Aansprakelijkheidsverzekering motorvoertuigen ook verplicht voor rijklare auto´s die niet meer worden gebruikt

Posted in European Union Law

Ook de verplichte verzekering van motorvoertuigen is een uitvloeisel van Europese regelgeving. Daarom is de volgende beslissing van het Europese Hof ook van belang voor bijvoorbeeld verzamelaars van nog rijklare auto’s.

Wat gebeurde er. Een Portugese dame, die om medische redenen geen gebruik meer maakte van haar auto, had deze thuis gestald maar niet uit het verkeer genomen. Op enig moment in 2006 ging haar neef daarmee joyrijden, en veroorzaakte met die niet-verzekerde auto een dodelijk ongeval.

Het Portugese equivalent van ons Waarborgfonds moest uitkeren en zocht vervolgens verhaal, onder meer op de tante als eigenaar van de niet-verzekerde auto. Daarbij kwam aan de orde of de eigenaar van een motorvoertuig verplicht is een verzekering te nemen, ook als de auto daadwerkelijk niet meer wordt gebruikt.

De eerste rechter nam aansprakelijkheid aan, zoals dat ook geldt bij een gestolen auto, als de eigenaar onvoldoende zorg heeft betracht. In hoger beroep werd geoordeeld dat de verzekeringsplicht niet geldt voor auto’s waarvan de eigenaar besluit niet meer aan het verkeer deel te nemen. In cassatie besloot de hoogste Portugese rechter een prejudiciële vraag aan het Europese hof te stellen.

Op 4 september 2018 oordeelde het Europese Hof dat onder de Europese regels een verzekering tegen de wettelijke aansprakelijkheid verplicht is, wanneer de auto in kwestie:

  • nog steeds in een lidstaat is ingeschreven, en
  • geschikt is voor de weg,

ook als de eigenaar niet van plan is er nog mee te rijden en de auto heeft gestald op een privéterrein.

Daarnaast besliste het Hof dat bij gebreke van die verzekering het “waarborgfonds” verhaal kan nemen op de eigenaar van die onverzekerde auto, ook als die niet wettelijk aansprakelijk is voor het ongeval.

Short Stay Policy in Amsterdam: Limited Room for Balancing Individual Interests

Posted in Dutch Property Law, Dutch Real Estate Law, property law, real estate

Background

Amsterdam and the conurbation are suffering a housing shortage (as is common in many larger cities). The municipality therefore seeks to limit new developments of short stay accommodations in most parts of the city. A “short stay” is defined by the Amsterdam municipality as at least four days and at most six months continuously. Under the Housing Act, switching from regular residential use to a short stay generally requires a permit for conversion and one for deviation from the zoning plan.

Facts

In 2009, the Amsterdam municipality adopted a restrictive short stay policy that included quotas on how many conversion permits (from regular housing to short stay) could be issued (the Policy). Based on the Policy, the municipality declined to issue a permit to deviate from the zoning plan to create short stay accommodations at the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. However, the Policy’s quota had not yet been reached at the time of the permit application filing. Thus, the municipality based its decision on a balancing of interests involved and not on the Policy.

Judgement

On 27 June 2018, the Administrative Law Division of the Council of State (the Netherlands’ highest administrative court) ruled that the municipality had no grounds to deny the permit, noting that the Policy must be interpreted strictly and does not leave room for further balancing of interests. If the quotas have not yet been reached, it held, the interests of the permit applicant should outweigh the interests of the preservation and composition of housing stock.

Conclusion

Under Dutch law, an administrative body must comply with its own policy, including those relating to short stay accommodations. Thus, the body’s policy may provide the opposing side with strong arguments in court in the case of a denial of a permit or an enforcement action.

Further Clarification on Dutch Private Law Impediments

Posted in Dutch Property Law, Dutch Real Estate Law, property law, real estate

On 20 June 2018, the Administrative Law Division of the Dutch Council of State (the highest Dutch administrative court) (ALD) issued a judgement that again demonstrates the considerable burden of proof with respect to private law impediments.

Background

A municipal council cannot adopt a zoning plan if a “private law impediment” exists that would block the realization of that plan. A private law impediment may, for example, exist in a case where the municipality wants to develop residential units, but the land on which it seeks to develop is owned by a non-cooperating third party (and expropriation is not possible or desired). Such a third party can invoke the private law impediment as grounds for judicial nullification of the zoning plan.

