CASE OF RUMINSKI v. SWEDEN
(Application no. 17906/15)
2 May 2017
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Ruminski v. Sweden,
The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Luis López Guerra,
Pere Pastor Vilanova,
Georgios A. Serghides, judges,
Iain Thorburn Cameron, ad hoc judge,
and Stephen Phillips, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 4 April 2017,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 17906/15) against the Kingdom of Sweden lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by Mr Krzysztof Ruminski (“the applicant”), on 10 April 2015. He was represented before the Court by Ms A. Massarsch and later by Mr I. Vita, both lawyers practising in Stockholm.
2. The Swedish Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Ms C. Hellner Kirstein, of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
3. The applicant complained under Article 6 of the Convention that the Court of Appeal did not give adequate reasons for its judgment.
4. Mrs Helena Jäderblom, the judge elected in respect of Sweden, withdrew from the case (Rule 28). Accordingly, Mr Iain Thorburn Cameron was appointed to sit as an ad hoc judge (Article 26 § 4 of the Convention and Rule 29 § 1).
5. On 25 August 2015 the application was communicated to the Government.
A. The circumstances of the case
6. The applicant is a Swedish national born in 1950. He lives in Jordbro.
7. The applicant suffered for many years from, inter alia, pain in his back and legs and numbness in his right arm. He alternated between full and part-time sick leave from 1996 to 2001. In 1999 he received a partial early retirement pension and in 2002 a full disability pension.
8. In 2003 he applied for life annuity and alleged that his physical problems had been caused by his former employment as a driver (1973 to 1974), as a dairy worker (1974 to 1984) and as a food science technician (1984 to 1991). The Social Insurance Office (Försäkringskassan) appointed an in-house specialist in orthopaedic surgery who, in a written statement, concluded that there was not a high degree of probability (hög grad av sannolikhet) that any harmful element in the applicant’s former employment had caused his problems.
9. On 17 May 2005, after having held an oral hearing, the Social Insurance Office rejected the application. Referring to, inter alia, the specialist statement by the insurance doctor, it was held that the applicant had not been subject to any harmful influences which, with a high degree of probability, could have caused or aggravated his problems.
10. The applicant appealed to the County Administrative Court (förvaltningsrätten) of Stockholm. On 19 April 2007 the court, after having held an oral hearing, upheld the Social Insurance Office’s decision in full. The court found that, although it was scientifically known that employees in the food industry had a statistically high risk of injury, the circumstances in the applicant’s case had to be taken into account. The applicant’s back problems had appeared after barely two years in the industry and he suffered from degenerative changes to his back. Against that background, the medical investigation and other material did not adequately support the conclusion that the applicant, in his work, had been subject to any harmful influences which, with a high degree of probability, could have caused or aggravated his problems.
11. Upon further appeal to the Administrative Court of Appeal (kammarrätten) of Stockholm, the applicant submitted, inter alia, a medical statement (epikris) issued in February 2008 by the Centre of Public Health, Occupational and Environmental Medicine (Centrum for folkhälsa, arbets- och miljömedicin). According to the medical statement, there were reasons to believe that the applicant’s work had caused his problems.
12. In a written statement to the appellate court, the Social Insurance Office questioned the conclusions in the medical statement as they were based on information about exposure which was to a high degree uncertain. Furthermore, there were medical records from 1997 in which the applicant was held to be fully able-bodied and in which it was noted that no somatic evidence had been found in support of the applicant’s symptoms.
13. On 17 March 2008, the Administrative Court of Appeal granted leave to appeal. The applicant requested an oral hearing in the case but, on 5 September 2008, the court rejected the request. It referred to the nature of the case and to the fact that an oral hearing had been held before the County Administrative Court. The applicant was given the opportunity to submit further observations.
