Since the e-Date ruling of the CJEU a new connecting factor has been
added to the discussion on the proper forum for the infringement of personality
rights online. The judgment of the Thessaloniki court offers food for thought, however
not for what has been rendered, but mostly for what has not been elaborated in
Instance Court (chamber) 15188/2015, published in: Armenopoulos 2016, pp. 833
The claimant is a famous person in Greece. He holds both the Russian and the Greek nationality. He’s
today the president of a Premier League football club in the country, which is
located in Thessaloniki. When the file was claimed he was not legally the
president, but it was common knowledge that he was the de facto president, a
fact he has also underlined in his claim. In particular, he was pulling the
strings of a Cypriot company, which was the majority shareholder of the club’s
shares. This company was represented by his sons, who were receiving
instructions from him for all matters related to the football club. The claimant
states Thessaloniki as his place of residence. The respondents are a football
club of the Greek Premier League (A), located in Piraeus, and the CEO of the
club (B), a resident of the same city.
The claimant portrays himself as a highly
successful entrepreneur, owner of a large group of companies, with its seat in
Rostov, Russia; an ex-politician and deputy in both the Rostov district and the
Duma, and an ex-president of two Russian football clubs. He filed an action for
damages in the altitude of 1 million Euros, caused by a post uploaded both in
Greek and Russian on the official web site of (A), which presumably violated
his personality rights. Actually it was a press statement of (A), approved by
the Board, and then reproduced by a significant number of sports magazines and
newspapers in Greece.
The defendants did not challenge the venue of
the court, and focused on the substantive aspects of the subject matter.
The court granted the claim partially, awarding
the sum of 30.000 Euros. It based its jurisdiction in Article 35 Code of Civil
Procedure (forum delicti commissi). The court stated that the place where the
tort was committed was virtually everywhere, i.e. wherever there was access to
the web post, whereas the place where the harmful event occurred was mainly the
place of the claimant’s habitual residence. Hence, the forum of the defendants
(Article 22 Code of Civil Procedure) was surpassed by reference to the claimant’s
habitual residence in Thessaloniki.
The ruling of the court was undoubtedly correct:
The defendants did not challenge the venue, hence a tacit approval of the court’s
jurisdiction was evident. At the same time, the cross-border elements of the
case were undervalued as a result of the above.
However, the facts demonstrate the intricacies
of the matter, in light of the e-Date ruling of the CJEU. As it is well known,
the European Court placed the centre of main interests on top of all other
connecting factors, concluding that: ‘the
person who considers that his rights have been infringed has the option of
bringing an action for liability, in respect of all the damage caused, either
before the courts of the Member State in which the publisher of that content is
established or before the courts of the Member State in which the centre of his
interests is based. That person may also, instead of an action for liability in
respect of all the damage caused, bring his action before the courts of each
Member State in the territory of which content placed online is or has been
accessible. Those courts have jurisdiction only in respect of the damage caused
in the territory of the Member State of the court seised’.
Therefore, we may conclude that the
Thessaloniki court had international jurisdiction to try the case, given that
Greece was the Member State in which the publisher of that content is
established. Still, was Thessaloniki the proper venue?
It is accepted that the rule of Art. 7.2
Brussels I bis / Art. 5.3 Brussels I Regulation covers both international
jurisdiction and territorial competence of the court seized. Therefore, for
establishing the venue of the court, one needs to examine the findings of the
CJEU, as stated in the e-Date case, which brings us to the question: Was Thessaloniki
the centre of the claimant’s interests?
The court did not consider the e-date ruling;
as a result, it did not examine the matter in accordance with its findings.
Admittedly, the court had no reason to do it, since its jurisdiction was not
challenged. The case demonstrates however the potential difficulties in
defining the centre of main interests in similar cases: According to his Wikipedia
web page, the claimant and his wife are now formally the majority shareholders
of the largest Russian tobacco company. He also owns a group of companies
located in Rostov, Russia. The shares of the football club, of which he’s the
President, are owned by a Cypriot company. At the same time, he’s the manager
of an old and well known hotel in Thessaloniki, he owns 82 % of the shares of
the biggest Greek tobacco company, located in Xanthi (a city in the region of
Thrace), and he is the owner of land and hotel resorts in the district of Chalkidiki.
His personal web site is available in three languages (Russian, Greek and
English), however he chose to register a domain name under the country code
To sum up:
court applied domestic law, unaware of the e-Date findings.
obviously opted for an extensive interpretation, thus opening the door to forum
actoris for all cases involving online defamation in the future.
no reason to comment on possible actions for damages before courts of other
Member States, because the claimant’s activities within the EU are limited to
possible second action before Russian courts (e.g. Rostov) would not have to
take into account the ruling of the CJEU.