Vellaikkannu Ramamoorthy v Zakaria bin Wahid

CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
JudgeLiu Zeming
Judgment Date28 October 2022
Neutral Citation[2022] SGDC 252
Citation[2022] SGDC 252
Published date03 November 2022
Hearing Date31 August 2022,12 September 2022,19 September 2022,19 October 2022,26 October 2022
Docket NumberDistrict Court Suit No 1224 of 2019 (Assessment of Damages No. 448 of 2020)
Plaintiff CounselVM Vidthiya (Hoh Law Corporation)
Defendant CounselTay Boon Chong Willy (Willy Tay's Chambers)
Subject MatterCivil Procedure,Jurisdiction,State Courts Act 1970,District Court limit,Costs,Principles
Deputy Registrar Liu Zeming:

The current monetary limit to the general civil jurisdiction of the District Court is $250,000: see Section 19(4) read with Section 2 of the State Courts Act 1970 (2020 Rev Ed) (the “SCA”). Does this include interests and costs which may be awarded by the court at the end of proceedings? Surprisingly, it appears that this question has not been directly addressed before.

The question arose before me. After considering the parties’ submissions, I answered it in the negative. These are my reasons.

Background

District Court Suit No 1224 of 2019 (“Suit 1224”) is the Plaintiff’s claim for damages for injuries he sustained from a road traffic accident in 2017. Consent interlocutory judgment was entered in the Plaintiff’s favour in November 2019, for the Defendant to bear 85% of the damages to be assessed.

The assessment of damages proceedings (the “AD Proceedings”) took place before me on 29 November 2021 and 9 March 2022. Written submissions were filed by parties between June and July 2022. On 10 August 2022, I delivered my oral decision in the AD Proceedings. That decision was further clarified on 25 August 2022 to correct some calculation errors. At the end of the hearing on 25 August 2022, I gave the following orders and directions: The total damages assessed (at 100%) was $357,873.20. This included damages of $114,000 which was agreed between the parties. A breakdown of the damages assessed (including those agreed) is set out at Annex A. Pursuant to the interlocutory judgment, the damages payable by the Defendant is 85% of the damages assessed. This worked out to be $304,192.20. Since the monetary limit on the District Court’s jurisdiction is $250,000 and the Plaintiff has confirmed both in the course of the AD Proceedings and in closing written submissions that he would abandon the excess above such limit, the amount payable to the Plaintiff by the Defendant is limited to $250,000. Parties were directed to file sequential written submissions on interest and costs. These submissions should address whether the monetary limit on the District Court’s general jurisdiction included or excluded interest and costs. With parties’ agreement, the issue of interest and costs will be decided by me by way of a documents-only hearing based on these written submissions. The time for appeal against my decision in the AD Proceedings be deferred until decision on interest and costs is given.

Pursuant to these directions, parties filed written submissions addressing the issues of interest and costs on 31 August 2022, 12 and 19 September 2022. Subsequently, I directed parties to address certain additional issues and supplemental written submissions were filed on 19 and 26 October 2022. I now give my decision based on these submissions. To be clear, this decision concerns only the issues of interest and costs to be awarded to the Plaintiff in Suit 1224.

Issues and Parties’ Positions Issues

There are two broad issues for my determination: Issue 1: Whether the $250,000 monetary limit on the District Court’s general civil jurisdiction in Section 19(4) read with Section 2 of the SCA (the “DC Monetary Limit”) includes or excludes the elements of interest and costs. This is a preliminary issue that must be decided first. Issue 2: If the DC Monetary Limit excludes the elements of interest and costs, then what is the appropriate quantum of costs and interest to be awarded to the Plaintiff.

I set out parties’ respective positions on each of the two issues.

Issue 1: Jurisdiction Plaintiff’s position

The Plaintiff’s position is that the DC Monetary Limit excluded non-contractual interest and costs. In other words, non-contractual interest and costs may be awarded in addition to the maximum sum of $250,000 allowable as damages, such that the aggregate sum payable to the Plaintiff would exceed $250,000. I shall refer to this as the “Exclusive Interpretation”.

In support of this position, the Plaintiff cited the case Abdul Rahman bin Shariff v Abdul Salim bin Syed [1999] 3 SLR(R) 138 (“Abdul Rahman”).1 I will elaborate on the case further (at [21] to [23] below) but in essence, the High Court in Abdul Rahman held that the phrase “the amount in dispute or value of the subject-matter” in Section 21(1) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 1999 Rev Ed) (the “SCJA 1999”) did not include interest and costs, and suggested that Section 20(1) of the Subordinate Courts Act (Cap 321, 1999 Ed) (the “SCA 1999”) should be interpreted the same way.

