The domino effect of international commercial courts in Europe – Who’s next?

Written by Georgia Antonopoulou and Erlis Themeli, Erasmus University Rotterdam (PhD candidate and postdoc researchers ERC project Building EU Civil Justice)

On February 7, 2018 the French Minister of Justice inaugurated the International Commercial Chamber within the Paris Court of Appeals following up on a 2017 report of the Legal High Committee for Financial Markets of Paris (Haut Comité Juridique de la Place Financière de Paris HCJP, see here). As the name suggests, this newly established division will handle disputes arising from international commercial contracts (see here). Looking backwards, the creation of the International Commercial Chamber does not come as a surprise.  It offers litigants the option to lodge an appeal against decisions of the International Chamber of the Paris Commercial Court (see previous post) before a specialized division and thus complements this court on a second instance. (more…)

Court of Appeal of Ljubljana and implied consent to application of Slovenian law by not- contesting the application of Slovenian law in first and in appellate instance

Written by Dr. Jorg Sladic, Attorney in Ljubljana and Assistant Professor in Maribor (Slovenia)

In judgment of 25 October 2017 in case I Cpg 1084/2016 (ECLI:SI:VSLJ:2017:I.CPG.1084.2016) published on 31 January 2018 the Slovenian Appellate Court ruled on a question of implied consent to application of Slovenian law. (more…)

Fifty Shades of (Facebook) Blue – ECJ Renders Decision on Consumer Jurisdiction and Assigned Claims in Case C-498/16 Schrems v Facebook

Written by Tobias Lutzi, DPhil Candidate and Stipendiary Lecturer at the University of Oxford.

Yesterday, the ECJ has rendered its decision in Case C-498/16 Maximilian Schrems v Facebook Ireland Limited. The case will be of interest to many readers of this blog as its facts are not only closely linked to the ECJ’s well-known decision in Case C-362/14 Schrems but also could have come straight out of a conflict-of-laws textbook.

Maximilian Schrems has been litigating against Facebook and the way in which the company uses the personal data of its users since 2011, when he first submitted a range of complaints to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner. In 2013, he submitted another complaint, which ultimately lead to the annulment of the ‘Safe Harbour’ framework between the EU and the US in the aforementioned decision; the proceedings continued with a reformulated version of this complaint and have recently been referred to the ECJ for a second time. Over the course of this litigation, Schrems built a reputation as a privacy activist, publishing two books, giving talks and lectures, and founding a non-profit organisation that uses ‘targeted and strategic litigation’ to enforce privacy and data protection laws across Europe.

The proceedings that gave raise to yesterday’s decision by the ECJ are formally unrelated to the aforementioned litigation. In 2014, Schrems set out to bring a ‘class action’ against Facebook for numerous violations of privacy and data protection laws. For this purpose, 25,000 Facebook users assigned their claims to him. Only eight of these claims, regarding Schrems’ own Facebook account and Facebook ‘page’ as well as the accounts of seven other users from Austria, Germany, and India, formed the object of the present proceedings. The claims were brought at Schrems’ domicile in Vienna, Austria, based on the special head of jurisdiction for consumer contracts in Art 16(1) Brussels I (= Art 18(1) of the recast Regulation).

The proceedings raised two separate questions, which the Austrian Oberster Gerichtshof ultimately referred to the ECJ:

  • Can Schrems still be considered a consumer in the sense of Art 15(1) Brussels I, despite his continued activism and professional interest in the claims?
  • If so, can he also rely on the privilege of Art 16(1) Brussels I regarding claims that have been assigned to him by other consumers who are domiciled in (a) the same EU Member State; (b) another Member State; (c) a non-member State?

Following the Advocate General’s opinion (reported here), the Court answered the first question in the positive (I.) and the second one in the negative (II.). Both answers are testimony to a nuanced interpretation of the special rules of jurisdiction for consumer contracts (III.)

I. The Consumer Exception

According to the ECJ’s well-known decisions in Case C-269/95 Benincasa and Case C-464/01 Gruber, the assessment of whether a party is a ‘consumer’ in the sense of Art 15(1) Brussels I does not depend on their subjective qualities but on the ‘the position of the person concerned in a particular contract’ (Benincasa, [16]), which must have been ‘concluded for the purpose of satisfying an individual’s own needs in terms of private consumption’ (ibid, [17]); where a contract has been concluded for a purpose that is partly private and partly professional, the professional aspect of it must be ‘so slight as to be marginal’ for the contract to still fall under the provision (Gruber, [39]).

