CASE OF PJONTEKOVÁ AND PETEJOVÁ v. SLOVAKIA (European Court of Human Rights) 52505/20 and 52832/20

The applicants complained of the excessive length of civil proceedings that they had initiated, respectively, on 13 May 1999 and on 26 April 2001 before the Bardejov District Court seeking payment of unjust enrichment. On 10 March 2004 the District Court joined both sets of the proceedings.


FIRST SECTION
CASE OF PJONTEKOVÁ AND PETEJOVÁ v. SLOVAKIA
(Applications nos. 52505/20 and 52832/20 – see appended list)
JUDGMENT
STRASBOURG
23 June 2022

This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Pjonteková and Petejová v. Slovakia,

The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:

Raffaele Sabato, President,
Alena Poláčková,
Davor Derenčinović, judges,
and Viktoriya Maradudina, Acting Deputy Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 2 June 2022,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

PROCEDURE

1. The case originated in applications against Slovakia lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) on the various dates indicated in the appended table.

2. The Slovak Government (“the Government”) were given notice of the applications.

THE FACTS

3. The list of applicants and the relevant details of the applications are set out in the appended table.

4. The applicants complained of the excessive length of civil proceedings that they had initiated, respectively, on 13 May 1999 and on 26 April 2001 before the Bardejov District Court seeking payment of unjust enrichment. On 10 March 2004 the District Court joined both sets of the proceedings.

5. On 23 March 2012 the District Court adopted a judgment and the applicants appealed.

6. The case was transmitted on 25 June 2012 to the Regional Court which on 28 November 2013 returned the case to the District Court without reviewing its merits. On 15 January 2014 the District Court issued a supplementary judgment.

7. Having received the case again on 9 April 2014, the Regional Court quashed the District Court’s judgments and remitted the case for further proceedings on 14 September 2015.

8. On 29 November 2018 the District Court rendered its second judgment on the merits.

9. The applicants lodged a constitutional complaint on 2 December 2019, challenging the length of the proceedings before the District Court (case no. 6 C 57/2009), as well as before the Regional Court (case no. 18 Co 75/2019).

10. On 16 December 2019, following appeals lodged by all parties to the proceedings, the Regional Court upheld the District Court’s judgment regarding the merits and overturned the part concerning the costs of the proceedings.

11. The District Court’s judgment became final on 5 February 2020 in respect of the merits and only the part concerning the costs of the proceedings continued.

12. On 28 April 2020 the Constitutional Court found a violation of the applicants’ right to a trial within a reasonable time in the proceedings before the District Court and awarded each of them 7,000 euros (EUR) in just satisfaction. In this regard the Constitutional Court took into account, inter alia, the overall length of the proceedings, as well as the fact that the applicants had not contributed to it and that at the time of its decision the proceedings concerning the merits had already ended. When assessing the length of the proceedings before the District Court, the Constitutional Court considered also the period during the first two rounds of the appellate proceedings, stating that the overall length of more than 20 years was as such unacceptable. As regards the length of the proceedings before the Regional Court, the Constitutional Court dismissed the applicants’ constitutional complaint as manifestly ill-founded, stating that the applicants had only directed the summary of their constitutional complaint against the length of the “third round” of the appellate proceedings. As these proceedings lasted only 6 months (the Regional Court received the case file on 12 June 2019 and decided on 16 December 2019), the length of those proceedings could not be considered excessive (IV. US 9/2020).

13. On 19 June 2020 the District Court decided on the amount of the costs of the proceedings. All parties lodged a complaint which was decided upon by the District Court on 17 December 2020.

14. The proceedings ended on 3 January 2021, when the latter decision became final.

THE LAW

I. JOINDER OF THE APPLICATIONS

15. Having regard to the similar subject matter of the applications, the Court finds it appropriate to examine them jointly in a single judgment.

II. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION

16. The applicants complained of the entire length of the civil proceedings, arguing that this had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement. They relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

Article 6 § 1

“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations … everyone is entitled to a … hearing within a reasonable time by [a] … tribunal …”

17. The Government submitted that in respect of the first two rounds of the appellate proceedings (see paragraphs 6 and 7 above), the applicants had failed to exhaust the domestic remedies, since they had not challenged those periods in the summary of their constitutional complaint. The Government further submitted that, given the express acknowledgement of the violation of the applicants’ right to a hearing within a reasonable time and the amount of just satisfaction awarded by the Constitutional Court (see paragraph 12 above), the applicants had lost their victim status.

