Obegi Melissa and Others v Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd and Another

CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
JudgeChan Sek Keong CJ
Judgment Date28 January 2008
Neutral Citation[2008] SGCA 4
Citation[2008] SGCA 4
Defendant CounselVinodh Coomaraswamy SC and Georgina Lum Baoling (Shook Lin & Bok)
Plaintiff CounselKenneth Tan SC and Cham Shan Jie Mark (Kenneth Tan Partnership)
Published date29 January 2008
Docket NumberCivil Appeals Nos 25, 33 and 45 of 2006
Date28 January 2008
Subject MatterWhether Rules Committee competent to exclude court's discretion to extend time,Order 3 r 4 Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2004 Rev Ed),Jurisdiction,Tort,Section 53 Interpretation Act (Cap 1, 2002 Rev Ed),Courts and Jurisdiction,Order 14 r 14, O 18 r 20 Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2004 Rev Ed),Civil Procedure,Whether time limit in O 14 r 14 Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2004 Rev Ed) for summary judgment applications absolute or extendable by court,Whether breach of confidence a triable issue where documents obtained from discarded rubbish bags,Section 18(2), First Schedule para 7 Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 1999 Rev Ed),Interpretation act,Statutory Interpretation,Whether time may be extended for summary judgment application,Pleadings,Confidence,When pleadings in multiparty action deemed closed

28 January 2008

V K Rajah JA (delivering the grounds of decision of the court):


1 This was a consolidated appeal against the decision of the High Court judge (“the Judge”) in Suit No 542 of 2005 (“the present suit”), which is an action by the respondents against the appellants founded on, inter alia, breach of confidence in relation to and conversion of certain allegedly confidential documents (“the Documents”) (see Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd v Obegi Melissa [2006] 3 SLR 573 (“the GD”)). The Judge granted summary judgment in favour of the respondents and ordered, inter alia:

(a) a permanent injunction restraining the appellants from using or disclosing the Documents;

(b) a mandatory injunction requiring the appellants to deliver up to the respondents all originals and copies of the Documents; and

(c) an inquiry into the damage suffered by the respondents as a result of the appellants’ breach of confidence and/or conversion.

2 The present suit stemmed from three affidavits deposed by the first appellant (“the first appellant’s affidavits”) which had been filed in an earlier action, Suit No 632 of 2004 (“S 632/04”). That suit was brought by the third to the seventh appellants against, among others, an Indonesian company, PT Indah Kiat Pulp & Paper Corporation (“Indah Kiat”), to enforce a judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of New York for the sum of US$75,576,734.86 with costs and interest.

3 On 27 June 2005, the third to the seventh appellants obtained default judgment for the above amount against Indah Kiat in S 632/04. They then, qua judgment creditors of Indah Kiat, engaged the services of the tenth appellant, a private investigation firm, to secure information relating to the respondents, which they believed were owned by the same Indonesian family that allegedly owned Indah Kiat. Investigations were carried out by the ninth appellant, a director of the tenth appellant. In the process, the ninth appellant retrieved the Documents from rubbish which the respondents had discarded from their office at Orchard Towers. On the basis of these materials, which were exhibited in the first appellant’s affidavits, the third to the seventh appellants obtained a Mareva injunction (in S 632/04) on 8 July 2005 to restrain Indah Kiat from, inter alia, disposing of, dealing with or diminishing the value of the debts owed to it by the respondents to the value of US$75,576,734.86.

4 The respondents, which were not parties to S 632/04, subsequently commenced the present suit claiming proprietary confidence in the Documents and asserting that a breach of confidence had been occasioned by the exhibition of those documents in S 632/04. In the respondents’ amended statement of claim dated 31 August 2005, it was pleaded that the ninth appellant, acting as a servant and/or agent of the tenth appellant, had obtained the Documents surreptitiously and/or by improper or unconscionable means, and had thereafter passed them to the first to the eighth appellants in breach of the obligation of confidence which he and the tenth appellant owed to the respondents. It was asserted that the first to the eighth appellants, by receiving the Documents in such circumstances and having been placed on notice that the Documents were confidential, similarly owed the respondents a duty of confidence. The first to the eighth appellants, it was alleged, had breached this duty by using the Documents without the permission of the respondents to the latter’s detriment.

