Posts Tagged Tort

Microsoft (Nokia) v Sony. This battery keeps on going: relatively of arbitration clauses; cartel claims contractual? anchor defendants etc.

The one sorry outcome of [2017] EWHC 374 (Ch) Microsoft (Nokia) v Sony is that by rejecting jurisdiction, the Commercial Court did not have an opportunity to review the application of Rome II’s provisions on applicable law in the case of infringement of competition law.

The following background is by Kirsty Wright, who also alerted me to the case: the claim centred on allegations by Microsoft (who had acquired Nokia of Finland) that the Defendants had caused loss by engaging in anti-competitive conduct relating to the sale of Li-ion Batteries over a period of 12 years. In 2001 Nokia and the Sony Corporation (the mother corporation: with seat outside of the EU) concluded a Product Purchase Agreement for Li-ion Batteries. This agreement contained an English choice of law clause and required any dispute to be resolved by way of arbitration in the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Microsoft became the assignee of these rights following its purchase of parts of Nokia in 2013 and therefore could bring claims in contract against Sony Corporation and claims in tort against the other three Defendants. Sony Corporation is a subsidiary of Sony Europe Limited: it is the anchor defendant in this case: none of the corporations other than Sony Europe are domiciled in the EU.

Smith J in a lengthy judgment determined that the agreement between Microsoft and Sony Corporation to arbitrate in the ICC also extended to the parent company Sony Europe. Therefore proceedings against all defendants were stayed in favour of ICC arbitration subject to English law. This required him first of all to hold that under English law, the arbitration agreement (as opposed to, under EU law, for the issue of choice of court: see CDC) extends to non-contractual obligations (infringement of competition law evidently not being part of one’s contractual rights and obligations; see here for a review of the issues; in Dutch I’m afraid: must find time for an EN version) but also that the clause extended to the mother company: hence releasing the jurisdictional anchor.

Microsoft had anticipated such finding by suggesting such finding may be incompatible with EU law: its contention was that the operation of the Brussels I Regulation (Recast) must permit the effective protection of rights derived from competition law, including private law rights of action for infringement, these being rights accorded by EU law, and that an arbitration clause which caused the fragmentation of such rights of action was, for that reason, in breach of EU law (at 76). It made extensive reference to Jaaskinen AG’s call in CDC for the Brussels I Recast to be aligned with Rome II’s ambition to have one single law apply to the ensuing tort. (The jurisdictional regime as noted leads to a need to sue in various jurisdictions).

As I have noted in my review of the CJEU’s judgment, on this point the Court however disagreed with its AG. Indeed while the AG reviews and argues the issue at length (Smith J recalls it in the same length), the Court summarily sticks to its familiar view on the application of (now) Article 7(2) in competition cases; it is the CJEU’s view which the Commercial Court of course upholds.

A great case, extensively argued.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9.1; Heading 2.2.9; Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.2).

 

 

 

 

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Lodi Trading, a lotta fog: Kolassa in the Belgian Supreme Court.

Many thanks Michael Verhaeghe  (whom I have the pleasure with jointly to be representing a client) for alerting me to Lodi Trading in which the Belgian Supreme Court applied (and distinguished) Kolassa. Lodi Trading is registered in The Netherlands and seemingly had been duped into transferring funds to a gang of fraudsters.  As always, the judgment is very very scant on factual reference, and I have not been able to find the Court of Appeals’ judgement: if anyone can: Court of Appeal Gent, 8 December 2015.

Like the CJEU itself did clearly in Universal Music, the Hof van Cassatie distinguished Kolassa (although it does not refer to Universal Music in this part of the judgment) by insisting there be circumstances specific to the case, over and above the simple presence of a bank account, which point to the damage occurring in that State.

In Universal Music the CJEU had emphasised the need for case-specific facts for bank accounts to be a relevant factor in determining jurisdiction, by holding that ‘it is only where the other circumstances specific to the case also contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the courts for the place where a purely financial damage occurred, that such damage could, justifiably, entitle the applicant to bring the proceedings before the courts for that place.’ (emphasis added).

What seems (but again: see the joint caveat of the Supreme Court’s judgment being scant and the Court of Appeal’s judgment being untraceable) to be specific to this case is that the Court of Appeal had held in favour of the location of the bank account of recipient of the funds being locus damni, given that ‘internal law’ (by which I take it reference is made to Belgian, not Dutch law) determines that the time of payment is determined by the moment of accreditation of the funds to the beneficiary’s account: not (the alternative reading; but again I am assuming for the judgment’s 10 brief paras do invite speculation) the time of the funds leaving the account holder’s account.

