On 25 February 2015, the District Court of Limburg ("District Court") rendered a judgment on various preliminary issues in an antitrust damage case between Deutsche Bahn and a number of producers of prestressing steel. The judgment confirms that, in general, Dutch courts consider themselves competent to rule on damages claims against all alleged cartel participants, even when they are foreign immunity applicants, if a Dutch "anchor" is amongst the defendants.
In the main proceedings, Deutsche Bahn claimed the defendants, including German immunity applicants DWK and Saarstahl, are liable for any damage they may have caused due to their Article 101 infringement (See Commission Decision COMP/38.344). The defendants filed various preliminary motions, including a motion to declare lack of jurisdiction and a request for disclosure.
The District Court dismissed DWK's and Saarstahl's motion to declare lack of jurisdiction because it found a sufficiently close connection between Deutsche Bahn's claims against Netherlands-based anchor defendants Nedri Spanstaal and Hit Groep on the one hand, and the claims against DWK and Saarstahl on the other. In establishing this close connection, the Court took into consideration that, according to the Commission decision, all defendants took part in a "single and continuous infringement" of competition law and that they "had a common goal" in carrying out their arrangements.
Furthermore, DWK and Saarstahl argued that under the recently adopted, but not yet implemented, Actions for Damages Directive, immunity applicants such as themselves cannot be held jointly and severally liable for all damage caused by the cartel, but only for damage incurred by their own customers. The District Court rejected this argument, considering that even if it were to accept that the immunity applicants are only liable for damage caused to their own customers, the case against the immunity applicants still had a sufficiently close connection with the claims against the other defendants.
The District Court furthermore dismissed the defendants' request for disclosure of invoice data and assignment deeds of the claims. The District Court ruled that the defendants did not yet have a legitimate interest in disclosure of these documents. Such disclosure would be “premature” as the relevance of these documents in assessing the defendants’ liability will depend on the substantiation of the parties in the main proceedings.