Case law of Court of Justice of the EU – Jurisdiction under Brussels I bis Regulation
By the judgment in case C-451/18 Tibor-Trans Fuvarozó és Kereskedelmi Kft. proti DAF Trucks NV of 29 June 2019, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“Court”) confirmed and extended its previous case-law regarding the establishment of jurisdiction pursuant to Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 of the European Parliament and the Council of 12 December 2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (“Brussels I bis”). The question referred for a preliminary ruling concerned the interpretation of Article 7(2) of Brussels I bis Regulation.
Subject-matter of proceeding
In the proceeding, the Court dealt with the question whether, in an action seeking compensation for damage caused by an infringement of Article 101 TFEU, consisting, inter alia, of collusive arrangements on pricing and gross price increases for trucks, the place where the victim claims to have suffered that damage may be considered to be “the place where the harmful event occurred” (Article 7(2) of Brussels I bis Regulation), even where the action is directed against a participant in the cartel at issue with whom that victim had not established contractual relations.
In a proceeding before the Hungarian court, the applicant, the Hungarian company Tibor-Trans Fuvarozó és Kereskedelmi Kft. (“Tibor-Trans”), claimed damages against a Dutch truck producer, DAF Trucks NV. The damage allegedly resulted from the fact that Tibor-Trans acquired trucks at a price distorted by the collusive arrangements in which DAF Trucks had participated.
The defendant, DAF Trucks NV, argued that the collusive meetings took place in Germany, which should entail the jurisdiction of the German courts. It also submitted that it never entered into a direct contractual relationship with Tibor-Trans (as this acquired the trucks from distributors), with the result that it could not reasonably expect to be sued in the Hungarian courts.
Legal assessment of case
The Court first noted that even though Brussels I bis Regulation has repealed and replaced Regulation No 44/2001 (which itself replaced the Convention of 27 September 1968 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters), the Court’s interpretation of the provisions of the legal instruments in question applies to Brussels I bis Regulation “whenever those provisions may be regarded as ‘equivalent’” (see, to that effect, judgments in Nothartová, C‑306/17, paragraph 18; Kuhn, C‑308/17, paragraph 31, Gradbeništvo Korana, C‑579/17, paragraph 45).
According to the settled case-law, the notion of “place where the harmful event occurred” is intended to cover both the place where the damage occurred and the place of the event giving rise to it, so that the defendant may be sued, at the option of the applicant, in the courts for either of those places. In the present case, according to the Court, it was not disputed that none of the collusive arrangements took place in Hungary, so the event giving rise to the damage occurred outside the territory of Hungary.
The Court thus considered the question whether it is possible to construe “the place where the harmful event occurred” as a place where the adverse consequences of an event occurred and whether the establishment of jurisdiction is not prevented by the fact that the plaintiff had not acquired the trucks directly from the defendant.
The Court ruled already in the past that damage which is no more than the indirect consequence of the harm initially suffered by other persons who were the direct victims of damage which occurred at a place different from that where the indirect victim subsequently suffered harm cannot establish jurisdiction (judgment in Dumez France and Tracoba, C‑220/88, paragraphs 14 and 22). Therefore, the Court held, “the place where the harmful event occurred” cannot be construed so extensively as to encompass any place where the adverse consequences of an event, which has already caused damage actually occurring elsewhere.
In the case Tibor-Trans, however, the Court concluded that there has been direct damage consisting of additional costs incurred because of high prices. The Hungarian market was directly affected by the infringement established by the European Commission, as it is part of the European Economic Area.
According to the Court, the answer to the question referred for the preliminary ruling is that Article 7(2) of Brussels I bis Regulation must be interpreted as meaning that, in an action for compensation for damage caused by an infringement of Article 101 TFEU, consisting, inter alia, of collusive arrangements on pricing and gross price increases for trucks, “the place where the harmful event occurred” covers, in a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings, the place where the market which is affected by that infringement is located, that is to say, the place where the market prices were distorted and in which the victim claims to have suffered that damage, even where the action is directed against a participant in the cartel at issue with whom that victim had not established contractual relations.
The Court thus followed its own case-law, in particular the judgment of 21 May 2015, CDC Hydrogen Peroxide (C‑352/13, EU:C:2015:335), according to which, in the case of an action for damages brought against defendants domiciled in various Member States as a result of a single and continuous infringement of Article 101 TFEU and of Article 53 of the EEA Agreement, which has been established by the Commission, in which the defendants participated in several Member States, at different times and in different places, each alleged victim can choose to bring an action before the courts of the place where its own registered office is located.
Author: Mgr. Patrik Führich, associate, Škubla & Partneri