Mühlleitner c.Yusufi (As. C-190/11) – Does the application of Article 15.1 c) Brussels I Regulation presuppose that the contract between the consumer and the undertaking has been concluded at a distance? – ¿Requiere la aplicación del artículo 15.1 c) R-44/2001 que el contrato entre el consumidor y el profesional haya sido celebrado a distancia?

Judgment Of The Court (Fourth Chamber) 6 September 2012 Sentencia del Tribunal de Justicia (Sala Cuarta) 6 de septiembre de 2012.

 

Trending topics. Jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters over consumer contracts – Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 – Article 15(1)(c) – Possible limitation of that jurisdiction to distance contracts – Competencia judicial en materia civil y mercantil: contratos celebrados por consumidores – Reglamento (CE) nº 44/2001 – Artículo 15, apartado 1, letra c) – Eventual limitación de dicha competencia a los contratos celebrados a distancia.

Summary. By the present reference for a preliminary ruling, the ObersterGerichstshof (Austrian Supreme Court) asks the Court whether a consumer contract which is preceded by preparatory steps on the internet must have been concluded at a distance in the event that the consumer wishes to take advantage of the special jurisdiction provided for in Articles 15 and 16 of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters.  In those terms, a straightforward answer to the question may be found in the wording of Article 15(1)(c) of that regulation, if it is read with sufficient attention in conjunction with its legislative history. However, a paragraph of the judgment delivered recently by the Grand Chamber of the Court in Pammer and Hotel Alpenhof could be interpreted as laying down the condition that the consumer contract must have been concluded at a distance. In any event, that is the uncertainty which the referring court has submitted to the Court. Opinion of Advocate General Cruz Villalón.

Resumen. Mediante la presente cuestión prejudicial, el ObersterGerichstshof pregunta al Tribunal de Justicia si los contratos de consumo, cuando están precedidos de actos preparatorios en Internet, deben haberse celebrado necesariamente a distancia en caso de que el consumidor desee beneficiarse del foro especial previsto en los artículos 15 y 16 del Reglamento (CE) nº 44/2001, relativo a la competencia judicial, el reconocimiento y la ejecución de resoluciones judiciales en materia civil y mercantil. El Abogado General Cruz Villalón confronta la respuesta con un apartado de la sentencia Pammer y Hotel Alpenhof, dictada recientemente por la Gran Sala del Tribunal de Justicia, pues “podría ser interpretada en el sentido de exigir como condición que el contrato de consumo debe haberse celebrado a distancia”. Ésa es la duda que ha planteado el órgano de reenvío. Conclusiones del Abogado General Sr. Pedro Cruz Villalón.

The dispute in the main proceedings and the question referred for a preliminary ruling (11-20). According to the order for reference and the documents in the case-file, Ms Mühlleitner, domiciled in Austria, searched on the internet for a car of a German make which she wished to acquire for her private use. After connecting to the German search platform http://www.mobile.de, she entered the make and type of vehicle she wanted, thereby obtaining a list of vehicles corresponding to the characteristics specified.After selecting the vehicle which corresponded best to her search criteria, she was directed to an offer from the defendants, Mr A. Yusufi and Mr W. Yusufi, who operate a motor vehicle retail business via AutohausYusufiGbR (‘AutohausYusufi’), a partnership established in Hamburg (Germany).Wishing to obtain more information about the vehicle offered on the search platform, MsMühlleitner contacted the defendants, using the telephone number stated on the website of AutohausYusufi, which included an international dialling code. As the vehicle in question was no longer available, she was offered another vehicle, details of which were subsequently sent by email. She was also informed that her Austrian nationality would not prevent her from acquiring a vehicle from the defendants. MsMühlleitner then went to Germany and, by a contract of sale signed on 21 September 2009 in Hamburg, bought the vehicle from Mr A. Yusufi and Mr W. Yusufi at a price of EUR 11 500, taking immediate delivery of it.On her return to Austria Ms Mühlleitner discovered that the vehicle she had purchased was defective, and consequently asked the defendants to repair it.When the defendants refused to repair the vehicle, MsMühlleitner brought proceedings in the court of her place of domicile, the Landesgericht Wels (Regional Court, Wels) (Austria), for rescission of the contract for the sale of the vehicle, which she claims to have concluded as a consumer with an undertaking directing its commercial or professional activities to Austria, a case falling within Article 15(1)(c) of the Brussels I Regulation.The defendants contested MsMühlleitner’s status of ‘consumer’ and the international jurisdiction of the Austrian courts, arguing that the dispute should be brought before the competent German courts. They also submitted that they did not direct their activities to Austria and that MsMühlleitner had concluded the contract at the seat of their undertaking in Germany.On 10 May 2010 the court of first instance, the Landesgericht Wels, dismissed the action, declaring that it lacked jurisdiction. While not calling in question Ms Mühlleitner’s status of ‘consumer’, the court nevertheless found that the fact that the website of AutohausYusufi could be consulted in Austria was not enough to give the Austrian courts jurisdiction, that the contract had been concluded on the basis of MsMühlleitner’s telephone call, and that it did not follow from the correspondence subsequently sent that the defendants had directed their activities to Austria. MsMühlleitner appealed against that decision to the Oberlandesgericht Linz (Higher Regional Court, Linz).On 17 June 2010 the Oberlandesgericht Linz confirmed the decision at first instance. It too did not call in question Ms Mühlleitner’s status of ‘consumer’, but, recalling the joint statement by the Council and the Commission on Articles 15 and 73 of the Brussels I Regulation, made on the occasion of the adoption of that regulation (‘the joint statement’), according to which a purely ‘passive’ internet site is not sufficient for it to be considered that an activity is directed to the consumer’s State, it noted that the website of AutohausYusufi had the characteristics of such a ‘passive’ site. Moreover, observing that, according to the joint statement, the contract must be concluded at a distance, it found that that was not so in the present case. The court none the less gave leave for an appeal on a point of law, recognising that the legal scope of the joint statement was controversial.MsMühlleitner brought an appeal on a point of law to the Oberster Gerichtshof (Supreme Court) against that judgment.

