SHOULD THE FACT THAT EMPLOYEES WERE EMPLOYED ON THE SAME DATE GIVE THEM THE RIGHT TO SUE COLLECTIVELY UPON A BREACH OF CONTRACT OF EMPLOYMENT?

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CASE TITLE: OGUNGWA & ORS v. WILLIAMS & ANOR (2019) LPELR-47536(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE: 21ST MAY, 2019

PRACTICE AREA: CIVIL PROCEDURE

LEAD JUDGMENT: MUHAMMED LAWAL SHUAIBU, J.C.A.

SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:

INTRODUCTION

This appeal borders on Civil Procedure.

FACTS

This is an appeal against the decision of the High Court, Calabar, Cross River State delivered on 20th April 2011.

The appellants herein are the former staff of the Eastern Match Industries Limited and members of the National Union of Chemicals Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non-Metallic Product Union. The 1st respondent is a Lagos based legal practitioner who was appointed the receiver of Eastern Match Industries Ltd by Afribank Nigeria Plc. pursuant to the powers conferred on the Bank by a Deed of Mortgage Debenture dated 15/11/96 executed by the company in favour of International Bank for West Africa (IBWA) the predecessor of Afribank Nigeria Plc. The 2nd respondent is a match producing company that purchased the defunct Eastern Match Industries Ltd. from the 1st respondent.

​On 11/7/2002, the appellants were notified of the appointment of the 1st respondent as Receiver of Eastern Match Industries Ltd. and that arrangement was being made for payment of their outstanding entitlements. When the said entitlements were not paid, the appellants as plaintiffs, instituted suit No. HC/512/2002 at the High Court, Calabar, Cross River State claiming against the defendants (now respondents) jointly and severally as follows:-

  1. A DECLARATION that the plaintiffs are entitled to be paid their outstanding salaries economic relief package (Adhoc), Annual leave grants, a leave days grants, housing allowances, transport allowances, gratuities and other end-of-service or disengagement benefits as provided for in their terms and condition of employment.
  2. AN ORDER DIRECTING the defendants to forthwith pay to the plaintiffs the sum of N25,089,339.62 (Twenty-five Million, Eighty-Nine Thousand, Three Hundred and Thirty-Nine Naira, Sixty Two Kobo) only being their outstanding salaries allowances, gratuities and other entitlements due to the plaintiffs upon the termination of their contract of employment with Eastern Match Industries Limited.

When the matter came up on the 12/10/2009, learned trial judge based on what he described as “the interest of fairness and justice”, formulated six (6) issues and asked parties to file further or additional address in that regard. Consequently, parties readopted their written address and in a reserved and considered judgment delivered on 20th April 2011, learned trial Judge held that the claimants’ case was tantamount to a misjoinder of parties and cause of action and thus entered a judgment of non-suit with N1,000.00 cost to each defendant.

Being dissatisfied with the judgment, appellants appealed to the Court of Appeal.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION

The Court determined the appeal based on a sole issue thus:

Whether the learned trial judge was right when he held that the case of the claimants as constituted at the lower Court tantamount to a misjoinder of parties and causes of action in flagrant violation of Order 4 Rule 2 of the High Court of Cross Rivers State (Civil Procedure) Rules, 1987 which authorized joinder of parties and their respective or several causes of action?

DECISION/HELD

In the final analysis, the Court of Appeal held that the appeal was unmeritorious and it was accordingly dismissed in its entirety.

RATIOS:

  • ACTION- REPRESENTATIVE CAPACITY: Requirements for suing in a representative capacity
  • ACTION- REPRESENTATIVE ACTION: Whether the fact that employees were employed on the same date gives them a right to sue collectively or by representative action upon breach of contract of employment.
  • APPEAL- RECORD OF APPEAL: Whether a record of appeal must be certified; Effect of failure to effect same.
  • COURT- COURT OF CO-ORDINATE JURISDICTION: Whether a Judge can reverse, vary or alter the decision or order of another Judge of co-ordinate jurisdiction
  • COURT- RAISING ISSUE(S) SUO MOTU: Whether the Court must call parties to address it on issues raised suo motu; effect of failure to do so
  • JUDGMENT AND ORDER- ORDER OF COURT: Proper orders for the Court to make where there is a misjoinder of parties and cause of action.
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lawpavilion • May 28, 2019


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