Deference to Foreign Sovereign Submissions

As previously reported here, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision in 2016 reversing a $147.8 million price-fixing judgment against two Chinese manufacturers of Vitamin C. The plaintiffs alleged that the Chinese manufacturers engaged in price fixing and supply manipulation in violation of U.S. antitrust laws. In its first ever appearance as an amicus before a U.S. court, the Chinese government filed a formal statement asserting that Chinese law required the Chinese manufacturers to set prices and reduce the quantities of Vitamin C sold abroad. Relying on this statement, the Second Circuit held that because the Chinese manufacturers could not comply with both Chinese law and the U.S. antitrust laws, principles of international comity compelled dismissal of the case.

This case raises a host of interesting questions. First, did the Second Circuit reach the right result? Second, is this a comity case or a foreign sovereign compulsion case? Third, what level of deference is due to a foreign sovereign that appears in private litigation to explain their country’s laws? Fourth, should U.S. judges defer to such an explanation?

In June 2017, the United States Supreme Court called for the views of the United States.  This past Tuesday, the Solicitor General (SG) filed this brief in response to the Court’s order.

In this submission, the SG explains that the Court should grant review of the Second Circuit’s decision in order to review the court of appeals’ holding that the Chinese government’s submission conclusively established the content of Chinese law.  According to the SG, “a foreign government’s characterization of its own law is entitled to substantial weight, but it is not conclusive.”  The SG argues that the case warrants the Court’s review because “[t]he degree of deference that a court owes to a foreign government’s characterization of its own law is an important and recurring question, and foreign sovereigns considering making their views known to federal courts should understand the standards that will be applied to their submissions.”

Should the Court grant review, the question of what standard should be applied to foreign sovereign submissions will be key.  This is a question I have explored here.

It will be interesting to see whether the Court accepts the SG’s request to review the Second Circuit’s decision.

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(Report on the Conference held in Luxembourg on 12 October 2017, by Martina Mantovani, Research Fellow MPI Luxembourg)

On 12 October 2017, the Brussels Privacy Hub (BPH) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Department of European and Comparative Procedural Law of the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg held a joint conference entitled “Jurisdiction, Conflicts of Law and Data Protection in Cyberspace”. The conference, which was attended by nearly 100 people, included presentations by academics from around the world, as well as from Advocate General Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The entire conference was filmed and is available for viewing on the YouTube Channel of the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg (first and second parts)

Participants were first welcomed by Prof. Dr. Burkhard Hess, Director of the MPI, and Prof. Dr. Christopher Kuner, Co-Director of the BPH. Both highlighted the importance of considering each of the discussed topics from both a European and a global perspective.

The first panel was entitled “Data Protection and Fundamental Rights Law: the example of cross-border exchanges of biomedical data – the case of the human genome”. The speaker was Dr. Fruzsina Molnár-Gábor of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, who discussed the regulatory challenges arising in connection to the processing and transfer of biomedical data, including data exchanges between research hubs within the EU and to third-countries (namely the US). The need for innovative regulatory solutions, originating from a bottom-up approach, was discussed against the backdrop of the impending entry into force of the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), whose Article 40 encourages the adoption of Codes of Conduct intended to contribute to the proper application of the Regulation in specific sectors. According to Dr. Molnár-Gábor, however, in order to establish an optimal normative framework for biomedical research, the regulatory approach should be combined with appropriate privacy-enhancing technologies and privacy-by-design solutions (such as the emerging federated clouds, the European Open Science Cloud, and data analysis frameworks bringing analysis to the data). This approach should also be paired with the development of adequate incentives prompting non-EU established companies to express binding and enforceable commitments to abide by EU-approved Codes of Conduct. Her presentation demonstrated the basic problem of data protection and data transfer: The creation of appropriate and applicable legal frameworks often lags behind the necessarily more rapid pace of data exchange seen in successful scientific research.

