Supreme Sites Services: Immunity of international organisations and ‘civil and commercial’. CJEU holds with emphasis on the provisional nature of the proceedings and the ordinary contractual nature of the goods supplied.

María Barral Martínez and I reviewed Saugmandsgaard Øe’s Opinion in C-186/19 Supreme Site Services v SHAPE here – see also references to earlier postings in that report. The Court held yesterday. The case involves both Article 1 Brussels Ia, on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ and the impact on same of claimed immunity; and on the application of Article 24(5)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for proceedings ‘concerned with the enforcement of judgments’.

The case concerns SHAPE’s appeal to a Dutch Court to lift the attachment aka ‘garnishment’ of a Belgian NATO /SHAPE escrow account by Supreme Services GmbH, a supplier of fuel to NATO troops in Afghanistan. In 2013, Supreme and Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (JFCB), the Netherlands-based regional headquarters of NATO, set up an escrow bank account in Belgium with the goal of offsetting any contingent liabilities on both sides at the end of Basic Ordering Agreements (BOAs). Supreme Services in 2015 initiated proceedings against SHAPE and JFCB in the Netherlands arguing that the latter parties had not fulfilled their payment obligations towards Supreme. It also attached the account in Belgium.

Maria earlier discussed the oddity that the Dutch Court of Appeal in the meantime has already held on the merits of the case. Shape submitted at the CJEU that this, and the fact that the Belgian courts executed their Dutch counterpart’s lifting of the garnishee order following the Dutch-Belgian 1925 Bilateral Convention, meant the questions had become largely inadmissible. The CJEU disagrees: the case before it has been referred by the Supreme Court, and that court has exclusive power under national law to determine how much it can still interfere in the substance of the case, which is still very much ‘alive’ therefore.

A first issue under discussion was whether the garnishment order, which the Court per C‑261/90 Reichert and Kochler qualifies as ‘provisional, including protective measures’ under (now) Article 35 BIa, concerns ‘civil and commercial matters’. Among others Greece and Shape argue that the nature of the substantive proceedings determines this exercises, while the CJEU, following the view of ia the EC, BEN and NL, insists it is the nature of the rights which the provisional and protective measure seek to safeguard, that must rule that exercise – support is found in 143/78 de Cavel. This finding reinforces the particular nature of ‘provisional, including protective measures’ in the set-up of the Regulation.

On the impact of claimed immunity on the subsequent qualification as ‘civil and commercial’, reference is of course made to the CJEU’s May judgment in C-641/18 Rina which I reviewed here. The Court extends its reasoning there to here despite the fact that as it notes at 61, States’ immunity is automatic and based on par in parem non habet imperium, while for international organisations it is not automatic and has to be conferred by the treaties establishing those organisations. Per Rina the CJEU assesses whether the international organisation acted iure imperii, for which of course it has a range of predecent available. At 66 it emphasises that how the organisation uses the supplied goods (here: to support the military campaign in Afghanistan) does not impact on the nature of the relationship it has with the supplier. The Court ends by instructing the Dutch SC to carry out the necessary factual checks however it suggests that in casu neither the legal relationship between the parties to an action such as that in the main proceedings nor the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of that action (here: the ordinary Article 705(1) of the Dutch CPR) can be regarded as showing the exercise of public powers for the purposes of EU law.

On the issue of Article 24(5), the Court takes a restrictive view as it becomes all elements of Article 24: reference here is made to CJEU C-722/17  Reitbauer: only proceedings relating to recourse to force, constraint or distrain on movable or immovable property in order to ensure the effective implementation of judgments and authentic instruments fall within A24(5)’s scope.

I trust public international lawyers will have more to say about the PIL implications of the judgment.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.2.

Supreme Site Services v Shape: Advocate General ØE on Brussels Ia’s scope of application (‘civil and commercial’ in light of claimed immunity. Opinion at odds with CJEU in Eurocontrol.

