FIRST SECTION

DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 67579/01 
by Lidiya Vladimirovna KUZNETSOVA 
against Russia

The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting on 19 January 2006 as a Chamber composed of:

Mr C.L. Rozakis, President
 Mr L. Loucaides
 Mr P. Lorenzen
 Mrs N. Vajić
 Mrs S. Botoucharova
 Mr A. Kovler, 
 Mr K. Hajiyev, judges
and Mr S. Nielsen, Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged on 14 February 2001,

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 FACTS

The applicant, Mrs Lidiya Vladimirovna Kuznetsova, is a Russian national, who was born in 1939 and lives in Serpukhov, the Moscow Region. She is represented before the Court by Mr I. Ogorodnikov, an NGO lawyer practising in the Moscow Region. The respondent Government are represented by Mr P. Laptev, Representative of the Russian Federation at the European Court of Human Rights.

The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.

1. Background to the case

The applicant is in receipt of an old-age pension.

On 23 June 1997 the Federal Law on Calculating and Upgrading State Pensions (the “Pensions Law”) was adopted. The Pensions Law introduced a new scheme of calculating retirement benefits – the “Individual Pensioner Coefficient” (“IPC”).

On 1 December 1997 the Ministry of Labour passed the Regulations on the Implementation of the Pensions Law (“the Regulations”) clarifying the application of the Pensions Law.

On 1 February 1998 the Pension Fund Agency of Serpukhov (“the Agency”) re-assessed the amount of the applicant’s pension according to the Pensions Law interpreted in the light of the Regulations, and decided that an IPC to be applied in her case should be 0.525.

On 18 June 1998 the Supreme Court of Russia found the Regulations unlawful.

On 29 December 1999 the Ministry of Labour issued the Instruction on Application of Limitations established by the Pensions Law (“the Instruction”). The Instruction again specified how the Pensions Law should apply.

By decisions of 24 April, 25 May and 3 August 2000 the Supreme Court of Russia confirmed the lawfulness of the Instruction.

2. The first set of court proceedings

In January 2000 the applicant instituted court proceedings against the Agency, stating that under the Pensions Law she was eligible to an IPC of 0.7.

On 13 April 2000 the Serpukhov Town Court of the Moscow Region found in the applicant’s favour, having established that the defendant had misinterpreted the Pensions Law. In respect of the Agency’s argument that it had applied the said law in accordance with the Instruction, the court noted that the Instruction was essentially similar to the Regulations of 1 December 1997, which the Supreme Court had found unlawful. Accordingly, the court ordered the Agency to apply an IPC of 0.7 for calculating the applicant’s pension increasing it by RUR 822.5 and awarded her arrears of RUR 4,593.89.

On 22 May 2000 the Moscow Regional Court dismissed the defendant’s appeal, and the judgment of 13 April 2000 became final.

On 16 June 2000 enforcement proceedings commenced.

3. The re-opening of the applicant’s case and the subsequent proceedings

In June 2000 the Agency applied for review of the judgment of 13 April 2000 due to discovery of new circumstances. It claimed that on 24 April 2000 the Supreme Court of Russia had confirmed the lawfulness of the Instruction. The Agency contended that since it had been unaware of the decision of the Supreme Court at the moment when the judgment in the applicant’s favour had been passed, that judgment should be reviewed.

On 16 August 2000 the Serpukhov Town Court granted the Agency’s applications and re-opened the proceedings.

Following a fresh examination, on 12 September 2000, the Serpukhov Town Court dismissed the applicant’s claims in full having applied the Instruction.

On 26 September 2000 the applicant lodged an appeal against the above judgment.

On 6 October 2000 the Serpukhov Town Court stayed the applicant’s appeal and invited her to provide a valid explanation as to her failure to observe the statutory time-limit of 10 days for appealing against a first instance judgment, and to pay a court fee in the amount of RUR 87.83. As the applicant failed to fulfil the requirements, on 18 October 2000 the court returned her appeal.

On 15 November 2000 the Serpukhov Town Court stayed the applicant’s appeal against the decision of 6 October 2000 by reference to the same statutory time-limit and invited her to give good reason for her failure to comply with it. On 4 December 2000 the court returned the applicant’s appeal since she again failed to comply with the requirements. The applicant did not appeal against any of those decisions.

The applicant’s requests for supervisory review were to no avail.

