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Home » Nigerian Cases » Supreme Court » Durbar Hotel Plc V. Mr Abella Ityough & Ors (2016) LLJR-SC

Durbar Hotel Plc V. Mr Abella Ityough & Ors (2016) LLJR-SC

Durbar Hotel Plc V. Mr Abella Ityough & Ors (2016)

LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report

OLABODE RHODES-VIVOUR, J.S.C.

This is an appeal from a decision of the Court of Appeal (Kaduna Division) which affirmed the decision of a Kaduna High Court which held that the respondents properly brought this action in a representative capacity. The facts are these, the respondents and about two hundred and ninety-five persons were former employees of the appellant. The appellant in the month of May, 1997 closed down its operations to carry out major renovation work in the appellant Hotel, and directed the respondents to go on six months compulsory leave. The respondents say that they were sent away without their entitlements paid to them. By their amended statement of claim the respondents claim against the appellant the following reliefs:

(a) A Declaration that the defendant action in keeping the plaintiffs away from duty at the Defendants premises indefinitely as from May, 1997 till date without paying them any amount whatsoever and without due determination of their contracts of employment with the defendant is wrongful,

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illegal and a gross violation of the terms and conditions of their employment.

(b) A Declaration that the said actions of defendant had caused the plaintiffs serious untold mental, physical, psychological and social inconvenience and embarrassment.

(c) An order awarding the plaintiffs against the defendant, the sum of N500,000,000.00 (Five Hundred Million Naira only) as general and aggravated damages for the gross violation of the terms of employment and conditions of service as well as the serious inconveniences, hardship and embarrassment caused the plaintiffs.

OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE

(d) An Order directing the defendants to terminate the plaintiffs appointment with the defendant in accordance with the terms and conditions of their appointment with the defendant and for the defendant to pay the plaintiffs their salaries and other fringe benefits from May, 1997 till the order of the termination of their appointment totaling N220,000,000.00 (Two hundred and twenty Million naira only).

The plaintiffs/respondents in proof of their case called six witnesses and closed their case on 9/2/2005. Rather than open their defence, the

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defendant/appellant filed a motion on Notice on 24/11/2005 for the following reliefs:

(a) the plaintiffs/respondents lack the capacity to institute this action in a representative capacity.

(b) the action is not properly instituted.

On 2/2/2006, the learned trial judge heard submissions from counsel on the motion and in a considered Ruling delivered on 24/2/2006 examined the principles governing representative actions and had this to say:

I am satisfied that the principles laid down in the case of Busari v. Husseni (1992) 4 NWLR (Pt. 237) p. 557 has been satisfied by the plaintiffs via their claim. Consequently therefore, the application fails and is hereby dismissed.

Dissatisfied with the Ruling, the defendant/appellant filed an appeal. On 21/4/2009, the Court of Appeal affirmed the decision of the High Court when it said:

I am quite in support of the ruling and decision of the Court below that the respondents has satisfied the conditions laid down in Olatunji v. Registrar Co-operative Society (supra) and Busari v Oseni (Supra) in bringing this suit in a representative capacity. I so

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hold.

This appeal is against that judgment. In accordance with the Rules of this Court, briefs of argument were filed and exchanged. The appellants brief was filed on 27/7/2010, while the respondents brief was filed on 14/9/2010.

Learned counsel for the appellant, Mr. R.O. Atabo formulated a sole issue for determination. It reads:

Whether the respondents action is properly instituted and whether they can maintain action in a representative capacity.

See also  Godwin Chime & Anor V. Nelson Ude & Ors (1996) LLJR-SC

Learned counsel for the respondent also formulated one issue for determination:

Whether the lower Court was right in its decision that the respondents action was properly constituted and can be maintained in a representative capacity.

Both issues ask the same question, and it is whether the respondents action is properly constituted In view of this observation, the issues formulated by the appellant shall be considered in resolving this appeal.