In the present case, this definition raised two questions. The Court first had to decide whether the assessment was to be made only at the moment when the contract was originally concluded or whether subsequent changes of circumstances must also be taken into account. It held that

[38] … a user of [a digital social network] may, in bringing an action, rely on his status as a consumer only if the predominately non-professional use of those services, for which the applicant initially concluded a contract, has not subsequently become predominately professional.

Second, the Court had to decide whether this was the case for Schrems, who had originally entered into a contract with Facebook for private purposes but subsequently developed a professional activity involving litigation against Facebook. According to the Court,

[39] … neither the expertise which [a] person may acquire in the field covered by those services nor his assurances given for the purposes of representing the rights and interests of the users of those services can deprive him of the status of a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of Article 15 [Brussels I].

[40] Indeed, an interpretation of the notion of ‘consumer’ which excluded such activities would have the effect of preventing an effective defence of the rights that consumers enjoy in relation to their contractual partners who are traders or professionals, including those rights which relate to the protection of their personal data. …

Interestingly, the Court put little emphasis on the possible distinction between Schrems’ private Facebook ‘profile’ and his arguably professional Facebook ‘page’ (see [34]–[36]). Instead, it seemed to generally exclude ‘representing the rights and interests of the users’ of a particular service from the range of professional activities that might prevent the contract for this service from being considered a consumer contract. The Court explicitly linked this interpretation to the objective of ensuring a high level of consumer protection in Art 169 TFEU. Thus, its decision might not even have been different had Schrems joined Facebook with the sole aim of enforcing his (and other users’) rights. This way, the Court effectively sidestepped the problems created by the increasingly wide range of uses to which social media and other online platform accounts can be put, which the Advocate General had so colourfully described as ‘fifty shades of (Facebook) blue’ (Opinion, [46]) – and which, for the time being, remain unaddressed.

II. Jurisdiction for Assigned Claims

With regard to using the second alternative of Art 16(1) Brussels I to bring claims that have been assigned to the claimant by other consumers at the claimant’s domicile, the Court held:

[45] The rules on jurisdiction laid down, as regards consumer contracts, in Article 16(1) of the regulation apply, in accordance with the wording of that provision, only to an action brought by a consumer against the other party to the contract, which necessarily implies that a contract has been concluded by the consumer with the trader or professional concerned ….

[48] … [T]he assignment of claims cannot, in itself, have an impact on the determination of the court having jurisdiction …. It follows that the jurisdiction of courts other than those expressly referred to by Regulation No 44/2001 cannot be established through the concentration of several claims in the person of a single applicant. … [A]n assignment of claims such as that at issue in the main proceedings cannot provide the basis for a new specific forum for a consumer to whom those claims have been assigned.

This interpretation seems to align well with earlier decisions by the Court, according to which the special head of jurisdiction in Art 16(1) Brussels I is only available personally to the consumer who is party to the consumer contract in question (Case C-89/91 Shearson Lehman Hutton, [23]; Case C-167/00 Henkel), [33]), and according to which the assignment of a claim does not affect international jurisdiction under the Brussels I Regulation (Case C-352/13 CDC Hydrogene Peroxide, [35]–[36]).

An interesting, and arguably unfortunate, side effect of this restrictive interpretation is that it may even exclude the consolidation of the claims of other Austrian consumers in the same forum, considering that the second alternative of Art 16(1) does not only contain a rule of international jurisdiction but also determines local (internal) jurisdiction. In this regard, the Advocate General argued that an additional forum in which such consumer claims could be brought could be created under national law (Opinion, [117]), a proposition that does not appear easily reconcilable with the clear wording of Art 16(1).

Contrary to the claimant’s press release, though, the fact that a consumer is not allowed to avail him- or herself of the privilege in Art 16(1) Brussels I in order to bring the claims 25,000 other consumers that have been assigned to him at his or her domicile does not mean that company’s can ‘divide and conquer’ and ‘block enforcement of consumer rights’. A claimant is free to rely on the first alternative of Art 16(1) Brussels I (which mirrors Art 2(1)) and bring all claims in the defendant’s Member State of domicile, the procedural law of which will then decide on whether the claims may be consolidated.