14. In a judgment of 27 October 2008, the Administrative Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s judgment in full. It first gave an account of the parties’ submissions and the evidence relied upon, including the medical statement of February 2008, and then stated the following reasons:
“The medical and other evidence in the case does not demonstrate that the applicant has been exposed to any such harmful influences in his work which could, with a high degree of probability, have caused his problems. His back-related and other problems can thus - as has been found also by the County Administrative Court and the Social Insurance Office - not be defined as a work-related injury. [The applicant] is therefore not entitled to life annuity according to the [Work Injury Insurance Act]. The appeal must consequently be rejected.”
15. The applicant appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court (Högsta förvaltningsdomstolen). He complained of the lack of reasoning in the Administrative Court of Appeal’s judgment and argued that that court’s refusal to hold an oral hearing had infringed his right to a fair trial within the meaning of Article 6 of the Convention.
16. On 4 August 2009, the Supreme Administrative Court refused leave to appeal.
17. On 3 February 2010 the applicant lodged an application with the Court, complaining that his right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the Convention had been infringed because the Administrative Court of Appeal had refused to hold an oral hearing and its judgment had not been sufficiently reasoned.
18. This application was declared inadmissible by the Court on 21 May 2013 for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies. The Court found that the applicant had failed to lodge a claim with the Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern) or the ordinary courts to seek compensation for the alleged breaches of the Convention (Ruminski v. Sweden (dec.), no. 10404/10, 21 May 2013).
19. Consequently, on 30 December 2013, the applicant lodged a claim for compensation for the alleged breaches of the Convention with the Chancellor of Justice. He argued that the Administrative Court of Appeal’s lack of reasoning, as well as its refusal to hold an oral hearing, had infringed his right to a fair trial within the meaning of Article 6 of the Convention. He requested 50,000 Swedish kronor (SEK) for non-pecuniary damage.
20. The Chancellor of Justice communicated the case to the Administrative Court of Appeal which submitted that its handling of the case had been in accordance with domestic law as well as the Convention. In response, the applicant maintained, and developed the grounds for, his claim.
21. On 15 January 2015 the Chancellor of Justice rejected the applicant’s claim. As concerns the lack of an oral hearing, the Chancellor of Justice noted that the Social Insurance Office and the County Administrative Court had held an oral hearing and consequently, in accordance with the Court’s case-law, a less strict standard applied to the requirement to hold a hearing before the appellate court. Thus, in view of the character of the case and the fact that the applicant had been given the opportunity to finalise his submissions in writing and the court had had access to substantial written evidence, the Chancellor of Justice concluded that there had been no breach of the Convention in this respect.
22. As concerns the Administrative Court of Appeal’s alleged lack of reasoning, the Chancellor of Justice referred extensively to the Court’s case law on this matter and then made the following evaluation. The Administrative Court of Appeal had, in its judgment, accounted for the applicant’s arguments and the new evidence he had submitted before it. It had further accounted for the considerations and conclusions drawn from the evidence submitted by the parties, namely, that the investigation in the case did not demonstrate that the applicant had been exposed to any such harmful influences in his work which, with a high degree of probability, could have caused his problems. Thus, the Chancellor of Justice found that the Administrative Court of Appeal had taken a stance on the central and decisive question in the case, that is, whether the applicant had been exposed to harmful influences in his work. While the Chancellor noted that it would have been preferable, for pedagogical reasons, for the court to have given clearer grounds for why the applicant’s evidence had not been sufficient, she concluded that the reasoning was not so deficient that the applicant’s right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the Convention had been infringed.
B. Relevant domestic law and practice
23. At the relevant time, provisions on work injuries were set out in the Work Injury Insurance Act (Lag (1976:380) om arbetsskadeförsäkring), which covered all people working in Sweden. A person whose ability to earn an income had been impaired due to a work-related injury was in some specified situations eligible for life annuity (Chapter 4, section 1). The term “work-related injury” referred to injuries resulting from accidents or other harmful effects at work. “Other harmful effect” meant the influence of a factor that with a high degree of probability might cause the kind of injury suffered (Chapter 2, section 1(1)). If an insured person had suffered an accident or another harmful effect, the injury was to be considered to have been caused by the harmful effect, if that causal link was highly probable (Chapter 2, section 2). The standard of proof was somewhat mitigated on 1 July 2002, but that amendment did not apply to the applicant’s case.
