A SORRY TALE OF MODERN LITIGATION: ALL AROUND THE HOUSES

There are some cases where the “reasonable bystander” may feel that all rationality has been lost by the litigants. Read the opening paragraph of Mr Justice Akenhead’s judgment in Mears Ltd -v- Shoreline Housing Partnership Limited [2015] EWHC 1396 (TCC). There is very little that needs to be added.

THE JUDGMENT

  1. This is a case that need never have been fought all the way through to trial. Nominally the dispute between the parties, Mears Ltd (“Mears”), the contractor, and Shoreline Housing Partnership Ltd (“Shoreline”), the employer, relates to some £300,000 said to have been overpaid under the terms of a substantial repair and maintenance term contract (“the Contract”) which was signed some six months after work started and by agreement retrospectively applied. Over 12,000 small jobs were done and paid for on a basis that the contract did not recognise as such. The dispute relates mainly to whether by way of estoppels this basis of payment was effectively agreed or otherwise enforceable notwithstanding. The proceedings have been rightly described by Shoreline’s Counsel as having “a long and turbulent history”. Shoreline applied to strike out Mears’ claim, unsuccessfully both at first instance and in the Court of Appeal. The first trial was adjourned and efforts were made with Ramsey J as mediator to settle not only this dispute but another substantial payment claim (running to a seven figure sum); that was unsuccessful also. The pleadings have been heavily amended. The submitted costs budgets (totalling well over what was in issue in these proceedings) were rejected by the Court; the parties for no obvious good reason have not submitted revised budgets. The parties have each instructed experienced specialist QCs. The costs on both sides must total at least twice what is in issue. Belatedly and openly, after I expressed surprise that the case was fighting, Mears offered to settle for 50% of what was claimed and Shoreline offered a “drop hands walk away” deal. Neither was accepted. Of course, the Court cannot and does not know what has been happening behind the scenes and that may emerge after this judgment is handed down.

THE DECISION

The issues are quite complex. However the final result is clear.

Decision

  1. There was an effective estoppel, most obviously by convention but also by representation, such that it would be and was unjust and unconscionable for Shoreline to make and retain the deduction of £300,522.03. It is unnecessary to make a finding in respect of the misrepresentation complaint. The other alternative bases of claim put forward by Mears are unsound.
  2. There should be judgment in favour of Mears against Shoreline in the sum of £300,522.03.

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