The second panel was entitled “Territorial Scope of Law on the Internet”. According to Prof. Dr. Dan Svantesson of Bond University in Australia, the focus on territoriality, which characterises contemporary approaches to the solution of conflicts of laws, is the result of an inherent “territorial bias” in legal reasoning. A strict application of territoriality would however be destructive when dealing with cyberspace. Here, the identification of the scope of remedial jurisdiction should follow a more nuanced approach. Prof. Svantesson specifically focused on Article 3 of the new GDPR, which he deemed “too unsophisticated” for its intended purposes as a result of its “all-or-nothing approach” In other words, either a data controller is subject to the Regulation in its entirety, or it is totally excluded from its scope of application. As an alternative, he proposed a layered approach to its interpretation, grounded in proportionality. The GDPR, he contended, should be broken down into different sets of provisions according to the objectives pursued, and each of these sets should be assigned a different extraterritorial reach. Against this backdrop, the spatial scope of the application of provisions pertaining to the “abuse prevention layer” may, and should, be different from that of the provisions pertaining to the “rights layer” or “the administrative layer”.

A response was made by Prof. Dr. Gerald Spindler of University of Göttingen, who conversely advocated the existence of an ongoing trend toward a “reterritorialization” of the Cyberspace, favoured by technological advance (geo-blocking, Internet filtering). This segmentation of the Internet is, in Prof. Spindler’s opinion, the result of a business strategy that economic operators adopt to minimise legal risks.  As specifically concerns private international law rules, however, a tendency emerges towards the abandonment of “strict territoriality” in favour of a more nuanced approach based on the so-called market principle or “targeting”, which is deemed better adapted to the more permeable borders that segment cyberspace.

The third panel was entitled “Contractual Issues in Online Social Media”. The speaker was Prof. Dr. Alex Mills of University College London. A thorough analysis of Facebook’s and Twitter’s general terms and conditions brought to light private international law issues stemming from “vertical contractual relationships” between the social media platform and final users. Professor Mills highlighted, in particular, the difficult position of social media users within the current normative framework. In light of the ECJ case-law on dual purpose contracts, in fact, a characterisation of social media users as “consumers” under the Brussels I bis and the Rome I Regulations may be difficult to support. Against this backdrop, social media users are left at the mercy of choice of court and choice of law clauses unilaterally drafted by social media providers. In spite of their (generally) weaker position vis-à-vis social media giants, European social media users will in fact be required to sue their (Ireland-based) contractual counterpart in Californian courts, which will then usually apply Californian substantive law. In addition to generating a lift-off of these transactions from EU mandatory regulation, these contractual clauses also result in an uneven level of protection of European social media users. In fact, Germany-based social media users seem to enjoy a higher level of protection than those established in other EU countries. Since the contract they conclude with the social media provider usually encompass a choice of law clause in favour of German substantive law, they may in fact benefit from the European standard of protection even before Californian courts.

Prof. Dr. Heike Schweitzer of Freie Universität Berlin, highlighted a fundamental difference between E-Commerce and social media platforms. While the former have an evident self-interest in setting up a consumer-friendly regulatory regime (e.g., by introducing cost-efficient ADR mechanisms and consumer-oriented contractual rights) so as to enhance consumer trust and attract new customers, the latter have no such incentive. In fact, competition among social media platforms is essentially based on the quality and features of the service provided rather than on the regulatory standard governing potential disputes. This entails two main consequences. On the one hand, from the standpoint of substantive contract law, “traditional” contractual rights have to adapt to accommodate the need for flexibility, which is inherent to the new “pay-with-data” transactions and vital to survival in this harshly competitive environment. On the other hand, from the standpoint of procedural law, it must be noted that within a system which has no incentive in redirecting disputes to consumer-friendly ADR mechanisms (Instagram being the only exception), private international law rules, as applied in state courts, still retain a fundamental importance.

