Lack of jurisdiction of the court hearing the action by a consumer for a declaration of invalidity of a standard contract to hear the application for a declaration of unfairness of terms in the same contract

Judgment

C-567/13

12.02.2015

Parties

Jurisdiction

Formation

Judge Rapporteur

Advocate General

Subject-matter

Reference for a preliminary ruling

Nóra Baczó and János István Vizsnyiczaiv.Raiffeisen Bank Zrt

CJEU

3rd Ch.

C. Toader

J. Kokott

Consumer Protection —Directive 93/12/EEC

Keywords

Reference for a preliminary ruling — Consumer protection — Directive 93/13/EEC — Article 7 — Mortgage loan agreement — Arbitration clause — Unfairness — Action by consumer — National procedural rule — Lack of jurisdiction of the court hearing the action by a consumer for a declaration of invalidity of a standard contract to hear the application for a declaration of unfairness of terms in the same contract — Principles of equivalence and effectiveness

Significant points

  1. It must be held that the jurisdiction of the county courts to hear actions which are brought on grounds based on EU law does not necessarily constitute a procedural rule which may be classified as ‘unfavourable’. The designation of those courts, which are less numerous and hierarchically superior to the local courts, may facilitate a more homogeneous and specialised administration of justice in cases concerning the rules arising from Directive 93/13.
  2. As regards the higher costs of justice which the applicant might incur before the county courts, it cannot be inferred from the sole fact of examining a case such as that at issue in the main proceedings before such courts that that undermines the principle of equivalence. Such an interpretation would amount to measuring the equivalence between safeguarding the rights that individuals derive from EU law on one hand and safeguarding the rights they derive from national law on the other, solely from the point of view of costs, and by ignoring the advantages of the procedure which is provided for actions based on EU law, such as those mentioned in the preceding paragraph.
  3. Observance of the principle of effectiveness requires that the organisation of the internal remedies must not, however, make it impossible or excessively difficult to exercise the rights individuals enjoy under EU law.
  4. The answer to the questions referred is that Article 7(1) of Directive 93/13 must be interpreted as meaning that it does not preclude a national procedural rule pursuant to which a local court which has jurisdiction to rule on an action brought by a consumer seeking a declaration of invalidity of a standard contract does not have jurisdiction to hear an application by the consumer for a declaration of unfairness of contract terms in the same contract, unless declining jurisdiction by the local court gives rise to procedural difficulties that would make the exercise of the rights conferred on consumers by the EU legal order excessively difficult. It is for the national court to carry out the necessary verifications in that respect.

Noteworthy

This judgment deals with the question of whether the fact that consumers in Hungary had to bring an action for the unfairness of a contract under Directive 93/13/EEC in front of a higher court and at greater cost than would have been the case for an action dealing with domestic law constituted breach of the principle of equivalence between EU and national law or of the principle of effectiveness. In this regard, the Court of Justice reiterated the case law according to which each Member State is able to designate the courts having jurisdiction for governing actions which safeguard the rights of individuals conferred under EU law. It then clarified that the fact that actions in front of the courts designated may cost more than in other courts is not necessarily unfavourable to potential applicants if those courts possess advantages for applicants. Therefore the procedure for actions relating to EU law does not need to be exactly the same as those dealing with national law in the same area of law. As regards effectiveness, the Court outlined certain factors which the referring court should bear in mind when deciding whether the procedure in Hungary adequately protected consumer rights.