Consumer Law

Article 7(2) of Brussels I establishes international and domestic jurisdiction in cases of tort harms and anticompetitive practices

Article 7(2) of Brussels I establishes international and domestic jurisdiction in cases of tort harms and anticompetitive practices

Case C-30/20 (AG’s Opinion here)
concerns the interpretation of Article 7(2) of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012
(Brussels I), which states that a person can be sued in the place where the harmful
event occurred (regarding tort, delict or quasi-delict harms).

Between 2004 and 2009, RH (the claimant)
purchased five trucks from Volvo for its road transport business. In 2016, the
Commission found that there was a cartel between fifteen truck manufacturers,
including AB Volvo, Volvo Lastvagnar AB and Volvo Group Trucks Central Europe
GmbH concerning medium trucks and heavy trucks (in the period between 1997-2011).
RH sued the Volvo group in Spain, even though three of the four sued companies
are based outside of Spain. The Volvo companies contested the international jurisdiction
of Spanish courts, and argued that Article 7 refers to the place where the ‘event
giving rise to the damage occurred’, which would be the place where the cartel
was formed. The referring court questioned whether Article 7 of Brussels I
refers solely to international jurisdiction or also to domestic jurisdiction,
especially considering existing national case law determining that this rule
does not determine the territorial domestic jurisdiction of a court in private
competition actions. In this sense, the referring court asked the CJEU whether Article
7(2) of Brussels I should be interpreted as imposing only international
jurisdiction in matters relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict, and whether
the domestic court with jurisdiction should be determined by national civil procedure
rules, or if, on the other hand, Article 7(2) also determines domestic
territorial jurisdiction without the need to refer to domestic regulation.

AG
De La Tour
considered that Article 7(2) does not only impose international
jurisdiction, but also determines domestic jurisdiction
. The Advocate
General analyzed the literal, systematic and teleological element of
interpretation. When comparing Article 4(1) of the Brussels I Regulation with Article
7(2), the Advocate General stated that, while the former refers to ‘the courts’
of the Member State where the persons sued are domiciled, the latter refers to ‘the
courts for the place’. This difference in wording seems to point towards
different jurisdiction scopes. Additionally, since Article 7(2) is a special
jurisdiction rule, AG De La Tour reminded that these rules are meant to protect
a weak party, and, in that sense, these special rules have a nature of
derogation. Finally, these special rules are meant to allow the party to choose
the courts of a Member State based on the place with which the dispute has a
particular connection, as well as to facilitate the sound administration of
justice.

In addition, AG De La Tour considered
that this analysis should be supplemented by further details as to the place
where the alleged damage occurred, as well as to the specific designation of
the court having special jurisdiction. In this sense, the Advocate General
differentiated the current case from related cases (such as Tibor-Trans, where
the CJEU determined that ‘where the market affected by the anticompetitive conduct
is in the Member State on whose territory the alleged damage is purported to
have occurred, that Member State must be regarded as the place where the damage
occurred for the purposes of applying Article 7(2)’). The Advocate General
concludes that, in the relevant related cases, the justification of the
connecting factor adopted by the CJEU indicates that the ‘distinctive feature of competition litigation was taken
into consideration in concrete terms’ (para 66).
 

AG De La Tour also stated that the determination
of the place where the damage occurred operated by the CJEU in Tibor Trans is
not sufficient to specify the exact location
of the court having
territorial jurisdiction, which constitutes a source of legal uncertainty (para
70). The AG considered, therefore, that the CJEU should complement the answer
given in Tibor Trans, particularly by taking into account ‘the number of
proceedings which could be brought due to the extent of the cartel at issue’.
In particular, the Advocate General noted that it is necessary to consider that,
especially in the vehicle sales and transport sector, the place where the market
(affected by the cartel) leads to additional costs is not necessarily the place
where the goods were purchased (para 79).

For these reasons, the
Advocate General calls for the CJEU to clarify the criteria for
identifying the relevant court when interpreting the expression ‘place where
the harmful event occurred’ (Article 7(2) Brussels I Regulation), and for the
CJEU to draw a parallel with case
Verein
für Konsumenteninformation, where the CJEU held that ‘the place where the
damage occurred is that where the vehicle in question was purchased’. The Advocate General also highlighted that it is important
to assess the meaning of ‘purchase’ because, in the context of these proceedings,
RH concluded leasing agreements, under which it became the owner of the trucks.
This assessment should be done from an economic perspective, because the claim
for compensation is based on competition law (para 86). AG De La Tour then
interprets it as meaning ‘the place where [the] transaction was concluded’,
understood in a wide sense as the place where the agreement was reached (and
not where the price was paid) (para 88). Therefore, according to the Advocate
General, the criterion of ‘the place where the transaction was concluded’ is
sufficient to identify the court ‘objectively best placed to analyse the
constituent elements of the defendant’s liability’. In this case, that means the
place where the trucks were purchased by RH.

However, the Advocate
General also highlighted that, to protect the objective of providing easier access
to evidence, two criteria for establishing the location of damage can coexist
(para 108). In that case, AG De La Tour also proposes that ‘if the place where
the damage occurred does not correspond to that where the injured party carries
on business, the action may be brought before the court in whose
jurisdiction the injured party is established
’ (para 110).

Finally, the Advocate
General also considered that, despite the fact that Article 7(2) of the
Brussels I Regulation determines territorial jurisdiction at both an
international and domestic level, the CJEU should interpret it as allowing
Member States to centralize the jurisdiction in certain specialized courts
(para 130).

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