Zhang Run Zi v Koh Kim Seng and another

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeGeorge Wei JC (as he then was)
Judgment Date09 July 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] SGHC 175
Citation[2015] SGHC 175
Published date15 July 2015
Hearing Date27 April 2015
Docket NumberSuit No 2 of 2013 (Registrar’s Appeal No 96 of 2015)
Plaintiff CounselLooi Wan Hui (JLim Law Corporation)
Defendant CounselBalasubramaniam Ernest Yogarajah (Unilegal LLC)
Subject MatterRes judicata,Issue estoppel,Abuse of process
George Wei J:

The judicial process provides a rule-based system for parties to vindicate their rights and seek appropriate remedies. The system is part and parcel of the rule of law. Whilst all persons with grievances should have the opportunity to have those grievances fully ventilated, the cost of litigation is undeniable. This cost is not merely financial costs for the litigants. Costs are also incurred by the State, which has to provide judicial resources for the resolution of the dispute. Whilst litigation is inevitably stressful for all parties, the financial and emotional cost of protracted litigation, especially repeated attempts to litigate the same complaint, is a matter which the law is not blind to. The doctrine of res judicata thus plays a crucial role in striking the balance between the competing objectives of allowing the plaintiff his or her day in court, and preventing vexatious litigation which burdens all parties involved and places a strain on judicial resources.

The present case is one such instance where I found that the balance lay in favour of striking out the plaintiff’s claim on the grounds of res judicata. I now set out the grounds for my decision.

Procedural history

Zhang Run Zi (“the Plaintiff”) commenced Suit No 2 of 2013 (“S 2/2013”) to recover losses she claims to have suffered from a failed property transaction in 2007 when she was supposed to purchase 10 Hoot Kiam Road S(249395) (“the Property”) from joint owners Koh Kim Seng (“Mr Koh”) and Alice Swan (“the Defendants”).

On 19 January 2015, the Defendants filed Summons No 270 of 2015 (“SUM 270/2015”) to strike out the Plaintiff’s entire statement of claim. In summary, the Defendants asserted that S 2/2013 is an abuse of process because the factual and legal issues raised in S 2/2013 have already been litigated on multiple occasions previously.

On 18 March 2015, the learned assistant registrar (“the AR”) allowed SUM 270/2015 in full, and ordered that the Plaintiff pay the Defendants fixed costs assessed on an indemnity basis of $14,500 inclusive of disbursements.

On 1 April 2015, the Plaintiff filed Registrar’s Appeal No 96 of 2015 against the AR’s entire decision. I heard the parties on 27 April 2015, and dismissed the Plaintiff’s appeal in full. I also ordered the Plaintiff to pay the Defendants costs on an indemnity basis for the appeal. The Plaintiff now appeals against my decision in Civil Appeal No 110 of 2015.

Factual background

The material events regarding the disputed property transaction took place some eight years ago in early 2007. On 3 January 2007, upon the Plaintiff’s payment of the option fee ($10,200), the Defendants granted the Plaintiff an option to purchase the Property. On 24 January 2007, the Plaintiff exercised her option to purchase the Property. At that point, she had paid the Defendants $51,000 for the purchase of the Property, which was 5% of the purchase price. On 25 January 2007, the Plaintiff lodged a caveat against the Property (“the Plaintiff’s First Caveat”).

The date of legal completion as specified in the sale and purchase agreement was 21 March 2007. Some time in February 2007, the parties exchanged correspondence regarding the Defendants’ alleged concealing of road lines which affected the Property. The Defendants refuted the Plaintiff’s allegations. Nothing conclusive emerged from the correspondence.

Subsequently, for reasons which are the subject of intense factual disagreement on both sides, the Plaintiff failed to complete the purchase of the Property on 21 March 2007. On 26 March 2007, the Defendants gave the Plaintiff a 21-day notice to complete the purchase of the property. No response was received from the Plaintiff. Therefore, the Defendants retained the $51,000 paid by the Plaintiff and proceeded to look for other buyers.

As it turned out, the Defendants did manage to find a second buyer. On 26 April 2007, the Defendants gave the second buyer an option to purchase. Legal completion of this second sale and purchase transaction was due on 5 July 2007. However, legal completion was delayed because the Plaintiff’s First Caveat was still on the register as of 5 July 2007.

The Defendants therefore took action to remove the Plaintiff’s First Caveat. They first lodged an application with the land registry to cancel the Plaintiff’s caveat. The Plaintiff objected in writing to the cancellation of her caveat. The Registrar of Titles therefore directed the Defendants to apply to court for a determination of the matter.

Following that direction, the Defendants commenced Originating Summons No 1639 of 2007 (“OS 1639/2007”) on 6 November 2007 to lift the Plaintiff’s First Caveat.

