General introduction to the legislative framework for private antitrust enforcement
The legislative framework for private antitrust enforcement in France has been recently further modified through the adoption of Ordinance 2017-303 and Decree 2017-305 of 9 March 2017 implementing EU Directive 2014/104 on actions for damages for infringements of competition law provisions. The Ordinance and the Decree have introduced new sections in the French Commercial Code specifically dealing with damages actions resulting from anticompetitive practices.
These provisions intend to help the victims of anticompetitive practices to seek redress. They provide that individuals or companies are liable for the harm they have caused as a result of their involvement in anticompetitive practices. The competitive practices concerned include anticompetitive agreements and abuses of dominant position prohibited by French and EU competition law, and also certain types of infringements that are specific to French law, such as abuse of economic dependency, the granting of exclusive importation rights in French overseas territories or abusively low pricing.
It is up to the claimant to prove that it has suffered a loss as a result of anticompetitive practices. It can be difficult for victims to gather evidence to prove that anticompetitive practices have taken place without a pre-existing decision identifying an infringement. Due to the difficulty of proving the existence of the practices, which are often secret, there are relatively few damages actions, and they tend to be more and more often based on an infringement decision of a competition authority.
The statute of limitation is five years as from the date that the claimant was aware or should have been aware of all of the following: the existence of the infringement, the fact that it has caused harmed to the claimant and the identity of the infringer. In practice, claimants may argue that they discovered the cause of action only upon publication of the decision issued by the competition authority confirming that a company has engaged in anticompetitive practices, in particular in relation to secret horizontal practices such as cartels. The limitation period starts running only when the infringement has ended.
The limitation period is not opposable to victims of an infringer having benefited from full immunity in the context of leniency proceedings so long as they have not been in a position to bring an action against the other co-infringers.