Happy Flights v Ryanair. Belgian Supreme Court (only) confirms proper lex causae for validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia (GAVC Law)
Author: Geert Van Calster (GAVC Law)
Publication date: 11/03/2019
Thank you alumna and appreciated co-author Jutta Gangsted for flagging Charles Price’s (former learned colleague of mine at Dibb Lupton Alsop) and Sébastien Popijn’s alert on the Belgian Supreme Court’s ruling of 8 February last in C.18.0354.N Happy Flights v Ryanair. Happy Flights are a Belgium-based online claim agency to which disgruntled passengers may assign claims for compensation under Regulation 261/2004.
At issue is the validity of Ryanair’s choice of court in its general terms and conditions, referring consumers to Irish courts. The Brussels Commercial court on 30 May 2018 seemingly first of all did not assess whether the agency may be considered a ‘consumer’ within the terms of the consumer title of Brussels Ia, having been assigned the consumers’ claims. This decision is unreported <enters his usual rant about the lack of proper reporting of Belgian case-law>.
The Supreme Court (at 2, line 47) notes this lack of assessment by the lower court. It does not however complete the analysis sticking religiously to its role to interpret the law only, not the facts. Per CJEU Schrems mutatis mutandis I would suggest an affirmative answer (the agency having been assigned the consumers’ rights): in which case the Article 25 analysis becomes redundant.
The Brussels Commercial court subsequently and again from what one can infer from the Supreme Court’s ruling, discussed the validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia, reviewing its formal conditions (formation of consent) yet judging the material validity under the lex fori, Belgian law, not the lex fori prorogati, Irish law. This is a clear violation of A25 juncto recital 20 Brussels Ia. The Supreme Court suggests that the relevant Irish implementation of the unfair consumer terms Directive 93/13 does imply invalidity of the clause (again: if the claim is held to fall under the consumer title, this analysis will become superfluous). Note that the SC ommits recital 20’s renvoi instruction.
The Court’s judgment unlike the understandably enthusiastic briefing by Happy Flight’s counsel does not quite yet mean that Ryanair’s terms and conditions on this issue have been invalidated. However it is likely they will be upon further assessment on the merits. As I note above first up there will be the issue of assignment rather than the issue of A25.
For your interest, I gave a Twitter tutorial on a related issue (consumer law, lex causae, compulsory referral to arbitration) recently.