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Document 62004CJ0295

Summary of the Judgment

Judgment of the Court (Third Chamber) of 13 July 2006.
Vincenzo Manfredi v Lloyd Adriatico Assicurazioni SpA (C-295/04), Antonio Cannito v Fondiaria Sai SpA (C-296/04) and Nicolò Tricarico (C-297/04) and Pasqualina Murgolo (C-298/04) v Assitalia SpA.
Reference for a preliminary ruling: Giudice di pace di Bitonto - Italy.
Article 81 EC- Competition - Agreements, decisions and concerted practices - Accidents caused by motor vehicles, vessels and mopeds - Compulsory civil liability insurance - Increase in premiums - Effect on trade between Member States - Right of third parties to claim compensation for harm suffered - National courts and tribunals having jurisdiction - Limitation period - Punitive damages.
Joined cases C-295/04 to C-298/04.

Keywords
Summary

Keywords

1. Preliminary rulings – Jurisdiction of the Court – Limits

(Art. 234 EC)

2. Competition – Community rules – Mandatory

(Arts 81 EC and 82 EC)

3. Competition – Agreements, decisions and concerted practices – Agreements between undertakings

(Art. 81(1) EC)

4. Competition – Agreements, decisions and concerted practices – Not allowed – Direct effect

(Art. 81(1) and (2) EC)

5. Competition – Agreements, decisions and concerted practices – Impairment of competition – Actions for damages

(Art. 81(1) and (2) EC)

6. Competition – Agreements, decisions and concerted practices – Impairment of competition – Actions for damages

(Art. 81(1) and (2) EC)

7. Competition – Agreements, decisions and concerted practices – Impairment of competition – Actions for damages

(Art. 81(1) and (2) EC)

Summary

1. In the context of the cooperation between the Court and the national courts provided for by Article 234 EC it is solely for the national court, before which the dispute has been brought and which must assume responsibility for the subsequent judicial decision, to determine in the light of the particular circumstances of the case both the need for a preliminary ruling in order to enable it to deliver judgment and the relevance of the questions which it submits to the Court. Consequently, where the questions submitted for a preliminary ruling concern the interpretation of Community law, the Court is, in principle, bound to give a ruling.

Nevertheless, in exceptional circumstances, it is for the Court to examine the conditions in which the case was referred to it by the national court, in order to assess whether it has jurisdiction. The Court may refuse to rule on a question referred for a preliminary ruling by a national court only where it is quite obvious that the interpretation of Community law that is sought bears no relation to the facts of the main action or its purpose, where the problem is hypothetical, or where the Court does not have before it the factual or legal material necessary to give a useful answer to the questions submitted to it.

(see paras 26-27)

2. Articles 81 EC and 82 EC are a matter of public policy which must be automatically applied by national courts.

(see para. 31)

3. An agreement or concerted practice between insurance companies, consisting of a mutual exchange of information that makes possible an increase in premiums for compulsory civil liability insurance relating to accidents caused by motor vehicles, vessels and mopeds, not justified by market conditions, which infringes national rules on the protection of competition, may also constitute an infringement of Article 81 EC if, in the light of the characteristics of the national market at issue, there is a sufficient degree of probability that the agreement or concerted practice at issue may have an influence, direct or indirect, actual or potential, on the sale of those insurance policies in the relevant Member State by operators established in other Member States and that that influence is not insignificant.

(see para. 52, operative part 1)

4. Article 81(1) EC produces direct effects in relations between individuals and creates rights for the individuals concerned which the national courts must safeguard. It follows that any individual can rely on the invalidity of an agreement or practice prohibited under Article 81 EC and can claim compensation for the harm suffered where there is a causal relationship between that harm and the prohibited agreement or practice.

In the absence of Community rules governing the matter, it is for the domestic legal system of each Member State to prescribe the detailed rules governing the exercise of that right, including those on the application of the concept of ‘causal relationship’, provided that such rules are not less favourable than those governing similar domestic actions (principle of equivalence) and that they do not render practically impossible or excessively difficult the exercise of rights conferred by Community law (principle of effectiveness).

(see paras 58-59, 61-64, operative part 2)

5. In the absence of Community rules governing the matter, it is for the domestic legal system of each Member State to designate the courts and tribunals having jurisdiction to hear actions for damages based on an infringement of the Community competition rules and to prescribe the detailed procedural rules governing those actions, provided that the provisions concerned are not less favourable than those governing actions for damages based on an infringement of national competition rules (principle of equivalence) and that those national provisions do not render practically impossible or excessively difficult the exercise of the right to seek compensation for the harm caused by an agreement or practice prohibited under Article 81 EC (principle of effectiveness).

(see para. 72, operative part 3)

6. In the absence of Community rules governing the matter, it is for the domestic legal system of each Member State to prescribe the limitation period for seeking compensation for harm caused by an agreement or practice prohibited under Article 81 EC, provided that the principles of equivalence and effectiveness are observed.

In that regard, it is for the national court to determine whether a national rule which provides that the limitation period for seeking compensation for harm caused by an agreement or practice prohibited under Article 81 EC begins to run from the day on which that prohibited agreement or practice was adopted, particularly where it also imposes a short limitation period that cannot be suspended, renders it practically impossible or excessively difficult to exercise the right to seek compensation for the harm suffered.

(see paras 81-82, operative part 4)

7. In the absence of Community rules governing that field, it is for the domestic legal system of each Member State to set the criteria for determining the extent of the damages for harm caused by an agreement or practice prohibited under Article 81 EC, provided that the principles of equivalence and effectiveness are observed.

Therefore, first, in accordance with the principle of equivalence, if it is possible to award specific damages, such as exemplary or punitive damages, in domestic actions similar to actions founded on the Community competition rules, it must also be possible to award such damages in actions founded on Community rules. However, Community law does not prevent national courts from taking steps to ensure that the protection of the rights guaranteed by Community law does not entail the unjust enrichment of those who enjoy them.

Secondly, it follows from the principle of effectiveness and the right of individuals to seek compensation for loss caused by a contract or by conduct liable to restrict or distort competition that injured persons must be able to seek compensation not only for actual loss ( damnum emergens ) but also for loss of profit ( lucrum cessans ) plus interest.

(see paras 98-100, operative part 5)

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