AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application no. 56023/00
by Dobrina Tzvetkova TAKEVA
The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), sitting on 4 September 2006 as a Chamber composed of:
Mr P. Lorenzen, President,
Mrs S. Botoucharova,
Mr V. Butkevych,
Mrs M. Tsatsa-Nikolovska,
Mr R. Maruste,
Mr J. Borrego Borrego,
Mrs R. Jaeger, judges,
and Mrs C. Westerdiek, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 9 March 2000,
Having regard to the decision to apply Article 29 § 3 of the Convention and examine the admissibility and merits of the case together,
Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government and the observations in reply submitted by the applicant,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mrs Dobrina Tzvetanova Takeva, is a Bulgarian national who was born in 1948 and lives in Pleven. She was represented before the Court by Mr N. Rounevski, a lawyer practising in Sofia.
The respondent Government were represented by their Agent, Ms M. Karadjova, of the Ministry of Justice.
The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
On 19 December 1994 the applicant entered into an employment agreement with a private insurance company (“the defendant”) under which she was appointed to the position of chief accountant of its branch office in the town of Pleven.
On 18 February 1998 the executive director of the company issued an order for terminating the applicant’s employment agreement on the grounds that she did not meet the requirements for the position. The order was not immediately served on the applicant.
Despite the fact that the applicant was on sick leave between 19 February and 29 March 1998, the order for terminating her employment agreement was served on her on 11 March 1998 and, thus, her employment was terminated.
On 14 July 1998 the applicant initiated an action against the defendant for unlawful dismissal and argued, inter alia, that she satisfied the requirements for the position and that her employment agreement could not have been terminated while she was on sick leave. She sought both reinstatement to her previous position and damages.
The Pleven District Court conducted four hearings between 14 October 1998 and 7 June 1999 during which time it obtained an expert’s opinion in respect of the damages suffered by the applicant. At the hearings of 14 October 1998 and 7 June 1999 the defendant objected to the court’s jurisdiction in the case. The first objection was rejected, but the second was upheld after the defendant presented evidence that its Pleven branch office had in the meantime been closed on 4 November 1998. The Pleven District Court found that the court at the seat of the defendant had jurisdiction following the said closure of the branch office and transferred the case to the Sofia District Court.
In a decision of 29 July 1999 the Sofia District Court, in camera, found that it did not have jurisdiction in the case and forwarded the case file to the Sofia City Court to make a final determination on the matter.
In a decision of 14 September 1999 the Sofia City Court, in camera, ruled that the Sofia District Court had jurisdiction in the case and transferred the case file back to it. The parties to the proceedings were informed of the decision on 2 December 1999. The case was then transferred to the Sofia District Court which received it on 14 January 2000.
The Sofia District Court conducted two hearings on 22 March and 31 May 2000, the first of which was postponed due to the improper summoning of the applicant.
In a judgment of 30 June 2000 the Sofia District Court found partially in favour of the applicant and declared her dismissal unlawful, but dismissed her claims for reinstatement and damages. The defendant and the applicant appealed against the judgment on 7 and 28 August 2000, respectively.
On 4 September 2000 the defendant was instructed to deposit the corresponding court fees for its appeal, which it did on 19 September 2000. Its appeal and that of the applicant were then registered with the Sofia City Court on 23 October 2000.
The first hearing of the parties’ appeals was scheduled for 30 April 2001, but the Sofia City Court postponed it for unspecified reasons to 2 July 2001. At the hearing of that date, the court instructed the applicant to present the original of her work booklet so as to verify the accuracy of the certified photocopies presented to the court in respect of her subsequent employment and adjourned the hearing. The next hearing was conducted on 25 February 2002, when the case was declared ready for decision.
In a judgment of 19 March 2002 the Sofia City Court quashed part of the first-instance court judgment in the case and instead reinstated the applicant to her former position and awarded her damages. The court’s finding in favour of the applicant was based on the fact that she had been dismissed while she was on sick leave, which negated the need to examine in substance the grounds of her dismissal and whether she in fact met the requirements for the position. Neither party appealed against the judgment, so it entered into force on 10 May 2002, at the latest.
The applicant complained under Articles 6 § 1 and 13 of the Convention of the excessive length of the civil proceedings and the alleged lack of effective remedies to speed them up.
Complaints under Articles 6 and 13 of the Convention
1. The applicant complained of the excessive length of the civil proceedings and the alleged lack of effective remedies to speed them up.