The final roundtable dealt with “Future Challenges of Private International Law in Cyberspace”. Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe discussed the delicate balance between privacy and security in the light of the judgment of the Court of Justice in the case C-203/15, Tele2 Sverige, as well as the specifications brought to the protective legal regime applicable to consumers by case C-191/15, Verein für Konsumenteninformation v Amazon EU Sarl. Prof. Kevin D. Benish of New York University School of Law illustrated the US approach to extraterritoriality in the protection of privacy, having particular regard to the recent Microsoft case (the U.S. Supreme Court recently granted certiorari). Prof. Dr. Gloria Gonzalez Fuster of Vrije Universiteit Brussels pointed to a paradox of EU data protection legislation, which, on the one hand, regards the (geographic) localisation of data as irrelevant for the purpose of the applicability of the GDPR and, on the other hand, establishes a constitutive link with EU territory in regulating data transfers to third countries. Finally, Dr. Cristina Mariottini, Co-Rapporteur at the ILA Committee on the Protection of Privacy in Private International and Procedural Law, provided an overview of the European Court of Human Rights’ recent case-law on the interpretation of Article 8 ECHR. Specific attention was given to the conditions of legitimacy of data storage and use in the context of criminal justice and intelligence surveillance, namely with respect to the collection of biological samples in computerised national databases (case Aycaguer v. France), the use as evidence in judicial proceedings of video surveillance footage (Vukota-Bojic v. Switzerland) and the telecommunication service providers’ obligation to store communications data (case Breyer v. Germany and case C?alovic? v. Montenegro, concerning specifically the police’s right to access the stored data).

Overall, the conference demonstrated the growing importance of private international and procedural law for the resolution of cross-border disputes related to data protection. The more regulators permit private enforcement as a complement to the supervisory activities of national and supranational data protection authorities, the more issues of private international law become compelling. As of today, conflict of laws and jurisdictional issues related to data protection have not been sufficiently explored, as the discussion on private law issues related to the EU General Data Protection Regulation demonstrates. With this in mind, both Brussels Privacy Hub and MPI have agreed to regularly organize conferences on current developments in this expanding area of law.

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By Stephan Walter, Research Fellow at the Research Center for Transnational Commercial Dispute Resolution (TCDR), EBS Law School, Wiesbaden, Germany.

Today, Advocate General Bobek delivered his opinion in Schrems (Case C-498/16) on the interpretation of Articles 15 and 16 of Regulation No 44/2001.

The Austrian Supreme Court referred two preliminary questions to the CJEU:

(1) Is Article 15 of [Regulation No 44/2001] to be interpreted as meaning that a “consumer” within the meaning of that provision loses that status, if, after the comparatively long use of a private Facebook account, he publishes books in connection with the enforcement of his claims, on occasion also delivers lectures for remuneration, operates websites, collects donations for the enforcement of his claims and has assigned to him the claims of numerous consumers on the assurance that he will remit to them any proceeds awarded, after the deduction of legal costs?

(2) Is Article 16 of [Regulation No 44/2001] to be interpreted as meaning that a consumer in a Member State can also invoke at the same time as his own claims arising from a consumer supply at the claimant’s place of jurisdiction the claims of others consumers on the same subject who are domiciled

(a) in the same Member State,

(b) in another Member State,

or

(c) in a non-member State,

if the claims assigned to him arise from consumer supplies involving the same defendant in the same legal context and if the assignment is not part of a professional or trade activity of the applicant, but rather serves to ensure the joint enforcement of claims?

With regard to the first preliminary question, AG Bobek found that

42. (…) the central element upon which consumer status for the purpose of Articles 15 and 16 of Regulation No 44/2001 is to be assessed is the nature and aim of contract to which the claim(s) relate. In complex cases where the nature and aim of a contract is mixed, namely, that it is both private and professional, there must be an assessment of whether the professional ‘content’ can be considered as marginal. If that is indeed the case, consumer status may still be retained. Moreover, it ought not be excluded that in certain exceptional situations, due to the indeterminate content and the potentially long duration of the contract, the status of one of the parties may shift over time.

62. (…) the carrying out of activities such as publishing, lecturing, operating websites, or fundraising for the enforcement of claims does not entail the loss of consumer status for claims concerning one’s own Facebook account used for private purposes.

However, AG Bobek answered the second question in the negative. He argued that

118. (…) on the basis of Article 16(1) of Regulation No 44/2001 a consumer cannot invoke, at the same time as his own claims, claims on the same subject assigned by other consumers domiciled in other places of the same Member State, in other Member States or in non-member States.

