Even Abogados has defended a foreign manufacturer distributing its products in Spain with a local agent/distributor. The agent/distributor sued our client claiming for the goodwill indemnity foreseen in Article 28 of the Spanish Agency Act. First Instance Court has accepted our arguments basically due to the lack of evidences produced by the plaintiff. Our intention is not to discuss about the burden of proof as general legal principle but to expose some clues in order to better prepare a similar procedure.
Mr “A” and the Manufacturer had a non-written agreement since long time ago. In 2000 the agent/distributor (a company owned by Mr “A”) and the Manufacturer signed a written contract transforming and substituting the old relationship.After a period of more than five years, the Manufacturer gave a previous notice to terminate this contract. The agent/distributor then claimed for a goodwill (clientele) indemnity as a consequence of this termination.
One of the discussion elements (quite frequent) was to determine if we faced an agency or a distribution agreement. The problem in this case was probably more a theoretical tan a real one due to the fact that although goodwill indemnity is expressly foreseen at the Agency Act, it is also admitted by analogy in distribution agreements. The question was, therefore, to justify its applicability. Let’s assume (as in the Court Decision) that it was an agency agreement.Article 28 of the Agency Act (in similar terms to Article 17 of the EC Directive 86/653 of December, 18th) states that an agent is entitled to an indemnity for customers he brought to the principal (the Manufacturer in our case) or with whom significantly increased the volume of business and provided the principal continues to derive substantial benefits and the payment of this indemnity is equitable due to special circumstances. The amount of the indemnity may not exceed the agent’s average annual remuneration over the preceding five years.
Goodwill indemnity benefits the agent but it is also his responsibility to prove to the Court the necessary elements in order to obtain it. In our case, First Instance Court has rejected this indemnity due to the complete absence of evidences of the main elements. The judge has stated clearly the following:
- No invoices related to dues-but-not-paid commissions have been showed during the procedure.
- The plaintiff (the Agent) has not proved to which services these invoices were due, the invoiced company, the commissions’ rate applied, the date from which they were due, if the activity had been correctly ended, if the sales were related to machinery or to spare parts…
- A document called “accounting statement” (estado de cuentas) has been prepared by the plaintiff himself but has expressly been contested by the defendant (the Manufacturer): this does not show his current situation.
- The judge did not accept the goodwill (clientele) indemnity because no invoices attesting the collection of commissions have been presented, or have been produced in foreign languages without translation into Spanish.
- The only references to these invoices made by the accounting expert in his report to the Court are not enough considering that he does not include them in the report.
- The “clients” included in such clientele were not proved neither it was the existing commercial relationship.
- There is a complete lack of evidences concerning the increasing of profits that will still benefit the Manufacturer in the future or receive from possible new clients.
- Concerning the indemnity for the budgets prepared by the agent at the end of the relationship but not still accepted by the Manufacturer these were not proved, including the alleged orders sent by the Manufacturer.
- The previous relationship with the agent (Mr. “A”) has nothing to do with the current situation, nothing is said about the clients presented by him, his contractual relationship was substituted by the agreement with the company, and in case of goodwill indemnity, if applicable, this was to be calculated on the basis of the five previous years without considering the previous relationship.
- The only documents produced by the plaintiff were the signed agreement and a report prepared by an expert but which does not seem to be very trustable considering that the expert modified his conclusions during the trial.
Although the judgement can be appealed before the High Provincial Court (Audiencia Provincial), the facts (and the lack of evidences) were clearly established by the judge at the First Instance Court so the defendant will be in a better position to defend his arguments.