By an order of court dated 29 November 2007, Tay Yong Kwang J expunged the Plaintiff’s First Caveat. Tay J also directed the Plaintiff to consult her solicitors regarding the Property transaction and commence any action against the Defendants within two months from 29 November 2007 (ie, by 29 January 2008). If no such action was commenced, it was ordered that the Defendants be at liberty to restore the remaining prayers in OS 1639/2007 (primarily, a prayer for compensation of losses arising from the delayed completion of the sale).

After the High Court expunged the Plaintiff's First Caveat, she immediately proceeded to lodge a second caveat against the Property on 4 December 2007 (“the Plaintiff’s Second Caveat”). In response, the Defendants commenced Originating Summons No 2 of 2008 (“OS 2/2008”) on 2 January 2008 to expunge the Plaintiff’s Second Caveat.

On 10 January 2008, Lee Seiu Kin J ordered that the Plaintiff’s Second Caveat be expunged, and that the Plaintiff be prohibited from taking any steps that may interfere with the Property, including the lodging of further caveats without the leave of court.

Exactly on 29 January 2008, the Plaintiff commenced Magistrates’ Courts Suit No 2619 of 2008 (“MC 2619/2008”) against the Defendants. She pleaded, inter alia, that she was not told that the Property was affected by road lines before she paid the $51,000 to the Defendants, and claimed for the return of the $51,000. The Defendants applied to strike out MC 2619/2008. They were successful before the Deputy Registrar of the then Subordinate Courts. The Plaintiff appealed against the Deputy Registrar’s striking out order, but the District Judge dismissed her appeal in January 2012. The Plaintiff did not attempt to appeal the District Judge’s order.

On 2 May 2012, pursuant to Tay J’s order dated 29 November 2007, the Defendants wrote to the court requesting that the remaining prayers in OS 1639/2007 be restored for hearing. The matter went before Tay J on 20 July 2012. Tay J ordered the Plaintiff to pay the Defendants damages to be assessed, with costs on an indemnity basis.

However, before the assessment of damages hearing, the Plaintiff filed Summons No 72 of 2013 (“SUM 72/2013”) on 5 January 2013 to set aside the orders of court dated 29 November 2007 (Tay J's order expunging the Plaintiff’s First Caveat), 10 January 2008 (Lee J's order expunging the Plaintiff’s Second Caveat), and 20 July 2012 (Tay J's order in OS 1639/2007 that the Plaintiff pay the Defendants damages to be assessed and costs on an indemnity basis). SUM 72/2013 went before Tay J on 7 February 2013, and Tay J dismissed the Plaintiff’s summons. Tay J issued written grounds for his decision at [2013] SGHC 79.

The Plaintiff appealed against Tay J's decision in SUM 72/2013 in Civil Appeal No 22 of 2013, but the Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal on 23 September 2013. Thereafter, the assessment of damages hearing (AD 2/2013) was proceeded with and judgment was issued on 11 February 2015.

Of course, as the above events unfolded, the Plaintiff simultaneously commenced the present suit (S 2/2013) on 2 January 2013. As mentioned, I upheld the AR’s decision to strike out S 2/2013 entirely on 27 April 2015. I now explain the reasons for my decision.


The key question before me was whether the doctrine of res judicata (broadly speaking) operated in the present case to justify striking out the Plaintiff’s entire claim in S 2/2013. More specifically, I had to consider whether cause of action estoppel, issue estoppel, and/or “the extended doctrine of res judicata” applied to bar the Plaintiff’s claims in S 2/2013.

On the question of res judicata, the Plaintiff submitted that while she did previously commence an action against the Defendants in relation to the Property, the two specific legal wrongs asserted in S 2/2013, namely misrepresentation and breach of contract, were never previously decided upon.

I therefore propose to explain the grounds of my decision in the following manner: First, I shall consider what was or was not litigated and decided in the proceedings that preceded S 2/2013. Second, I shall consider the specific contours of the doctrine of res judicata. Finally, I shall explain why I found that on the facts of the present case, the doctrine of res judicata operated to bar the Plaintiff’s entire claim in S 2/2013.

The history of litigation

The two key proceedings in which the issues raised in the current suit were arguably already litigated are MC 2619/2008 and SUM 72/2013. I therefore considered what was actually raised and decided in MC 2619/2008 and SUM 72/2013.

MC 2619/2008

As mentioned, in MC 2619/2008, the Plaintiff claimed for the return of the $51,000 she paid to the Defendants for the purchase of the Property. In her statement of claim for MC 2619/2008, the Plaintiff pleaded the following: Before she exercised the option, she did not know the Property was affected by two road schemes, both of which affected the open market value of the Property. The market value of the Property was half what she was paying for it and she was unable to finance the purchase of the Property as a result. She was therefore entitled to recover the $51,000 she...

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