At the hearing of the appeal on 10 October, 2016, learned counsel for the appellant Mr. R.O. Atabo adopted the appellants brief filed on 27 July, 2010 and urged us to allow the appeal.<br< p=””

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Learned counsel for the respondents, W. Shittu adopted the respondents brief filed on 14 September, 2010.

Relying on Anatogu v. A.G East CS and Anor (1976) 11 SC p.109 he urged this Court to dismiss the appeal.

ISSUE FOR DETERMINATION

Whether the respondents action is properly constituted and whether they can maintain the action in a representative capacity.

Learned counsel for the appellant observed that the respondents entered into different contracts of employment with the appellant, further, observing that their salaries and allowances are different.

He submitted that in the event of event of breach by the employer, the employees do not have collective right to sue or be represented in the suit. Reliance was placed on Abdul Kadir & Ors v. Smith (1973) 8 NSCC p. 407, Ayinde v Akinji (1988) 8 NWLR (Pt.68) p. 70.

Order 11 Rule 1 of the High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 1987 of Kaduna State.

Concluding, he observed that the respondents action was not properly commenced and so representative action does not avail the respondents.

Learned counsel for the respondents observed that if

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one looks at the claim of the respondents, it would be seen that they all had a common interest and grievance in that they were praying the trial Court to order the appellant to pay their salaries and entitlements and if their services were no longer required, their appointments should be formerly terminated, contending that the relief sought is beneficial to the entire staff of the appellant. He submitted that the respondents were right in the circumstances to have brought their case in a representative capacity. Reliance was placed on Olatunji v. The Registrar Co-operative Society (1968) NMLR p. 393, Ofia v Ejem (2006) 26 NSCQP (Pt. 2) p. 877, Atanda & Anor v. Akunyun & Ors (1988) 3 NSCC p. 10.

He urged us to dismiss the appeal and affirm the decision of the Court of Appeal.

This is an interlocutory appeal. After the respondents as plaintiffs closed their case, the defendant/appellant filed a Motion on Notice in the trial Court contending that the respondents as plaintiffs were wrong to bring this suit in a representative capacity. The appeal is thus concerned with whether the respondents as plaintiff were correct to bring their

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action in a representative capacity.

It has long been well settled that where a suit is not properly constituted, the Court is denied jurisdiction to entertain such a suit. Indeed in Madukolu & Ors v. Nkemdilim (1962) 2 NSCC p. 374.

This Court per Bairamian JSC made some observation on jurisdiction and the competence of a Court when His Lordship said that a Court is competent when-

  1. It is properly constituted as regards numbers and qualifications of the members of the bench, and no member is disqualified for one reason or another; and
  2. The subject matter of the case is within its jurisdiction, and there is no feature in the case which prevents the Court form exercising its jurisdiction; and
  3. The case comes before the Court initiated by due process of law, and upon fulfillment of any condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction. See also SLB Consortium Ltd. v. NNPC (2011) 4 SC (Pt. 1) p. 86, NNPC v. Klifco Nig Ltd (2011) 4 SC (Pt. 1) p. 108 Obiuweubi v. CBN (2011) 2-3 SC (Pt. 1) P. 46, Dangana & Anor v. Usman & 4 Ors (2012) 2 SC (Pt. III) p. 103.
See also  Mattar V Norwich Union Frie Insurance Society Ltd & Anor. (1965) LLJR-SC

It is on record that the respondents applied for leave to sue in a representative capacity and were granted

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leave by the learned trial judge. There is no appeal from that order. Where there is no appeal against a finding or order of a Court, such an order e.t.c. remains valid and binds the parties to the suit. The order that the respondents and plaintiffs can sue in a representative capacity is inviolate until set aside.

After examiningAtanda & Anor v. Akunyun & Ors (1988) 3 NSCC p. 10, Busari v. Oseni (1992) 4 NWLR (Pt. 237) p. 557 and examining the respondents claim the Court of Appeal agreed with the decision of the learned trial judge that the respondents were right to bring this suit in a representative capacity. In my view, the respondents were correct to bring their action in a representative capacity.

