Renovation of lycées in the 1990s: the Conseil d'Etat confirms that the Ile-de-France region brought the case before the courts in due time

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On the grounds of prescription, several public works companies had appealed to the Conseil d'Etat against the ruling that ordered them to compensate the Ile-de-France region for anti-competitive practices involved in the renovation of lycées (high schools) between 1988 and 1997. Today, the Conseil d'Etat found that the legal proceedings against these companies had been initiated in due time. The limitation period only began in 2007, when the new Regional leaders - who had not participated in the fraud - became aware of the extent of the anti-competitive practices.

In 1988, the Ile-de-France region launched a programme to renovate and rebuild the lycées under its responsibility. 241 public contracts, including 101 contracts with public works companies, were signed between 1988 and 1997, for a total cost of 23.3 billion francs or over 3.5 billion euros. In 2007, the French competition regulator (Conseil de la concurrence) imposed financial penalties on several of these public works companies for anti-competitive agreements1 , after the courts had recognised the personal culpability of elected officials and political figures in the Ile-de-France region in the awarding of these contracts2.

From 2010 onwards, the new leaders of the Ile-de-France region brought a civil and then an administrative action to obtain compensation for the material damage it had suffered as a result of these anti-competitive practices. In 2021, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Paris issued two rulings on the Region's application to order the companies involved in the renovation of the Lycée Saint-Louis in Paris and the Lycée Vilgénis in Massy to pay it €6 million and €5 million respectively in damages3. After the court found that this claim was not time-barred and ordered an expert appraisal to assess the harm suffered by the Region, the companies in question appealed to the Conseil d’État against the court's decisions.

Today, the Conseil d’État confirmed the court's analysis of the statute of limitations. When the governing bodies of a public entity have participated in the anti-competitive practices of which it has been the victim, so that it has not been able to assert its rights to compensation because of their involvement, prescription can only begin when new governing bodies, which are not involved in the disputed practices, acquire sufficiently certain knowledge of the extent of these practices. In this case, the Region could not assert its rights earlier as its leaders at the time had themselves taken part in the fraud and the extent of the practices was not known before the Conseil de la concurrence's decision in 2007. This is why the referral to the courts in 2010 was indeed made within the required period.

On these grounds, the Conseil d'Etat rejected the claims of the companies concerned.

 

Read the decisions Nos. 451710 et seq. and 451817 et seq. (in French)

 

1 Decision of 9 May 2007 of the Conseil de la concurrence. Information about 90 of these contracts had already been referred to the regulator as early as 1996. The Conseil de la concurrence was renamed the Autorité de la concurrence in 2009.

2 Judgement of 27 February 2007 by the Paris Court of Appeal

3 Two Judgements of 19 February 2021 by the Administrative Court of Appeal of Paris