However, private law impediments must be “obvious.” In its 20 June decision, the ALD provided additional clarity as to when a private law impediment is obvious.

Facts

In Waddinxveen in the Netherlands, the municipal council adopted a zoning plan that allowed for the building of 24 residential care units. An “owner” of nearby premises objected to this zoning plan on the basis of private law impediments; a piece of land he claimed as his own was designated in the zoning plan to be an access road and parking lot. But his claim to the land was not clear-cut. He alleged to have become the owner of that plot through prescription (the passage of time).

Judgement

Existing Dutch case law says that a private law impediment is “obvious” only if no prior research is needed to establish that the development will intrude on a third party’s rights to a premises and if this third party does not have to resign itself with this development. In this case, the ALD ruled that the prescription argument should first be presented to a civil law judge, as the third party’s claim remained open to debate, and further research was needed to ascertain whether execution of the zoning plan would affect the property of the third party. The third party’s claim to the plot was therefore not considered a private law impediment. As a result, the ALD did not nullify the zoning plan.

Burden of Proof

This verdict demonstrates that the burden of proof with respect to a private law impediment is not easily met, and that it can be important to proactively establish in civil court (non-obvious) ownership rights to a plot in order secure protection against unwanted zoning developments.

Echtgenote redt dga toch (nog) niet van borgstelling

Posted in Corporate Law

Een natuurlijk persoon heeft de goedkeuring nodig van zijn of haar echtgenoot, onder meer indien deze persoon zich borg stelt voor de nakoming van verplichtingen van een derde partij. Dit wordt in de praktijk soms over het hoofd gezien. In het arrest van 13 juli 2018, ECLI:NL:HR:2018:1220, heeft de Hoge Raad geprobeerd meer duidelijkheid te verschaffen over dit toestemmingsvereiste en de uitzonderingen hierop.

Achtergrond

Bij een borgstelling moet rekening worden gehouden met het toestemmingsvereiste van de echtgenoot. De echtgenoot kan namelijk bij het ontbreken van zijn of haar toestemming, de overeengekomen borgstelling achteraf vernietigen. De wetgever heeft een uitzondering opgenomen voor een directeur-grootaandeelhouder van een onderneming (dga) indien de borgstelling geschiedt ten behoeve van “de normale uitoefening van het bedrijf” van die dga. In een zodanig geval is geen toestemming van de echtgenoot vereist. Over de reikwijdte van deze uitzondering bestaat onduidelijkheid.

Context

Een bank wenst normaal gesproken diverse zekerheden van een kredietnemer voor de terugbetaling van het verschafte krediet. Deze zekerheden kunnen bestaan uit bijvoorbeeld een pandrecht op de inventaris van de kredietnemer of een hypotheekrecht op de bedrijfshal van de kredietnemer. Behalve zekerheden van de kredietnemer verlangt een bank ook regelmatig persoonlijke zekerheid van de dga, zoals een persoonlijke borgstelling. Afhankelijk van de omstandigheden zal de bank toestemming nodig hebben van de echtgenoot van de dga.

Het geschil

In deze zaak was een accountant (tevens dga) via zijn vennootschap een financieringsovereenkomst aangegaan met de Rabobank. Deze financiering was bedoeld voor de inkoop door de vennootschap in een accountancy-maatschap. Nadat de vennootschap in financiële problemen raakte, is deze ontbonden en uitgeschreven bij het handelsregister van de Kamer van Koophandel. De Rabobank heeft daarop de financieringsovereenkomst opgezegd en het gehele krediet opgeëist. De accountant is hierbij in persoon aangesproken tot betaling van een bedrag van € 350.000,- op grond van de borgstelling. De echtgenote van de accountant heeft de overeenkomst tot borgstelling vervolgens vernietigd vanwege het ontbreken van haar toestemming.

De uitspraak

De rechtbank en het hof oordeelden allebei dat de toestemming van de echtgenoot was vereist voor het aangaan van de borgstelling door de dga en de borgstelling dus rechtsgeldig was vernietigd. In dit kader had het hof geoordeeld dat de financiering van de inkoop in een accountancy-maatschap ook op andere wijze had kunnen plaatsvinden. Mede op basis daarvan kwalificeerde het aangaan van deze financiering niet als een ‘normale’ rechtshandeling zoals financiering voor de kantoorinrichting of een vervoersmiddel, aldus het hof in hoger beroep.

