Werner Samuel Vuillemin v Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited

CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
JudgeJames Leong Kiu Yiu
Judgment Date10 December 2018
Neutral Citation[2018] SGDC 309
Citation[2018] SGDC 309
Docket NumberDistrict Court Suit No. 3051 of 2013, Registrar’s Appeal No. 72 of 2018, RAS 33 of 2018
Published date09 April 2019
Plaintiff CounselMr Werner Samuel Vuillemin (The plaintiff) in-person
Defendant CounselMr Ang Leong Hao (Hong Lianghao) (Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP)
Hearing Date08 November 2018,16 October 2018
District Judge James Leong Kiu Yiu: Introduction

This Registrar’s Appeal arises from the defendant’s application in Summons 1960/2018 to strike out the plaintiff’s claim under Order 18 r 19 (O18 r 19) of the Rules of Court (ROC). I affirmed the decision of the Deputy Registrar to strike out the action and the plaintiff has since appealed against my decision to the High Court. I now set out the reasons for my decision.


The plaintiff who is a Swiss national ordinarily resident out of Singapore is a customer of the defendant, a bank incorporated in Singapore providing banking services for its customers. On 12 February 1999, the plaintiff hired a safe deposit box located in the defendant’s Specialist Centre branch. In 2007, the defendant moved the branch at Specialist Centre to Orchard Point. Prior to the move, the defendant informed the plaintiff that if the safe deposit box was not relocated or discontinued by 17 June 2007, the defendant would open the safe deposit box and keep the contents in a sealed security bag at a fee. When the plaintiff who had given instructions to the defendant to hold his mail did not respond, the defendant opened the safe deposit box on 28 June 2007. The items in the safe deposit box were collected, accounted for and recorded by the external accountants, Messrs LTC Associates, and placed in a sealed bag.

At a meeting on 2 December 2009 the plaintiff alleged that although he had signed the forms as required by the defendant, he was not allowed to collect the contents of the safe deposit box because he had reserved all his rights against the defendant. However, it is not in dispute that since as early as 10 November 2009, the defendant had offered an alternative to the plaintiff to open the security bag and account for the items which did not require the plaintiff to waive his rights against the defendant or sign their “prescribed release forms”. Instead of accepting this alternative “open offer”, the plaintiff acting in person commenced the current writ action on 7 October 2013 claiming in the statement of claim for: Delivery to the Plaintiff of his personal belongings being the contents kept in the Safety Deposit Box. A Court order that the Defendants are responsible and/or liable to the Plaintiff for any mishandling of the Plaintiff’s Safety Deposit Box contents and of the whole break into proceedings of the Safety Deposit Box and all triggered through the Defendants’ breaking into the Safety Deposit Box and into the receptacle. Damages. Interests. Costs. Any other necessary orders and/or directions.”

Without specifying the damages that he seeks, he states at [8](ii) of the statement of claim the following particulars of loss and/or damages and/or expenses: “(ii) From 11 October 2007 up to 6 October 2014 (and continuing), the Plaintiff incurred the following and which the Plaintiff reserves the rights to provide in greater detail: Lawyers’ time about 80-100 hours. 684 days of hotel accommodation, food and travel and daily expenses within Singapore. Flights in and out of Singapore – Europe plus train, bus and taxi – about 7 trips. Flights in and out of Singapore to Thailand plus train, bus and taxi – about 22 trips.”

Since the commencement of the action, the parties have filed various interlocutory applications and appeals that have been escalated to the High Court no less than three times. The plaintiff has also sought and been refused leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal a decision of the High Court in Summons 1520 of 2018 in relation to the plaintiff’s application for the recusal of the Judge. These various applications have been described by the High Court in Werner Samuel Vuillemin v Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited [2018] SGHC 92 at [90] as “skirmishes [that] have engaged much time and resources needlessly and succeeded in distracting the parties such that the substantive action was apparently put on hold”.

Striking Out Application before the Deputy Registrar

At the hearing before the Deputy Registrar on 16 August 2018, the defendant relied on all four limbs of O 18 r 19 of the ROC. On 20 August 2018, the Deputy Registrar granted the defendant’s application to strike out the plaintiff’s action with costs of the application and main action fixed at $ 8500. In his comprehensive oral grounds, the Deputy Registrar found that the plaintiff’s claim was (a) an abuse of process (b) frivolous and (c) time barred, thereby disclosing no reasonable cause of action as well as falling within the ambit of an abuse of the process of the court. For completeness, the defendant in the same application had also sought consequential orders for the sealed bag to be opened and collected by the plaintiff under O 92 r 5 of the ROC, which the Deputy Registrar declined to make.

Applicable Legal Principles

The applicable legal principles in relation to striking out under O 18 r 19 of the ROC are succinctly summarised in the High Court decision of Tan Swee Wan v Lian Tian Yong Johnny [2016] SGHC 206 at [38-40] as follows: The four grounds upon which the Court may strike out any pleading are set out in O 18 r 19(1) of the Rules of Court:

Striking out pleadings and endorsements (O. 18, r. 19)

The Court may at any stage of the proceedings order to be struck out or amended any pleading or the endorsement of any writ in the action, or anything in any pleading or in the endorsement, on the ground that — it discloses no reasonable cause of action or defence, as the case may be; it is scandalous, frivolous or vexatious; it may prejudice, embarrass or delay the fair trial of the action; or it is otherwise an abuse of the process of the Court, and may order the action to be stayed or dismissed or judgment to be entered accordingly, as the case may be. The guiding principles behind each of four grounds for striking out under O 18 r 19(1) are clearly established. I shall briefly set them out below: O 18 r 19(1)(a): “it discloses no reasonable cause of action”. This involves an action which does not even have “some chance of success when only the allegations in the pleading are considered”: Gabriel Peter & Partners (suing as a firm) v Wee Chong Jin and others [1997] 3 SLR(R) 649 (“Gabriel Peter”) at [21]. O 18 r 19(1)(b): “it is...

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