Key facts of the case:
Reference for a preliminary ruling — Judicial cooperation in civil matters — Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 — Article 1(1) — Concepts of ‘civil and commercial matters’ and ‘administrative matters’ — Scope — Activities of ship classification and certification societies — Acta iure imperii and acta iure gestionis — Public powers — Immunity from jurisdiction.
Outcome of the case:
On those grounds, the Court (First Chamber) hereby rules:
Article 1(1) 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 meaning that an action for damages, brought against private-law corporations engaged in the classification and certification of ships on behalf of and upon delegation from a third State, falls within the concept of ‘civil and commercial matters’, within the meaning of that provision, and, therefore, within the scope of that regulation, provided that that classification and certification activity is not exercised under public powers, within the meaning of EU law, which it is for the referring court to determine. The principle of customary international law concerning immunity from jurisdiction does not preclude the national court seised from exercising the jurisdiction provided for by that regulation in a dispute relating to such an action, where that court finds that such corporations have not had recourse to public powers within the meaning of international law.
1) This request for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Articles 1(1) and 2 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 (OJ 2001 L 12, p. 1), read in the light of Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’) and of recital 16 of Directive 2009/15/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on common rules and standards for ship inspection and survey organisations and for the relevant activities of maritime administrations (OJ 2009 L 131, p. 47).
20) In those circumstances the Tribunale di Genova (District Court, Genoa) decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following question to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling: ‘Are [Articles 1(1) and 2(1) of Regulation No 44/2001] to be interpreted — including in the light of Article 47 of the Charter, Article 6(1) of the [European Convention for the Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 (‘ECHR’)] and recital 16 of Directive 2009/15 — as preventing a court of a Member State, in an action in tort, delict or quasi-delict in which compensation is sought for death and personal injury caused by the sinking of a passenger ferry, from holding that it has no jurisdiction and from recognising the jurisdictional immunity of private entities and legal persons established in that Member State which carry out classification and/or certification activities in so far as they carry out those activities on behalf of a [third] State?’
55) However, a national court implementing EU law in applying Regulation No 44/2001 must comply with the requirements flowing from Article 47 of the Charter (judgment of 25 May 2016, Meroni, C‑559/14, EU:C:2016:349, paragraph 44). Consequently, in the present case, the referring court must satisfy itself that, if it upheld the plea relating to immunity from jurisdiction, LG and Others would not be deprived of their right of access to the courts, which is one of the elements of the right to effective judicial protection in Article 47 of the Charter.