De Hoge Raad oordeelt daarentegen dat onderzocht had moeten worden of de rechtshandeling (waarvoor de zekerheid werd verstrekt) zelf tot de rechtshandelingen behoort die ten behoeve van de normale uitoefening van een bedrijf plegen te worden verricht. Met andere woorden: is het in dit geval normaal om als accountant een lening aan te gaan voor de inkoop in een maatschap?

Dit had het hof moeten onderzoeken. De Hoge Raad vindt de volgende stellingen hierbij relevant: i) de financiering was vereist om de vennootschap in staat te stellen haar normale bedrijfsuitoefening te ontplooien, ii) de financiering was een normale bedrijfshandeling, en iii) aan deze financiering was geen bijzonder risico verbonden. Het feit dat de financiering van de inkoop in de maatschap ook op andere wijze had kunnen plaatsvinden, acht de Hoge Raad niet van belang.

De Hoge Raad komt tot de conclusie dat het hof ofwel een te strenge maatstaf heeft aangelegd, ofwel zijn oordeel niet naar behoren heeft gemotiveerd. De Hoge Raad vernietigt het arrest en verwijst het geding naar het hof ’s-Hertogenbosch ter verdere behandeling en beslissing.

Commercial Agents: The Risks of Non-Control

Posted in Anti-Corruption, Antitrust, Competition Law, Corporate Law

Enterprises in a wide range of markets and industries have long used commercial agents to solicit business, collect payments, and take care of local matters.

Such agents are hired for their local or market expertise and to deal with issues that exporting or importing enterprises cannot easily handle from their headquarters. Economically and legally, they perform an auxiliary function to the principal’s main economic activity, acting as an independent economic operator but for the risk and account of the principal. This relationship enables the principal to separate its local activities from its other activities. Thus, shipping, insurance, and other service and production companies can efficiently internationalize their operations.

Potential FCPA/Antitrust Problem Posed by Agents

The use of agents may result in unfortunate surprises, demonstrated in various anti-corruption/FCPA and antitrust cases. Regarding anti-corruption/FCPA, the principal is deemed liable for the actions and (to some extent) omissions of its agents induced or allowed by the principal. Therefore, any principal must actively monitor the activities of its agent to avoid being implicated in any FCPA issues caused by the agent. In antitrust, it is well-established in case law that any infringement by an agent is automatically attributed to the principal, at least under European competition law.

Monitoring one’s agent may not always be simple. Agents, because of their expertise in certain markets or industries, often work for multiple principals and need to divide their loyalty (and resources) among various parties. As they are independently owned companies, (often) only have a part-time commitment to the principal in a certain market, and need to manage their position in that market, it is difficult for any given principal to control its agent’s activities.

Agency Relationship Risk

Because it is difficult to control an agent’s activities, working with agents may carry significant risk, and monitoring them may not be sufficient to mitigate against such risk. Termination of the agency relationship is not always simple, however, as was earlier this month demonstrated by a very expensive separation agreement between a Dutch principal and an agent that did not want to be controlled in a particular manner. The high level of compensation reflects not only the mandatory termination indemnity (due to having agents in many jurisdictions) but also the need to regulate market behavior by the agent post-termination, as businesses prefer their trusted agents not be engaged by competitors. Because the law in many jurisdictions protects agents, it is generally not an option to agree beforehand to a longer post-termination non-compete obligation than, for example, the one-year term permitted in most European law systems.

Lessons Learned

The decision to enter into a commercial agency agreement requires a solid risk analysis, including past and anticipated future market behavior by the agent unrelated to the representation of the principal. As such, the agreement may provide for the principal to maintain full control over the activities to be performed by the agent for the principal or in relation to the principal’s business (avoiding collusion through “hub-and-spoke” information exchange, where the agent also represents other active or potential competitors).

Termination of an agency agreement (for lack of control or otherwise) can be disruptive. Employing multiple agents in the same market may be a good strategy to minimize such risk.

What may also help is making sure sales managers are aware of the risks inherent in agency relationships, i.e., that they could potentially allow or condone actions by the agent that carry liability for the principal. As such, principals may wish to consider providing their sales managers with proper incentives to promote compliant behavior.