It could well be therefore that the Supreme Court is rebuking the Court of Appeal for having Belgian law enter the equation, given the need for autonomous interpretation of European civil procedure. But I am not entirely sure.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 2.2.11.2, 2.2.11.2.7

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Cybercrime and jurisdiction. The CJEU in Concurrences /Samsung /Amazon.

In the flurry of judgments issued by the European Court of Justice on Super Wednesday, 21 December, spare a read for C-618/15 Concurrence /Samsumg /Amazon: Cybercrime, which dealt with jurisdiction for tort under the Brussels I Recast Regulation and the location of locus damni in the event of online sales. The foreign suffix of the website was deemed irrelevant.

To fully appreciate the facts of the case and the Court’s reasoning, undoubtedly it would be best to read Wathelet AG’s Opinion alongside the Court’s judgment.

Concurrence is active in the retail of consumer electronics, trading through a shop located in Paris (France) and on its online sales website ‘concurrence.fr’. It concluded with Samsung a selective distribution agreement (covering France) for high-end Samsung products, namely the ELITE range. That agreement included, in particular, a provision prohibiting the sale of the products in question on the internet. Exact parties to the dispute are Concurrence SARL, established in France, Samsung SAS, also established in France, and Amazon Services Europe Sàrl, established in Luxembourg. Amazon offered the product range on a variety of its websites,  Amazon.fr, Amazon.de, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es and Amazon.it.

Concurrence sue variously for a lift of the ban on internet sales (claiming the ban was illegal) and alternatively, an end to the  offering for sale of the elite products via Amazon. The French courts suggest they lack jurisdiction over the foreign Amazon websites (excluding amazon.fr) because the latter are not directed at the French public. Concurrence suggest there is such jurisdiction, for the products offered for sale on those foreign sites are dispatched not only within the website’s country of origin but also in other European countries, in particular France, in which case jurisdiction, they suggest,  legitimately lies with the French courts.

Pinckney figures repeatedly in Opinion and Judgment alike. Amazon submit that the accessibility theory for jurisdiction should not be accepted, since it encourages forum shopping, which, given the specific nature of national legal systems, might lead to ‘law shopping’ by contamination. Amazon seek support in Jaaskinen’s Opinion in Pinckney. Wathelet AG first of all notes (at 67 of his Opinion) that this argument of his colleague was not accepted by the CJEU. Moreover, he finds it exaggerated: the national court can award damages only for loss occasioned in the territory of the Member State in which it occurs: this limitation serves as an important break on plaintiffs simply suing in a State per the locus damni criterion ‘just because they can’.

The Court agrees (at 32 ff) but in a more succinct manner (one may need therefore the comfort of the Opinion for context):

  • The infringement of the prohibition on resale outside a selective distribution network is given effect by the law of the Member State of the court seised, so that a natural link exists between that jurisdiction and the dispute in the main proceedings, justifying jurisdiction for the latter.  It is on the territory of that Member State that the alleged damage occurs.
  • Indeed, in the event of infringement, by means of a website, of the conditions of a selective distribution network, the damage which the distributor may claim is the reduction in the volume of its sales resulting from the sales made in breach of the conditions of the network and the ensuing loss of profits.
  • The fact that the websites on which the offer of the products covered by the selective distribution right appears operate in Member States other than that of the court seised is irrelevant, as long as the events which occurred in those Member States resulted in or may result in the alleged damage in the jurisdiction of the court seised, which it is for the national court to ascertain.

With this judgment national courts are slowly given a complete cover of eventualities in the context of jurisdiction and the internet.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

 

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Status updated: can a ‘relationship’ be a ‘contract’? CJEU says it’s complicated in Granarolo, and complements the Handte formula.

In C-196/15 Granarolo, extensive reference is made to Brogsitter, in which the CJEU held that the fact that one contracting party brings a civil liability claim against the other is not sufficient to consider that the claim concerns ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast. That is the case only where the conduct complained of may be considered a breach of contract, which may be established by taking into account the purpose of the contract, which will in principle be the case only where the interpretation of the contract which links the defendant to the applicant is indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter. 

Kokott AG Opined that there was no such contractual relationship in the case at hand: see my review of the Opinion. The Court held last week and was less categorical. It suggests a contractual relationship between the parties (which did not have a framework agreement in place: rather a long series of one-off contracts) should not be excluded: the long-standing business relationship which existed between the parties is characterised by the existence of obligations tacitly agreed between them, so that a relationship existed between them that can be classified as contractual (at 25).