Order 11 Rule 8 of the High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 1987 of Kaduna State provides as follows:

Where more persons than one have the same interest in one suit, one or more of such persons may, with the approval of the Court be authorized by the other persons interested to sue or to defend in such suit for the benefit of or on behalf of all parties so interested.

A representative action would be most

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appropriate when many people who have a common right and interest intend to sue in an action involving their right. Order 11 Rule 8 supra, and indeed most, if not all Rules of Court provides for one or more of these people to sue or be sued as representatives of the others. A representative action is thus a suit brought by one or more persons representing others with a common interest in the cause of action.

Once the relief/s is what all the named plaintiffs/representatives seek, it would be difficult and most frustrating, and a waste of judicial time to file several suits when one suit by representative action would suffice. Those representing or those represented are bound by the decision of the Court.

In Olatunji v The Registrar Cooperative Society (supra), the requirements which a party who wishes to sue in a representative capacity were very well spelt out. They are:

  1. There must be numerous persons interested in the case or the side to be represented:

All those interested must have the same interest in the suit, that is their interest must be joint and several.

  1. All of them must have the same grievance.
  2. The proposed

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representative must be one of them and

  1. The relief or reliefs sought must be in its nature beneficial to all the persons being represented.

See also Busari v Hussein (1992) 4 NWLR (Pt. 237) p. 557.

See also  Ke Umazi Ndukwe V The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (2007) LLJR-SC

The trial Court had no difficulty in finding that the respondents as plaintiffs were correct to bring this suit in a representative capacity. The Court said:

I agree that there is privity of contract with each plaintiff, but state that for each plaintiff, the defendant has the duty to pay salaries. That is a factor that is common to all of them and that is what they are complaining of and that same has not been paid to any of them since 1997. I do agree with Mr. Ibanga that this suit is not claiming that defendant has terminated their employment; in-fact by their alternative prayers it is the plaintiffs who are urging that the defendant should formally terminate their employment with it.

Concluding, the trial Court went on to say:

I am not therefore able to be with the learned defendants counsel that the plaintiffs ought to individually initiate an action against the defendant as it is

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a constructional matter strictly between each plaintiff and the defendant. I am satisfied that the principles laid down in the case of Busari v. Hussein (supra) has been satisfied by the plaintiffs via their claim.”

Agreeing with the reasoning of the trial Court, the Court of Appeal said:

I am in total agreement with the above findings of the Court below. I also agree with the submission of the learned counsel for the respondents that since the respondent had sought for and obtained leave of the lower Court to sue in a representative capacity and the appellant’s not having appealed against the said order of Court, they cannot be heard to complain while that order is subsisting. I am quite in support of the ruling and decision of the court below that the respondents had satisfied the conditions laid down in Olatunji v Registrar Co-operative Society (supra) and Busari v Hussein (supra) in bringing this suit in a representative capacity. I so hold.

The scope of Order 11 Rule 8 of the High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 1987 of Kaduna State allows many people with a common right which is invaded by a common adversary to seek leave

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of the Court to join in attacking that common adversary in respect of the common right provided the essential conditions/requirement set out in the rule are satisfied.

My Lords, the respondents were relieved of their duties without being paid their due entitlements.

They all thus have a common interest and the same grievance. The reliefs claimed are beneficial to all the persons being represented, and they all have the authority of the group to institute the action since no one of them objected to the suit. On these facts and reasoning, there can be no doubt that a representative action is most appropriate in the present case. I am in complete agreement with both Courts below that the respondents suit was properly brought in a representative capacity. Both Courts below are in the circumstance correct.

Appeal is hereby dismissed.

It is hereby ordered that trial in the High Court shall proceed forthwith. Nothing must be left undone that should have been done.


SC.174/2010

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