Choice of jurisdiction for passenger claims under Regulation 261: Brussels Recast and the Montreal Convention? The Italian Supreme Court has its say

Passengers’ rights under Regulation 261/2004 do not preclude other claims at law such as under the Montreal Convention 1999. In July 2019 we reported on the Advocate General’s opinion in Case C-213/18 on the conflict between jurisdictional principles of those measures. In that case, the final decision affirmed that jurisdiction regarding claims under Regulation 261 would be governed by Brussels I (Recast) while claims brought under the Montreal Convention would have their jurisdiction governed by article 33 of the instrument, and both instruments could be referred to in a single case. In addition, the CJEU also found that the Montreal Convention governs the allocation of jurisdiction between the courts of each States Parties to the Convention. The Italian Supreme Court cited this case in November 2020 in deciding the outcome of a similar dispute.

Background

The passengers bought tickets for flights from Rome to Copenhagen from an agency in Perugia. When the flight was cancelled without notice they claimed for standard compensation under Regulation 261 as well as for the extra costs they incurred. The latter claim was made under the Montreal Convention.

The jurisdictional dispute

The passengers began proceedings in the regional court where the agency from which they bought the tickets was based. That action sought both elements of compensation.

  • The airline contested the competence of this court, claiming that under Brussels I (Recast), competence should be given to the jurisdiction of the place of departure, arrival, or domicile of the defendant – all of which were different locations to that of the agency.

     

  • The passengers argued that under the Montreal Convention they could bring their claim to the “place of business through which the contract has been made”; and that the Convention governed international competence only, internal territorial competence being legislated by internal civil procedure.

Decision

The Court concluded that jurisdiction for each limb of the claim had to be addressed separately.

  • Standard compensation: This could only fall under the scope of Reg 261 – jurisdiction therefore had to be decided by Brussels I Recast, as already held by precedent. In this case, the competent court was the one having territorial jurisdiction over the airport of departure.

     

  • Compensation for extra costs:  Compensation deriving from the Montreal Convention can be claimed before the courts identified under art. 33 of the 1999 Montreal Convention (which lists the “place of business through which the contract has been made”). The Italian Supreme Court found that the travel agency acted as an authorized “representative” of the air carrier business for the purposes of this provision – as such, the claimants had brought this element of their claim to the correct court. In reaching this conclusion the Italian Supreme Court ruled, consistently with the CJEU decision in Case C-213/18, that the Montreal Convention could determine territorial competence between courts within Italy. This overruled its previous decision to the effect that internal territorial competence was a matter of domestic law.

The Supreme Court recognised the impracticalities that arose where closely connected actions based on same facts have to be brought in different courts. This is particularly so given that, when assessing compensation due under the Montreal Convention, credit should be given for compensation under Regulation 261. While the Court suggested that article 30 of Brussels I (Recast) might solve a situation where the same dispute is brought before different courts, it did not explain how, nor did it address how that article should apply to jurisdiction of two courts within a Member State when it expressly refers to proceedings before the courts of different Member States.

 

 

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