Supreme Court Success for OCWM Law LLP

We are pleased to report the successful outcome of our client City Learning Limited’s appeal to the Supreme Court.  The unanimous judgment of the Court delivered by the Chief Justice on 29 November 2023 brings welcome clarity to an important principle that limits abuse of process by relitigating issues that could and should have been argued in earlier proceedings unless there are special circumstances that allow for some flexibility to be afforded to the litigant.

The so-called Rule in Henderson -v- Henderson (dating from 1843) was invoked to bring finality to a protracted dispute which was initially tried and dismissed by the Circuit Court in 2018.  The unsuccessful plaintiff commenced new proceedings pleading a number of other alleged wrongs arising from the same factual background, this time joining the company’s directors as well. Our client’s application to the Circuit Court to strike out the proceedings was granted but overturned on appeal to the High Court.  Considering the procedural significance of the arguments, leave to appeal was granted by the Supreme Court to determine whether the Rule applies only to the order of the court in the initial proceedings or also to the manner in which its decision was expressed and whether the Rule can be invoked by parties who were not parties to the first proceedings (i.e., the directors).

Following an extensive analysis, the Court ruled that the primary task was to undertake a forensic scrutiny of what had been pleaded in the first case and what the court in that case decided but stressed that the reviewing court should be reluctant to accept an invitation go behind what those documents show.  Having undertaken that scrutiny, the Supreme Court was satisfied that all of the reliefs sought in the second action could and should have been sought in the earlier proceedings but were not. While the Court did not wish to impose a mechanical or overly rigid application of the Rule, there were no special circumstances in this instance justifying a different approach.  The Court was also satisfied that the directors shared a “privity of interest” or “sufficient degree of identity” with the company defendant to entitle them to invoke the Rule.

The judgment provides particularly welcome support for those contending with what the Chief Justice characterised as repeated efforts to “revisit old disputes or seek to advance new grounds in an attempt to avoid the consequences of past failure”.

See: Munnelly -v- Hassett & Others, Supreme Court (2023) IESC 29.