Competition Law Newsletter of February 2017
On 26 January 2017, the Court of Justice delivered fourteen judgments on the appeals against the General Court's ("GC") judgments in the bathroom fittings cartel cases. The judgments shed light on the rules of evidence in EU competition law proceedings. The Court ruled that the probative value of evidence should be considered in the light of the body of evidence as a whole. In this context, the Court also clarified that two leniency statements can constitute sufficient proof if they corroborate each other. The Court also ruled on the application of the fine cap of 10% of the annual turnover in situations where a subsidiary is held individually liable for participating in a cartel violation prior to the acquisition by the parent company.
The Court judgments in the bathroom fittings case follow the GC judgments of 2013 [see our October 2013 Newsletter]. The Court dismissed the majority of the appeals in their entirety. Two appeals that were lodged by the European Commission and Laufen Austria were referred back to the GC.
The Court upheld the Commission's appeal against the GC's judgment in relation to the Sanitec group. The Court agreed with the Commission that the GC failed to conduct an overall assessment of the evidence. It concluded that the GC (i) infringed the applicable rules on evidence, (ii) failed to examine the probative value of certain documents in the case file and (iii) failed to ascertain whether the evidence, viewed as a whole, could be mutually supporting. In this respect, the Court ruled that the GC erred in law when it found that one leniency statement cannot corroborate another.
With regard to the appeal made by Laufen Austria, the Court ruled that a parent company cannot be held liable for an infringement committed by its subsidiary prior to the acquisition of that subsidiary. According to the Court, the Commission should have determined whether the part of the fine relating to the period before the subsidiary was acquired was below the fine cap of 10% of the subsidiary's own turnover.
A noteworthy aspect of several bathroom fitting cartel judgments is that the Court of Justice held that the mere fact that an infringement has a more extensive geographical scope or covers a greater number of products than another infringement does not, in itself, necessarily mean that the infringement must be classified as more serious. However, as the operative part of these judgments were shown to be well founded on other legal grounds, the Court did not set aside this part of the judgments under appeal.
This article was published in the Competition Law Newsletter of February 2017. Other articles in this newsletter:
1. Court of Justice confirms Commission's approach in its first hybrid settlement case
2. Court of Justice confirms the fine imposed on Toshiba and Panasonic in the cathode ray tubes cartel
3. General Court awards damages for failure to adjudicate within a reasonable time
4. District Court of Rotterdam confirms that investment firms may be held liable for conduct of portfolio companies