COMPLAINTS

1.  The applicant complained under Article 6 of the Convention that the final judgment in her favour had been quashed and that her case had been re-opened then. She submitted that the decision of the Supreme Court of 24 April 2000 had not been a newly discovered circumstance within the meaning of the domestic law.

2.  The applicant also relied on Articles 6 and 13 of the Convention, complaining that:

(a)  the judgment of 13 April 2000 in her favour had never been executed;

(b)  that her claims had been dismissed following a new examination of the case;

(c)  that the domestic court declined to examine the merits of her appeal against the judgment of 12 September 2000 because she had been unable to pay a court fee;

(d)  that her requests for supervisory review had been refused.

THE LAW

1.  The applicant complained that her court award had been quashed on account of newly discovered circumstances, which had resulted in a decrease of her pension. This complaint falls to be examined under Article 6 of the Convention and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention. The respective provisions read as follows:

Article 6 § 1

“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing ... by [a] ... tribunal ...”

Article 1 of Protocol No. 1

“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.”

The Government pointed out that the application form of 14 February 2001 was not signed by the applicant or her representative, and invited the Court to declare the application inadmissible, in accordance with Article 35 §§ 2 (a) and 4 of the Convention. They further contested the admissibility of the application as being incompatible ratione materiae with the provisions of the Convention. They referred to the cases of Schouten and Meldrum v. Netherlands (dec., nos. 19005/91 and 19006/91, 9 December 1994) and Finkelberg v. Latvia (dec., no. 55091/00, 18 October 2001) and argued that the applicant’s pension dispute had involved the interpretation of pension legislation rather than the determination of her right to pension benefits, and that the manner of the calculation of an old-age pension belonged to the public law domain.

Finally, the Government alleged that the re-opening of the applicant’s civil case had not been arbitrary. It was based on the Instruction of 29 December 1999 which clarified how the Pensions Law should be interpreted and applied, the lawfulness of that Instruction having been confirmed by the Supreme Court of Russia on 3 August 2000. The Government further submitted that since the defendant Agency had learnt about the circumstances essential for the applicant’s case and relating to the application of the IPC only after the judgment of 13 April 2000 had entered into force, it had had the right to request the re-opening of the applicant’s case due to discovery of new circumstances, and the domestic court had good reasons to grant such a request. In this respect the Government also pointed out that the Constitutional Court of Russia in its decision of 14 January 1999 had recognised that changes in the law could be considered as newly discovered circumstances. The Government maintained that the re-opening of the applicant’s case on account of newly discovered circumstances had fully complied with the Code of Civil Procedure, and therefore there had been no violation of the applicant’s right to a fair trial. As to whether the applicant’s property right had been violated, the Government contended that the applicant had not acquired property since the judgment which had conferred the title on her had been annulled due to discovery of new circumstances and the applicant’s claims for a higher pension had been eventually dismissed. The Government concluded that neither Article 6 § 1 of the Convention nor Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention had been violated as a result of the annulment of the judgment in the applicant’s favour on account of newly discovered circumstances.

The applicant disagreed with the Government’s arguments and maintained her complaint. She contended in particular that she had fully disclosed her identity, having indicated the requisite details in the application form, and that, apart from the application form of 14 February 2001, all her correspondence to the Court had been duly signed by her or her representative, and therefore her application could not be considered as anonymous. The applicant also stated that the case-law cited by the Government were irrelevant, since she had never disputed, as such, the domestic law applicable in her case. She further averred that the decision of the Supreme Court dated 24 April 2000 could not be regarded as a newly discovered circumstance, since it had been adopted between the first instance and appeal decisions in the applicant’s case, and therefore the defendant Agency should have been aware of that decision before the appeal proceedings. Moreover the decision of 24 April 2000 was taken in the context of another court dispute, and therefore, in the applicant’s view, should not have been the ground for the re-opening of her case. The applicant next noted that the decision of the Constitutional Court referred to by the Government was irrelevant in the present circumstances, as the respective decision only concerned the changes caused by a law’s unconstitutionality, the constitutionality of legal acts applied in her case having never been disputed. Finally, the applicant alleged that the judgment of 13 April 2000 had become final and legally binding after it had been upheld on appeal, and therefore constituted her possessions, within the meaning of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, until it had been quashed on 13 August 2000.

The Court firstly observes that, though unsigned, the application form of 14 February 2001 contained the applicant’s personal details sufficient to erase any doubt in her identity, and that all the subsequent correspondence to the Court was duly signed by the applicant’s representatives. In such circumstances the Court has no grounds to consider the application as anonymous. Accordingly, the Government’s objection must be dismissed.

