AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
by Totka and Angel TRIFONOVI
The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), sitting on 7 July 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska, judges,
and Stephen Phillips, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 23 June 2005,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicants, Mrs Totka Simeonova Trifonova and Mr Angel Georgiev Trifonov, are Bulgarian nationals who were born in 1932 and 1928 respectively and live in Plovdiv. They are represented before the Court by Mr M. Ekimdzhiev and Mrs K. Boncheva, lawyers practising in Plovdiv.
A. The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicants, may be summarised as follows.
In 1988 Mr G.B., the first applicant’s uncle, bought from the Plovdiv municipality a plot of land with a two-storey house which had become State property by virtue of the nationalisations carried out by communist regime in Bulgaria after 1947. After the nationalisation the building had been used for administrative purposes.
In 1991 Mr G.B. conveyed the property to the applicants who renovated the existing house and constructed an additional building and a garage on the plot.
1. Proceedings under section 7 of the Restitution Law
In 1992, following the adoption of the Restitution Law, the heirs of the former pre-nationalisation owner of the property brought an action against Mr G.B. under section 7 of that law. In 1995 Mr G.B. died and the first applicant joined the proceedings as his heir.
The proceedings ended by a final judgment of the Supreme Court of Cassation of 29 December 1998. The courts declared the contract whereby Mr G.B. had purchased the property null and void finding, inter alia, that the property had been acquired through abuse of power and that it had exceeded the relevant size limits, as regulated by law on the basis of housing needs.
2. Rei vindicatio proceedings
On 18 August 1997 the former owners of the property brought a rei vindicatio action against the first applicant.
On 16 March 1999 the proceedings were stayed on request by the first applicant to await the outcome of the proceedings initiated by her and her husband concerning the property of the new buildings on the plot (see below).
After those proceedings ended, on 26 January 2005 the rei vindicatio proceedings were resumed. On 6 November 2006 the Plovdiv District Court allowed the action and ordered the first applicant to vacate the property.
The first applicant filed an appeal. As of the date of the applicants’ latest communication of November 2008, the proceedings were still pending before the Plovdiv Regional Court.
3. Proceedings concerning the property of the new buildings
On 15 February 1999 the applicants brought an action seeking a declaratory judgment to the effect that they had remained the owners of the buildings they had constructed after 1991.
The case was examined by three levels of court. The proceedings ended by a final judgment of the Supreme Court of Cassation of 3 November 2004. The courts dismissed the applicants’ claim finding that they had never had a valid title to the plot and could not, therefore, acquire ownership of the buildings they had constructed.
4. Proceedings against the Plovdiv municipality and the Ministry of Finance
On an unspecified date in 1998 the first applicant filed an action against the Plovdiv municipality and the Ministry of Finance seeking to recover the price her uncle had paid for the plot and the house in 1988.
On 1 June 1999 the Plovdiv Regional Court rejected the claim and on 20 January 2002 the Plovdiv Court of Appeal affirmed. On 19 December 2000 the Supreme Court of Cassation quashed the Court of Appeal’s judgment and remitted the case, finding that there had been a breach of procedural rules.
On 8 February 2002 the Plovdiv Court of Appeal upheld once again the Regional Court’s judgment of 1 June 1999. Upon appeal by the first applicant, on 30 July 2002 the Supreme Court of Cassation quashed this judgment and remitted the case once again.
In judgments of 21 March 2003 and 13 December 2005 the Plovdiv Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Cassation allowed partially the first applicant’s claim. She was awarded the equivalent of approximately EUR 8,000.
B. Relevant background facts, domestic law and practice
The relevant background facts, domestic law and practice in respect of the restitution of formerly nationalised property have been summarised in the Court’s judgment in the case of Velikovi and Others v. Bulgaria, nos. 43278/98, 45437/99, 48014/99, 48380/99, 51362/99, 53367/99, 60036/00, 73465/01, and 194/02, 15 March 2007.
A. Complaints of the length of the rei vindicatio proceedings and the proceedings against the municipality and the Ministry of Finance and of the lack of effective remedies in that regard
The first applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that the rei vindicatio proceedings (from 1997 to the present) and the proceedings against the Plovdiv municipality and the Ministry of Finance (from 1998 to 2005) had been excessively lengthy. Under Article 13 of the Convention, she complained that she did not have effective remedies in that respect.
Article 6 § 1 reads, in so far as relevant:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ... everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal ...”
Article 13 reads:
“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in [the] Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”
The Court considers that it cannot, on the basis of the case file, determine the admissibility of these complaints and that it is therefore necessary, in accordance with Rule 54 § 2 (b) of the Rules of Court, to give notice of this part of the application to the respondent Government.
B. The remainder of the applicants’ complaints
The Court has examined the remainder of the two applicants’ complaints as submitted by them. However, in the light of all the material in its possession, and in so far as the matters complained of are within its competence, the Court finds that they do not disclose any appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention or its Protocols.
It follows that this part of the application must be rejected as being manifestly ill-founded, pursuant to Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Decides to adjourn the examination of the first applicant’s complaints concerning the length of the rei vindicatio proceedings and the proceedings against the Plovdiv municipality and the Ministry of Finance and the alleged lack of effective remedies in that respect;
Declares the remainder of the application inadmissible.
Stephen Phillips Peer Lorenzen
Deputy Registrar President