ECJ Clarifies Interpretation Of Consumer Sales And Guarantees Directive

Author:Mr Koen T'Syen
Profession:Van Bael & Bellis

On 23 May 2019, the Court of Justice of the European Union (the "ECJ") held that EU Member States are competent to establish the place where the consumer is required to make goods acquired under a distance contract available to the seller, in order for these goods to be brought into conformity in accordance with Article 3 of Directive 1999/44/EC of 25 May 1999 on specific aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees (the "Directive"). This provision entitles the consumer to "require the seller to repair the goods or [...] to replace them, in either case free of charge, unless this is impossible or disproportionate". The ECJ also held that the consumer's right to have goods brought into conformity "free of charge" does not include the seller's obligation to pay for the cost of transporting those goods (subject to limited exceptions) (ECJ, 23 May 2019, Case C-52/18, Christian Fülla v. Toolport GmbH).

The ECJ delivered its judgment in response to a request for a preliminary ruling from the District Court of Norderstedt in Germany (the "Court") in a dispute between a consumer, Christian Fülla, and a German company, Toolport GmbH ("Toolport") regarding the purchase of a defective tent. Having bought the tent from Toolport by telephone and having had it delivered to his place of residence, Mr. Fülla discovered that the tent was defective. He asked Toolport to bring the tent into conformity at his place of residence. Toolport, however, considered that Mr. Fülla's claims were unfounded, following which Mr. Fülla requested the rescission of the contract and reimbursement of the purchase price of the tent. Toolport failed to comply with that request and Mr. Fülla consequently brought an action against Toolport before the Court. The main issue at hand regarded the place where the tent was to be brought into conformity.

Under German law, the consumer is required to place the item in question at the seller's place of business for it to be brought into conformity. The Court, however, was unsure whether such a requirement would be compatible with Article 3 of the Directive, as transport is likely to be seen as a significant inconvenience for the consumer, which the Directive seeks to avoid. Furthermore, the Court was uncertain as to whether the mention "free of charge" under Article 3 of the Directive implies that the seller also has to take charge of the consumer's transportation fee. Finally, the Court raised doubts as to when to...

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