What follows can be considered a CJEU addition to the rather byzantine double negative C-26/91 Handte formula: ‘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’. In Granarolo at 26 the Court notes

The existence of a tacit relationship of that kind cannot, however, be presumed and must, therefore, be demonstrated. Furthermore, that demonstration must be based on a body of consistent evidence, which may include in particular the existence of a long-standing business relationship, the good faith between the parties, the regularity of the transactions and their development over time expressed in terms of quantity and value, any agreements as to prices charged and/or discounts granted, and the correspondence exchanged.

These criteria obviously are quite specific to the question at hand yet it is the first time the Court, carefully, ventures to give indications of some kind of a European ius commune on the existence of ‘a contract’.

Whether any such contract then is a contract for the sale of goods or one for services, is not a call the Court wishes to make. It lists the various criteria it has hitherto deployed, with extensive reference in particular to C-9/12 Corman-Collins, and leaves the decision up to the national court.

Make a mental note of Granarolo. It may turn out to have been quite pivotal. Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9

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Universal Music: The CJEU distinguishes Kolassa but just won’t give up on Bier.

As I had feared /as was to be expected, the CJEU did not follow Szpunar AG’s lead in formally letting go of Case 21/76 Bier‘s Erfolgort /Handlungsort distinction, even if it did accept the AG’s rejection in the case at issue, of the mere presence of a bank account triggering jurisdiction for tort under (now) Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast.

Kolassa upheld jurisdiction in favour of the courts for the place of domicile of the applicant by virtue of where the damage occurred, if that damage materialises directly in the applicant’s bank account held with a bank established within the area of jurisdiction of those courts. In Universal Music the CJEU distinguished Kolassa: for in the latter case there where ‘circumstances contributing to attributing jurisdiction to those courts.’ In general, the Court held in Universal Music, ‘purely financial damage which occurs directly in the applicant’s bank account cannot, in itself, be qualified as a ‘relevant connecting factor’‘ (at 38) . ‘ It is only where the other circumstances specific to the case also contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the courts for the place where a purely financial damage occurred, that such damage could, justifiably, entitle the applicant to bring the proceedings before the courts for that place.‘ (at 39).

The Court at 38 flags a rather interesting and relevant argument for dismissing pure presence of  a bank account as a determining connecting factor (a student of mine, Tony Claes, had made the same argument earlier this ac. year): a company such as Universal Music may have had the choice of several bank accounts from which to pay the settlement amount, so that the place where that account is situated does not necessarily constitute a reliable connecting factor. What the Court is essentially saying is that in such circumstance the applicant can manipulate jurisdiction and hence shop for a forum: which is not part of the jurisdictional rule for tort.

Crucially of course we are left having to ponder what exactly ‘other circumstances’ than location of bank account may imply.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 2.2.11.2, 2.2.11.2.7

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Arlewin v Sweden. Strasbourg-Luxembourg combination football on defamation via satellite.

Others have reported in some detail, and I am happy to refer, on Arlewin v Sweden at the ECtHR – the second Strasbourg conflicts ruling I report on in more or less one week. Epra have a short and sweet review, based mostly on the Court’s press release but useful nevertheless: they for instance suggest that Strasbourg have extended e-Date Advertising’s centre of interests rule for infringement of personality rights via the internet, to transmission by satellite. Dirk Voorhoof takes the media regulation angle. Dr Takis has the most extensive review over at Profs Peers and Barnard’s EU law analysis.

The case is a good illustration of an important port of entry for the ECHR into EU conflicts law in commercial litigation at least (I am not talking here of family law): Article 6’s right to fair trial. (See here for more extensive review of the Convention’s impact on European private international law). Strasbourg and Luxemburg are playing combination football here: the ECtHR approving of the CJEU’s application of the Brussels I Regulation in the case of libel and defamation. Especially with the EC’s recent shift of focus to the plaintiff’s position rather than the defendant’s, nothing guarantees of course that in the future EU law at this point might not be at odds with human rights law.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed, 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.4 .

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Choice of court in bond prospectus. The CJEU in Profit Investment Sim.

The CJEU has in my view taken the sensible approach in C-366/13 Profit Investment Sim, on (among others) whether choice of court included in a bond prospectus, binds not just the original transactional parties but also the buyers of such bonds on the secondary markets or via intermediaries. (An issue which many of us pondered in Kolassa but which was not sub judice there).

Parties at issue were Commerzbank (formerly Dresdner), the bond issuer; Redi, financial intermediary licensed by the UK FSA and subscriber of all relevant bonds on the primary market; and Profit, an Italian company, who bought part of the bonds of Redi, on the secondary market. Dresdner’s prospectus contains choice of court in favour of the English courts.