III. A Nuanced Approach to the Consumer Exception

What seems to emerge from the decision is a nuanced approach to the special provisions for consumer contracts. The Court applies a rather flexible interpretation to Art 15(1) Brussels I, allowing for changes of circumstances to be taken into account but also distinguishing the enforcement of (consumer) rights from other types of professional activities. At the same time, it interprets the special head of jurisdiction in Art 16(1) restrictively, limiting the privilege to each individual consumer and excluding the possibility of other consumers assigning their claims to one who is domiciled in what may appear as a more favourable forum.

Of course, there may well be strong arguments for the existence of such a possibility, especially in cases where each individual claim is too small to justify litigation but the sum of them is not. But it seems questionable whether Art 16(1) Brussels I would be the right instrument to create such a mechanism of collective redress – and, indeed, whether it should be the Court’s role to implement it.


Choice of Law in the American Courts in 2021: Thirty-Fifth Annual Survey

The 35th Annual Survey of Choice of Law in the American Courts (2021) has been posted to SSRN. The authors of this year’s survey owe an enormous debt to Symeon Symeonides who has, over the past three decades, provided an extraordinary service by authoring the previous thirty annual surveys. Having now finished our first survey, we are all the more impressed with his work. Thank you Symeon — and thank you all for reading.

John Coyle (University of North Carolina School of Law)
William Dodge (University of California, Davis School of Law)
Aaron Simowitz (Willamette University College of Law)

Giustizia consensuale No 2/2021: Abstracts

The second issue of 2021 of Giustizia Consensuale (published by Editoriale Scientifica) has just been released and it features:

Silvia Barona Vilar (Professor at the University of València) Sfide e pericoli delle ADR nella società digitale e algoritmica del secolo XXI (Challenges and Pitfalls of ADR in the Digital and Algorithmic Society of the XXI Century; in Italian)

In the XX century, dispute resolution was characterized by the leading role played by State courts: however, this situation has begun to change. With modernity and globalization has come the search of ways to ensure the ‘deconflictualisation’ of social and economic relations and solve conflicts arising out of them. In this context, ADR – and now ODR – have had a decisive impulse in the last decades and are now enshrined in the digital society of the XXI century. ADR mechanisms are, in fact, approached as means to ensure access to justice, favouring at the same time social peace and citizens’ satisfaction. Nevertheless, some uncertainties remain and may affect ADR’s impulse and future consolidation: among such uncertainties are the to-date scarce negotiation culture for conflict resolution, the need for training in negotiation tools, the need for State involvement in these new scenarios, as well as the attentive look at artificial intelligence, both in its ‘soft’ version (welfare) and its ‘hard’ version (replacement of human beings with machine intelligence).

Amy J. Schmitz (Professor at the Ohio State University), Lola Akin Ojelabi (Associate Professor at La Trobe University, Melbourne) and John Zeleznikow (Professor at La Trobe University, Melbourne), Researching Online Dispute Resolution to Expand Access to Justice

In this paper, the authors argue that Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) may expand Access to Justice (A2J) if properly designed, implemented, and continually improved. The article sets the stage for this argument by providing background on ODR research, as well as theory, to date. However, the authors note how the empirical research has been lacking and argue for more robust and expansion of studies. Moreover, they propose that research must include consideration of culture, as well as measures to address the needs of self-represented litigants and the most vulnerable. It is one thing to argue that ODR should be accessible, appropriate, equitable, efficient, and effective. However, ongoing research is necessary to ensure that these ideals remain core to ODR design and implementation.

Marco Gradi (Associate Professor at the University of Messina), Teoria dell’accertamento consensuale: storia di un’incomprensione (The Doctrine of ‘Negotiation of Ascertainment’: Story of a Misunderstanding; in Italian)

This article examines the Italian doctrine of ‘negotiation of ascertainment’ (negozio di accertamento), by means of which the parties put an end to a legal dispute by determining the content of their relationship by mutual consent. Notably, by characterizing legal ascertainment as a binding judgment vis-à-vis the parties’ pre-existing legal relationship, the author contributes to overcoming the misunderstandings that have always denoted the debate in legal scholarship, thus laying down the foundations towards a complete theory on consensual ascertainment.

