Analysis: “The Court of Justice on international and territorial jurisdiction in the place where damage occurred” by Patricia Pérez Fernández
Besides questions related to the liability of subsidiaries for damage caused by their parents (see here), the trucks-cartel has also led to a preliminary ruling request on the concept of the ‘place where the harmful event occurred’ ex Article 7(2) of Regulation 1215/2012.
In this case, the claimant (a buyer of five trucks from a Volvo Group dealer) brought a damages action before a commercial court based in Madrid, although its domicile is in Córdoba. Volvo did not challenge the territorial jurisdiction of the Spanish court, but rather claimed that the harmful event occurred, within the meaning of the mentioned Regulation, where the trucks cartel was concluded (in other Member States). Volvo claimed that the harm did not take place where its Spanish company has its registered office, thus challenging the international jurisdiction of the Madrid court.
The Court of Justice clarified in its judgment of 15 July 2021, Volvo and Others (C-30/20), that the concept of ‘place where the harmful event occurred’ covers both the place where the damage materialised, and the place of the event giving rise to that damage. The idea is that the victim shall be able choose where to sue the infringer for the damage suffered. The Court also affirms that Article 7(2) of Regulation 1215/2012 confers both international and territorial jurisdiction (meaning a specific court within that Member State) on the courts in the place where the damage occurred. In this sense, the Court mentions that Member States may centralise jurisdiction for damages claims arising from anticompetitive infringements before a specialised court.
In absence of a specialised court designed by the Member State, the court with jurisdiction in relation to the place where the harmful event occurred has to comply with the aims of proximity, predictability of the rules governing jurisdiction, and sound administration of justice. The Court mentions two scenarios which would comply with these principles, based on where the victim bought the product that is the subject of the cartel (trucks in this case). If the acquisition of the product subject to the cartel took place within the jurisdiction of a single court, that court will have jurisdiction for the damages claim. In case of purchases carried out in several places, the victim may sue the cartel-participants before the court where the victim has its registered office.
The decision of the Court of Justice in this case is consistent with its previous case law (Cartel Damage Claims (CDC) Hydrogen Peroxide, C-352/13). In that case, the Court of Justice affirmed that in such damages claims cases, which consist of additional costs incurred by victims of cartels because of artificially high prices, the place where the damage occurred is identifiable only for each victim considered individually, and occurs at the place of the victim’s registered office. The approach of the Court of Justice is clearly determined to make it viable and easier for victims to sue for the damage suffered where the consequences of the infringement effectively took place.
Patricia Pérez Fernández is a Spanish and European competition lawyer. She holds a PhD and is Adjunct Professor at IE Law School and the University of Castilla-la Mancha. She has published a book on private enforcement of competition law (‘Acciones de responsabilidad civil por ilícitos anticompetitivos’, Wolters Kluwer, 2019).