The very interesting opinion can be downloaded here.

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China has signed the Hague Choice of Court Convention on 12 September 2017, but has not yet ratified this Convention. The Hague Choice of Court Convention has not entered into force in China. However, Shanghai High Court has already relied on the Hague Choice of Court Convention to make decision.

In Cathay United Bank v Gao, Shanghai High Court, (2016) Hu Min Xia Zhong No 99, the appellant, a Taiwan commercial bank, and the respondent, a Chinese citizen resident in Shanghai, entered into a Guarantee contract. It included a clause choosing Taiwan court as the competent court to hear disputes arising out of the contract. This clause did not specify whether it was exclusive or not. Chinese law does not provide how to decide exclusivity of a choice of court agreement. Facing the legal gap, Shanghai High Court took into account Article 3 of the Hague Choice of Court Convention 2005 and decided that choice of court agreements should be exclusive unless the parties stated otherwise. The Shanghai High Court thus declined jurisdiction in favour of Taiwan Court.

This decision was made on 20 April 2017, even before China signed the Hague Choice of Court Convention. Since the Hague Choice of Court Convention has not entered into force in China, it should not be directly applied by Chinese courts in judicial practice. The question is whether Chinese courts could ‘take into account’ of international conventions not being effective in China to make decision. Although Article 9 of the Chinese Supreme Court’s Judicial Interpretation of Chinese Conflict of Laws Act allows the Chinese courts to apply international conventions, which have not entered into effect in China, to decide the parties’ rights and obligations, such an application is subject to party autonomy. In other words, parties should have chosen the international convention to govern their rights and obligations. Article 9 does not apply to international judicial cooperation conventions that do not deal with individuals’ substantive rights and are not subject to party autonomy. Perhaps, a more relevant provision is Article 142(3) of the PRC General Principle of Civil Law, which provides that international customs or practice may be applied to matters for which neither the law of the PRC nor any international treaty concluded or acceded to by China has any provisions. Arguably, the Hague Choice of Court Convention represents common practice adopted internationally and forms a source to fill the gap in the current Chinese law.

 

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I have just received this Call for papers related to the International Seminar “50 Years of EU Private International Law in Therapy”, organized by the Spanish Association of Professors of International Law and International Relations (AEPDIRI) and the University of Valencia (Spain). It will be held in Valencia on January 25th, 2018.

The purpose of the seminar is to critically examine the five decades of codification of private international law in the EU, assessing its achievements and shortcomings, as well as its interaction with existing national and conventional responses, and with the practice of legal practitioners. In short, the seminar seeks to assess the regulatory and policy outcomes and their impact on the activity of EU operators and citizens. It covers the three classic fields of international jurisdiction, applicable law, and circulation of judgments and public documents in the European Union, without focusing on any specific act adopted by the EU. Future prospects for the process will also be addressed, considering the regulatory proposals on which the European Commission is working.

All those interested in presenting a paper should send their proposal by November 30th, 2017, to seminarioactualidad.dipr2018@aepdiri.org. For guidance purposes, the following topics are suggested (non-exhaustively):

1. Codification techniques in EU private international law.- The need for Regulations; advantages and disadvantages of sector-specific codification; external competences of the EU; interaction with the Hague Conference (HCCH) and other codification forums.

2. Scope and limitations of mutual recognition.- Enforcement of judgments; effectiveness of civil status documents; restrictions on recognition.

3. Interaction of EU private international law with the Spanish model of private international law.- Close and open-ended Regulations; scope of autonomous private international law; intra-EU and international private relations.

4. Impact of private international law on legal practitioners.- Review of the concept of authority; contentious and voluntary jurisdiction; out-of-court procedures; scope of notarial activities in the EU; implementation of EU private international law by public registry officials.

5. The “interregional” dimension of the EU private international law model.- Reference to multi-legal systems and their internal dimension; review of the Spanish model of interregional law.

Applications must be accompanied by the following documents in Word format:

-1. A document with the following information only: title of the proposal; name of the candidate; home university; academic position; indication of whether the candidate is member of AEPDIRI.

