In this case, the Court of Cassation of Italy requested a preliminary ruling by the European Court of Justice, in regard to how they should interpret the Directive in question.
The doctors who brought the disputes in the main proceedings undertook training to become specialist doctors in Italy between 1982 and 1990. Those doctors demanded that the University and the State administrations pay them “appropriate remuneration”, within the meaning of the Council Directive 75/363/EEC of 16 June 1975 concerning the coordination of provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in respect of activities of doctors (OJ 1975 L 167, p. 14), as amended by Council Directive 82/76/EEC of 26 January 1982 (OJ 1982 L 43, p. 21) (in the following, Directive 75/363 as amended), for the training of medical specialists, which they had completed. In the alternative, they sought compensation for the damage suffered due to the failure to adopt the necessary measures to implement Directive.
As regards the obligation on Member States to provide appropriate remuneration for periods of full-time and part-time training of specialist doctors, it should be noted that that obligation, which was not provided for initially by Directive 75/363, was introduced by Directive 82/76, entered into force on 29 January 1982 and the Member States, in accordance with Article 16 thereof, were required to comply with it by 31 December 1982 at the latest.
Also, it should be borne in mind that the obligation to provide appropriate remuneration is binding only in respect of the medical specialties which are common to all the Member States or to two or more of them and are mentioned in Article 5 or Article 7 of Council Directive 75/362/EEC of 16 June 1975 concerning the mutual recognition of diplomas, certificates and other evidence of formal qualifications in medicine, including measures to facilitate the effective exercise of the right of establishment and freedom to provide services (OJ 1975 L 167, p. 1).
The Directive 82/76 has been transposed into Italian law by Legislative Decree No. 257, which entered into force 15 days after the date of its publication, which took place on 16 August 1991. Nevertheless, the European Court of Justice had already held that the Member States’ obligation arising from a directive to achieve the result envisaged by the directive and their duty to take all appropriate measures, whether general or particular, to ensure the fulfilment of that obligation is binding on all the authorities of Member States, including, for matters within their jurisdiction, the courts. Accordingly, in applying national law and in particular the provisions of a law which were specifically introduced in order to implement a directive, the national court is required to interpret its national law, as far as possible, in the light of the wording and the purpose of the directive in order to achieve the result pursued by the latter.
In this respect, it must be recalled that, even in the absence of specific national measures to transpose a directive, it is for the national court to interpret the national law, so far as possible, in the light of the wording and the purpose of the directive concerned in order to achieve the result sought by the directive, which requires that national court to do whatever lies within its jurisdiction, taking the whole body of domestic law into consideration and applying the interpretative methods recognised by that law.
Where, owing to the absence of national measures transposing Directive 82/76, the result prescribed by that directive cannot be achieved by way of interpretation, by taking account of the entirety of domestic law and applying the methods of interpretation recognised by it, EU law requires the Member State concerned to make good damage caused to individuals through failure to transpose that directive. It is for the referring court to determine whether all the conditions laid down in that regard by the case-law of the Court of Justice are met for the Member State to have incurred liability under EU law.
By judgments of 27 April and 17 June 2006 and of 30 April and 28 May 2007, the Tribunale di Palermo (Court of Palermo) dismissed the claims brought by the doctors. Hearing appeals against those judgments, the Corte d’Appello di Palermo (Court of Appeal of Palermo), with judgments of 18 July and 27 September 2012 and of 10 October 2012, ordered the Presidency of the Council of Ministers to pay to each of the doctors concerned the sum of € 11,103.82 and that of € 6,713.93 plus statutory interest. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers and certain other parties in the main proceedings have lodged an appeal against those judgments.
As a judgment on the disputes depends on the interpretation of Directive 75/363 as amended, the Corte Suprema di Cassazione decided to stay the proceedings and to refer three questions to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.
The Court of Justice provided the required response with a decision of 24 January 2018, ruling that a) “the Directive 75/363 as amended must be interpreted as meaning that any period of full-time or part-time specialist medical training begun in 1982 and continued up to 1990 must be subject to appropriate remuneration within the meaning of that annex”; b) “the existence of the obligation, for a Member State, to provide appropriate remuneration, within the meaning of that annex, […] does not depend on the adoption, by that Member State, of measures transposing Directive 82/76”; c) “appropriate remuneration within the meaning of that annex for any period of full-time or part-time specialist medical training begun in 1982 and continued up to 1990 must be paid for the period of that training from 1 January 1983 and until the end of that training”.
In accordance with the interpretation of the Directive 75/363 as amended, which is expressed by the European Court of Justice, the Combined Civil Sections of the Court of Cassation accepted this ground of appeal, annulled the judgment and referred the case back to the Court of Appeal of Palermo for a new judgment.