Who: French legislators
When: 17 March 2014
Law stated as at: 8 April 2014
Act n°2014-344 of March 17, 2014 on consumer law introduced class actions into the French legal system.
The rules on class actions are now provided by articles L. 423-1 and seq. of the French consumer code.
In a nutshell, class actions:
1. may be introduced only by an authorized national consumer association;
2. may only claim material damages suffered by consumers;
3. must be in respect of breaches by the defendant business of its statutory or contractual obligations:
– in the context of sale of goods or performance of services; or
– when the damages suffered were caused by anti-competitive practices (article 101 and 102 of TFEU).
More particularly with respect to anti-trust practices:
– the class action obeys the follow-on principle. As a consequence, a class action may be introduced on the grounds of anti-competitive practices only when a “definitive ruling on the merits of the case” has been issued;
– a class action can be introduced within 5 years from the date when the competition authority / national competent court has issued its definitive ruling.
Class actions are therefore limited to relationships between consumers and businesses.
Environmental or health claims are for now excluded from the scope of these actions.
The classes are constituted by way of an “opt-in” system, so that only those potential claimants who expressly opt in to becoming part of the relevant class may be included in the claim.
Why this matters:
This new French “action de groupe” is a far cry from its American counterpart. Indeed, the French government wanted, even when first proposing such system to be introduced into French law, to limit the scope of the claims as well as the nature of the damages that could be awarded to claimants taking such collective action.
The new rules on class actions entered into force on March 18, 2014. However, the technicalities of class actions judicial proceedings shall be specified in application decrees which will not be published before a few weeks.
For further information, please contact Béatrice Delmas-Linel or Isabelle do Rego at OC in Paris.