ECJ rules that consumers may sue the other party to a contract before their home courts under the Brussels I Regulation, even if no causal link exists between the means used to direct the commercial or professional activity to the consumers' member state, and the conclusion of the contract.
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On 17 October 2013, the Court of Justice of the European Union ("ECJ") handed down its decision in case C-218/12 Lokman Emrek / Vlado Sabranovic. The decision broadens the scope of consumer protection under Art. 15 (1)(c) in connection with Art. 16 (1) Regulation 44/2001 (Brussels I Regulation).
This case involved a car salesman who had a garage in France close to the German border. His website advertised a German cell phone number. Pursuant to Art. 15 (1)(c) Brussels I Regulation, jurisdiction in consumer contracts is governed by the special protective rules of Art. 16 and 17 Brussels I Regulation, whenever the other party has directed his professional activities to the member state of the consumer's domicile. Art. 15 (1)(c) Brussels I Regulation further requires that the contract should fall within the scope of such activities. If these requirements are met, the consumer can sue before the courts of his domicile under Art. 16(1) Brussels I Regulation.
A German customer argued that, as a consumer, he could sue before the courts of his domicile pursuant to Art. 15 (1)(c) in connection with Art. 16 (1) Brussels I Regulation. Since it appeared that the contract had not been concluded as a result of the online business activities, the question arose as to whether Art. 15 (1)(c) Brussels I Regulation presupposes the existence of a causal link between the means employed to direct the commercial activity to the member state of the consumer's domicile, namely the internet site, and the conclusion of the contract with the consumer.
The ECJ held that Art. 15 (1)(c) does not require the existence of a causal link between the means employed to direct the commercial activity to the member state of the consumer's domicile, and the conclusion of the contract. Requiring this causal link (e.g., prior consultation of the Internet site) would raise difficult questions of proof. That type of burden of proof would tend to dissuade consumers from bringing actions before the courts of their domicile. As a result, the protection of consumers, which Art. 15 and 16 of the Brussels I Regulation seek to achieve, would be weakened. However, if and when that causal link is in fact established, it would constitute strong evidence which may be taken into consideration by the national court to determine whether the activity of the professional trader is 'directed at' the member state of the consumer's domicile.
Parties to consumer contracts should be aware that Art. 15(1)(c) Brussels I Regulation does not require the consumer in another member state to have been induced into entering into the contract by the website operated by the trader. Therefore, a causal link between the information presented on the seller's website and the consumer's decision to enter into the contract is not a condition for allowing the consumer to bring a claim in his or her home country.
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