Dutch State Secretary Announces Additional Substance Requirements for Certain Dutch Resident Entities

Posted in Announcements, Corporate Law

In addition to existing global, European, and national initiatives against tax avoidance, the Dutch Ministry of Finance earlier this year announced the introduction of two additional substance requirements in a policy letter on tackling tax avoidance and tax evasion. The additional substance requirements would apply to Dutch resident entities to obtain an advance tax ruling or advance pricing agreement. Furthermore, Dutch resident entities with international holding activities and Dutch resident entities engaged in intragroup financing or licensing activities would have to comply with the additional requirements in order to avoid spontaneous exchange of information by the Dutch tax authorities with relevant foreign tax authorities.

The current substance requirements are as follows:

  1. At least half of the total number of statutory and otherwise authorized members of the board must reside in the Netherlands;
  2. The board members that are residing in the Netherlands must have sufficient professional knowledge to exercise their tasks;
  3. The entity must have qualified personnel that can sufficiently register and perform the transactions concluded by the entity;
  4. The board decisions must be taken in the Netherlands;
  5. The main bank account(s) of the entity must be controlled from within the Netherlands;
  6. The administration must be kept in the Netherlands;
  7. The business address is in the Netherlands;
  8. The entity should, to the best of its knowledge, not be regarded as a tax resident of another jurisdiction;
  9. The entity runs real risk in connection with the loans or legal relationships and the related loans or legal relationships underlying the received and paid interest, royalties, lease, or rent payments;
  10. The entity must have a sufficient equity amount considering its risks.

In addition to the current substance requirements, the State Secretary has announced the following two requirements:

  1. The Dutch resident entity must incur annual salary costs of at least 100,000 Euro; and
  2. The Dutch resident entity must have an office space at its disposal in the Netherlands which is in fact used to carry out its functions for at least 24 months.

The new substance rules will likely enter into force as of 1 January 2019 for entities to obtain an advance tax ruling or advance pricing agreement. Also, existing tax rulings are expected to be terminated if the applicable Dutch resident entities do not fulfill the new requirements as per 1 January 2019. It is still unclear when the new rules will enter into force for Dutch resident entities with international holding activities and Dutch resident entities engaged in intragroup financing or licensing activities.

Can 1 Mistake Result in 2 (Expensive) Infringements?

Posted in Competition Law, Corporate Law

Mergers or other transactions that bring about change-of-control over businesses with an impact on the relevant markets (“concentrations”) in the European Union, when exceeding the relevant national or EU merger-filing thresholds, require prior notification to and a review by the relevant national authority or with the European Commission (the Commission). Failure to notify such planned concentrations before completion (“gun jumping”) is often not intentional but rather the result of a mistake made by either a party or its advisors. Gun jumping generally occurs in one or more of the following circumstances:

  • a misinterpretation, whether a letter of intent or other prearrangement, de facto transfers control over a company prior to completion;
  • failure to acknowledge whether an acquisition of a minority stake in a company de facto gives control; or
  • a misperception of what constitutes negative control in certain multiparty situations, like joint ventures.

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Dutch Franchise Code Triggers Legislation, but Will That Solve the Issues That Triggered the Code?

Posted in Competition Law

The Dutch franchise code was drafted with the goal of becoming an industry-wide accepted code of conduct. Based on the well-known governance principle of “comply or explain,” the code offered both franchisors and franchisees an opportunity to carefully consider the inclusion of any contract clause that deviates from its standards. Although this system has worked for many years in the Dutch corporate governance model, which regulates the position of various stakeholders in listed entities, franchisors have been reluctant to apply this principle to contracts with their franchise partners.

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Billion Euro Settlement for Former Fortis Shareholders Declared Binding

Posted in Class Action Litigation

On 13 July 2018, the Amsterdam Court of Appeals declared a € 1.3 billion settlement between Ageas (previously Fortis Bank) and its former shareholders binding under the Dutch Class Action (Financial Settlement) Act. This constitutes the largest settlement ever between a European company and investors, but the decision may have unexpected consequences for the revenue model of claim organizations in the future.

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Can Taste be Copyrighted?

Posted in Copyright, Intellectual Property Litigation

On 25 July 2018 an important legal opinion was rendered in a high-profile case regarding the possibility of copyright on taste. In this legal opinion the Court of Justice of the European Union (the CJEU) was advised by a special advisor, the ‘Advocate General’. He is of the opinion that taste should not be protected by copyright.

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