue. At 317: Barling J: ‘I can see no basis on which my conclusions in that regard are affected by this decision.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1.

 

 

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