Article 6 § 1 of the Convention provides, as relevant:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
Article 13 of the Convention provides:
“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in [the] Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”
2. The Government submitted that there were no unreasonable delays attributable to the authorities and the courts had processed the case expeditiously. They argued, however, that the applicant contributed to the length of the proceedings by wrongly filing her action with the Pleven District Court rather than with the court at the seat of the defendant, which led to a jurisdictional dispute between the two courts and to a delay of the proceedings. In addition, the Government contended that there were further delays on account of the applicant’s failure to timely present the original of her work booklet to the Sofia City Court and on account of the defendant’s initial failure to pay the necessary court fees for its appeal before the same court. In conclusion, the Government argued that in the present case the overall length of the proceedings were not unreasonable.
Furthermore, the Government claimed that the applicant never attempted to speed up the proceedings by making use of the “complaint about delays” under Article 217a of the Code of Civil Procedure, which they contended provided a remedy in this respect.
The applicant rejected the Government’s arguments and sustained her complaint that the length of the civil proceedings was in breach of the “reasonable time” requirement laid down in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. She claimed that the authorities were to blame for the delay resulting from the jurisdictional dispute that arose between the Pleven and Sofia district courts as well as for the lengthy delay in processing the case before the Sofia City Court.
Finally, the applicant submitted that the “complaint about delays” could not have expedited the proceedings and that it did not provide for the possibility to obtain compensation for any such delays.
The Court notes that the applicant’s complaint relates to the length of the civil proceedings which began on 14 July 1998 and ended on 10 May 2002, when the judgment of 19 March 2002 of the Sofia City Court entered into force thereby bringing the proceedings to a close. The proceedings therefore lasted three years, nine months and twenty-seven days for two levels of jurisdiction.
The Court reiterates that the reasonableness of the length of proceedings must be assessed in the light of the circumstances of the case and with reference to the following criteria: the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and the relevant authorities and what was at stake for the applicant in the dispute (see, among many other authorities, Frydlender v. France [GC], no. 30979/96, § 43, ECHR 2000-VII). In addition, only delays attributable to the State may justify a finding of a failure to comply with the “reasonable time” requirement (see H. v. France, judgment of 24 October 1989, Series A no. 162-A, pp. 21-22, § 55). Lastly, the Court reiterates that special diligence is necessary in employment disputes (see Ruotolo v. Italy, judgment of 27 February 1992, Series A no. 230-D, p. 39, § 17).
The Court considers that the case was a relatively simple employment dispute, which is evidenced by the domestic courts’ finding of unlawful dismissal based only on the fact that it was effected while the applicant was on sick leave.
In respect of the conduct of the applicant and the defendant, the Court finds that there were only certain minor delays directly attributable to them lasting not longer than four months.
As to the conduct of the authorities, the Court observes that the Pleven District Court and the Sofia District Court conducted hearings at regular intervals of one to four months apart. There were, however, somewhat protracted appeal proceedings before the Sofia City Court. In particular, the first hearing was held more than eight months after the parties’ appeals were registered with the said court and the second hearing was conducted another eight months later. As a result, only two days of hearings were conducted over a period of one year and four months.
In respect of the prolongation of the proceedings as a result of the jurisdictional dispute, the Court notes that the decision of the Pleven District Court to transfer the case to the Sofia District Court resulted from evidence presented by the defendant that its branch office in Pleven had been closed after the proceedings had been instituted. Accordingly, the issue of jurisdiction cannot be considered to have been clear from the outset to the parties or the district courts concerned, which required settlement by the Sofia City Court.
Considering all circumstances, the Court finds that, despite some protraction of the appeal proceedings before the Sofia City Court, the overall length of the civil proceedings of three years, nine months and twenty-seven days for two levels of jurisdiction was not excessive and did not violate the “reasonable time” requirement of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
It follows that this complaint is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.
3. In respect of the complaint under Article 13 of the Convention, the Court reiterates that this provision applies only where an individual has an “arguable claim” to be the victim of a violation of a Convention right (see Boyle and Rice v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 27 April 1988, Series A no. 131, p. 23, § 52, Voyager Limited v. Turkey (dec.), no. 35045/97, 4 September 2001, and Ivison v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 39030/97, 16 April 2002). The Court has found above that the complaint under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention is manifestly ill-founded. For similar reasons, the applicant did not have an “arguable claim” for the purposes of Article 13 of the Convention, and the latter provision is therefore inapplicable in the present case (see, Ellersiek v. Germany (dec.), no. 77151/01, 23 June 2005).
It follows that this complaint is incompatible ratione materiae with the provisions of the Convention within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 § 4.
In view of the above findings, it is appropriate to discontinue the application of Article 29 § 3 of the Convention and to reject the application.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Declares the application inadmissible.
Claudia Westerdiek Peer Lorenzen
TAKEVA v. BULGARIA DECISION
TAKEVA v. BULGARIA DECISION