24. The administration of justice before the administrative courts is regulated by the Administrative Court Procedure Act (Förvaltningsprocesslagen, 1971:291). According to section 30 of the Act, the determination of a case by a court must be based on what is contained in the documents and what has otherwise been established in the case. The decision must state the reasons that determined the outcome.
ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 OF THE CONVENTION
25. The applicant complained that the Administrative Court of Appeal had failed to give adequate reasons for its judgment, in breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. In so far as relevant, this provision reads:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ... everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing ... by [a] ... tribunal ...”
26. The Government contested the applicant’s argument.
27. The Court notes that the applicant’s complaint 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.
1. The parties’ submissions
28. The applicant argued that as he had submitted new, highly relevant evidence in his appeal to the Administrative Court of Appeal, the court could not simply endorse the lower court’s judgment without making an explicit assessment of the new evidence. The failure to comment on the new evidence must also be considered together with the fact that the applicant had been denied an oral hearing before the appellate court, where he would have had the opportunity to pose questions to the relevant medical specialists. By not giving more detailed reasons, the court had impeded his possibility to make an effective appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court.
29. The Government submitted that the applicant had had the opportunity to rely on both written and oral evidence before the Social Insurance Office and the County Administrative Court. Moreover, the appellate court had given an account of the new evidence presented by the applicant and the judgment of the lower court was appended to the appellate court’s judgment, thus indicating that the latter court had nothing to add in all essential respects. They also emphasised that the County Administrative Court had given a detailed description of the case and clear reasons for its findings and, consequently, the appellate court had not endorsed inadequate reasoning by referring to the lower court’s judgment. Furthermore, the Government submitted that the applicant had not been hindered in making an effective appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court, which was evident from his extensive legal argumentation in his appeal to that court. Thus, the case revealed no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
2. The Court’s examination
30. According to the Court’s established case-law, reflecting a principle linked to the proper administration of justice, judgments of courts and tribunals should adequately state the reasons on which they are based. The extent to which this duty to give reasons applies may vary according to the nature of the decision and must be determined in the light of the circumstances of the case. Although Article 6 § 1 obliges courts to give reasons for their decisions, it cannot be understood as requiring a detailed answer to every argument. Thus, in dismissing an appeal, an appellate court may, in principle, simply endorse the reasons for the lower court’s decision (see García Ruiz v. Spain [GC], no. 30544/96, § 26, ECHR 1999-I, and N.A. v. Norway, no. 27473/11, § 61, 18 December 2014). However, the notion of a fair procedure requires that an appellate court which has given sparse reasons for its decisions, whether by incorporating the reasons of a lower court or otherwise, did in fact address the essential issues which were submitted to its jurisdiction and did not merely endorse without further ado the findings reached by a lower court. This requirement is all the more important where a litigant has not been able to present his or her case orally in the domestic proceedings (see Helle v. Finland, 19 December 1997, § 60, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1997-VIII, and Hansen v. Norway, no. 15319/09, § 60, 2 October 2014).
31. From the outset the Court emphasises that its review in this matter is not concerned with whether the decisions reached by the domestic courts were correct and compatible with domestic law (see Deryan v. Turkey, no. 41721/04, § 34, 21 July 2015).
