Ong Wah Chuan v Seow Hwa Chuan

JurisdictionSingapore
Judgment Date26 April 2011
Date26 April 2011
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 1227 of 2010
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Ong Wah Chuan
Plaintiff
and
Seow Hwa Chuan
Defendant

[2011] SGHC 98

Quentin Loh J

Originating Summons No 1227 of 2010

High Court

Civil Procedure—Appeals—Leave—Decision on liability but not on quantum in bifurcated trial—District judge requiring leave to appeal when special damages alone amounted to $44,770.45—Whether leave to appeal was required when unclear if quantum would cross threshold of $50,000—Section 21 (1) Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 2007 Rev Ed)

The applicant and the respondent were involved in a motor accident. After a bifurcated trial on liability, the district judge (‘the District Judge’) found the applicant 90% liable for the accident. The applicant filed a notice of appeal and was informed of the District Judge's view that leave was required pursuant to s 21 (1) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 2007 Rev Ed) (‘SCJA’).

Counsel for the applicant then wrote in to the Subordinate Courts Registry stating that the special damages pleaded by the respondent already amounted to $44,770.45. The respondent's solicitor also gave written confirmation of his view that the respondent's claim was well in excess of $50,000. Nonetheless, the District Judge directed that an application for leave to appeal be filed.

At the hearing of the application by the District Judge, both counsel submitted that given the quantum of the pleaded special damages alone, leave was not required. The District Judge disagreed and dismissed the application for leave to appeal. The applicant applied, inter alia, to set aside the District Judge's refusal of leave and for a declaration that leave was not required to appeal against the District Judge's decision on liability.

Held, setting aside the refusal of leave and granting the application:

(1) Since s 21 (1) SCJA specifically set out a monetary amount, the threshold criterion of $50,000 did not apply where damages were truly at large. In such a case, leave to appeal was not required provided that on the facts, the maximum possible amount in damages was not clearly below $50,000. This proviso was required by policy considerations and the purpose of s 21 (1) SCJA. Support for such an approach could be found in Hailisen Shipping Co Ltd v Pan-United Shipyard Pte Ltd [2004] 1 SLR (R) 148 (‘Hailisen Shipping’): at [31] and [32].

(2) In this case, although the damages were not yet assessed, they were not truly at large as the value of the damages could be estimated (see (5) below). Therefore, the applicant did not require leave to appeal: at [34].

(3) Firstly, unless the damages bore no specific value and were truly at large, the parties and the court had to ascertain, as best they could, the amount in dispute in the appeal on the facts of each case. Where there were difficulties in doing so, it behoved counsel for the intending appellant to show that his client's claim had crossed the threshold: at [35].

(4) In borderline cases where each side put forward a sum falling on either side of the threshold, then the court would just have to decide who was more likely to be right, this was something the courts were called upon to do all the time. There would be no prejudice as such a decision was only to ascertain quantum for the ‘leave’ stage, and it would not bind the judge who had to assess quantum eventually: at [38].

(5) Secondly, there was material before the District Judge for him to form a view that damages clearly exceeded the $50,000 threshold under s 21 (1) SCJA. The pleadings, the requisite medical reports and the O 18 r 12 (1A) (b) Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) statement of special damages contained the necessary material for the court to form a view. It was very clear that with general damages for pain and suffering, the total claim would comfortably exceed the $50,000 threshold. Indeed, counsel for the respondent quantified his client's loss and damage at about $252,000 and put the figure for damages for pain and suffering at $55,000: at [36] and [37].

(6) Thirdly, where both counsel with reason responsibly stated that they agreed and accepted that the claim exceeded the threshold, that should have been sufficient for the court: at [36].

[Observation: Where an appellant inflated his claim, or for example if a plaintiff maintained a claim on appeal without legal justification after the grounds of decision were published, only for the purposes of crossing the $50,000 threshold, then he could be penalised in costs. If, unusually, a party could show the other party inflated his claim in bad faith just to cross such a threshold as in s 21 (1) SCJA, then the court could take a strong stand and treat the case as one with its true value and not one according to the inflated sum pleaded mala fide: at [29].

This decision should not be seen as opening the floodgates to allow appeals from the Subordinate Courts to inundate the High Court. For those claims arising from road traffic accidents, one would be able to estimate with reasonable accuracy the likely damages in dispute. This would likely hold true for many, if not most, other kinds of claims that went before the Subordinate Courts: at [39].

Under the new s 21 (1) SCJA, which came into effect on 1 January 2011 pursuant to the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Act 2010 (Act 30 of 2010), ss 21 (1) (a) and 34 (2) (a) SCJA would be uniform in so far as the determination of the ‘amount in dispute’ was concerned. Going forward, for both the provisions, one would need only to look at the amount in dispute ‘at the hearing’ before the lower court. However, the holdings regarding the applicability of Hailisen Shipping to the previous s 21 (1) SCJA, as well as the observation in the preceding paragraph, remained relevant to the new s 21 (1) (a) SCJA: at [2], [41] and [42].]