Cristina M. Mariottini (Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for Procedural Law), The Singapore Convention on International Mediated Settlement Agreements: A New Status for Party Autonomy in the Non-Adjudicative Process

The United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (the ‘Singapore Convention’), adopted in 2018 and entered into force in 2020, is designed to facilitate cross-border trade and commerce, in particular by enabling disputing parties to enforce and invoke settlement agreements in the cross-border setting without going through the cumbersome and potentially uncertain conversion of the settlement into a court judgment or an arbitral award. Against this background, the Convention frames a new status for mediated settlements: namely, on the one hand it converts agreements that would otherwise amount to a private contractual act into an instrument eligible for cross-border circulation in Contracting States and, on the other hand, it sets up an international, legally binding and partly harmonized system for such circulation. After providing an overview of the defining features of this new international treaty, this article contextualizes the Singapore Convention in the realm of international consent-based dispute resolution mechanisms.


Observatory on Legislation and Regulations

Ivan Cardillo (Senior Lecturer at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan), Recenti sviluppi della mediazione in Cina (Recent developments in mediation in China; in Italian)

This article examines the most recent developments on mediation in China. The analysis revolves around, in particular, two prominent documents: namely, the ‘14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and Long-Range Objectives for 2035’ and the ‘Guiding Opinions of the Supreme People’s Court on Accelerating Steps to Motivate the Mediation Platforms of the People’s Courts to Enter Villages, Residential Communities and Community Grids.’ In particular, the so-called ‘Fengqiao experience’ ? which developed as of the 1960s in the Fengqiao community and has become a model of proximity justice ? remains the benchmark practice for the development of a model based on the three principles of self-government, government by law, and government by virtue. In this framework, mediation is increasingly identified as the main echanism for dispute resolution and social management: in this respect, the increasing use of technology proves to be crucial for the development of mediation platforms and the efficiency of the entire judicial system. Against this background, the complex relationship becomes apparent between popular and judicial mediation, their coordination and their importance for governance and social stability: arguably, such a relationship will carry with it in the future the need to balance the swift dispute resolution with the protection of fundamental rights.

Angela D’Errico (Fellow at the University of Macerata), Le Alternative Dispute Resolution nelle controversie pubblicistiche: verso una minore indisponibilità degli interessi legittimi? (Alternative Dispute Resolution in Public Sector Disputes: Towards an Abridged Non-Availability of Legitimate Interests?; in Italian)

This work analyzes the theme of ADR in publicity disputes and, in particular, it’s understood to deepen the concepts of the availability of administrative power and legitimate interests that hinder the current applicability of ADRs in public matters. After having taken into consideration the different types of ADR in the Italian legal system with related peculiarities and criticalities, it’s understood, in the final part of the work, to propose a new opening to the recognition of these alternative instruments to litigation for a better optimization of justice.

Observatory on Jurisprudence

Domenico Dalfino (Professor at the University ‘Aldo Moro’ in Bari), Mediazione e opposizione a decreto ingiuntivo, tra vizi di fondo e ipocrisia del legislatore (Mediation and Opposition to an Injunction: Between Underlying Flaws and Hypocrisy of the Legislator; in Italian)

In 2020, the plenary session of the Italian Court of Cassation, deciding a question of particular significance, ruled that the burden of initiating the mandatory mediation procedure in proceedings opposing an injunction lies with the creditor. This principle sheds the light on further pending questions surrounding mandatory mediation.

Observatory on Practices

Andrea Marighetto (Visiting Lecturer at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul) and Luca Dal Pubel (Lecturer at the San Diego State University), Consumer Protection and Online Dispute Resolution in Brazil

With the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), Information and Communication Technology (ICT) including the internet, computers, digital technology, and electronic services have become absolute protagonists of our lives, without which even the exercise of basic rights can be harmed. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased and further emphasized the demand to boost the use of ICT to ensure access to basic services including access to justice. Specifically, at a time when consumer relations represent the majority of mass legal relations, the demand for a system of speedy access to justice has become necessary. Since the early ’90s, Brazil has been at the forefront of consumer protection. In the last decade, it has taken additional steps to enhance consumer protection by adopting, a public Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform for consumer disputes. This article looks at consumer protection in Brazil in the context of the 4IR and examines the role that ODR and specifically the platform play in improving consumer protection and providing consumers with an additional instrument to access justice.

