Case law

  • Case Details
    • National ID: SN T I CK 162/04
    • Member State: Poland
    • Common Name:Katarzyna and Wiesław B. v Bank Handlowy w W. S.A.
    • Decision type: Other
    • Decision date: 06/10/2004
    • Court: Sąd Najwyższy (Supreme court)
    • Subject:
    • Plaintiff:
    • Defendant:
    • Keywords:
  • Directive Articles
    Unfair Contract Terms Directive, Article 2 Unfair Contract Terms Directive, Article 3, 1. Unfair Contract Terms Directive, Article 3, 2. Unfair Contract Terms Directive, Article 3, 3.
  • Headnote
    The clause in the ‘banking rules’ of a bank specifying that a contract for a bank account would be concluded after it has been approved and signed by the bank, in spite of the fact that the contract was already signed by both parties and it is clear from its contents that it has been concluded upon signing, is a prohibited contractual clause.
    The Court held that the clause which allows the bank to assess the financial position of the customer (including obtaining information from the employer) after signing the contract infringes the financial and personal interests of consumers.
    The Supreme Court seems to have intended to protect the legitimate expectations of the customers of the bank in this judgement, while also stressing that the bank should retain the right to examine every application for a bank account and refuse it if it is necessary.
  • Facts
    This is a case of a discrepancy between the contract which the customers of the bank signed when opening a bank account and the 'banking rules' of the same bank; while the contract gave the customers the impression that the contract for a bank account was being concluded when they signed it, the 'rules' stipulated that this did not happen until the bank approved the contract. In fact, the claimants were an unemployed couple and the bank refused to approve the account. The claimants maintained that this created a situation of uncertainty whereby they did not actually know when the contract was being concluded. Their claim was rejected by the District Court in Warsaw (Anti-Monopoly Court, now known as the Court for the Protection of Competition and Consumers), but the Court of Appeal in Warsaw allowed the appeal. The Bank brought a Cassation to the Supreme Court. The Cassation was rejected, but the Supreme Court referred the case back to the Court of Appeal because the latter Court did not precisely describe the clause which it held prohibited
  • Legal issue
    The Supreme Court stressed that the situation in which the customers applied and signed the contract for a bank account was misleading. After having filled in the application form and signed the contract on which mechanically copied signatures of the representatives of the bank were also present, the customers clearly expected that the contract be concluded. However, according to the 'banking rules', the contract was actually concluded after the bank representatives considered the application, determined the number of the account and signed the contract again.
    The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal that the contract signed by the customers and the 'banking rules' ought to be considered together in order to determine the exact contents of the contract between the bank and the customers. The clauses under scrutiny were: paragraph 1 of the contract stating that 'the parties are hereby concluding the contract for a bank account', and paragraph 1 of the 'banking rules' stipulating the later moment of conclusion of the contract as specified above (clear discrepancy between the two). In this situation, in spite of the fact that paragraph 1 of the 'banking rules', if taken on its own, was not a prohibited contractual clause, taken together with paragraph 1 of the contract it was held to constitute such a clause in the understanding of Article 385.1 of the Civil Code.
    Considering Article 66 para 1 of the Civil Code (whoever made an offer and specified the time period during which he would be awaiting an answer, is bound by the offer until the time period passes) the Supreme Court held that the customers' conviction that the contract was concluded at the time they signed it was legitimate, especially taking into account the text of the contract. According to the Court, the discrepancy between the two clauses introduced uncertainty about the legal position of the customer as regards the most crucial matter - the question whether the contract was in fact concluded (and when) or not (and therefore whether the signing of it by the customer had no legal significance). Such uncertainty, held the Court, gave rise to serious consequences: it breached mutual confidence and the principle of equality of contractual parties. Such a situation was held to have been contrary to the requirement of good faith and to significantly infringe consumer interests. Thus paragraph 1 of the 'banking rules' was held to be a prohibited clause. The Court suggested that while the bank was entitled to conduct the necessary checks before signing a contract for a bank account with a customer, it could not require the customer to sign the contract before such checks were conducted. The bank could not therefore remain entitled to arbitrarily take a decision ex post whether such a signed contract ought to be binding or not.
    The Bank argued that the Court of Appeal breached Article 385.3 because it has not referred to any specific clause mentioned in the list contained in this provision. The Supreme Court, however, stated that the list in Article 385.3 was not exhaustive. Although paragraph 1 of the 'banking rules' could not be linked to any particular clause mentioned there (and thus there was no possibility of referring to any such clause), in the opinion of the Supreme Court it was sufficient to simply describe the reasons why the clause was prohibited.
    The Supreme Court stressed that the Court of Appeal did not precisely quote the prohibited clause in its entirety - thus rendering its judgement difficult to understand. The case was therefore referred back to the Court of Appeal for remedying this situation.
  • Decision

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