Turkish Constitutional Court with its decision with application number 2019/12190, published in the Official Gazette on 20.04.2022, ruled that court decisions on dismissal of unquantified debt lawsuits on procedural grounds violates right to access to court.
Background of Legal Dispute
In Turkish procedural law, pursuant to Article 107 of the Code of Civil Procedure No. 6100, unquantified debt lawsuits can only be filed in cases where the plaintiff cannot be expected to determine the debt amount, or where the debt amount is not determinable at all. If the plaintiff files an unquantified debt lawsuit for a determinable debt, the courts reject the case on the grounds that the plaintiff has no legal interest in filing this lawsuit [for instance, HGK. E. 2016/482 K. 2018/1047 T. 9.5.2018; HGK. E. 2015/2551 K. 2018/1022 T. 9.5.2018].
In the dispute at hand, the plaintiff, who is a municipality worker, filed a lawsuit for unquantified debt against the municipality before court of first instance for the short payment of wages and bonuses arising from the collective labour agreement. Court of first instance accepted the case, and the decision was appealed. In appellate level, the 22nd Civil Chamber of the Court of Cassation stated that remaining receivables can be calculated as per the collective labour agreement, therefore, the subject of the lawsuit is indeed determinable, and these claims cannot be subject of an unquantified debt lawsuit. Then, the court of first instance complied with the reasoning of the Court of Cassation and dismissed the case on procedural grounds, and thereafter, the Court of Cassation affirmed the decision. In response, the plaintiff filed individual application before the Constitutional Court.
Summary of Constitutional Court’s Decision
Firstly, the Constitutional Court noted that it was not its responsibility to dispute whether the Court of Cassation’s ruling was correct from civil procedural law perspective, and rather it would only assess whether the right of access to a court had been violated.
Subsequently, dismissal on procedural grounds’ decision would be regarded a suitable instrument if a lawsuit had been initiated through an incorrect procedure, to achieve the most effective litigation. According to the Constitutional Court, however, issuing a decision regarding dismissal on procedural grounds is not a tool that affects the applicant’s rights at a minimum level, but rather a heavy intervention. The Constitutional Court emphasized at this point that the judge is vested with broad powers and accordingly, has the right to clarify ambiguous issues.
As a result, the Constitutional Court ruled that dismissal on procedural grounds’ decision is not the last resort for a lawsuit filed through an incorrect procedure, and that choosing a method that makes access to the court impossible rather than opting for a less intrusive intervention tool violates the right to access the court.
It will be a matter of curiosity whether the tool of unquantified debt lawsuit will be abused following the Constitutional Court’s judgment.
By Baris Ulker, Senior Associate, and M.R. Cafer Koc, Legal Intern, Guleryuz & Partners