In addition to the foregoing, this issue features the following book review by Maria Rosaria Ferrarese (Professor at the University of Cagliari): Antoine Garapon and Jean Lassègue, Giustizia digitale. Determinismo tecnologico e libertà (Italian version, edited by M.R. Ferrarese), Bologna, Il Mulino, 2021, 1-264.

Out now: Zeitschrift für vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft (ZVglRWiss) 120 (2021) No. 4

The most recent issue of the German Journal of Comparative Law (Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft) features the following articles on private international and comparative law:

Jürgen Samtleben: Internationales Privatrecht in Guatemala

Guatemala’s rules on private international law of Guatemala are found in the Law of Judicial Organization of 1989. But conflict-of-law questions are also regulated in other laws. All these legislative texts are based on older laws, since Guatemala has a rich legal tradition on this subject. It is only against the background of this tradition that one can understand the meaning of the laws actually in force. The article discusses the different aspects of Guatemalan private international law, which today is generally based on the principle of domicile. The law of 1989 introduces two innovations which are worth emphasizing: the application of foreign law ex officio and the principle of party autonomy for international contracts.

Christoph Wendelstein: Eigenes und Fremdes im Kollisionsrecht

The article sheds light on the relationship between the conflict of laws and the substantive laws (potentially) called upon to apply. In doing so, the question is addressed whether the substantive law influences the conflict of laws. The focus is on the question of characterisation, which traditionally represents a kind of crystallization point between conflict of laws and substantive law. If the conflict of laws rules apply to foreign substantive law, the question may arise as to whether this completely displaces the own domestic substantive law or whether it is still relevant in some way. This refers to the ordre public and the overriding mandatory provisions (Eingriffsnormen), which are also object of the study. The focus lies on their functioning.

Jean Mohamed: Die aktienrechtliche actio pro socio im globalen Kontext – Zur Abgrenzung von materiellem Recht und Verfahrensrecht im anglo-amerikanischen Rechtskreis am Beispiel der derivative action in New York

The German procedure for the admission of corporate claims (derivative claims), a special institution based on stock corporation law for the so-called actio pro socio, has taken a long journey all the way to New York at present. In keeping with the verse by Frank Sinatra: “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere”, the subject is whether an international movement of the shareholder action – i. e. claims of the corporation asserted in the shareholder’s own name – may be imminent. In the New York proceeding Zahava Rosenfeld, derivatively as a shareholder of Deutsche Bank AG and on behalf of Deutsche Bank AG v. Paul Achleitner et al., the conflict of laws matches the German system known in § 148 of the German Stock Corporation Act with the New York’s (and the US) concept of the related derivative suit, also known as derivative action or derivative claim. Given the potential risks involved, it seems highly relevant from a legal, academic, and political point of view to discuss and model this quite complex but so far barely studied issue. In the following, the global procedural rules of derivative actions will therefore be discussed.

David B. Adler: Extraterritoriale US-Discovery für Schieds- und Gerichtsverfahren im Ausland

For decades, 28 U.S.C. § 1782(a) has offered a powerful tool for parties to obtain discovery through U.S. courts for use in foreign proceedings. Referring to the statute’s twin goals to provide “efficient assistance to participants in international litigation and encourag[e] foreign countries by example to provide similar assistance to our courts”, U.S. courts have time and again demonstrated that they are willing to readily grant respective discovery requests from foreign applicants. While the U.S. Supreme Court has answered various questions regarding the applicability and scope of § 1782(a) in its Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. decision, two key issues remained undecided. The first issue U.S. courts have been grappling with, and which has been an ongoing topic of interest among international arbitration practitioners and scholars for several decades, is whether the statute allows parties of foreign private arbitration proceedings to seek discovery via § 1782(a), or if § 1782(a) is limited to parties that seek support for a foreign court or administrative proceedings. The second issue concerns the extraterritorial reach of § 1782(a). Courts have issued diverging rulings on whether Section 1782 allows an applicant to seek the production of documents that are located outside the U.S. and on whether § 1782(a) contains a per se bar to its extraterritorial application. This article analyzes the recent appellate decisions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second, Fourth and Sixth Circuit – which are the first appellate rulings since Intel to weigh in on these issues in detail. This article further discusses whether there should be a per se bar to the extraterritorial application of Section 1782 and explains the broad implications that the recent appellate courts’ decisions on both issues have for foreign litigants and entities that are subject to the United States’ jurisdiction.