CASE OF MESTER AND OTHERS v. HUNGARY
(Application no. 58689/11)
17 March 2015
This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Mester and Others v. Hungary,
The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:
Robert Spano, judges,
and Abel Campos, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 17 February 2015,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 58689/11) against Hungary lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by four Hungarian nationals, Messrs Zoltán Mester and Zoltán Gőgös, Ms Judit Zimay and Ms Dóra Hegedűs (“the applicants”), on 14 September 2011.
2. The applicants were represented by Mr Cs. Tordai, a lawyer practising in Budapest. The Hungarian Government (“the Government”) were represented by Mr Z. Tallódi, Agent, Ministry of Public Administration and Justice.
3. The applicants complained that the imposition of 98% tax on part of their severance payments was contrary to Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 and several provisions of the Convention.
4. On 6 June 2014 the complaints concerning the alleged infringement of the applicants’ right to property was communicated to the Government and the remainder of the applications was declared inadmissible.
5. On 27 June and 10 July 2014 the Court received friendly settlement declarations signed by Mr Mester, Mr Gőgös and Ms Hegedűs on the one hand and by the Government on the other hand, under which these applicants agreed to waive any further claims against Hungary in respect of the facts giving rise to their applications against an undertaking by the Government to pay them respectively EUR 6,100 (six thousand one hundred euros), EUR 17,500 (seventeen thousand five hundred euros) and EUR 8,800 (eight thousand eight hundred euros) to cover any pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage as well as costs and expenses, which will be converted into Hungarian forints at the rate applicable on the date of payment, and will be free of any taxes that may be applicable. It will be payable within three months from the date of notification of the decision taken by the Court. In the event of failure to pay this sum within the said three-month period, the Government undertook to pay simple interest on it, from the expiry of that period until settlement, at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points. The payment will constitute the final resolution of these cases.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
6. The applicants were born in 1966, 1960, 1953, 1980 and live in Budapest, Pápa, Budapest and Répcelak, respectively.
7. From 2008 Mr Mester was employed as a civil servant in a government ministry. His employment was terminated in 2010. His former employer paid him, after payroll burdens, a net amount of 2,500,000 Hungarian forints (HUF) (approximately 7,800 euros (EUR)), including payment for unused annual leave and an additional three months’ salary.
8. Mr Gőgös was employed in a government ministry from 2006 as a civil servant. Following the termination of his employment in 2010, his former employer paid him severance payment in the net amount of HUF 5,200,000 (EUR 16,300) corresponding to six months’ salary and payment for unused annual leave.
9. From 2005 Ms Zimay was employed by a State-owned company. Her employment was terminated by mutual agreement in January 2010. Under this agreement, the employer paid her a gross amount of HUF 25,900,000 (EUR 81,200), including payment for unused annual leave and an additional eight months’ salary. The severance payment was subject to payroll burdens in the amount of HUF 12,400,000 (EUR 38,900).
10. From 2003 Ms Hegedűs was employed as a civil servant in various government ministries. Following the termination of her employment in 2010, her former employer paid her severance payment in the net amount of HUF 3,100,000 (EUR 9,700) after deduction of payroll burdens.
11. Under new legislation (see paragraph 12 below) the severance payments were subsequently taxed at a 98% rate in their part exceeding HUF 3.5 million; the income tax and social security contributions already paid were deducted from the tax payable. Thus, Mr Mester paid additional tax in the amount of HUF 1,400,000 (EUR 4,400), Mr Gőgös in the amount of HUF 4,000,000 (EUR 1,300), Ms Zimay in the amount of HUF 11,100,000 (EUR 34,900) and Ms Hegedűs in the amount of HUF 2,000,000 (EUR 6,300).
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
12. For relevant domestic law, see the judgments N.K.M. v. Hungary (no. 66529/11, §§ 8-19, 14 May 2013); Gáll v. Hungary (no. 49570/11, §§ 8-18, 25 June 2013) and R.Sz. v. Hungary (no. 41838/11, §§ 8-17, 2 July 2013).
I. FRIENDLY SETTLEMENTS IN THE CASES OF MR MESTER, MR GŐGÖS AND MS HEGEDŰS
13. The Court takes note of the friendly settlement reached between these applicants and the Government. It is satisfied that these settlements are based on respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and its Protocols and finds no reasons to justify a continued examination of the application. In view of the above, it is appropriate to strike the case out of the list in regard to these applicants.
II. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 1 OF PROTOCOL No. 1 OF THE CONVENTION IN REGARD TO MS ZIMAY
14. Ms Zimay complained about the imposition of 98% tax on part of her remuneration due on termination of her employments. She relied on Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.
The Government contested that argument.
15. The Court notes that the application in regard to Ms Zimay is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
16. The Court observes that virtually identical circumstances gave rise to a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 in the case of R.Sz. v. Hungary (no. 41838/11, §§ 54-62, 2 July 2013) and is satisfied that there is no reason to hold otherwise in the present case.
It follows that there has been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.
17. Relying on Article 41 of the Convention, Ms Zimay claimed the net value of the difference between what was levied on her severance payment and what would have been imposed on her in income tax without the special tax.
18. The Government contested this claim.
19. On the basis of equity, the Court awards Ms Zimay EUR 34,400 in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage combined.
20. She also claimed EUR 3,000, jointly with the other applicants, for the costs and expenses incurred before the Court.
21. The Government contested these claims.
22. Regard being had to the documents in its possession and to its case-law, the Court considers it reasonable to award Ms Zimay EUR 1,000 under this head.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
1. Decides to strike the application out of its list of cases in accordance with Article 39 of the Convention in regard to Mr Mester, Mr Gőgös and Ms Hegedűs;
2. Declares admissible the application in regard to Ms Zimay;
3. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention in regard to Ms Zimay;
(a) that the respondent State is to pay Ms Zimay, within three months, the following amounts, to be converted into the currency of the respondent State:
(i) EUR 34,400 (thirty-four thousand four hundred euros) plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage combined;
(ii) EUR 1,000 (one thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable to Ms Zimay, in respect of costs and expenses;
(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;
5. Dismisses the remainder of Ms Zimay’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 17 March 2015, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Abel Campos Helen Keller
Deputy Registrar President