Civil Litigation

Case Note: Ridgewood Properties Group Ltd

Written by Team Farallon | January 24, 2019

CLAIMANTS

(1) RIDGEWOOD PROPERTIES GROUP LIMITED
(2) RIDGEWOOD (CLERKENWELL) LIMITED
(3) GOLDEN LIMITED
(4) HAMLET LIMITED
(5) REDWAY LIMITED

DEFENDANTS

(1) KILPATRICK STOCKTON LLP
(2) FINERS STEPHENS INNOCENT LLP
(3) STEVEN WOOLF

Coram: Mr Justice Arnold

The judgment in the case above was handed down by Mr Justice Arnold on 25 July 2014. It is a case which involves a number of important issues of public interest, including causation in loss of chance claims and principles in summary judgment applications. These important issues which were dealt with by the Court, amongst others, are not dealt with in this case note for the judgment’s ipsissima verba speaks volumes. So far as could be considered, the case, there are two features of that case which could be considered worthy of a minor expansion by my own words, and the following goes towards this.

The facts of the case are that the Claimants were de facto and de jure under the control of the same person. The Claimants had entered into an agreement with Texaco whereby they would obtain permission to develop certain land, and conditional upon having obtained that permission, were granted the option to develop the land. Effectively, there were five parcels of land, and the development would be in three phases, the first of which was conditional upon permission being granted and the other two phases were optional.

Before the permission was obtained by the Claimants, Texaco transferred the land to a third party, Azure and Somerfield. The Claimants obtained legal advice from the Defendants, being solicitors, at different temporal junctures of the factual matrix after the transfer of the land. On the advice given, the Claimants continued their attempts to obtain permission. That permission was never given. The Claimants then claimed repudiation of contract by Texaco, and sued for damages. Those proceedings against Texaco (the “Texaco Proceedings”) dealt with the substantive issues in two preliminary hearings heard by Justice Proudman. The claims against Texaco were dismissed. The Claimants then sued the Defendants for not having advised the Claimants of their rights at an early stage that the Claimants were entitled to repudiate the contract when the parcels of land had been transferred) instead of attempting to obtain the permission, which failed. Proudman J held, amongst others, that because the Claimants had proceeded to sought permission after they were entitled to repudiate, the election defeated the Claimant’s claim for loss of chance, in effect, the causation had not been established because the refusal of permission was the cause of the Claimant’s inability to develop the land for profits.

The Claimants then sued the Defendants being their solicitors. The Defendants applied by summary judgment to strike out the claim on the grounds of abuse of process in re-litigating issues which had been determined in the Texaco Proceedings. The Defendants succeeded in that the matter was discontinued, and due to the public interest in the issues involved, Justice Arnold handed down his judgment.

As could be considered above, the judgment speaks volumes in brevity, and nothing more could be added to it by me. However two points were worthy of a minor remark:

First, the effective use of preliminary determination of issues was in my submission apposite to the needs of justice. From the judgment, it shows that the preliminary hearings in the Texaco Proceedings were determinative of important and substantive issues in the case, and that the issues had been set out in a compact. It could be considered that the Singapore Rules of Court (apart from perhaps Order 14 rule 12) make little provision for issues to be dealt with either chronologically or logically. Bifurcation (as also provided for in Order 33 rule 2 of the Singapore Rules of Court) is common in respect of quantum and liability issues but this aside, we do not often see issues being crystallized and modulated. The Texaco Proceedings is exemplary of such use. This leads to the second point, which arises in part because of the modulated and determination of the issues in the Texaco Proceedings.

Second, in these proceedings, the Defendants applied to strike out on the basis of abuse of process in re-litigating issues which had been determined in the Texaco Proceedings. Issue estoppel and res judicatam are doctrinal and frequently considered, but Justice Arnold, in this case, considered the “abuse of process” ground. The Court found that there were two considerations, first, as to whether the proceedings sought to be struck out would bring the administration of justice into disrepute and second, whether it would be unfair to allow the issues to be re-litigated. The exception is also enunciated in the judgment. The following are extracts from the judgment on those two points:-

The law on collateral attack was reviewed by Sir Andrew Morritt V-C, with whom Potter and Hale LJJ agreed, in Secretary of State for Trade and Industry v Bairstow [2004] Ch 1 at [28]-[38]. The Vice-Chancellor concluded at [38] the cases established the following propositions:

(d) If the parties to the later civil proceedings were not parties or privies of those who were parties to the earlier proceedings then it will only be an abuse of process of the court to challenge the factual findings and conclusions of a judge or jury in the earlier action if (i) it would be manifestly unfair to a party to the later proceedings that the same issues should be relitigated or (ii) to permit such a re-litigation would bring the administration of justice into disrepute

The test formulated by Lord Cairns LC in Phosphate Sewage Co Ltd v Molleson (1879) 4 App Cas 801, 814 to which the Vice Chancellor referred was as follows:

“My Lords, the only way in which that could possibly be admitted would be if the litigant were prepared to say, I will show you that this is a fact which entirely changes the aspect of the case, and I will show you further that it was not, and could not by reasonable diligence have been, ascertained by me before.”

It could be considered, despite the numerous issues of general public importance dealt in the case, that the connection of these two points, in that the effective modulated determination of issues in preliminary hearings and the striking out of re-litigation of pre-determined issues, were useful and novel for marking. Useful in that amongst other important precepts, this saves costs and time, and novel in that perhaps, we do not see litigants approach disputes in this way sufficiently often enough although the Courts, as litigants should bear in mind, would grant such orders where they are “practicable and convenient”.