Case law Developments in PIL

March at the Court of Justice of the European Union

No hearings on requests for a preliminary ruling concerning private international law are scheduled for March 2020. Conversely, several opinions and one judgment will be delivered.

Case C-249, JE

On March 24, AG Tanchev (Bulgaria) will give his Opinion in JE. The case concerns the interpretation of Article 10 of the Rome III Regulation on the law applicable to divorce and legal separation. The issue is whether the expression ‘the law applicable pursuant to Article 5 or Article 8 makes no provision for divorce’ is to be interpreted as merely referring to a situation where the applicable foreign law makes no provision for any form of divorce, or rather as including a situation where the applicable foreign law permits divorce, but does so in extremely limited circumstances.

The original action was brought in Romania in 2016. The applicant filed a petition for divorce claiming that the parties’ marriage should be dissolved, the applicant should return to using the name borne prior to the marriage, parental responsibility in respect of the minor child should be exercised jointly, the minor child should reside with the mother in Italy, and the defendant should be required to pay maintenance and the costs of proceedings.

After some hesitations regarding the general jurisdiction of the Romanian courts and the specific venue, the point was settled and the discussion moved to the applicable law under the Rome III Regulation. According to the court, the matter was governed by Italian law pursuant to Article 8(a) of the Regulation, since the parties were habitually resident in Italy. The court considered that the criteria laid down in Article 8(a) are framed in a hierarchical manner: if the conditions of the first criterion are satisfied, there is no need to look at the following ones.

The national court considered that that the grounds for divorce raised by the applicant are not available under the Italian legislation on divorce, and that that grounds different to those foreseen by the provision can be applied for only where there has been a legal separation of the spouses, which must be established or ordered by a court, and that the delay prescribed by the said legislation has passed since the legal separation itself. Since no provision is made for legal separation proceedings under Romanian law, the Romanian court concluded that those proceedings must be conducted before the Italian courts and therefore any application to that effect made before the Romanian courts is inadmissible.

The applicant lodged an appeal against that judgment, pointing out that, from her point of view, the criteria provided for in Article 8 of the Rome III Regulation are alternative in nature. She also stated that in the light of Italian legislation, the first sentence of Article 10 of the Rome III Regulation is applicable in the case (in my view, if I understand correctly the arguments of the Romanian court, she could have added that the absence of provisions on separation under Romanian law does not allow the court to declare itself incompetent).

Case C-215/18, Primera Air Scandinavia

The judgment in Primera Air Scandinavia is scheduled for 26 March 2020. The request for a preliminary ruling comes from District Court of Prague. It concerns the interpretation of in Article 5(1) and Articles 15 to 17 of the Brussels I Regulation.

The issue submitted to the CJEU arose in the context of an action for compensation brought under Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 by a passenger domiciled in the Czech Republic against an airline established in Denmark, on account of the long delay of a flight operated by that airline, but sold to that passenger, in conjunction with accommodation, by a Czech travel agency.

The opinion of AG Saugmandsgaard Øe (Denmark), of 7 November 2019, proposes the CJEU to answer that Article 5(1) covers an action for compensation brought by a passenger against the operating air carrier, even though those parties had not entered into a contract between them, and although that flight formed part of a package of services supplied under a contract entered into between the applicant and a third party.

On the contrary, Articles 15 to 17 of that regulation must be interpreted as meaning that they are not applicable to such an action. No surprise, considering the previous case law of the Court.

Case C-80/19, EE

The Opinion of AG Campos Sánchez-Bordona regarding the EE case, on the Succession Regulation, will also be issued on 26 March 2020.

The Supreme Court of Lithuania referred six question to the CJEU. Questions number 2 and 3, on the characterization of notaries as “courts” for the purposes of the Regulation, have already been addressed in the case of WB, still pending at the time of the referral.

By the remaining questions, the Lithuanian court conveys to the CJEU doubts related to the cross-border nature of a given succession (linked to that, to the applicability of the regulation when, in the light of the circumstances, its application would not facilitate the assertion of the rights of the heir, but rather the contrary); to the choice of law (implicit, and made during the transitional period), and to the choice of court.

The case concerned the estate of a Lithuanian national, married to a German national, who had moved to live in Germany together with her son (EE, also a Lithuanian national).

While living in Germany, EE’s mother had drawn up a will at a notary office in Kaunas (Lithuania), whereby she designated EE as the heir to her entire estate – an apartment in the same country. After the death of his mother, E.E. moved back to Lithuania, where he contacted the notary office in the City of Kaunas requesting the succession procedure be initiated, and the issuance of a certificate of succession rights. The notary refused to perform the notarial act, for, according to the Succession Regulation, the habitual place of residence of the testatrix was Germany. EE challenged the notary’s refusal before the court of first instance.

The Kaunas district court ruled in favour of EE, annulled the notary’s decision refusing to perform the notarial act, and ordered the notary to open the succession procedure in accordance with the place where the property was registered and to issue a certificate of rights of succession to the estate of the deceased mother.

The court stated that, even though the appellant’s mother had declared her departure to Germany, she was still a Lithuanian national and, on the day of her death, owned immovable property in Lithuania; she had not severed her links with Lithuania, and had visited the country and drawn up her will there.

The Kaunas regional court set aside the ruling of the court of first instance following an appeal lodged by the notary and turned down the appellant’s application. Among other, it stated that the court of first instance had, in annulling the notary’s decision under challenge, unreasonably relied on general principles. The appellant lodged an appeal in cassation against this judgment.

Case C-186/19, Supreme Site Services

AG Saugmandsgaard Øe’s Opinion in this case is scheduled for 26 March 2020, as well.

The Dutch referring court asks about the Brussels I bis Regulation and the meaning of “civil and commercial matters” in a case where an international organisation brings an action to (i) lift an interim garnishee order levied in another Member State by the opposing party, and (ii) prohibit the opposing party from levying, on the same grounds, an interim garnishee order in the future and from basing those actions on immunity of execution.

A public hearing was held in Luxembourg on 12 December 2019, where the CJEU learnt that the Dutch Appellate Court had granted immunity of jurisdiction to Shape and JCFB only two days before. The judges and AG wondered whether a reply to the preliminary reference would still be of any use. The Dutch decision on immunity, the request to the CJEU and the hearing in Luxembourg have been addressed by Geert van Calster in his blog, with a last update on January 2020.

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