5 On 20 December 2005, the respondents filed a summary judgment application (“SIC 6394/05”) pursuant to O 14 of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2004 Rev Ed) (“the Rules”) in the present suit against all the appellants. In resisting this application, the appellants raised the preliminary objection that as against all the appellants except the eighth appellant, the application had been made out of time in contravention of O 14 r 14 read with O 18 r 20 of the Rules. (For ease of exposition, this preliminary objection will be referred to as “the procedural point” in these grounds of decision.) On the substantive merits of SIC 6394/05, the appellants vigorously contended that the Documents were not confidential and, further, that they could not be held liable for conversion or theft because the respondents had abandoned and had thus relinquished ownership of the Documents and their contents. In this regard, it was highlighted that the ninth appellant had retrieved the Documents not from the respondents’ office itself, but from rubbish bags which the respondents had left for collection at the bin centre of Orchard Towers (which, as mentioned at [3] above, was where their office was located). The third to the seventh appellants further contended that, in any case, they had purchased the Documents in good faith from the tenth appellant and, thus, did not have notice that those materials had been obtained improperly as the respondents claimed.

The decision below

6 The Judge found that SIC 6394/05 had been filed within the time limit for making a summary judgment application, viz, “[not] more than 28 days after the pleadings in the action are deemed to be closed” (see O 14 r 14 of the Rules). Applying O 18 r 20(1)(b) of the Rules (which states that where neither a reply nor a defence to counterclaim is served, pleadings are deemed to be closed “at the expiration of 14 days after service of the defence”), the Judge held that the pleadings had been deemed to be closed only on 22 December 2005, the date falling 14 days after the last defence in the present suit (viz, the eighth appellant’s defence) was filed (see the GD at [9]). Noting (at [8] of the GD) that both O 14 r 14 and O 18 r 20 of the Rules referred to “action” in the singular form, the Judge reasoned that, in a suit against multiple defendants, there must be only one date for the close of pleadings regardless of the particular dates on which each defendant filed its defence. That date occurred – where O 18 r 20(1)(b) applied – 14 days after the last relevant defence was filed. The Judge concluded (at [15] of the GD):

To require that the [respondents] take out separate applications for summary judgment against the respective [appellants] would lead to multiplicity of actions and wastage of costs. All the reasons in favour of a single trial also point to why there should be a single O 14 application. I conclude therefore that the [respondents’] application is within time not only as against the eighth [appellant] but as against all the [appellants]. Even if I were wrong, this would seem to me a paradigm case where the court should allow an extension of time to prevent injustice.

7 With regard to the merits of SIC 6394/05, the Judge held, for the following reasons, that there were no triable issues which warranted giving the appellants leave to defend.

8 First, it was “untenable in law” (see the GD at [23]) for the appellants to contend that by putting rubbish containing the Documents out for collection, the respondents had abandoned the Documents and therefore could not assert any property rights in those materials. The Judge adopted (at [26] of the GD) the definition of “abandonment” in Simpson v Gowers (1981) 121 DLR (3d) 709 at 711, namely:

“a giving up, a total desertion, and absolute relinquishment” of private goods by the former owner. It may arise when the owner with the specific intent of desertion and relinquishment casts away or leaves behind his property …

Citing (at [24] of the GD) Williams v Phillips (1957) 41 Cr App Rep 5, the Judge also stated (at [27]–[29] of the GD) that:

27 Putting rubbish out for collection by refuse collection personnel is not an abandonment because there is no intent to relinquish the goods absolutely but only conditionally for the purpose of such collection.

29 … [E]ven if abandonment were in and of itself sufficient to divest the [respondents] of property in the rubbish, the [appellants] had not adduced evidence anywhere close to discharging their burden of proof that the [respondents] had abandoned the [D]ocuments. I therefore agreed with the [respondents] that there was no triable issue on this point.

9 Second, the judge found (at [31] of the GD) that “it was unarguable that the ninth [appellant] had surreptitiously and improperly obtained the [D]ocuments by criminal means (ie, theft) and unlawful means (ie, conversion)”.

