In its landmark judgment of 22 June 2022 in Case C-267/20 – Volvo and DAF Trucks, the CJEU confirmed that the five-year limitation period under the EU Damages Directive on antitrust damages applies to all cartel damages claims which at the time of the transposition of the Directive into national law were not yet time barred. Equally, the Court stresses that neither the burden nor the standard of proof for the quantification of competition damages must be too high, and that national courts can estimate the amount of cartel damages where the action was brought after 26 December 2014. The judgment provides much awaited legal certainty for many cases in which the temporal application of the new limitation period and the quantification of damages under the Directive is at the heart of the debate.
Suppose that in 2002, a cartel caused EUR 1,000 in damages to a victim. Is the victim 20 years later entitled to only EUR 1,000? Of course not. The amount must be adjusted for interest. EU law is clear on this point, along with the requirement that interest must accrue as of the time the damage occurred. Other modalities, however, are left to national laws. When working out interest in any concrete case, several common issues should be considered. The following attempts to foster systematic treatment of this interesting (sic!) topic.
On 2 February 2022, the General Court of the European Union rendered its judgment in the Case T-799/17, Scania and Others v Commission. The Court dismissed in its entirety the appeal brought by Scania AB, Scania CV AB, and Scania Deutschland GmbH, against the decision of the European Commission of 27 September 2017 in Case AT.39824 – Trucks imposing a fine of EUR 880 million on Scania for its participation in the European Trucks Cartel. The General Court confirmed Scania’s involvement in the single and continuous infringement and rejected all arguments presented by Scania.
The Spanish Competition Authority (CNMC) plans to support judges by developing guidelines on quantifying damages caused by competition law infringements. The CNMC held a public consultation on the draft version of these guidelines. The contributions were published on the CNMC’s website, including ours. While the issues we picked up were partially addressed by the draft guidelines, we believe they merit further elaboration.
In his opinion of 28 October 2021, Advocate General Rantos confirmed that the nature of the rules implementing the EU Damages Directive is determined by EU law and not by national law. The Advocate General states that the provisions on limitations and presumption of cartel-related harm are substantive. In contrast, the possibility for national judges to estimate the amount of harm is a procedural provision. Moreover, AG Rantos considers that pre-Directive knowledge-based limitation periods applied to cartel damage claims could reasonably begin with the publication of a fining decision’s multilingual summary.
On 6 October 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union rendered its judgment in Case C-882/19, Sumal SL v Mercedes Benz Trucks España SL. Following the Opinion of Advocate General Pitruzzella, the CJEU has confirmed that, under certain conditions, a subsidiary which is not the addressee of the administrative decision can be held liable for the damages caused by the infringement for which the parent company has been fined.
On 15 April 2021 the CJEU’s Advocate General (AG) Pitruzzella handed down his opinion in the preliminary ruling procedure relating to the Trucks cartel litigation in Spain. The Barcelona Provincial Court (‘Barcelona Court’) requested the CJEU to interpret EU law on the question of whether a subsidiary company is liable for damages where the Commission has only fined the parent company for anticompetitive behavior. The AG in Case C-882/19 takes the view that, subject to conditions, a subsidiary without being addressee of the cartel decision can be held liable for the damages caused by the infringement. The Opinion, when confirmed by the CJEU, has as well implications on the question of where victims of Europe-wide cartel behavour might bring claims for damages.
On 6 May 2021 the CJEU published the opinion by AG Bobek in Case C‑819/19 Stichting Cartel Compensation and Equilib Netherlands BV v. KLM NV et al regarding a request for a preliminary ruling from the Rechtbank Amsterdam. It concerns damage actions against members of the international Air Cargo cartel. The case is particularly interesting as it shows the importance of choosing the right forum for a damage action in EU-wide cartel cases and the risks if national courts do not make use of preliminary rulings that are aimed at ensuring a consistent application of EU law across all Member States. Should the CJEU follow the opinion of AG Bobek, claimants that have pursued damage claims before the Amsterdam Court will have good chances to obtain compensation for the entire duration of the cartel from 1999 to 2006, while claimants before the High Court of England and Wales saw their damage claims significantly reduced to the period between 2004 and 2006.