On 23 March 2017, the Commercial Court of Ghent ruled that the damages claim brought by parallel importers in the Honda motorcycle abuse of dominance case were not time-barred. In March 1999, following a complaint filed by a number of parallel importers, the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) imposed a fine of approximately EUR 750,000 on Honda Motor Europe Logistics for abusing its dominant position on the Belgian market for the issuance of conformity certificates for Honda motorcycles.
The Court of Appeal confirmed this decision in 2009, and it became final in 2011 after it was upheld by the Court of Cassation, the highest appellate court in Belgium.
In 2006, the parallel importers brought a civil action before the Commercial Court of Ghent, seeking damages for the harm suffered as a result of Honda's competition law infringement. Honda argued that the claim was time-barred because more than 5 years had passed between the decision of the BCA and the civil claim. The Commercial Court asked a preliminary question to the Belgian Constitutional Court regarding when the limitation period starts to run for competition law damages claims. The Constitutional Court ruled on 10 March 2016 that actions for antitrust damages cannot be time-barred before the final decision on the infringement is rendered [see our April 2016 Newsletter].
As a result, the Commercial Court of Ghent held that the claimants' civil damages claim was not time-barred because the appeal against the BCA decision was still pending when the damages claim was brought. According to the Court, as the facts stem from events more than 25 years ago, the exact quantification of the damage was almost impossible to calculate and had to be assessed ex aequo et bono. Therefore, each of the claimants (i.e. each of the parallel importers) was awarded EUR 20,000 in damages plus interest from 1997.
This article was published in the Competition Law Newsletter of May 2017. Other articles in this newsletter:
- Court of Justice allows use of evidence received from national tax authorities
- Court of Justice clarifies parental liability rules in the context of prescription
- European Commission publishes report on effectiveness of enforcement in online hotel booking sector
- Dusseldorf Court confirms that Asics' online sales restrictions violate competition law
- Hague Court of Appeal rules on interpretation of object infringements