WHEN WILL AN APPELLATE COURT INTERFERE WITH THE AWARD OF DAMAGES MADE BY A LOWER COURT
HERITAGE BANK LTD v. DON & CHYKE (NIG) LTD & ANOR (2020) LPELR-52423(CA)
JUDGMENT DATE: 31ST DECEMBER, 2020
PRACTICE AREA: CIVIL PROCEDURE.
LEAD JUDGMENT: ADZIRA GANA MSHELIA, J.C.A.
SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:
This appeal borders on Civil Procedure.
This is an appeal against the Judgment of the Plateau State High Court, Coram Justice D.D. Longi, delivered on 25th October, 2016.
The brief facts of the case as presented by the Respondents are that, the 1st Respondent was a customer of the Appellant and maintains two business accounts at the Appellant’s Jos branch name a Naira Account No. 300030126 and a Dollar Account No. 3100060194. On the 7th of April, 2015, the Appellant then known as Enterprise Bank Plc., blocked the Plaintiff’s Naira Account. When the 1st Respondent’s Managing Director inquired as to why the Naira Account was blocked, the Appellant gave him a copy of an order (Exhibit P1) signed by Senior Magistrate – Folashade M. Oyekan (Mrs.) sitting at Magistrate Court 16 Abuja. The 1st Respondent took steps to set aside the said order via Exhibit P5 dated 25/06/2015 signed by the same Senior Magistrate Oyekan (Mrs.)
On the 9th April, 2015 and 13/05/2015 respectively, the 1st Respondent requested transfer of funds out of its Dollar Account to its customers abroad. The Appellant did not honour the requests. The 1st Respondent again inquired as to why the Appellant would not honour its requests on the Dollar Account, but the Appellant did not give any answer. The 1st Respondent through its counsel twice demanded that the transactions be honoured by the Appellant, yet the Appellant did not do so, and refused to even answer or give any explanations as to the requests. Further transactions were requested on the Account, but the Appellant refused to honour them and at a stage refused to accept the 1st Respondent’s further requests. Frustrated by the Appellant’s conduct as above, the 1st Respondent on the 27th July, 2015 instituted this action against the Appellant at the High Court of Justice, Jos in its former name ENTERPRISE BANK PLC. The Plaintiff’s claim against the defendant are as follows:
a) A Declaration that the Defendant’s blocking of the Plaintiff’s Domiciliary (Dollar) Account No. 3100060194 since the 13th May, 2015 or thereabout without reasonable cause, or without any explanation at all to the plaintiff is negligent and wrongful.
b) An Order setting aside the blockage on the above-mentioned plaintiff’s Domiciliary Account.
c) An Order setting aside purported instrument howsoever obtained which may be in the Defendant’s possession, affecting the plaintiff’s above-mentioned Account.
d) The sum of N250,000,000.00 general damages for the Defendant’s conduct as aforesaid.
e) The costs of this action.
The Defendant joined issues by filing a statement of Defence on the 16th September, 2015. The 2nd Respondent was brought in by the Appellant as third party with the leave of the Court. At the trial, Plaintiff now 1st Respondent called one witness and tendered several Exhibits and closed its case. While the Defendant now appellant called one witness and closed its defence. By a Motion Exparte motion dated 12/10/2015 Appellant/defendant with a leave of Court sought to join Inspector General by issuing and serving third party notice. The witness also tendered Exhibits. Both counsel exchanged written addresses and adopted same. At the end, the learned trial Judge evaluated the evidence adduced and entered Judgment in favour of the plaintiff now 1st Respondent.
Dissatisfied with the decision of the High Court, the Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal.
ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
The Court determined the appeal based on the following issues for determination:
i. Whether the learned trial Judge misconceived the third-party proceedings and whether by failing to pronounce or award damages on the third party process, the lower Court had not breached the Appellant’s right of fair hearing.
ii. Whether the learned trial Judge was right in his decision that Exhibit D2 was inadmissible.
iii. Having regard to the manner of evaluation of Exhibit D2 and reliance on Exhibit P7, whether the learned trial Judge was not in error when he failed to uphold the appellant’s defence that it acted in obedience to a valid and subsisting Court order.
iv. Having regard to the state of the parties pleadings and evidence, whether the learned trial Judge was not in error when he decided that the 1st Respondent had established negligence against the Appellant.
v. Whether the award of N150,000,000.00 general damages was not excessive, having regard to the irrelevant factors taken into consideration and the entire circumstances of the case.
vi. Whether the 1st Respondent having sued a non-juristic person, the lower Court did not lack the requisite jurisdiction to entertain and determine the 1st Respondent’s action brought before it.
On the whole, the Court allowed the appeal in part on issue five only, as it relates to award of damages.
- DAMAGES- GENERAL DAMAGES: Meaning, nature and scope of general damages
- DAMAGES- SPECIAL DAMAGES: Whether a claim for special damages must be specifically pleaded and strictly proved
- PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE- THIRD PARTY PROCEEDINGS: Nature and purpose of a third party proceeding and whether failure of court to consider and pronounce on a third-party notice amounts to breach of fair hearing
- EVIDENCE- DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE: Whether a document admitted in evidence without objection can be subjected to scrutiny on appeal
- APPEAL- INTERFERENCE WITH AWARD OF DAMAGES: Circumstances in which an appellate court will interfere with award of damages made by a trial Court