18. The applicants reiterated their previous submissions, emphasising that, given the overall length of the proceedings, the just satisfaction awarded by the Constitutional Court was not sufficient. In respect of the Government’s plea of non-exhaustion they pointed out that, when assessing the length of the proceedings, the Constitutional Court had considered the entire period. Moreover, during the first round of the appellate proceedings, that is between 26 June 2012 and 28 November 2013, the Regional Court had not examined the merits of the case, but merely transmitted the case back to the District Court.

19. As regards the Government’s plea of non-exhaustion, the Court notes that when assessing the length of the proceedings before the District Court, the Constitutional Court also considered, in substance, the periods when the case had been pending before the appellate court during the first and second rounds of the appellate proceedings. Moreover, the Court agrees with the applicants that, during the first round of the appellate proceedings (see paragraph 6 above), the Regional Court had not dealt with the merits of the case. Strictly speaking, this period thus cannot be counted as an examination of the case by a second level of jurisdiction. The Court therefore dismisses the Government’s objection concerning the non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.

20. As for the applicants’ victim status, the Court observes that the applicants were awarded EUR 7,000 each in respect of just satisfaction. While this amount is not insignificant, given the entire length of the proceedings, the fact that they were not particularly complex and that the applicants did not contribute to the overall length, the Court finds that such amount cannot be considered as sufficient according to the Court’s case-law (see Scordino v. Italy (no. 1) [GC], no. 36813/97, §§ 205-06 and 214-15, ECHR 2006‑V). The Court further observes that although at the time of the Constitutional Court’s decision the proceedings were only pending in respect of the costs of the proceedings, the applicants had lodged their constitutional complaint while the proceedings had been pending before the Regional Court which, at that time, had still not adopted any decision. Moreover, according to the domestic law, as long as proceedings are pending the applicant is entitled to complain about their length before the Constitutional Court and may complain repeatedly. The applicants can accordingly still claim to be victims of a breach of the “reasonable time” requirement.

21. 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 Frydlender v. France [GC], no. 30979/96, § 43, ECHR 2000-VII).

22. In the leading case of Obluk v. Slovakia (no. 69484/01, 20 September 2006), the Court has already found a violation in respect of issues similar to those in the present case.

23. Having examined all the material submitted, the Court has not found any fact or argument capable of justifying the overall length of the proceedings at the national level. Having regard to its case-law on the subject, the Court considers that in the instant case the length of the proceedings was excessive and failed to meet the “reasonable time” requirement.

24. These complaints are therefore admissible and disclose a breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

III. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION

25. Article 41 of the Convention provides:

“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”

26. Regard being had to the documents in its possession and to its case‑law (see, in particular, Obluk, cited above), the Court considers it reasonable to award the sums indicated in the appended table.

27. The Court further considers it appropriate that the default interest rate should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.

FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,

1. Decides to join the applications;

2. Declares the applications admissible;

3. Holds that these applications disclose a breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention concerning the excessive length of civil proceedings;

4. Holds

(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicants, within three months, the amounts indicated in the appended table;

(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points.

Done in English, and notified in writing on 23 June 2022, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.

Viktoriya Maradudina                 Raffaele Sabato
Acting Deputy Registrar                  President

______________

APPENDIX

List of applications raising complaints under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention

(excessive length of civil proceedings)

No. Application no.
Date of introduction
Applicant’s name
Year of birth
 
Start of proceedings End of proceedings Total length
Levels of jurisdiction
Domestic court
File number
Domestic award (in euros)
Amount awarded for pecuniary and non‑pecuniary damage per applicant
(in euros)[1]
1. 52505/20
19/11/2020
Gabriela PJONTEKOVÁ
1941
13/05/1999 03/01/2021 21 years, 7 months and 22 days
2 levels of jurisdiction
Constitutional Court
IV. US 9/2020
7,000
9,900
2. 52832/20
24/11/2020
Alžbeta PETEJOVÁ
1935
13/05/1999 03/01/2021 21 years, 7 months and 22 days
2 levels of jurisdiction
Constitutional Court
IV. US 9/2020
7,000
9,900

[1] Plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicants.

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