Litigation

Limitation issues

What are the time limits for bringing civil claims?

The limitation periods are laid down by the Italian Civil Code (article 2934 et seq). Generally, the limitation period is 10 years from the day on which the right of claim can be enforced. In tort law, the claimant has five years from the day the event occurred to claim its rights.

There are limitation periods of five years or less for company matters, broker rights and other specific matters.

Parties cannot agree to suspend the time limits. The Civil Code rules the only specific case of suspension admitted by law (article 2941, 2942 et seq of the Civil Code).

Nevertheless, the time limits can be interrupted as ruled by article 2943 of the Civil Code.

Article 2943 of the Civil Code states:

Prescription is interrupted (1073(6), 1310(1)) by service of the paper by which judicial proceedings are commenced, whether on the merits or for conservation or enforcement.

It is also interrupted by actions instituted in the course of judicial proceedings (2945(2)).

Interruption is effective even if the court to whom the action is submitted lacks jurisdiction.

Prescription is interrupted by any other act capable of placing the debtor in default (1219, 1957(4)) and by a duly served document whereby a party, in the presence of an agreement to arbitrate or an arbitration clause, declares to the other party his intention to institute arbitration proceedings, lays down his claim and proceeds, in his own behalf, with the appointment of the arbitrators.

The prescription is interrupted also by the acknowledgment of the right by the person against whom such right can be enforced (article 2944 of the Civil Code).

As result of interruption a new time limits period begins.

Furthermore, according to article 2945 of the Civil Code:

If interruption has occurred by reason of one of the acts indicated in the first two paragraphs of Article 2943, prescription does not begin to run until the judgement in the action becomes final.

If the proceedings are ended by discontinuance, the interruption is unaffected, and the new time limit of prescription begins to run from the date of the act which caused the interruption.

In the case of arbitration, prescription does not run from the time when the document containing the request of arbitration is served up to the time when the award settling the dispute is no longer subject to appeal or the decision rendered on the appeal becomes res iudicata.

Prescription is also interrupted by service of the paper by which the assisted negotiation and the mediation are commenced.

Unavailable rights are not subject to prescription (article 2934, second paragraph, cc).

Pre-action behaviour

Are there any pre-action considerations the parties should take into account?

There are no pre-action exchanges of documents or pre-action orders. Nonetheless, in some specific cases, it is mandatory to introduce an assisted negotiation or a mediation before issuing proceedings, otherwise the action before the court cannot commence. In other words, lawyers must advise the parties that it may be possible to solve the matter through an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism.

Starting proceedings

How are civil proceedings commenced? How and when are the parties to the proceedings notified of their commencement? Do the courts have the capacity to handle their caseload?

Civil proceedings are generally commenced through the notification of a writ of summons or the statement of claim. Notification can be through the bailiff or by certified email to subjects with a specific, certified mailbox. (It is mandatory for companies and lawyers to have a certified mailbox.)

Within 10 days of the notification, the claimant must register the proceedings with the court, obtain a number identifying the proceedings, and serve all documents attached to the writ of summons.

Labour and family law

Labour law, family law proceedings and interim remedies are normally commenced by the filing of the writ of summons and attached documents to the court. A judge will then set a hearing date by decree. The claimant must notify the defendant (within the time frame assigned by the judge) with the issued writ of summons and the judge’s decree.

Efficiency

In recent years, the courts have improved their handling of caseloads.

In particular, Turin has been so successful that the Ministry of Justice is hoping to apply the model to all courts. The former president of the Court of Turin is working with the Ministry on a system to ease capacity issues and allow judges to pronounce sentences in a timely manner.

Mandatory assisted negotiation and mediation have also been introduced to try to reduce the number of proceedings brought before the courts.

Timetable

What is the typical procedure and timetable for a civil claim?

Claimants

Civil proceedings are begun by notifying the counterparty of the judicial citation act. After notification, the claimant must register within 10 days by filing with the Registrar of the court of first instance. The file must contain the document served with a litigation proxy and other required documents.

The judicial citation act must include, inter alia, the summons to the party to appear at a set hearing and the warning to the defendant to join the case at least 20 days before the hearing to avoid failing to comply with the provisions of law. It must propose procedural and substantive objections that are not ascertainable by the judge, and it must put forward counterclaims and call upon third parties.

From the day of the notification of the citation act and the first appearance at a hearing, no less than 90 free days must pass if the place of the notification is in Italy and 150 free days if one is abroad.

In urgent cases, the claimant may request that the president of the court cut the time frame in half.

Defendants

The defendant, upon receipt of the notification of the citation act, must appear before the court at least 20 days before the initial hearing on the date set by the summons. The defendant must register a file at the Chancery, containing the act of appearance in court and response, with the copy of the notified summons. The defendant must propose the procedural objections and merits, claims and counterclaims, and supply documents relating to the case, or the intention to sue a third party.

If the defendant has to pursue only mere defences (ie, does not have to propose procedural and substantive objections that are not ascertainable by the judge, put forward a counterclaim or sue a third party), he or she may appear directly at the hearing.

At the first hearing, the judge will verify the regularity of the right to response and, if requested, may give the parties an additional 30 days to file pleadings for the clarification and/or amendments of the applications, a further 30 days to respond to questions or produce documents, and another 20 days for additional evidence.

The judgment

The judge will then decide whether to conduct a preliminary investigation or fix a hearing date for the final clarification of the questions. At the outcome of this hearing, the case is held in the decision, and parties will be assigned deadlines (60 + 20 days) for filing the final acts.

The term to file the decision is 30 days if the Tribunal’s decision must be filed by only one judge, 60 if the panel is of three. For labour proceedings the term is 15 days. In any case these terms are not peremptory.

Ideally, the first instance judgment should be available within two years.

Case management

Can the parties control the procedure and the timetable?

The parties have to comply with the procedure and timetable provided by the CPC, but they cannot control the timetable. Regarding case management, the decision is left to the court unless compulsory terms are provided by the CPC.

Class action

May litigants with similar claims bring a form of collective redress? In what circumstances is this permitted?

Class action was introduced with Italy’s Consumer Code (Law No. 99/2009), which has been in force since 1 January 2010.

Class action can be introduced to protect the following rights:

  • contractual rights of consumers and users who pay for the same undertaking in a homogeneous situation, including contracts signed by standard forms or templates;
  • homogeneous rights concerning those of end users of a product, irrespective of the signing of a contract; and
  • rights resulting from incorrect commercial practices or anticompetitive behaviour.

This action is intended to ascertain the responsibility of the firm, producer or supplier and, consequently, to obtain the compensation of damages or refunds.

The action can be introduced by single or multiple rights holders represented by a consumer association or a committee. Those interested in joining an existing class action can file a formal act of adherence, according to the opt-in system, without having to give a mandate to their own lawyer.

Once the action is proposed, the judge will evaluate the admissibility.