-2. Summary of the proposal (without indication of the name of the candidate, but only the title, contents and 3-5 keywords), of 1000-1500 words.

-3. Brief CV (max. 5 pages).

A book will be published  bringing together all the papers and communications submitted –or accepted without oral presentation– for this Seminar.

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On the application of Art. 19.2 Service Regulation

In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court of Greece dismissed a cassation against an appellate decision, confirming the findings of the first instance ruling, which issued a default judgment against an Italian company, following the return of a non-service certificate by an Italian bailiff.

The interesting part of the judgment is related to the application of Art. 19.2 Service Regulation.

The questions raised are twofold:

First, the extent of efforts to be made by the Receiving Authority, before deciding to return the document to the Transmitting Authority.

Second, the presumption of the Greek Supreme Court that failure of the defendant to notify his change of abode, allows a court to continue with the proceedings, even when the change occurred before lis pendens.

More information can be found here.

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The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) has published the results on its Study “Cross-border restitution claims of looted works of art and cultural goods”. The objective of the Study is described as follows:

“Works of art and cultural goods looted in armed conflicts or wars usually travel across several borders when they are sold. The cross-border character of looted art creates legal challenges for restitution claims as they often concern various national jurisdictions, with differing rules, as well as fragmented and insufficiently defined legal requirements in international and European legal instruments. Against this background, this European Added Value Assessment identifies weaknesses in the existing EU legal system for restitution claims of works of art and cultural goods looted in armed conflicts and wars. Moreover, it outlines potential legislative measures that could be taken at the EU level and that could generate European added value through simplification and harmonisation of the legal system in this area.”

Against this background, the Study deals, inter alia, with

(i) shortcomings of Article 7 no. 4 Brussels Ibis Regulation;

(ii) possible improvements of choice of law in relation to cultural property such as the question of a “lex originis” as a potential variation to the lex rei sitae under certain circumstances;

(iii) potential amendments on the level of substantive law such as e.g. the accession of the remaining Member States to the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Goods or, alternatively, autonomous means of incorporating elements of this Convention or relevant provisions of the DCFR by extending Directive 2014/60/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 May 2014 on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State;

(iv) the special issue of Holocaust related claims for restitution, including options for developing an adequate sales law;

(v) accompanying measures on EU level such as increasing data exchange of results from provenance research or setting up a EU Agency for the Protection of Cultural Property.

The legal basis for this Study is the following: In accordance with Article 225 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the European Parliament has a right to ask the European Commission to take legislative action in a particular area. Such requests are based on a legislative initiative report by the parliamentary committee responsible. On 16 February 2016, the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament authorised its Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) to draft a legislative initiative report on cross-border restitution claims of looted works of art and cultural goods.

All legislative initiative reports must automatically be accompanied by a detailed European Added Value Assessment (EAVA). Accordingly, the JURI Committee asked the Directorate-General for Parliamentary Research Services (EPRS) to prepare an EAVA to support the legislative initiative report on the cross-border restitution claims of works of art and cultural goods looted in armed conflicts and wars. The Rapporteur is Pavel Svoboda (EPP, Czech Republic), Chairman of the JURI Committee. The author of the Study is Dr Christian Salm, Policy Analyst, European Added Value Unit. The Study is based on an externally commissioned scientific study (“Annex I”) by the author of these lines. Both texts are available here.

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Expecting higher demands for international commercial dispute resolution following Britain’s departure from the EU, Belgium plans to set up a new English-language commercial court, the Brussels International Business Court (BIBC), to take cases away from the courts and tribunals in London. This decision was announced on 27 Oct 2017. This BIBC is designed to address disputes arising out of Brexit and major international commercial disputes. The court will take jurisdiction based on parties’ choice, and will do the hearing and deliver judgments in English. The parties would have no right to appeal. BIBC combines elements of both traditional courts and arbitration. See comments here.