Defendant’s position

The Defendant disagreed that the decision in Abdul Rahman is useful or relevant. This is because Section 20(1) of SCA 1999 (which was considered in Abdul Rahman) has since been repealed and the current Section 19(4)(a) of the SCA is worded differently.2 In particular, Section 20(1) of SCA 1999 referred to “debt, demand or damaged claimed” not exceeding the District Court limit, whereas Section 19(4)(a) of the SCA refers to “the amount claimed in the action” not exceeding the District Court limit.3

On that basis, the Defendant submitted that the phrase “the amount claimed in the action” (used in Section 19(4)(a) of the SCA) must be read to include interest, and costs in a tortious action.4 I shall refer to this as “Inclusive Interpretation”.

Issue 2: Quantum Plaintiff’s position

The Plaintiff’s submissions on Issue 2 are as follows: On interest: No interest is payable on future expenses, loss of future earnings and loss of earning capacity.5 The Plaintiff is entitled to pre-judgment interest at the rate of 2.67% per annum on the sum of $97,678 (being the sum assessed as special damages) from the date of the accident (i.e. 1 April 2017) to 28 February 2021, being the date of the first interim payment of $50,000 (a further subsequent interim payment of $50,000 was made on 15 March 2022, but the Plaintiff was content to adopt the first payment date for computation of interest).6 The Plaintiff is entitled to pre-judgment at the rate of 5.33% per annum on the sum of $52,105 (being the sum assessed as general damages for pain and suffering) from the date of the writ (i.e. 24 April 2019) to 28 February 2021.7 The Plaintiff is entitled to pre-judgment at the rate of 5.33% per annum on the sum of $49,753 (being the sum assessed as general damages for pain and suffering less the sum of $2,352) from 29 February 2021 to the date of judgment (i.e. 25 August 2022).8 On costs, the Plaintiff submitted that he should be entitled to costs fixed at $32,000 plus GST, with reasonable disbursements to be agreed or taxed.9

Defendant’s position

The Defendant’s position on Issue 2 can be summarised as follows: On interest: The Defendant agreed that there should be no pre-judgment interest awarded for future losses.10 In general, the Defendant agreed that interest at the rate of 5.33% per annum should apply to general damages for pain and suffering from the date of the writ to the date of judgment, less any interim payment made.11 In general, the Defendant agreed that interest at the rate of 2.67% per annum should apply to special from the date of the accident to the date of judgment, less any interim payment made.12 On costs payable to the Plaintiff, the Defendant submitted the sum of $18,500 plus GST and reasonable disbursements.13

My Decision Issue 1 – Jurisdiction Overview of the statutory context

The jurisdiction of the District Court is established (and restricted) by statute, so the natural starting point is the relevant provisions of the SCA.

Pursuant to Section 19(4) of the SCA, the civil jurisdiction of the District Court is limited to actions where the amount claimed does not exceed the “District Court limit”:

Subject to sections 22 and 23, a District Court’s jurisdiction under subsection (2) does not include jurisdiction to hear and try any action where the amount claimed in the action exceeds the District Court limit; or any remedy or relief sought in the action is in respect of a subject matter the value of which exceeds the District Court limit.

(emphasis added)

The “District Court limit” is currently $250,000: see Section 2 of the SCA.

Notwithstanding Section 19(4) of the SCA, the District Court can hear actions where the amount claimed by the claimant exceeds $250,000 if: parties so agree by a signed memorandum: see Section 23 of the SCA; the claimant abandons the excess amount: see Section 22 of the SCA; or the action was commenced in the High Court or the General Division, and subsequently transferred to the District Court pursuant to the Supreme Court of Judicature (Transfer of Specified Proceedings to District Court) Order 2016.

It is not disputed that this case fell within the second of these scenarios.

Pursuant to Section 22 of the SCA, where the claimant abandons the excess amount above the District Court limit, the District Court shall “thereupon” have jurisdiction to hear and try the action, except that the claimant cannot in that action recover an amount exceeding the District Court limit. Section 22 of the SCA states: Where — the amount claimed in an action exceeds the District Court limit, or any remedy or relief sought in an action is in respect of a subject matter the value of which exceeds the District Court limit; and a District Court would have jurisdiction under section 19(2) to hear and try the action if the amount or value (as the case may be) did not exceed the District Court limit,

the claimant may abandon the excess amount or that remedy or relief, as the case may be, and thereupon a District Court has jurisdiction under section 19(2) to hear and try the action, except that the claimant cannot in that action — recover an amount exceeding the District Court limit; and obtain any remedy or relief in respect of the subject matter the value of which exceeds the District Court...

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