Abdul Rahman bin Shariff v Abdul Salim bin Syed [1999] 3 SLR (R) 138; [1999] 4 SLR 716 (refd)

Ang Swee Koon v Pang Tim Fook Paul [2006] 2 SLR (R) 733; [2006] 2 SLR 733 (refd)

Anthony s/o Savarimiuthu v Soh Chuan Tin [1989] 1 SLR (R) 588; [1989] SLR 607 (refd)

Augustine Zacharia Norman v Goh Siam Yong [1992] 1 SLR (R) 746; [1992] 1 SLR 767 (refd)

Hailisen Shipping Co Ltd v Pan-United Shipyard Pte Ltd [2004] 1 SLR (R) 148; [2004] 1 SLR 148 (folld)

Hua Sheng Tao v Welltech Construction Pte Ltd [2003] 2 SLR (R) 137; [2003] 2 SLR 137 (refd)

Mason v Burningham [1949] 2 KB 545 (refd)

Mayer v Burgess (1855) 4 El & Bl 655; 119 ER 241 (refd)

Sethuraman Arumugam v Star Furniture Industries Pte Ltd [1999] SGHC 144 (refd)

Tan Chiang Brother's Marble (S) Pte Ltd v Permasteelisa Pacific Holdings Ltd [2002] 1 SLR (R) 633; [2002] 2 SLR 225 (refd)

Teo Eng Chuan v Nirumalan V Kanapathi Pillay [2003] 4 SLR (R) 442; [2003] 4 SLR 442 (refd)

Rules of Court (Cap 322,R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) O 18r 12 (1A) (b)

Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 2007 Rev Ed) s 21 (1) (consd) ;s 34 (2) (a)

Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Act2010 (Act 30 of 2010)

Ramesh Appoo (Just Law LLC) for the applicant;

Perumal Athiham (Yeo Perumal Mohideen Law Corporation) for the respondent.

Quentin Loh J

1 This originating summons (‘OS’) raises the issue of whether leave of court is required to appeal against a decision of the District Court or Magistrate's Court in a case where only liability has been decided and there has been no decision on quantum. What is the position if it is not clear whether the quantum will or will not cross the threshold of $50,000? The significance of this threshold is that leave to appeal is required under s 21 (1) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 2007 Rev Ed) (‘SCJA’), if the amount in dispute or the value of the subject-matter does not exceed $50,000 but there is an appeal as of right if it exceeds $50,000.

2 I should mention that s 21 (1) SCJA has been amended by the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Act 2010 (Act 30 of 2010), which came into effect on 1 January 2011. However my judgment is based on the provisions before the amendments as the previous provisions govern these proceedings.

3 The claim in this case arose from a road traffic accident between the plaintiff's motorcycle and the defendant's motor van on 19 June 2006. The plaintiff brought his claim in the Subordinate Courts. There was a bifurcation of liability and quantum, both of which were disputed. The trial on liability was heard on 24 September 2010 and the learned district judge (‘District Judge’) delivered oral judgment on 21 October 2010, holding the defendant 90% liable for the accident. The learned District Judge then ordered that damages be assessed by the registrar with costs and interest being reserved to the registrar.

4 The defendant filed a notice of appeal on 2 November 2010 against the learned District Judge's decision. On 4 November 2010, the Subordinate Courts Registry informed the defendant's solicitors that the learned District Judge took the view that leave of court was required before an appeal could be lodged pursuant to s 21 (1) SCJA.

5 The defendant's solicitors wrote to the Subordinate Courts Registry on the same day, stating that the plaintiff's claim was for both personal injuries and property damage, and pointed out that the special damages alone, pleaded pursuant to O 18 r 12 (1A) (b) of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed), amounted to $44,770.45. The defendant's solicitor also sought the views of the plaintiff's solicitor who confirmed in writing that, in his view, his client's claim was well in excess of $50,000. Both solicitors therefore took the view that leave to appeal was not required as the claim was above $50,000. The learned District Judge disagreed and directed that an application be filed to seek the District Court's leave to appeal to the High Court. The defendant's solicitors complied and filed Summons No 19086 of 2010/Q in District Court Suit No 1680 of 2009/R seeking leave to appeal.

6 This application was heard...

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    • Singapore
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    ...the court had to ascertain, as best as they could, the amount in dispute” (Baragwanath at [11] citing Ong Wah Chuan v Seow Hwa Chuan [2011] 3 SLR 1150 at [35]). On balance, the material before me suggests that the value of the entitlement of the Plaintiff to use the Premises falls within th......
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    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 15 Diciembre 2015
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1 books & journal articles
  • Civil Procedure
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2011, December 2011
    • 1 Diciembre 2011
    ...Leave to appeal 8.1 In Ong Wah Chuan v Seow Hwa Chuan[2011] 3 SLR 1150 (Ong Wah Chuan), the trial was bifurcated and liability and quantum were considered separately. The High Court held (Ong Wah Chuan at [31]), that since s 21(1)(a) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 2007 Rev......

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