Court fees in Bulgarian proceedings: general principles
The starting point in Bulgarian civil proceedings is that in claims with an identifiable monetary value, the court fees for the issue of a claim are calculated as a percentage of the value of the claim, namely 4 %. Certain categories of claim (which we list below) are excluded from the operation of the rule, but it applies in the majority of cases.
To take an example, a contractual claim for €100,000 brought to a Bulgarian court would attract a court fee of €4,000 (payable in the Bulgarian currency), while a tort claim for $10,000,000 would involve a fee of $400,000, once again payable in Bulgarian lev.
The court fee is a single fee and is payable entirely by the claimant(s).
Such a court fee is payable at the commencement of a claim or within a short period (typically 7 days from the date of a court order requiring a non-paying claimant to conform with the requirement), on penalty of a stay of the claim and a resumption of accrual of limitation.
Of course, the approach has a potential effect of putting at a disadvantage claimants who cannot afford fees which are high in absolute terms, and may be unfair to claimants in situations where the chances of success are difficult to gauge before the proceedings are fully developed.
Once a claim fee is paid, Bulgarian civil proceedings do not generally involve the payment of further court fees. E.g. there are no fees specific to the conduct of hearings or to the passing of certain stages in such proceedings. However, appeals involve the payment of further court fees, typically set at half of the court fee due for the origination of a claim and in addition, all parties should be prepared for the possibilities of being required to pay experts’ fees (via a payment into court) or to deposit further sums into court on the order of the court (e.g., as a potential compensatory fund for the addressee of a freezing order).
What is a partial claim?
As a response to the potential issues of access to justice and management of litigation risk we outline above, Bulgarian proceedings commonly feature the making of a claim for a part of the total potential value in dispute, termed partial claims.
To adapt the first of our examples above, the claimant may choose to bring in the first place only a claim for €25,000 out of the total potential claim value of €100,000. This reduces the court fee fourfold to €1,000 expressed in Bulgarian levs.
The claimant remains able to expand the claimed amount either within the same proceedings or to bring a separate claim for the previously unclaimed part subject to the constraints and otherwise as we describe below.
Categories of claims to which the partial claim is inapplicable
Certain claims deemed to have no monetary value and are therefore not relevant to a discussion of partial claims, or are otherwise expressly excluded from the partial claim rule.
The following categories of claim are examples:
- Claims for state and municipal liability under the State and Municipal Liability Act;
- Collective claims;
Applications for the division of title.
How to choose the amount to claim in a partial claim?
A claimant may bring any part of its potential claim at any stage, subject to the time limits and considerations we describe below.
While the choice of level of claim is always very specific to the facts of a case, our general recommendation to clients considering partial claims is to bring claims initially at or slightly above the value threshold required for the claim to be justiciable to the District Courts (okruzhen or gradski sud), rather than the lower-level Local Courts (rayonen sud).
Currently, the threshold for allocation to the District Court as a first instance court is BGN 25,000 (approximately €12,500), implying a court fee of approximately €500.
A procedural advantage of starting a claim in the District Court is that if the claimant wished to increase the amount of their claim, there would be no need for transfer between courts after increasing the claim amount, which saves time and expense.
How does a partial claim help manage risk?
Partial claims allow claimants to test the prospects of success in complex cases. During the disclosure stage of the proceedings the claimant will be able to evaluate the strength of the defendant’s case, their evidence and the attitude of the court towards allowing expert witnesses.
A further possible advantage is the minimisation of possible instances of appeal by the defendant.
Depending on the amount of the partial claim (if below BGN 5,000 in civil cases and BGN 10,000 in what are technically termed commercial cases), there may be only a single instance of appeal. A partial claim of below these thresholds would tend to thus save time and costs in comparison to the three-stage proceedings involved with a claim for the full possible amount or at any rate one brought above the threshold.
Additionally, after an effective judgment, the claimant may wish to proceed to enforcement. Successful enforcement of a part of the claim might help the applicant fund the pursuit of the balance of the claim.
Disadvantages of the partial claim
The partial claim device is not without its downsides. Two of these are the need to consider limitation and the way in which a partial claim may interact with the availability of freezing orders.
Interaction with limitation
To prevent limitation from accruing to any part of a claim, it needs to be commenced. Bringing a partial claim has this effect in respect of the part of the total value of the potential claim that is brought, but does nothing in respect of the part which is not.
Reduced or no availability of freezing orders and other forms of defendant asset protection
Bulgarian courts are generally more likely than those in other jurisdictions (e.g., England) to grant freezing orders either before proceedings are issued or after issue. Freezing a defendant’s assets is a very effective and powerful means of securing a claim and one that claimants generally find appealing.
By bringing a partial claim only, a claimant reduces his or her chances of obtaining a freezing order over an asset (e.g., land) of a higher value, since the disproportionality between the claim size and the asset value widens.
At the same time, until an asset is charged, an unscrupulous defendant remains free to dispose of it.
Losing a partial claim is a bar to a separate claim on the balance
Once a partial claim has been decided and an effective judgment is entered against the claimant, the reminder cannot be pursued.
Increasing the claim up to its maximum potential size
It is generally possible for a claimant to raise the claim size and pay any shortfall in the adjusted fee, calculated as 4% of the new claim value.
This may be done until the first open hearing in the proceedings and in rare cases, later on.
Once a set of proceedings is past the end of the first hearing in the case, bringing the remainder of the claim can be done only by way of a separate claim.