Short Reads

District Court of Limburg rules that damages claims in the Dutch prestressing steel case are time-barred

District Court of Limburg rules that damages claims in the Dutch prestressing steel case are time-barred

District Court of Limburg rules that damages claims in the Dutch prestressing steel case are time-barred

02.01.2017 NL law

On 16 November 2016, the District Court of Limburg rendered a final judgment in the Dutch prestressing steel case.

The Court ruled that the damages claims are time-barred under German law and therefore dismissed all claims against the defendant prestressing steel producers who appeared in the proceedings and filed defences including, inter alia, a defence of statutory limitation. However, the claims were granted in their entirety against two defendants who failed to appear in the proceedings.

In 2010, the European Commission fined 17 producers of prestressing steel for having infringed European competition law by participating in a price-fixing and market-sharing cartel. On 31 December 2013, several entities of the Deutsche Bahn group of companies brought civil proceedings in the District Court of Limburg, the Netherlands. They claimed that the defendant producers are jointly and severally liable for all loss suffered due to the infringement. In a judgment of 25 February 2015, the Court accepted jurisdiction to rule on damages claims against all alleged cartel participants, as a Dutch 'anchor' was amongst the defendants [see our April 2015 newsletter article]. After that judgment, the defendants filed several additional defences.

According to defendant DWK Drahtwerk Köln GmbH ("DWK"), the Court should have stayed the proceedings and subsequently declared the writ of summons void as it had not been correctly served upon DWK. Referring to European case law, the Court reiterated that the national procedural rules of the competent court must be applied, i.e. in this case: the Dutch rules of civil procedure. The Court ruled that as DWK voluntarily appeared in the proceedings and DWK's interests were not unreasonably prejudiced, the nullity of the writ of summons was 'healed' when DWK appeared before the Court.

The Court then turned to the defence of statutory limitation, which had been invoked by all defendants who appeared in the proceedings. Pursuant to Article 7 of the Act regarding Conflict of Laws on Torts (Wet conflictenrecht onrechtmatige daad), the rules of the law applicable – in this case: German law – determine the limitation periods for damages claims as well as the interruption and the suspension thereof. Under German law, a long-stop limitation period of 10 years and a short-stop period of 3 years apply. The defendants argued – and Deutsche Bahn did not dispute – that the long-stop period started to run no later than September 2002. Therefore, in the absence of a valid act of interruption or suspension, Deutsche Bahn was out of time when it issued the proceedings on 31 December 2013. 

Referring to Article 33(5) of the German Competition Act (Gesetz gegen Wettbewerbbeschränkungen, hereinafter "GWB") that came into force in July 2005, Deutsche Bahn argued that the limitation period had been suspended by operation of law for the duration of the European Commission's investigation into the competition law infringement. However, the Court sided with the defendants and held that, in the absence of specific transitional provisions, Article 33(5) GWB could not be applied retroactively to damages claims in relation to loss suffered prior to July 2005. The Court acknowledged and discussed a 2014 judgment of the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf, in which a German appeal court had applied Article 33(5) GWB retroactively, but did not find that court's reasoning persuasive. At first blush, it may seem remarkable that a Dutch court of first instance would disagree with a German appeal court on the proper application of a provision in the German Civil Code. The retroactive application of Article 33(5) GWB by the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf is, however, subject to significant controversy. See for a recent decision in which another German appeal court ruled that Article 33(5) GWB cannot be applied retroactively the Higher Regional Court of Karlsruhe, 9 November 2016, 6 U 204/15 Kart (2), with further references to case law and literature on the issue.

This article was published in the Competition Law Newsletter of January 2017. Other articles in this newsletter:

1. General Court rules on the concept of a single and continuous infringement in the smart card chips cartel case 
2. Envelope maker's cartel fine annulled in first successful European settlement appeal
3. ACM established guiding principles in relation to sustainability arrangements
4. Belgian Competition Authority confirms that the acquisition by a dominant player of a small competitor is not automatically an abuse of a dominant position

Team

Related news

30.04.2019 EU law
Climate goals and energy targets: legal perspectives

Seminar - On Tuesday April 30th, Stibbe organizes a seminar on climate goals and energy targets. Climate change has incited different international and supranational institutions to issue climate goals and renewable energy targets. Both the UN and the EU have led this movement with various legal instruments.

Read more

15.03.2019 EU law
European Court of Justice issues landmark ruling on parental liability

Short Reads - On 14 March the European Court of Justice issued a landmark judgment in the Skanska case. In this ruling, the Court of Justice held that parent companies can be held liable for the damage caused by a competition infringement committed by their subsidiary if the parent company (that holds all the shares in the subsidiary) has dissolved the subsidiary but continued its economic activity.

Read more

01.03.2019 NL law
Does selling a phone on an online marketplace make you a "trader" under the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and the Consumer Rights Directive?

Short Reads - Online marketplaces provide sales channels not only for professional traders but also for individuals selling second-hand goods. For buyers, online advertisements do not always make it clear whether the seller is a professional trader or an individual. This distinction is important because consumers buying from a professional trader can benefit from EU consumer laws, while these protections do not apply in consumer-to-consumer sales.

Read more

18.02.2019 BE law
Plan-MER voor Vlaams windturbinekader? Raad voor Vergunningsbetwistingen te rade bij Europa

Articles - Het wordt stilaan een traditie van de Belgische rechter om het Hof van Justitie te bevragen over de milieueffectenbeoordeling en -rapportage (MER). Na de Raad van State en het Grondwettelijk Hof is het de beurt aan de Raad voor Vergunningsbetwistingen. In een tussenarrest van 4 december 2018 heeft de Raad voor Vergunningsbetwistingen aan het Hof van Justitie een lijst met prejudiciële vragen gesteld over de plan-MER-plicht van het Vlaamse kader voor de uitbating van windturbines. Mogen we ons verwachten aan een juridische saga "d'Oultremont pt.II"?

Read more

Our website uses cookies: third party analytics cookies to best adapt our website to your needs & cookies to enable social media functionalities. For more information on the use of cookies, please check our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Please note that you can change your cookie opt-ins at any time via your browser settings.

Privacy – en cookieverklaring