First, on the issue of the jurisdiction clause. The referring court asks, in essence, whether Article 23(1)(a) and (c) of Regulation 44/2001 (both now part of Article 25) must be interpreted as meaning that a jurisdiction clause, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, satisfies the formal requirements laid down in Article 23(1)(a) [‘in writing or evidenced in writing’] where (i) it is contained in a prospectus produced by the bond issuer concerning the issue of bonds, (ii) it is enforceable against third parties who acquire those bonds through a financial intermediary and (iii), in the event that the first two parts of the second question are answered in the negative, it corresponds to a usage in the field of international trade or commerce for the purpose of Article 23(1)(c).

Choice of court in the prospectus and the impact on the primary market.

The Court first of all holds that the ‘formal requirement’ of (now Article 25 a (a) ”in writing or evidenced in writing’ for the issue of choice of court between Dresdner and Redi is only met (along the lines of Colzani Case 24/76) if the contract signed by the parties upon the issue of the bonds on the primary market expressly mentions the acceptance of the clause by Redi, or contains an express reference to the prospectus. The latter in particular is quite likely.

Choice of court in the prospectus and enforceability against third parties acquiring through a financial intermediary.

Next, the Court (at 30) holds that the same two alternatives apply for the relationship between Redi and Profit. Here the court refers to Refcomp and  distinguishes it, basically by pointing to the specific examples of bills of lading and choice of court in shareholders registries, cases in which the CJEU had previously accepted transferability of choice of court to third parties, in specific circumstances. (Please refer to both the Refcomp judgment and to current judgment (at 33 ff) for detail).

The Court consequently held (at 37) that choice of court contained in a prospectus produced by the bond issuer concerning the issue of bonds may be relied on against a third party who acquired those bonds from a financial intermediary if it is established, which it is for the referring court to verify, that (i) that clause is valid in the relationship between the issuer and the financial intermediary, (ii) the third party, by acquiring those bonds on the secondary market, succeeded to the financial intermediary’s rights and obligations attached to those bonds under the applicable national law, and (iii) the third party had the opportunity to acquaint himself with the prospectus containing that clause. (Emphasis added).

The emphasis I added is quite important: the CJEU does not hold that such succession is somehow part of an EU Ius Commune.

Finally, if the answer to the first two questions is negative, is there usage in international trade or commercial custom between the parties? 

This, the Court holds, has to be determined by the national court. The CJEU (at 48) recalls its earlier case-law in particular C-106/95 MSG:  actual or presumed awareness of a usage on the part of the parties may be made out, in particular, by showing either that the parties had previously had commercial or trade relations between themselves or with other parties operating in the sector in question, or that, in that sector, a particular course of conduct is sufficiently well known because it is generally and regularly followed when a particular type of contract is concluded, so that it may be regarded as being an established practice.

The Court does though give a few more practical things which the national court needs to look out for: at 49. In order to determine, in the main proceedings, whether the insertion into the prospectus of a jurisdiction clause constitutes a usage in the sector in which the parties operate, of which those parties were aware or ought to have been aware, the referring court must take into account, inter alia, the fact that that prospectus was approved in advance by the Irish Stock Exchange and made available to the public on the latter’s website, which does not seem to have been contested by Profit in the proceedings on the merits. In addition, the referring court must take account of the fact that it is undisputed that Profit is a company active in the field of financial investments as well as of any commercial relationships it may have had in the past with the other parties to the main proceedings. The national court must also verify whether the issue of bonds on the market is, in that sector, generally and regularly accompanied by a prospectus containing a jurisdiction clause and whether that practice is sufficiently well known to be regarded as ‘established’.

 

Lest one forgets, the Court’s judgment is also relevant for a more general query on the nature of (now) Article 7(1): must the action seeking the annulment of a contract and the restitution of the amounts paid on the basis of a document the nullity of which is established, be regarded as ‘matters relating to a contract’ (the existence of which plaintiff seeks to dispute)? Yes, it does: if only (at 54) to ensure that Article 7(1) cannot simply be torpedoed by one party claiming that there is no contract.

(The judgment also reviews the conditions of application of (now) Article 8(1), with respect to ‘irreconcilability’ of judgments).

This judgment is quite relevant in yet again the CJEU having to defer to national law on the issue of transferability (see the emphasis I added, above). The Court very clearly does not wish to overplay its hand in trying to force a European Ius Commune in private law, via the use of private international law.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1; Heading 2.2.11.1.a; 2.2.9.3;.2.2.9.7; 2.2.12

 

 

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