Li Yanan and Another v The Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 512

CourtMagistrates' Court (Singapore)
JudgeLoo Ngan Chor
Judgment Date05 February 2010
Neutral Citation[2010] SGMC 2
Citation[2010] SGMC 2
Published date29 March 2010
Plaintiff CounselSubramaniam A Pillai
Defendant CounselMichael Teo Swee Eng

5th February 2010

District Judge Loo Ngan Chor:


1. The 1st plaintiff is the managing director of the 2nd plaintiff. The 2nd plaintiff were joined in the claim with my leave on the 1st plaintiff’s application filed and heard by me on 22nd September 2009, just before the trial commenced[note: i]. They will be referred to collectively as “the plaintiffs”. The 1st plaintiff had rented #B1-42A-E (“the rented premises”) and #B1-69 from the defendant. These two premises were located in a building known as Pearl’s Centre at 100 Eu Tong Sen Street, of which the defendant were the management corporation.

2. The tenancy agreement[note: ii] for the rented premises was undated and signed about 3rd March 2007. The defendant signed as the landlord. The 1st plaintiff “trading as [the 2nd plaintiff]” signed as the tenant. It was for use as “a hair and beauty school or retailing in fashion apparel accessories cosmetics skin care products and nail spa shop.” The rental period was from 1st April 2007 to 31st March 2009. The monthly rent was $2000 and a monthly maintenance fee of $500 was also payable. The 1st plaintiff paid a security deposit of $5800 for the rented premises.[note: iii]

3. The tenancy agreement for the premises at #B1-69 in Pearl’s Centre, signed in January 2007, ran for a term from 16th April 2007 to 15th April 2008. The security deposit of $2500 was paid for #B1-69 by the 1st plaintiff[note: iv].

4. By her lawyers’ letter dated 21st May 2008, the 1st plaintiff complained that a very serious water leakage problem in the rented premises had been made know to the defendants from October 2007 and had remained unrepaired. This had caused her business to drop, her students in beauty courses to pull out of their courses and damage to her products.

The plaintiffs’ claims:

5. This was a claim by the plaintiffs for “loss and damage to their business and revenue” occasioned[note: v] by the defendant’s alleged failure to properly “maintain” their rented premises and “keep the same in good repair and in a tenantable condition and/or ensure that the said units were fit for the purpose for which” the premises were rented.[note: vi] The plaintiffs said that these were implied terms of the tenancy agreement.[note: vii] This claim will be referred to as “the damages claim”.

6. The plaintiffs also sued for the refund of the security deposit of $5800 for the tenancy of the rented premises and the security deposit of $2500 for #B1-69. These two claims will be referred to as the “deposit claims”.

No jurisdiction in respect of the damages claim:

7. By their closing submissions dated 15th January 2010, the defendant raised a number of preliminary issues. Paragraph 1 stated “Transfer to District Court”. This was all that was said by the defendant on the subject.

8. In the plaintiffs’ closing submissions dated 18th January 2010, the plaintiffs said this inter alia at paragraph 15: “Mr Aw had carried out an audit of the daily receipts from May 2007 to May 2008. The audit clearly shows that there had been a significant drop in revenue after October 2007. The difference amounted to $505.48 per day representing a decline of 79% in revenue from 13th October 2008 to 24th May 2008. The Plaintiff is therefore claiming against the defendants the sum of S$111,711.08 being the loss of business and revenue as a result of the water leakage.” (emphasis in the original)

9. I was concerned. The trial had taken six days. On reviewing all the documents, I realized that the plaintiffs had indicated in their opening statement (which I must have omitted to read) that S$111,711.08 was the amount they claimed for their alleged loss of revenue in their opening statement.[note: viii] I would observe that the Statement of Claim had not pleaded the said sum as the plaintiffs had wrongly considered the damages claim to be a claim for general damages. This was in spite of my observation to both counsel at a hearing of a summons in the suit in November 2009[note: ix] that the damages claim was clearly a claim for special damages. The cardinal differentiation between general damages, which need not be particularized, and special damages, which must, is whether as a matter of law the damages in question would be deemed to necessarily follow from a breach. The damages claim was obviously not one that would follow as a matter of course in law from the alleged breach by the defendant.

10. The Magistrate’s Court (jurisdictional) limit in claims involving money is, currently and at the time of the alleged breach (October 2007 to May 2008) the $60,000.[note: x] S52 of the Subordinate Courts Act (“SCA”) says this:

Civil jurisdiction of Magistrates’ Courts

52. —(1) Subject to Rules of Court, a Magistrate’s Court shall have the jurisdiction and powers conferred on a District Court by sections 20 (except 20 (1) (b)), 21, 29, 31 (1), 32 and 43 in any proceedings where the amount claimed or the value of the subject-matter in dispute does not exceed the Magistrate’s Court limit.