Although Brexit may cause uncertainty to litigants in the UK, a survey suggests that the EU judicial cooperation scheme is not the main reason for international parties choosing London to resolve their disputes. The top two factors that attract international litigants to London are the reputation and experience of English judges and combination of choice of court clauses with choice of law clauses in favor of English law,  followed by efficient remedies, procedural effectiveness, neutrality of the forum, market practice, English language, effective UK-based counsel, speed and enforceability of judgments. Furthermore, Brexit will not affect the New York Convention and would less likely affect London as an arbitration centre. It may be more reasonable to suggest that the main purpose of BIBC is not to compete with London at the international level, but to offer additional judicial tool and become a new commercial dispute resolution centre within the EU to attract companies and businesses to Brussels.

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First personal impressions presented by Edina Márton, LLM, PhD (Saarbruecken)

For jurisdictional purposes, the localisation of cross-border violations of personality rights under European instruments, such as Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 (Brussels Ia), has attracted the attention of a considerable number of scholars and often led to different legal solutions in the national judicial practice. At EU level, besides Shevill (C-68/93; ECLI:EU:C:1995:61) as well as eDate and Martinez (C-509/09 and C-161/20; ECLI:EU:C:2011:685), since 17 October 2017, a third judgment in case Bolagsupplysningen (C-194/16; ECLI:EU:C:2017:766) has given further clarification in this area. In the recently delivered judgment, the ECJ specified one of the two limbs of the connecting factor “where the harmful event occurred or may occur” under Article 7(2) of Brussels Ia, namely the place of the alleged damage.

Two key factual elements of Bolagsupplysningen differentiate this case from Shevill, as well as eDate and Martinez. First, one of the alleged victims is a legal person established under Estonian law and has business activities in Sweden (paras 9 and 10). Secondly, the case concerned “the rectification of allegedly incorrect information published on … [the] website [of the Swedish defendant], the deletion of related comments on a discussion forum on that website and compensation for [the entire] harm allegedly suffered” (para 2; emphases omitted; words in square brackets added).

Regarding the determination of the jurisdictionally relevant place of damage, the ECJ basically ruled that a legal person asserting that its personality rights have been violated through the Internet may bring an action for rectification and removal of the allegedly infringing information, and compensation for all the damage occurred before the courts of the Member State in which its centre of interests is situated. In addition, it also stated that the courts of each Member State in which the contested online information is or was accessible are not competent to hear actions brought for rectification and removal of that information.

In the present author’s view, one of the most significant aspects of the judgment is that the ECJ treated the pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage equally for determining the jurisdictionally relevant place of damage (para 36). In addition, the ECJ applied the “centre of interests” connecting factor introduced in eDate and Martinez to this case and identified it vis-à-vis a legal person pursuing business activities in a Member State other than in the Member State in which its registered office is located (paras 40 ff.). The decisive element for this identification seems to be the pursuit of business activities. As a side note, it is worth questioning how to define this approach for entities that do not carry out such activities (cf. the centre of interests of a natural person generally coincides with his/her habitual residence in eDate and Martinez, para 49). Finally, and, in the opinion of the present author, most importantly, regarding claims for rectification and removal of allegedly infringing online information, the ECJ disregarded the so-called mosaic principle (paras 45 ff.).

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On 1 December 2017, the University of Milan will host the final conference of the Project ‘Planning the Future of Cross-Border Families: A Path Through Coordination’ (JUST/2014/JCOO/AG/CIVI/7729, co-funded by the European Commission under the Civil Justice Programme).

The Project aims at analyzing the practice of several Member States concerning the application of EU Regulations No 2201/2003, No 1259/2010, No 4/2009, and No 650/2012, as well as the 2007 Hague Maintenance Protocol, and the 2007 Hague Recovery Convention. It has been carried out by the University of Milan together with the MPI Luxembourg, the Universities of Heidelberg, Osijek, Valencia and Verona, and in partnership with several family lawyers associations – the Italian AIAF, the Spanish AEAFA-, the Italian Scuola Superiore della Magistratura, and the Croatian Pravosudna akademija.

The event is free of charge and it will be held in English and Italian with simultaneous interpretation. Registration is nevertheless compulsory (click here, also to access the full program ).

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/eufams

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