Bartosz Trocha

When is it sufficient to state the amount in dispute in euro?

The European Court of Justice has ruled that the requirement to specify the amount in dispute in Polish currency does not apply to the European order for payment procedure.

This precedent-setting ruling was issued on 13 December 2012 in Szyrocka v SiGer Technologie GmbH (Case C-215/11) pursuant to a request for a preliminary ruling by the Wrocław Regional Court. The plaintiff, a Polish resident, applied to the Polish court for issuance of a European order for payment against a German company pursuant to Regulation (EC) 1896/2006 creating a European order for payment procedure. Pursuant to the regulation, the statement of claim was filed on the appropriate form. Upon review of the statement of claim, however, the court found that it was defective because it stated the amount in dispute only in EUR, not in PLN, which did not enable calculation of the amount of the fee payable on the statement of claim. As this defect could result in rejection of the statement of claim under Civil Procedure Code Art. 130 §1, the Polish court stayed the proceeding and sought a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Justice.

Currency as a procedural issue

In this case, the ECJ had to determine whether the requirements for the statement of claim as stated in Regulation 1896/2006 are exhaustive, or additional procedural requirements for the statement of claim could be imposed under national law. The court found that the requirements set forth in Art. 7 of the regulation were exhaustive, because the objective of the regulation was to establish a uniform instrument for the recovery of undisputed claims, “guaranteeing a level playing field for creditors and debtors throughout the European Union.” As the court found, “That objective would be undermined if the Member States were able generally to impose in their national legislation additional requirements to be met by an application for a European order for payment. Such requirements would lead not only to the imposition of different conditions in the various Member States for such an application but also to an increase in the complexity, duration and costs of the European order for payment procedure.” Art. 7 of the regulation provides no grounds for the Polish court to require that the amount in dispute be stated in Polish zloty under penalty of rejection of the statement of claim.

With respect to the actual calculation of the court fees in this situation, the ECJ relied on Art. 25(2) of Regulation 1896/2006, which provides that the amount of court fees in the European order for payment procedure is to be fixed in accordance with national law. The court thus found that “the national court remains free to determine the amount of the court fees in accordance with rules laid down by domestic law, provided that those rules are no less favourable than those governing similar domestic actions and do not make it in practice impossible or excessively difficult to exercise the rights conferred by European Union law.” Thus the national rules for calculation of court fees could not be used as a basis for rejecting an application for a European order for payment on grounds additional to those expressly stated in Art. 11 of Regulation 1896/2006.

What about interest?

The ECJ also addressed an issue raised by the Polish court concerning the proper method for seeking interest on the claim in an application for a European order for payment. Art. 7(2)(c) of Regulation 1896/2006 provides that if interest on the claim is demanded, the application shall state “the interest rate and the period of time for which that interest is demanded,” unless statutory interest is automatically added to the principal under the law of the member state. Art. 4 also provides that the procedure may be used for collection of “claims for a specific amount that have fallen due at the time when the application for a European order for payment is submitted.” The court held that these provisions do not preclude the plaintiff from seeking “open interest” in the statement of claim, i.e. interest for the period from the date on which the principal falls due until the date of payment of the principal.

Commentary

The judgment by the ECJ in the Szyrocka case is a clear example of realisation of the concept of the primacy of EU law over the national law of the member states, as enshrined in the EU treaties. Even though the court did not question the authority of the member states to regulate the issue of court fees on an application for a European order for payment, in practice the use of such national regulations is excluded if they would defeat the purpose of the European order for payment procedure. The ruling thus represents a breakthrough within the Polish system of procedural formalism. It also raises the question of how the Polish courts should deal with the issue of calculation of fees in such cases, because in practical terms the ruling excludes the use of the Polish rules in their current form.

Bartosz Trocha, Bankruptcy and Restructuring practices, Wardyński & Partners