…the Court (Fourth Chamber) hereby rules:

Article 15(1)(c) of Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters must be interpreted as not requiring the contract between the consumer and the trader to be concluded at a distance.

Hechos y procedimiento ante la jurisdicción nacional (11-20). La Sra. Daniela Mühlleitner, demandante en el proceso principal y con domicilio en Schwanenstadt, Austria, realizó una búsqueda en Internet con el propósito de adquirir un vehículo de ocasión para su uso privado. A través del sitio de Internet www.mobile.de, la Sra. Mühlleitner introdujo las características del vehículo deseado, hasta encontrar un enlace donde aparecía una oferta que suscitó su interés. Tras activar el enlace, accedió a la página web de Ahmad Yusufi y Wadat Yusufi, demandados en el proceso principal y domiciliados en Hamburgo, Alemania. En la página web de los demandados constaba un número de teléfono precedido del prefijo internacional alemán. La Sra. Mühlleitner llamó a dicho número, donde fue atendida por el personal de la empresa de los demandados. Se le informó de que el vehículo ofertado ya no estaba en venta, pero se le advirtió de otras ofertas similares. La Sra. Mühlleitner accedió a que se le remitiera por correo electrónico más información, incluidas varias fotografías, de otro vehículo. Consta en autos que la Sra. Mühlleitner, durante la conversación telefónica mantenida con los demandados, informó de su residencia en Austria y preguntó si ello supondría algún problema con vistas a la compraventa del vehículo. Los demandados declararon que no existía ningún inconveniente al respecto.   Un tiempo después la Sra. Mühlleitner viajó a Alemania y celebró el contrato de compraventa con los demandados. Recibió el vehículo y volvió a su domicilio en Austria, donde, tras constatar varios defectos y después de varios contactos infructuosos con los demandados, acudió a los juzgados austriacos para reclamar el reembolso del precio de la compraventa, así como una indemnización. El juzgado de primera instancia inadmitió la demanda por falta de competencia judicial internacional, al considerar que la mera accesibilidad a la página web de los demandados desde Austria no justificaba la aplicación del foro especial de los artículos 15 y 16 del Reglamento nº 44/2001. Recurrida la decisión en apelación, el tribunal de segunda instancia confirmó la misma y descartó nuevamente la competencia de los tribunales austriacos. Esta última resolución fue objeto de recurso de casación ante el Oberster Gerichtshof, órgano que formula  la presente cuestión prejudicial al Tribunal de Justicia.

El Tribunal de Justici declara:

El artículo 15, apartado 1, letra c), del Reglamento (CE) nº 44/2001 del Consejo, de 22 de diciembre de 2000, relativo a la competencia judicial, el reconocimiento y la ejecución de resoluciones judiciales en materia civil y mercantil, debe interpretarse en el sentido de que no exige que el contrato entre el consumidor y el profesional se haya celebrado a distancia.

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