On 29 March 2018, the District Court of Amsterdam ruled on requests for pre-procedural hearings in relation to the alleged infringements in the two separate cases ofTrucks and CRT.This is the first time a Dutch court has ruled on a request for a pre-procedural hearing in follow-on damages cases. The District Court of Amsterdam rejected both requests because it did not consider it likely that a pre-procedural hearing would be useful in either case.
The pre-procedural hearing was introduced relatively recently under Dutch law as an addition to the existing collective settlement procedure. The idea behind it was to simplify and facilitate collective settlement negotiations at an early stage of proceedings with the assistance of a judge. Dutch courts can order a pre-procedural hearing at the request of foundations and associations representing collective interests of parties seeking to receive compensation.
A pre-procedural hearing may serve the purpose of (i) facilitating a collective settlement or, in the absence of a settlement, (ii) a case management hearing to prepare and structure a collective action. According to the District Court, a pre-procedural hearing should only be ordered if there is a reasonable prospect that it will be useful.
The District Court ruled in the cases above that a pre-procedural hearing was unlikely to facilitate a collective settlement. In Trucks, this was because the defendants did not appear willing to negotiate with the claimant about a settlement.In CRT, only one of the defendants had appeared in the proceedings and for this reason the District Court deemed it unlikely that the other defendants would appear in a pre-procedural hearing.
The District Court also ruled that a case management hearing was unlikely to be useful as the claimants in both cases had failed to provide sufficient information for the court to be able to prepare and structure a collective action. Both cases are still in the preliminary phase. The District Court emphasised that the parties should have at least described the main points of the dispute and clearly identified which points the court was being asked to determine.
In theCRT case, the District Court rejected a complaint by the defendant Philips challenging the admissibility of Consumentenbond (Dutch Consumers Association) on the basis it collaborates with an organisation operating a commercial business model. The District Court rejected this complaint stating that Consumentenbond had no commercial incentive.
The two judgments show that requests for pre-procedural hearing are evaluated critically. Dutch courts are only willing to grant a request if there is a reasonable prospect that a pre-procedural hearing will be useful.