The Court next notes that a dispute as to the amount of an applicant’s pension entitlement is of a pecuniary nature and undeniably concerns a civil right within the meaning of Article 6 § 1 (see Schuler-Zgraggen v. Switzerland, judgment of 24 June 1993, Series A no. 263, p. 17, § 46; Massa v. Italy, judgment of 24 August 1993, Series A no. 265-B, p. 20, § 26; Süßmann v. Germany, judgment of 16 September 1996, Reports of Judgments and Decisions  1996-IV, p. 1170, § 42 and, as a recent authority, Tričković v. Slovenia, no.  39914/98, § 40, 12 June 2001). As regards the case-law cited by the Government, it is not directly relevant to the case at issue as the Finkelberg case concerned tax and not pension matters, whilst Schouten and Meldrum related to the applicability of Article 6 § 1 to disputes over employers’ contributions under social-security schemes, as distinct from entitlement to benefits under such schemes. The Court further observes that when having brought the proceedings against the Agency, the applicant sought the increase in her old-age pension and did not attempt to challenge, as such, any legislative provision. This being so, the Court concludes that the applicant’s dispute was of a pecuniary nature and determined her civil rights within the meaning of Article 6 § 1. It therefore dismisses the Government’s objection.

The Court considers, in the light of the parties’ submissions, that the complaint raises serious issues of fact and law under the Convention, the determination of which requires an examination on the merits. The Court concludes that this complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention, no other grounds for declaring it inadmissible having been established.

2.  The applicant also complained under Articles 6 and 13 of the Convention that the judgment in her favour had remained without execution, that during a fresh examination the first instance court had rejected her claims, that she had been denied access to court in that she had been required to pay a court fee, and that her requests for supervisory review had been refused.

(a) As regards the applicant’ complaint concerning the prolonged non-enforcement of her court award before its annulment, the Court observes that the enforcement proceedings lasted for only two months, and namely from 16 June 2000, when they were instituted, until 16 August 2000, the date on which the applicant’s case was re-opened. Given that the period for which the judgment in the applicant’s favour remained unenforced was rather short, the Court finds that this complaint does not, in itself, disclose any appearance of a violation of the applicant’s right to court, protected by Article 6 of the Convention (see Grishchenko v. Russia (dec.), no. 75907/01, 8 July 2004).

It follows that this part of the application is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.

(b) In so far as the applicant complained about the unsuccessful outcome of a new set of civil proceedings in the first instance court, the Court notes that it has no competence to examine this complaint, since the applicant failed to appeal against the first instance judgment to a higher court.

It follows that this part of the application must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 1, 3 and 4 of the Convention.

(c) To the extent the applicant complained about the unjustified restriction imposed on her right to file an appeal against the judgment of 12 September 2000, the Court recalls that Article 6 does not prevent the State from regulating access to court by, for example, fixing reasonable time-limits or requiring payment of reasonable fees before a case will be considered. In the present case the applicant did not meet the statutory time-limit of 10 days to lodge her appeal and failed to comply with the court’s requirement to pay a court fee of RUR 87.83 (approximately EUR 2.5). It was open to the applicant to provide any plausible explanation as to her alleged inability to respect the said time-limit, and to request the exemption form payment of the fee, but she failed to do so as well. In such circumstances, the Court is satisfied that the refusal of the domestic courts to examine the applicant’s appeal brief was a reasonable and proportionate limitation on her right of access to court.

It follows that this part of the application is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.

(d) As regards the refusal of the applicant’s requests for supervisory review of the judgment of 12 September 2000, the Court reiterates that a party to court proceedings cannot claim a Convention right to extraordinary appellate remedies in the highest domestic court against the final judgment given in his case, in particular in addition to the normal appeals already available before the ordinary courts (see Kopczynski v. Poland (dec.), no. 28863/95, 1 July 1998).

It follows that this part of the application 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 thereof.

For these reasons, the Court unanimously

Declares admissible, without prejudging the merits, the applicant’s complaint concerning the quashing of the final judgment in her favour and the re-opening of her case due to discovery of new circumstances;

Declares inadmissible the remainder of the application.

Søren Nielsen Christos Rozakis 
 Registrar President

KUZNETSOVA v. RUSSIA DECISION


KUZNETSOVA v. RUSSIA DECISION