Consumers may sue in home country even if contract not concluded at a distance (ECJ)

The Court of Justice of the EU (the ECJ) ruled on a reference for a preliminary ruling from the Austrian Supreme Court on whether the consumer protection offered under Article 15(1)(c) of the Brussels Regulation (Council Regulation 44/2001 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters) only applies to contracts concluded at a distance (such as over the phone or internet). The ECJ decided that Article 15(1)(c) does not include any such requirement. Accordingly, the fact that a contract is concluded in the member state where the seller is domiciled does not prevent a consumer from bringing proceedings in his own member state, provided the seller directed commercial activities to that state and the contract fell within the scope of such activities.

The decision helps clarify the scope of Article 15, especially after the ECJ’s 2010 decision in the joined cases of Pammer and Hotel Alpenhof. It is also consistent with the EU’s aim to protect consumers and to encourage inter-state trade as consumers should feel better equipped to deal with the risks of engaging in transactions with traders in other member states if they have the option to sue in their own state should a dispute arise. (Daniela Muhlleitner v Ahmad Yusufi & Wadat Yusufi (Case C-190/11).)