[6/76;3/86; 15/93]

(2) In exercising its jurisdiction under subsection (1), a Magistrate’s Court shall be subject to the same limitations and provisions as are applicable to a District Court under this Act.

(3) The President may, after consulting the Chief Justice, by order vary the Magistrate’s Court limit.

(underlining added)

11. The claims being claims for breach of contract, it is pertinent to refer to s20 of the SCA, which reads:

Jurisdiction in actions of contract and tort

20. —(1) A District Court shall have jurisdiction to hear and try any action founded on contract or tort where —

(a) the debt, demand or damage claimed does not exceed the District Court limit, whether on balance of account or otherwise; or

(b) there is no claim for money, and the remedy or relief sought in the action is in respect of a subject-matter the value of which does not exceed the District Court limit.


(2) A District Court shall have jurisdiction to hear and try any action where the debt or demand claimed consists of a balance not exceeding the District Court limit after a set-off of any debt or demand claimed or recoverable by the defendant from the plaintiff, being a set-off admitted by the plaintiff in the particulars of his claim or demand.

[6/76;3/86; 15/93]

12. The word “claim” is to be understood in its ordinary, grammatical connotation inasmuch as the word “claim” is not given any special meaning in either the SCA or the Rules of Court; the word “claim” only occurs as part of the words “statement of claim” or “counterclaim”. Thus, by reading s52(1) with s20(1) (which deals with causes of action in contract and tort) of the SCA, the Magistrate’s Court jurisdiction in this claim in contract is limited to $60,000. When the plaintiffs say in this case that they seek damages for the alleged leakage in the amount of S$111,711.08, they were clearly making a claim for that amount. Indeed, the plaintiffs had used the word “claiming” twice, once in their opening statement (at [14]) and once in their closing submissions (at [15]) in respect of the said sum.

13. It is clear beyond peradventure that I had no jurisdiction, sitting in a Magistrate’s Court, which is a creature of the SCA, to hear the damages claim. This is really in the nature of a definitional stop. On the other hand, I retained the jurisdiction to deal with the deposit claims because s20(1) refers to “debt, demand or damage”, ie, disjunctively. In other words, the jurisdictional limit of the Magistrate’s Court is to be applied in respect of each distinct cause of action.

14. Having said that, I do note for completeness, that I have considered two High Court decisions. In Rightrac Trading v Ong Soon Heng (trading as Everbright Engineering & Trading) and another [2003] 4 SLR(R) 505, what Lai Siu Chiu J held thus:

32 Regrettably therefore, I must depart from the position taken in Tan Kok Ing's case. It is my view that when a claim exceeds the jurisdiction of a Magistrate's Court as set out under s 52 of the SCA, the party which applies to transfer the claim to the District Courts should be granted the application as of right. This would be giving effect to O 89 r 4(1) of the Rules…

(emphasis added)

15. On the other hand, in Tan Kok Ing v Tan Swee Meng and others [2003] SLR(R) 657, Woo Bih Li JC, as he then was, said this:

6 The relevant provision is s 53 of the Subordinate Courts Act (Cap 321). Section 53 states:

Transfer from Magistrates' Courts to District Courts

53. A Magistrate's Court may, either of its own motion or on the application of a party to an action, transfer the action to a District Court on the ground that some important question of law or fact is likely to arise.

7 I was of the view that in the light of this provision, there was no inherent jurisdiction in the Magistrate's Court to transfer an action commenced in the Magistrate's Court to the District Court and any such transfer must meet the requirement in s 53 - that is: (a) some important question of law, (b) or fact, is likely to arise. Otherwise s 53 would be otiose.

16. The basis of Rightrac was simply that when a case exceeded the jurisdictional limit of a Magistrate’s Court, a party had a right to transfer his case as of right to the District Court. The necessary premise in Lai J’s dictum must be that in such a case, a Magistrate’s Court had no jurisdiction to hear the case. I understand Tan Kok Ing not to be saying anything different except that Woo JC felt constrained by s53 of the SCA (since repealed) to hold that there was no automatic right of transfer owing to a requirement in s53 that there must be some important question of law or fact to warrant a transfer. The underlying premise in Tan Kok Ing was no less that a Magistrate’s Court was absent jurisdiction in a claim exceeding its jurisdiction limit, with...

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