Posts Tagged weaker parties

Douez v Facebook: Consumers as protected categories in Canadian conflict of laws.

Postscript 16 May 2018 Tanya Monestier article re same here.

Thank you Stephen Pittel for flagging 2017 SCC 33 Douez v Facebook Inc.  Stephen also discusses the forum non conveniens issue and I shall leave that side of the debate over to him. What is interesting for comparative purposes is the Supreme Court’s analysis of the choice of court clause in consumer contracts, which it refuses to enforce under public policy reasons, tied to two particular angles:

  • ‘The burdens of forum selection clauses on consumers and their ability to access the court system range from added costs, logistical impediments and delays, to deterrent psychological effects. When online consumer contracts of adhesion contain terms that unduly impede the ability of consumers to vindicate their rights in domestic courts, particularly their quasi-constitutional or constitutional rights, public policy concerns outweigh those favouring enforceability of a forum selection clause.’ (emphasis added)

Infringement of privacy is considered such quasi-constitutional right.

  • ‘Tied to the public policy concerns is the “grossly uneven bargaining power” of the parties. Facebook is a multi-national corporation which operates in dozens of countries. D is a private citizen who had no input into the terms of the contract and, in reality, no meaningful choice as to whether to accept them given Facebook’s undisputed indispensability to online conversations.’

With both angles having to apply cumulatively, consumers are effectively invited to dress up their suits as involving a quasi-constitutional issue, even if all they really want is their PSP to be exchanged, so to speak. I suspect however Canadian courts will have means of sorting the pretended privacy suits from the real ones.

A great judgment for the comparative binder (see also Jutta Gangsted and mine paper on forum laboris in the EU and the US here).

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Jurisdiction rules on joinders apply regardless of whether they are brought by or against third parties. The insurance title does not apply between professional parties. CJEU in Sovag.

The CJEU has held in Case C-521/14 Sovag that Article 6(2) Brussels I (Article 8(2) in the Recast) applies regardless of whether the proceedings are brought against (which is what inter alia the English language version suggests) or by a third party.

A, the victim of a traffic accident that took place in Germany, brought an action in Finland against SOVAG, with which the vehicle responsible for the damage was insured. That traffic accident also constituting a work accident under the Law on accident insurance, If, which is established in Finland, paid A compensation for the accident in accordance with that law. After A had brought the action against SOVAG, If itself sued SOVAG before the same court of first instance.

The national court in first instance held that, in accordance with Article 8 of Regulation 44/2001, in matters relating to insurance jurisdiction may be determined by the provisions of Section 3 of Chapter II of that Regulation alone. According to SOVAG, Article 6(2) of Regulation 44/2001 is indeed not applicable because Section 3 of Chapter II of the same Regulation establishes an autonomous system for the conferring of jurisdiction in matters of insurance. On this issue, the CJEU (at 30) reminded the national court of earlier case-law that where the action at issue in the main proceedings concerns relations between professionals in the insurance sector, and will not affect the procedural situation of a party deemed to be weaker, the insurance title does not apply. [Relevant precedent is in particular C-347/08 Voralberger v WGV-Schwabishe]. The objective of protecting a party deemed to be weaker being fulfilled once jurisdiction is established on the basis of Section 3 of Chapter II of Regulation 44/2001, subsequent procedural developments concerning only relations between professionals cannot fall within the ambit of that section.

Next, the wording of several of the language versions of Article 6(2), in particular the German, French, Finnish and Swedish versions, does not prevent the court before which the original proceedings are pending from having jurisdiction to hear and determine an action brought by a third party against one of the parties to the original proceedings.  However, other language versions of that provision, particularly the English language version, appear to restrict its scope to actions brought against third parties (‘a person domiciled in a Member State may also be sued: … as a third party’).

While the CJEU acknowledged that the special jurisdictional rules need to be applied restrictively, ie not going beyond their purpose, here the purpose of Article 6(2) is the harmonious administration of justice, namely minimising the possibility of concurrent proceedings and ensuring that irreconcilable judgments will not be given in two Member States. Therefore Article 6(2) must also apply where the third party brings the proceedings, not just where it is drawn into those proceedings by others.

However, the Court also sanctioned the Finnish rule of civil procedure that the right of a third party to bring an action in connection with pending judicial proceedings, is contingent on that action being linked to the original proceedings. Given that Article 6(2) does not apply where the proceedings were brought ‘solely with the object of removing’ the party concerned from the jurisdiction of the court which would ordinarily have jurisdiction to hear the case,  the CJEU OK-ed the Finnish rule as being one that assist in helping to avoid abuse of the rule on joinders.

I would have thought the Court would have made that rule one of EU law, given its insistence on autonomous interpretation. (Rather than simply OK-ing a national rule). Whether there is such a European rule therefore must stay into the open a little longer.

Geert.

 

 

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