Update 12 June 2020 Maria has further analysis here.

Many thanks again María Barral for continuing her updates on C-186/19 Supreme Site Services v Shape, on which I reported earlier here and here; see her summary of Thursday’s opinion of the AG below. I just wanted to add two things.

Firstly, the AG’s suggestion that in spite of the intervening Court of Appeal judgment which would seem to make the CJEU case nugatory, the case should continue for against the appeal’s court decision, a further appeal is underway with the Supreme Court.

Second, at 93 etc. the AG advises that the immunity or not of the defendant, bears no relevance to the scope of application of BIa for it does not feature in the concept of ‘civil and commercial’ as developed by the Court.

That in my view is at odds with the CJEU’s very statement in Eurocontrol, at 4: the Court’s seminal judgment on civil and commercial itself in so many words links the scope of application to the practicality of recognition: in Eurocontrol the CJEU interprets ‘civil and commercial’ ‘in particular for the purpose of applying the provisions of Title III of the Convention‘: there is little use bringing issues within the scope of the Convention and now BIa, if ab initio there is no prospect of recognition and enforcement.

In other words I am not at all sure the Court will follow the AG on that part of the analysis. I should emphasise this is my view: María’s review independent of that follows below.

Geert.

 

Immunity does not impact jurisdiction based on Regulation Brussels I bis, AG Saugmandsgaard Øe dixit

María Barral Martínez

Following up on the previous posts (see here and here) discussing the contractual dispute between Supreme site Services v. SHAPE, today’s post addresses  the Opinion of Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe in C-186/19 Supreme v Shape.

While the questions posed by the referring court concerned the interpretation of articles 1(1) and 24(5) Brussels Ia, ‘at the CJEU’s request’ (5) limits his analysis to Article 1(1).

In a nutshell, the analysis in his Opinion is twofold: on the one hand, he examines whether the action brought by SHAPE – an international organisation- seeking the lift of an interim garnishee order falls within the meaning of “civil and commercial matters” laid down in article 1(1) of the Brussels I bis Regulation. On the other hand, he analyses whether the fact that SHAPE had invoked its immunity from execution in the interim relief proceedings has any significance on the above evaluation.

In tackling the first prong of his analysis, AG Saugmandsgaard Øe recalls the public hearing held at the CJEU back in December 2019. There, the focus was put on how the  “civil and commercial” nature of the interim relief measures sought by SHAPE is to be assessed – in the light of the features of the proceedings on the merits, based exclusively on the interim relief proceedings or only in relation to the nature of the rights the interim measures intend to safeguard matters. AG Saugmandsgaard Øe rejects the first two alternatives and follows the thesis supported by the Governments of The Netherlands and Belgium and by the European Commission: in line with the judgments de Cavel I and de Cavel II, the nature of the rights whose recognition is sought in the proceedings on the merits and whose protection is the purpose of the interim or protective measures sought is decisive. (Point 46 and 51)

Furthermore, AG conducts a thorough analysis on the immunities recognised under Public International Law vis-à-vis the application of Brussels Ia. He argues that to determine whether a dispute should be excluded from the scope of BIa on the grounds that it concerns “acts or … omissions in the exercise of State authority” – A1(1) in fine-, it is necessary to assess whether the action is based on a right which has its source in acta iure imperii or in a legal relationship defined by an exercise of State authority. (at 90)

On that basis, he concludes that an action for interim measures such as the one in the present case, seeking the lift of a garnishee order, must be regarded as “civil and commercial” in so far as the garnishee order was aimed to safeguard a right arising from a contractual legal relationship which is not determined by an exercise of State authority. (at 104)

Finally, AG Saugmandsgaard Øe posits that the fact that an international organization as SHAPE has invoked immunity from execution, has no bearing in the assessment of the material application of Brussels Ia. What’s more, it cannot serve as an obstacle for a national court to establish its international jurisdiction based on the aforementioned Regulation.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.2.