10 Third, the judge held that the three elements essential to an action for breach of confidence, as set out in Coco v A N Clark (Engineers) Ltd [1969] RPC 41, had been made out in that:

(a) The information contained in the Documents was confidential as it related to, inter alia, the respondents’ financial affairs, management procedures and trading practices (see [41] of the GD).

(b) The information had been communicated in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence on the part of the first to the eighth appellants because they had become aware of the confidential nature of the information as well as the circumstances in which the Documents had been obtained (see [53] of the GD). The Judge ruled that for the purposes of imposing an obligation of confidence on the first to the eighth appellants, it was not necessary to find that they had acted in bad faith or had participated in the improper means utilised by the ninth and the tenth appellants to obtain the Documents (see [51] of the GD).

(c) The appellants had made unauthorised use of the information contained in the Documents. Although the law was unclear as to whether such unauthorised use had to be to the respondents’ detriment, the uncertainty in this regard was immaterial in the present suit as the respondents had suffered detriment (see [68]–[75] of the GD).

11 On appeal, it was submitted that the respondents were not procedurally entitled, without a judicially sanctioned extension of time, to apply for summary judgment against the eighth appellant, and that there were triable...

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18 cases
  • Bachoo Mohan Singh v Public Prosecutor and another matter
    • Singapore
    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
    • 15 July 2010
    ...pleadings without the court’s intervention. As this court observed in Obegi Melissa and others v Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd and another [2008] 2 SLR(R) 540 (at [13]): The close of pleadings is an important juncture in a writ action. It indicates that the issues in dispute have been sufficientl......
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    ...Ltd v Fire-Stop Marketing Services Pte Ltd [2005] 1 SLR(R) 379; [2005] 1 SLR 379 (folld) Obegi Melissa v Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd [2008] 2 SLR(R) 540; [2008] 2 SLR 540 (refd) Pacific & Orient Insurance Co Bhd v Motor Insurers' Bureau of Singapore [2013] 1 SLR 341 (folld) Pegang Mining Co Ltd......
  • United Overseas Bank Ltd v Lippo Marina Collection Pte Ltd and others
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    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 22 February 2016
    ...findings of fact is not appropriate for summary determination: the Court of Appeal case of Obegi Melissa v Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd [2008] 2 SLR(R) 540 at [42] (“Obegi”), and the High Court case of TMT Asia Ltd v BHP Billiton Marketing AG (Singapore Branch) [2015] 2 SLR 540 (“TMT”) at [34]. ......
  • Samsonite IP Holdings Sarl v An Sheng Trading Pte Ltd
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    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 6 February 2017
    ...findings of fact, summary determination would not be appropriate: Obegi Melissa and others v Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd and another [2008] 2 SLR(R) 540 at [42]; see also TMT Asia at [38]. Bearing in mind the legal principles above, in my view, this is a suitable case for O 14 r 12 determinatio......
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4 books & journal articles
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2016, December 2016
    • 1 December 2016
    ...on the circumstances of the case, include: (a) confidential information or trade secrets (Obegi Melissa v Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd[2008] 2 SLR(R) 540); and (b) the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (Act 26 of 2012). Cf Pierre N Leval, “Toward a Fair Use Standard”(1990) 103 Harv L Rev 1105 at......
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    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2008, December 2008
    • 1 December 2008
    ...be pleaded and proved like any other fact’. Close of pleadings 7.62 The Court of Appeal stated in Obegi Melissa v Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd[2008] 2 SLR 540 at [13]: The close of pleadings is an important juncture in a writ action. It indicates that the issues in dispute have been sufficiently......
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    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2008, December 2008
    • 1 December 2008
    ...of confidence 22.1 Obegi Melissa v Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd [2008] 2 SLR 540 was an appeal against the High Court”s decision in favour of the plaintiff (in Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd v Obegi Melissa[2006] 3 SLR 573). The plaintiff”s action was founded on, inter alia, breach of confidence in rel......
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    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2011, December 2011
    • 1 December 2011
    ...the protection of ownership, essentially gives effect to the sanctity of property rights. 4 Obegi Melissa v Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd [2008] 2 SLR(R) 540. 5 Obegi Melissa v Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd [2008] 2 SLR(R) 540 at [40]. 6 Obegi Melissa v Vestwin Trading Pte Ltd [2008] 2 SLR(R) 540 at [4......

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