Joseph Oguntokun V. Amodu Rufai (1945)
LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West African Court of Appeal
Claim for a declaration of title to land—Ploadings—Title under Certificate of Purchase not pleaded by Plaintiff—Court below held that Statement of Claim revealed no cause of action—No application by Defendant for particulars after Counsel for Plaintiff had stated to the Court that claim under Certificate of Purchase—Distinction between a non-disclosure of cause of action and a default in pleadings.
Held: Nothing to prevent defendant asking for particulars even after Statement of Defence filed. Complexity of tenure in “this country” makes it impossible sometimes to plead except in general terms.
Held further that when a party omits to set out details in Statement of Claim and his opponent does not apply for particulars, he is entitled to give evidence at the trial of any fact supporting the allegation pleaded. Order 25, rule 17, and Order 28.
Case returned to lower Court for trial.
- A. Akerele for Plaintiff.
- R. A. Williams for Defendant.
The following opinion was delivered by BAKER, AG.C.J., NIGERIA :-
The plaintiff claims a declaration of title to “all that piece or parcel of land with the buildings thereon situate at and being No. 74 Kadara Street, Ebute Metta.”
The statement of claim reads :-
“1. The plaintiff is a baker, residing at No. 138 Lewis Street, Lagos.
- The defendant is a workman residing at No. 74 Kadara Street, Ebute Metta.
- By virtue of a duly registered indenture of conveyance No. 16, page 16, volume ‘657, bearing date the 15th September, 1944, and for valuable consideration therein contained, the plaintiff is the owner of all that piece or parcel of land with the buildings thereon situate at and being No. 74 Kadara Street, Ebute Metta—the subject matter of this action.
- The plaintiff has since the purchase of the said property repeatedly requested the defendant, who has been, and is still in occupation, to give up possession thereof, but the defendant has refused and still refuses to do so.
- Whereof the plaintiff claims as per writ of summons filed in this action”.
JosephParagraphs 1 and 2 were admitted, but paragraphs 3, 4 and 5
Oguntokun were specifically denied and the statement of defence goes to say :— v.
Amodu”The defendant since the year T929, when he acquired the said
Rufaiproperty by virtue of a receipt of purchase dated the 12th day of
-December, 1929, has been in effective and undisturbed possession of the
Ag.C.J.He the defendant later built upon the land in the year 1930 and has
been residing therein without any disturbance whatsoever.
The defendant will plead the following equitable defences, namely long possession, acquiescence, lathes and standing by “.
A preliminary point was taken by the Court as it appears from the record :—
“You are asking this Court to grant you a declaration of title. Such a declaration is one which is discretionary in the Court. What title or interest do you claim in the land?”
and counsel replied that the right title and interest as evidenced by a certificate of purchase issued by the Court was claimed. The Court held that the statement of claim revealed no cause of action as pleaded. In view however of the fact that there are many actions awaiting trial “founded upon the same material that is here”, the learned trial Judge stated the following case for the opinion of this Court
“1. Was I correct in ruling that when the plaintiff claimed a right of ownership and recovery of possession of land founded upon a certificate of purchase obtained from a Court, that he could only succeed upon the strength of his own title and not upon the weakness of his opponents?
2. Was I correct in ruling that before the plaintiff could establish a cause of action founded upon such a title he must plead the nature and extent of his right title or interest in the land before he could establish that he had a cause of aetiont”
and subject to our opinion struck out the claim and dismissed the action. We answer both questions in the affirmative, subject to the following observations :—It cannot be open to doubt that in claiming to be owner of property a party must state his title with all due particularity and that the pleadings must show title except in cases in which it is sufficient to plead title, but it is necessary to distinguish between a non-disclosure of a cause for action and a default, in pleading. In the case before us it might be argued that in claiming ownership he claims an absolute title which in this country is the equivalent of the freehold, that the defendant pleaded to it and the issue was joined. There is, however, as we have said elsewhere, nothing to prevent the defendant asking for particulars even after the statement of defence has been filed. It is well established that a certificate of purchase issued by the Court gives only the right title and interest of the person whose property is attached and sold. Complexity of tenure in this country has led in practice to an incorrect form of pleading, because it has been said it may be impossible sometimes to plead except in general terms : and where a party omits to set out details which he ought
to have given and his opponent does not apply for particulars, he is entitled to give evidence at the trial of any fact which supports the allegation in the pleading.
The pertinent Supreme Court Rules are rule 17 of order 25 and order 26 which say :—
“The Court may at any time, on the application of either party, strike out any pleading or any part thereof, on the ground that it discloses no cause of action, or no defence to the action, as the case may be, or on the ground that it is embarrassing, or ficandalous, or vexatious, or an abuse of the process of the Court, and the Court may either give leave to amend such pleading, or may proceed to give judgment for the plaintiff or defendant, as the case may be, or may make such other order, and upon inch terms and conditions, as may seem just.
The Court may at any stage of the proceedings, either of its own motion or on the application of either party, order any proceeding to be amended whether the defect or error be that of the party applying to amend or not; and all such amendments as may be necessary or proper for the purpose of eliminating all statements which may tend to prejudice, embarrass, or delay the fair trial of. the suit, and for the purpose of determining in the existing suit the real questions or question in controversy between the parties, shall be so made. ‘Every such order shall be made upon such terms as to costs or. otherwise as shall seem just “.
We think therefore that in the circumstances the correct procedure would have been to order a further and better statement of the nature of the claim, and not to have dismissed the action. Accordingly the case must be returned to the lower Court for trial.