32. Moreover, the Court notes that the applicant had the benefit of adversarial proceedings. At the various stages of the proceedings he was able to submit the arguments he considered relevant to his case and an oral hearing was held both before the Social Insurance Office and the County Administrative Court. The factual and legal reasons of the lower court’s judgment were also set out at length. Although the applicant was denied an oral hearing before the Administrative Court of Appeal, the Court sees no reason to question the finding of the Chancellor of Justice that the applicant’s fair trial guarantees had not been infringed because of that decision (see paragraph 21 above). The Court further observes that, in its judgment, the appellate court endorsed the statement of the facts and the legal reasoning set out in the lower court’s judgment. The new evidence presented by the applicant and the arguments submitted by the parties were also explicitly set out by the appellate court. It is therefore not the case that the Administrative Court of Appeal ignored the applicant’s submissions altogether (compare Bochan v. Ukraine, no. 7577/02, § 84, 3 May 2007). Accordingly, the reasons given by the Administrative Court of Appeal must be taken to relate, by implication, to those submissions as well as to the conclusions of the lower courts.
33. The Court emphasises that the function of a reasoned judgment is to afford the parties the possibility of an effective appeal and to show to the parties that they have been heard. By confirming the County Administrative Court’s judgment and appending it to its own, the Administrative Court of Appeal demonstrated to the parties that it agreed with the lower court’s reasoning and that the new evidence before it did not alter its conclusion - as it also expressly stated in its own reasoning. Consequently, whilst the appellate court’s reasons were certainly succinct, the Court finds that the judgment was sufficiently clear and did not hinder the applicant’s effective appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court (see Klemeco Nord AB v. Sweden, no. 73841/01, § 42, 19 December 2006).
34. The foregoing considerations are sufficient to enable the Court to conclude that, taken as a whole, the proceedings before the Administrative Court of Appeal were fair for the purposes of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
35. There has accordingly been no violation of Article 6 of the Convention.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT
1. Declares, unanimously, the application admissible;
2. Holds, by six votes to one, that there has been no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 2 May 2017, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Stephen Phillips Branko
In accordance with Article 45 § 2 of the Convention and Rule 74 § 2 of the Rules of Court, the separate opinion of Judge Dedov is annexed to this judgment.
DISSENTING OPINION OF JUDGE DEDOV
I regret that I cannot agree with the majority that there has been no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. Unfortunately, the reasoning of the Court’s judgment and the reasoning of the domestic courts are too general and not clear enough to enable me to make a judgment based on full information about the present case. The Court limited itself to stating in paragraph 33 that “the Administrative Court of Appeal demonstrated to the parties that it agreed with the lower court’s reasoning and that the new evidence before it did not alter its conclusion”.
However, the domestic courts expressed different opinions on the circumstances that would exclude the applicant from entitlement to the life annuity. According to the County Administrative Court, the case material “did not adequately support the conclusion that the applicant, in his work, had been subject to any harmful influences which, with a high degree of probability, could have caused or aggravated his problems” (see paragraph 10 of the judgment). As I understand this statement, the standard for the establishment of a causal link is not very high (a probability criterion is allowed, and the problems may be either caused or aggravated by harmful effects at work). However, as it appears from the present judgment, the national courts did not provide any explanation as to the nature of the applicant’s back pain and his other health problems; furthermore, they did not conduct any analysis of his working conditions and their potentially harmful consequences. It is not explained whether the existing diseases were caused by any alternative factors and what the usual harmful effects attributable to a particular kind of activity are.
It is well known that driving and lifting (as explained in the applicant’s submissions) may cause various problems with the back. Those problems are usually recognised as occupational diseases linked to these types of activity. Moreover, the authorities did not take into account the fact that the applicant is a disabled person. In general, I must admit that the applicant produced an arguable claim, so that the authorities should have provided him with a detailed examination of each element of the causal link to be established. However, in spite of the additional expert opinion, the appeal court, surprisingly, came to an even more far-reaching conclusion, and was even more confident that the applicant’s back-related and other problems could not be defined as a work-related injury (see paragraph 14 of the judgment).
The absence of any explanation as to why the domestic authorities came to the above conclusions prevented me from joining the majority in the present case. According to the established case-law, reflecting a principle linked to the proper administration of justice, judgments of courts and tribunals should adequately state the reasons on which they are based (see Garcia Ruíz v. Spain [GC], no. 30544/96, § 26, ECHR 1999-I).