Nature des relations clinique/laboratoire : « commerciale » ou non ?

FlickR - Creative Commons - PARIS - Le palais de justice. Au premier plan, la Cour de Cassation. par Gérard d'AlboyLes cliniques entretiennent-elles des relations « commerciales » avec les laboratoires d’analyses de biologie médicale avec lesquels elles fonctionnent traditionnellement ? C’est la question qui a été posée à la Chambre commerciale de la Cour de cassation.

Par arrêt du 22 janvier 2009 ((Cass. Com., 22 janvier 2009, n° 07-21.233, M. Touya c/ M. Capet.)), les juges du Quai de l’Horloge ont répondu par la négative.

Il s’agit en l’espèce d’une classique rupture contractuelle entre deux partenaires qui se connaissent manifestement de longue date. L’histoire pourrait passer pour banale si elle n’opposait pas des parties qui en principe n’exercent pas le commerce dès lors qu’il s’agit de deux médecins, l’un et l’autre étant soumis à un code de déontologie. Le premier détient une clinique. Le second un laboratoire d’analyses. Après 14 années de relations sans encombres – semble-t-il -, le biologiste exploitant le laboratoire a fait assigner le chirurgien propriétaire de la clinique, en réparation du préjudice causé par la rupture brutale des relations contractuelles ayant existé entre eux.

Le laboratoire a cherché à bénéficier des dispositions de l’article L.442-6, I, 5° du code de commerce qui protège le contractant dont le partenaire a brutalement rompu des relations commerciales établies, sans observer un préavis écrit tenant compte de la durée de la relation commerciale, en engageant la responsabilité du cocontractant indélicat. Il s’agit d’un texte aux enjeux pratiques considérables, dont l’ampleur et le champ d’application ont été progressivement façonnés par la jurisprudence relative en particulier au droit des contrats d’affaires.

La cour d’appel et la Cour de cassation ont parlé comme un seul homme en jugeant que l’article précité était inapplicable aux faits de l’espèce.

L’attendu principal est rédigé de la manière suivante :

« Qu’ayant relevé que, s’agissant d’une décision venant affecter des relations professionnelles établies depuis près de quatorze ans, et alors que cette collaboration procurait au laboratoire [d’analyses médicales] de M. X. un chiffre d’affaires moyen de l’ordre de 80.000 euros les dernières années, M. Y ne justifiait pas avoir assuré le suivi de la mise en relation de M. X avec la société Clinique Saint-Étienne ni avoir fait nécessairement entrer la question dans le champ des conditions de la négociation, qu’il était passé outre et avait réalisé néanmoins la cession des lits dans des conditions s’accompagnant pour M. X d’une rupture immédiate sans contrepartie, les juges d’appel ont pu retenir que M. Y avait ainsi fait dégénérer en abus son droit de résiliation. »

Cette décision est d’autant plus importante que, après avoir pris soin de préciser que, pour en ouvrir le bénéfice à une entreprise exerçant sous forme d’association, « l’article L.442-6, I, 5° du code de commerce peut être mis en œuvre quel que soit le statut juridique de la victime du comportement incriminé » ((Cass. Com. 6 févr. 2007, RTD. Civ. 2007, p. 343 ; D. 2007, 1317, note A. Cathiard.)), la Cour de cassation a préféré insister sur l’exigence du caractère commercial de la relation établie. C’est fort justement que le Professeur Fages ((B. Fages, Entretenir ou non une relation commerciale, RTD.Civ. 2008, p. 105.)) analyse la décision en ces termes :

« […] elle (la Cour de cassation) coupe court à une interprétation extensive du domaine d’application de ce texte qui aurait voulu que l’on assimile la relation commerciale à la relation économique et la relation économique à la relation contractuelle. En remontant le fil, l’article L.442-6, I, 5° serait ainsi devenu applicable à la rupture de toutes les relations contractuelles, jusqu’au plus civiles d’entre elles. »

En considérant qu’il s’agissait d’une relation professionnelle et non d’une relation commerciale, la Cour de cassation a entériné la position de la cour d’appel qui estimait que c’était, non le code de commerce, mais le code civil – autrement dit le droit commun – qui était pleinement applicable à ce genre de comportement contractuel, et plus précisément les articles 1134 relatif au principe de la force obligatoire des contrats et 1147 sur la responsabilité contractuelle.

Sans relever d’une discussion d’entomologiste, il y a lieu de relever que si l’article L.442-6, I, 5° du code de commerce avait trouvé, par extraordinaire, à s’appliquer, la solution aurait été la même, les faits de l’espèce justifiant que la résiliation soit qualifiée d’abusive.

Il y a peu, la Cour de cassation avait eu l’occasion d’écarter l’application du code de commerce aux relations entre médecins, par arrêt du 23 octobre 2007 ((Cass. Com., 23 oct. 2007, n°06-16.774, Bull. civ. II, n°220, RLC 2008/14, n°988, obs. Béhar-Touchais M.)). La solution paraît aller de soi tant il est vrai que le code de déontologie médicale interdit que la médecine soit pratiquée comme un commerce (art. 19 du code de déontologie médicale ou art. R.4127-19 du code de la santé publique).

Cette prohibition s’applique aussi bien vis-à-vis des patients que des structures dans lesquelles le médecin exerce son activité.

Omar YAHIA

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