The Dutch Supreme Court has supported the current practice for executing documents in the Netherlands, confirming that initialing every page of a private deed is not required for the validity of the document. Signatures at the end of the document are sufficient.

Background

The legal framework for a deed's validity is set out in article 156 paragraph 1 of the Dutch Code of Civil Procedure (DCCP). This states that deeds are signed documents intended to serve as evidence.

In general, every signed agreement and unilateral statement that serves as evidence is considered a deed. A private deed is intended to prove the party's statements with regard to the content of the deed and to provide compelling proof of the truth.

When the authenticity of a text of a private deed is disputed, the burden of proof is to be assessed on the basis of article 150 DCCP. The party relying on the legal consequences of the facts or rights it has alleged bears the burden of proof.

Facts

Egelinck B.V. (Egelinck) sold some store premises (the Property) to the purchaser, pursuant to a notarial deed on 17 September 2012 for the purchase price of EUR 416,000. The purchase price was partly raised via a EUR 216,000 loan secured by a mortgage over the Property. Engelinck lent these monies to the purchaser. The remaining monies were paid by the Purchaser from its own resources.

In February 2014, the EUR 216,000 loan was fully repaid, including an extra amount of EUR 14,400. As a result of the full repayment, Egelinck deregistered the mortgage. However, on 17 December 2014 Egelinck, after obtaining authorisation by the Dutch Court, levied prejudgment attachments (conservatoir beslag) on both the Property and on the house of the Purchaser.

Egelinck argued that an additional amount of EUR 150,000 had been borrowed by the Purchaser, provided by Egelinck pursuant to a loan agreement executed as a private deed (the Loan Agreement).

The Loan Agreement itself consisted of two pages and simply stated that a loan of EUR 150,000 would be provided by Egelinck to the Purchaser (on page one), subject to conditions one to eight. The Loan Agreement was signed by two directors of Egelinck and a witness. Egelinck claimed the payment of the amount outstanding under the loan together with interest and extrajudicial collection costs.

The Purchaser alleged that the Loan Agreement was false – that the text of the Loan Agreement was added to the signature page later. The Purchaser counterclaimed concerning repayment of the EUR 14,400 together with interest and extrajudicial collection costs. He also requested:

  • the lifting of the prejudgment attachments (conservatoir beslag) of the Property and his house
  • a declaration of right by the Court stating that Egelinck acted unlawfully by executing the prejudgment attachments, and
  • damages.

In this case, it was for the Purchaser to prove that the loan agreement was forged by Egelinck.

The District Court decided that the Purchaser had insufficiently substantiated his claim to prove that Egelinck had forged the Loan Agreement. The Court accordingly rejected the Purchaser's claims.

Court of Appeal decision

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the District Court and considered that Egelinck could not rely on the validity of the Loan Agreement. The Court of Appeal reasoned that a private deed is only the content that is placed 'above' the signatures. The first page of the Loan Agreement – that stated the amount of the loan provided – was not 'above' the signatures placed on the second page.

The Loan Agreement did not therefore fall within the definition of a deed as set out in article 156 paragraph 1 DCCP. It followed from this that in order to be valid, every page of a private deed had to be signed. This shifted the burden of proof – Egelinck had to prove that it had lent the amount of EUR 150,000 to the Purchaser and the Court judged that it failed to do this.

The Court of Appeal nullified the judgment of the District Court and rejected the claims of Egelinck.

Supreme Court decision

Egelinck took the case to the Supreme Court.

The Dutch Supreme Court does not re-examine or question the factual decisions stated by the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court will review a judgment where there may have been an incorrect application of the law, or if the reasoning of the lower court was (plainly) insufficient.

Egelinck primarily argued that the Court of Appeal used too strict an interpretation of the term 'deed' as derived from article 156 paragraph 1 DCCP. Furthermore, it argued that the Court of Appeal had misunderstood the point that if the authenticity of the text of the document is disputed and not the authenticity of the signatures, the person who argues that the deed is false or forged bears the burden of proof.

The Supreme Court determined that following article 156 paragraph 1 DCCP, deeds are signed documents that are intended to serve as evidence. Private deeds do not have any legal requirements other than the requirements set out in the text of article 156 paragraph 1 DCCP. These requirements are also applicable to documents consisting of more than one page with a signature at the end of the document.

The Loan Agreement therefore should be seen as a private deed. The Court of Appeal had used too strict an interpretation of the term 'deed', as there was no dispute with regard to the validity of the signatures of the Loan Agreement and the text of the Loan Agreement was intended to serve as evidence.

The Supreme Court stated that in accordance with article 150 DCCP, the burden of proof was with the Purchaser and not, as the Court of Appeal suggested, with Egelinck.

The Supreme Court quashed the judgment made by the Court of Appeal and to send the case back to the appellate level.

The decision of the Court of Appeal seemed to suggest that parties have to initial every page of a private deed, such as a loan agreement, to ensure its validity. This was quite unexpected, as the common practice is to just sign at the signature block at the end of the document, although sometimes parties do initial every page.

The decision of the Supreme Court supports current practice, and confirms that initialling every page is not required for the validity of a document signed as a private deed.

ECLI:NL:HR:641 – NJ2019/188