CJEU - C-398/15 - Salvatore Manni

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CJEU - C-398/15 Salvatore Manni
Court: CJEU
Jurisdiction: European Union
Relevant Law:
Article 2 of First Council Directive 68/151/EEC (1968)
Article 3 of First Council Directive 68/151/EEC (1968)
Article 6 of Data Protection Directive 1995 (95/46/EC)
Article 6(1)(e) of Data Protection Directive 1995 (95/46/EC)
Article 7 of Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
Article 8 of Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
Directive 2003/58/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 July 2003
Directive 2009/101/EC (2009)
Directive 2012/17/EU (2012)
Article 7 of Data Protection Directive 1995 (95/46/EC)
Article 2188 of the Italian Civil Code (codice civil)
Decided: 09.03.2017
Parties: Camera di Commercio Lecce (Lecce Chamber of Commerce)
Salvatore Manni
Case Number/Name: C-398/15 Salvatore Manni
European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EU:C:2017:197
Reference from: Cass.Civ. (Italy)
Language: 24 EU Languages
Original Source: Judgement
Initial Contributor: MH

The Court of Justice of the European Union held that Members States have to determine on a case-by-case basis whether the right to obtain the erasure of personal data from their national register of companies would outweighs the right to make these details publicly available for legal certainty and fair trading reasons. The data subject making the erasure request must demonstrate overriding and legitimate reasons.

English Summary[edit | edit source]

Facts[edit | edit source]

Article 2188 of the Italian civil code states that companies must be on a publicly available register.

Salvatore Manni was the sole director of a building company, Italiana Costruzioni Srl, which was awarded a contract for the construction of a large building complex. Mr Manni however experienced difficulties selling the units of this building complex. In this context, Manni brought proceedings against the Chamber of Commerce of Lecce, claiming that those poor sale results were due to the fact that he was still presented, in the official company register of the Chamber of Commerce, as the sole director of another company ('Immobiliare Salentina’) which had been declare bankrupt and struck off the register of companies a few years ago. Manni also claimed that a credit scoring company had used these data from the register to give him a negative rating.

Mr Manni requested the Lecce Chamber of Commerce in charge of the register to erase, anonymise or block the data linking him to Immobiliare Salentina. He also asked for damages as compensation for the reputational harm he had suffered.

The Court of Lecce initially upheld his claim, and ordered the Chamber of Commerce to anonymise his data and to give him 2000 EUR in damages. The Chamber of Commerce appealed this decision to the Court of Cassation. In this context, the Court of Cassation referred the following questions to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling:

  • Does the obligation to remove data no longer necessary for the purpose stated under Article 6(1)(e) take precedence over the Italian law obligation to include details on the register?
  • Is there a derogation to the principle under Article 3 Directive 68/151 that there should be no time limit to data published in the companies registered?

Holding[edit | edit source]

The Court highlighted that under Article 2(1)(d) Directive 68/151, Member States must make the disclosure by companies of appointments, termination of office, legal proceedings, entering into administration etc... compulsory. Articles 3(1) and (3) of the same Directive outlines that this must be in a register of companies, which may constitute personal data of identified or identifiable natural persons as per the Data Protection Directive 95/46.

The Court held that the data controller for this personal data would be the authority responsible for maintaining the register.

The Court highlighted the fact that the Data Protection Directive aims to provide a high level of protection to fundamental rights and cited Google Spain (C-131/12). Additionally, the Court mentioned that the rights under the Data Protection Directive must be read in the light of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the EU Charter (Article 7, respect for private life and Article 8, right to data protection), citing Schrems I (C-362/14).

The Court went on to highlight the principle of "data quality" under Article 6 of the Data Protection Directive, as well as having a legitimate "criteria" for processing data under Article 7 of that same Directive. It considered that Articles 2 and 3 of Directive 68/151 provided several lawful bases for processing by the authority responsible for the register: legal obligation, public interest task and legitimate interest. The Court highlighted that it has previously held in Compass-Datenbank (C‑138/11) that the activity of a public authority storing data under a legal obligation would fall within the exercise of their public powers and in the public interest.

However, the Court noted that processing such data under that lawful basis is possible only so long as it is necessary for the purposes outlined (Article 6(1)(e) Data Protection Directive). If that is not the case, the data subject, has a right to obtain the erasure or blocking of the data.

The Court went on to determine the purpose of Directive 68/151 as providing legal certainty in relation to dealings between companies and third parties, as well as facilitating the creation of the internal market. Additionally, case law (Daihatsu Deutschland, C‑97/96 and Springer, C‑435/02) outlines that Article 3 of Directive 68/151 is intended to enable third parties to inform themselves and protect themselves, reflecting the EEC Treaty wording (Article 54(3)(g)). However, the Directive 68/151 makes no mention of whether providing personal data on the register in necessary to achieve that aim. The Court nonetheless considered that it may be necessary to have that information despite the dissolution of a company for any rights and legal relations that may continue to exist. As each Member States have different limitation periods, there is no specific time frame for which this data may be required. Therefore, the Court found that Member States cannot guarantee that individuals, whose personal data is on their register, will have the right to obtain erasure or blocking of their data.

The Court did not consider that this cause an interference with the rights under the Charter as Directive 68/151 only requires limited personal data to be put on registers. Additionally, it considered it natural that individuals who choose to participate in trade through a company would be required to disclose data relating to their identity. Finally, it considered that the need to protect the interest of third parties and ensure legal certainty and fair trading for the internal market may take precedence. However, the Court did not exclude that in specific scenarios, there may be overriding and legitimate reasons for the data of the person concerned to be kept for a limited (and shorter) period of time after expiry. The burden of proof of demonstrating this specific reason falls on the data subject.

The Court concluded that the balancing of rights under the Data Protection Directive and Directive 68/151 should be done on a case by case basis. The Court therefore left it for the national court to make the assessment of whether Salvatore Manni's data protection rights outweigh the rights under Directive 68/151. The Court did note that the fact that Manni could not purchase the buildings based on the data available on the register would not be a sufficient reason.

Comment[edit | edit source]

This decision is particularly relevant for anyone interested in the balancing of fundamental rights in the EU, especially when it comes to weighing the right to privacy and data protection against economic interests. Although the Court stated that it was for the national court to make such an assessment, it considered that Mr Manni's rights and interests (the right to be 'forgotten' with respect to a former bankruptcy, with a view a gaining the trust of investors and more easily selling the newly constructed building complex) were in this case not prevailing over the interest of the public (and in particular, the interest of potential commercial partners to gain relevant knowledge about this past bankruptcy). It seems from this judgement that, in 2017, the requirement of transparency for fair trading outweighs the right to have personal data erased from publicly available registers.

Further Resources[edit | edit source]

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