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Ryanair fails to stay claims by On the Beach


Lord Justice Nugee, sitting in the High Court, has refused Ryanair’s application to stay claims brought against it by On the Beach Ltd (“OTB”), an online travel agency that specialises in package beach holidays.

OTB allows customers to select different components of their holidays, such as flights and hotels. It competes with Ryanair, which sells its own flights as well as ancillary services such as hotels directly to consumers from its website. OTB’s case is that Ryanair has carried out a multi-faceted course of conduct aimed at preventing such competition, including making false and disparaging claims about OTB and attempting to prevent OTB from booking Ryanair flights on behalf of customers. It says that Ryanair’s conduct amounts to an abuse of its dominant position, and/or amounts to causing loss by unlawful means. Ryanair is yet to plead a defence in the proceedings but has indicated that it intends to defend the claim. As the judgment records, it is Ryanair’s position that OTB is engaged in a practice of “screen-scraping” data from its website, in a manner that causes it wide-ranging difficulties as regards communication with its customers and compliance with its regulatory obligations, and interferes with its low-fares business model. 

Ryanair sought an order staying OTB’s claim pursuant to art.30 of the recast Brussels Regulation, on the basis that there were “related proceedings” ongoing in an EU Member State that gave rise to a risk of irreconcilable judgments. (Art.30 continues to apply where “related proceedings” in an EU Member State were commenced before the end of the Brexit transition period.) The other proceedings on which Ryanair relied were three separate claims it has brought in the Irish courts against, respectively, OTB; a Romanian online travel agent called Vola, and the flight-comparison website Skyscanner. In each of those claims Ryanair alleges breach of its website terms of use, and IP and other rights.

Nugee LJ held that Ryanair’s claim against OTB in Ireland did not constitute “related proceedings” under art.30. He accepted Ryanair’s submission that it was permissible to look at unpleaded issues for that purpose, and that if and when OTB filed a defence in those proceedings, it was likely to rely on similar allegations of anti-competitive conduct to those in OTB’s English claim. But although Ryanair’s claim in Ireland against OTB had been filed in 2010, pleadings had not yet closed, and OTB had applied to strike it out for want of prosecution. If that application succeeded OTB would never have to file a defence in Ireland and the proceedings would never become related. Even if they were related, Nugee LJ would not have exercised the consequent discretion to stay, as the Irish action might never come to trial; and if it did, OTB’s English claim was likely to be ready for trial first.

As to Ryanair’s claims against Vola and Skyscanner, even if they constituted “related proceedings” in the meaning of art.30 (which Nugee LJ did not need to decide), there could be no benefit in a stay where, under the well-known rule in Hollington v Hewthorn [1943] KB 587, the Irish courts’ decisions on the relevant facts would not even be admissible in the English litigation.

The judgment is here.

Emma Mockford acted for Ryanair, instructed by Stephenson Harwood LLP.

Robert O’Donoghue QC and Max Schaefer acted for OTB, instructed by Hogan Lovells LLP.