Arul Chandran v Gartshore and Others

JurisdictionSingapore
Judgment Date10 March 2000
Date10 March 2000
Docket NumberSuit No 519 of 1999
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Arul Chandran
Plaintiff
and
Gartshore and others
Defendant

[2000] SGHC 284

G P Selvam J

Suit No 519 of 1999

High Court

Damages–Rules in awarding–Breach of contract of membership–Damage to reputation–Whether damages recoverable in contract for damage to reputation–Damages–Rules in awarding–Breach of contract of membership–Mental distress–Whether damages recoverable in contract for mental distress–Damages–Rules in awarding–Damages in contract and tort–Distinction in objectives between the two

The plaintiff was the vice-president of a club. The defendants were members of the club's general committee. Pursuant to a rule in the club's constitution and before his term of office expired, the plaintiff was removed by the defendants. He commenced proceedings to have his removal declared unlawful. He pleaded his case on the basis of breach of the contract of membership between the parties, and sought general damages for mental distress, humiliation and defamation.

The defendants then consented to judgment against themselves. The consent judgment declared that the plaintiff's removal was wrongful and that he remained the vice-president till his term of office was up, and included a term that damages were to be paid by the defendants as well. The parties could not agree on the amount of damages payable to the plaintiff. The defendants argued that substantial damages for humiliation and loss of reputation were not recoverable for breach of contract. They did not raise any special defence on damages.

Held, dismissing the claim for substantial general damages and awarding nominal damages:

(1) The object of awarding damages in contract was different from that in tort. In contract, the loss was monetary and being measurable in terms of money, was therefore special. In tort, the damage was mainly non-economic and being immeasurable, was general and must be assessed: at [13].

(2) In respect of mental distress arising from breach of contract, mental suffering by itself did not constitute damage to found a cause of action, and general damages were not recoverable. The general rule was that a contract breaker was not liable for distress caused to the innocent party by breach of contract. The rule was one of policy and applied notwithstanding the foreseeability of the distress or other adverse event: at [13] and [16].

(3) As for the claim for damages for loss of reputation from breach of contract, such damages were not normally awarded since protection of reputation was the role of the tort of defamation. However, compensation may be awarded if financial loss was proved: at [19] and [20].

(4) The plaintiff's claim for substantial general damages or special damages was dismissed, and nominal damages of $1 was awarded against each defendant: at [31].

[Observation: Had the plaintiff been suspended from or deprived of his club membership, the court would have given him general damages under the exception of loss of amenities: at [32].]

Addis v Gramophone Company, Limited [1909] AC 488 (folld)

Behrens v Bertram Mills Circus Ltd [1957] 2 QB 1 (folld)

Bliss v South East Thames Regional Health Authority [1987] ICR 700 (refd)

Brown v Waterloo Regional Board of Commissioners of Police (1982) 136 DLR (3d) 49 (refd)

Cook v Swinfen [1967] 1 WLR 457; [1967] 1 All ER 299 (refd)

Cox v Philips Industries Ltd [1976] 1 WLR 638 (refd)

Haron bin Mundir v Singapore Amateur Athletic Association [1991] 2 SLR (R) 494; [1992] 1 SLR 18 (folld)

Hua Khian Ceramics Tiles Supplies Pte Ltd v Torie Construction Pte Ltd [1991] 2 SLR (R) 901; [1992] 1 SLR 884 (refd)

Jacob & Youngs Inc v Kent129 NE 889 (1921) (refd)

Jarvis v Swans Tours Ltd [1973] QB 233; [1973] 1 All ER 71 (refd)

Lee Kuan Yew v Tang Liang Hong [1999] 1 SLR (R) 533; [1999] 3 SLR 630 (refd)

Lonrho plc v Fayed (No 5) [1993] 1 WLR 1489 (refd)

Malik and Mahmud v Bank of Credit and Commerce International SA (In Compulsory Liquidation) [1998] AC 20 (distd)

McGuire Graeme v Rasmussen John [1998] 1 SLR (R) 892; [1998] 3 SLR 180 (refd)

Ruxley Electronics and Construction Ltd v Forsyth [1996] AC 344 (refd)

Teo Siew Har v Lee Kuan Yew [1999] 3 SLR (R) 410; [1999] 4 SLR 560 (folld)

Tippett v International Typographical Union (1976) 71 DLR (3d) 146 (refd)

Victorian Railways Commissioners v James Coultas and Mary Coultas (1888) 13 App Cas 222 (refd)

Watts v Morrow [1991] 1 WLR 1421 (refd)

Whelan v Waitaki Meats Ltd [1991] 2 NZLR 74 (refd)

Wilkinson v Downton [1897] 2 QB 57 (refd)

Wilson v United Counties Bank, Limited [1920] AC 102 (refd)

Andre Arul (Arul Chew & Partners) for the plaintiff

Michael Hwang SC and Christopher Daniel (Allen & Gledhill) for the defendants.

Judgment reserved.

G P Selvam J

The claim

1 The plaintiff Arul Chandran is a practising lawyer. He has been so for more than 30 years. This case concerns an office of honour he held in the Tanglin Club, Vice-President, for one year from 25 May 1998. That office also made him a member of the general committee of the Club. There were 11 committee members all told.

2 On 31 March 1999, he was removed from office at a meeting of the general committee. It was the result of a simple majority constituted by the six defendants in this case: William J Gartshore, Colin A Taylor, Andre C Bouvron, Chim Hou Yan, Chan Kong Thoe and Kenneth Chew Keng Seng.

3 The plaintiff felt deeply aggrieved by that decision. So he commenced this action. His purpose was to have his removal declared unlawful and ineffective, with the result that he continued to hold that office as elected Vice-President for the full term. Additionally, he sought as extra relief general damages for mental distress and damage to reputation. As it was an office of honour without an honorarium he did not assert any financial loss. When the plaintiff's counsel suggested general damages in the sum of $30,000 against each defendant, I remarked that he should have gone to the District Court. In response he mutated it to $50,000 against each defendant. According to him, the amount of compensation the plaintiff was entitled to was directly proportionate to the number of defendants, even though there was only one act and one indivisible damage. He never explained the logic of this submission. I shall not let it detain me and I shall continue with the story.

4 In his statement of claim, the plaintiff pleaded his case on the basis of breach of the contract of membership between the parties. The contract was a hypothesized contract which the law constructs for the salvation of someone who has been unfairly victimised by Club politics. At the trial, however, he abandoned his claim for general damages for defamation against the sixth defendant only.

5 In respect of the expulsion, the plaintiff claimed general damages against all six defendants on the basis that “he had suffered embarrassment, humiliation and damage to his reputation and standing and had been unable to and/or been unfairly and/or unjustly deprived of his elected office and/or been unable to attend to his elected duties at the Club as Vice-President and a member of the general committee and had suffered embarrassment, humiliation and damages to his position as a member of the Club”.

6 At the commencement of the...

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