⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Taiwo Kupolati v. MTN Nigeria Communications Limited (2020) – CA
– Quantum of damages;
– General damages;
– Assesment of damages;
MTN Nigeria Communications Limited
Court of Appeal
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Ugochukwu Anthony Ogakwu, J.C.A.
* FOR THE APPELLANT
– Appellant in person;
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Folabi Kuti, Esq.
⦿ FACT (as relating to the issues)
The Appellant is a Legal Practitioner. He is a post-paid customer of the Respondent on his GSM Line No. 0803-720-0757. The Appellant, contending that the Respondent breached its contractual obligations to him when, for a cumulative period of thirty-one (31) days, it blocked/disconnected his said GSM Line without any justification, consequent upon which he suffered enormous frustration, hardship, inconveniences, loss of income and economic loss; instituted proceedings before the High Court of Lagos State in SUIT NO. LD/1666/2012: TAIWO KUPOLATI vs. MTN NIGERIA COMMUNICATIONS LTD.
The Appellant claimed the following reliefs:
(a) A DECLARATION that the blocking/disconnection of the claimant’s GSM line No. 0803-720-0757 and Blackberry Internet Services from 6 November, 2011 to 21 November, 2011 and from 6 October 2012 to 22 October 2012, without justification, is wrongful and a breach of the contractual obligations which the defendant owes to the claimant as a post-paid subscriber of the defendant’s network services.
(b) A DECLARATION that the defendant’s wrongful action of blocking/disconnection of the claimant’s GSM line No. 0803-720-0757 and Blackberry Internet Services from 6 November, 2011 to 21 November, 2011 and from 6 October, 2012 to 22 October, 2012, without any justification, foisted enormous frustration, hardship, inconveniences, loss of income, economic loss on the claimant, for which the claimant ought to be assuaged by substantial award of general and exemplary damages against the defendant.
(c) N50, 00,000 (Fifty Million Naira) as general and exemplary damages against the defendant.
(d) Cost of this action.
After a plenary hearing at which testimonial and documentary evidence was adduced, the Lower Court found and held that the Respondent was in breach of its contract with the Appellant when it blocked/disconnected the Appellant’s said GSM line. It then proceeded to award the sum of N1,000,000.00 to assuage the Appellant for the frustration, hardship and inconvenience occasioned by the wrongful disconnection of his said GSM line for the cumulative period of thirty-one (31) days.
There is no complaint about the decision that the Respondent was in breach of contract.
The Appellant is however dissatisfied with the quantum of damages awarded by the Lower Court; so he only appealed against the decision on the quantum of damages awarded.
1. Whether the circumstances of this matter are such for an Appellate Court to interfere with the quantum of damages awarded by the Lower Court?
⦿ HOLDING & RATIO DECIDENDI
[APPEAL: ALLOWED, WITH COST TO BE PAID TO THE APPELLANT. COST IS N200,000]
THE COURT CONCLUDED: In the circumstances, it seems to me that the sum of N5,000,000.00 (Five Million Naira) as damages is a fair estimate and assessment of the damages that the Appellant is entitled to as a result of the Respondent’s breach of contract.
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED IN FAVOUR OF THE APPELLANT BUT AGAINST THE RESPONDENT.
i. In a seeming volte-face, the lower Court stated as follows at page 378 of the Records: “The Honourable Court therefore finds that the Claimant has not satisfied this Court that he is entitled to the award of general damages which he seeks from the Court having not sufficiently proved same as required by law… …the Honourable Court finds that the Claimant in this instance has not sufficiently established the injury/economic loss suffered by his person premised upon the wrongful suspension of his GSM line…”. Having so found and held, the Lower Court then awarded N1million in favour of the Appellant.
The above pericope from the decision of the lower Court is limpid that the Lower Court acted under wrong principles of law, as the law remains that general damages need not be specially proved; the Lower Court acted in disregard of applicable principles of law which did not place any burden on the Appellant to specifically plead and prove general damages. It is on account of acting under wrong principles of law and in disregard of the applicable principles of law that the Lower Court took irrelevant matters of proof of general damages and disregarded the relevant matters that general damages need not be specifically proved and accordingly awarded as damages an amount which is ridiculously low, thus lucently showing that it is an erroneous estimate of the damages. In the circumstances, in order to obviate injustice, an Appellate Court will interfere with the damages awarded.
⦿ SOME PROVISIONS
⦿ RELEVANT CASES
Uwaifo, JSC., in MUSA SHA (JNR) vs. DA RAP KWAN (2000) 5 SCNJ 101 at 127: “The purpose of framing or re-framing an issue or issues, it is stated: is to lead to a more judicious and proper determination of an appeal. The purpose of re-formulating it or them, is in order to narrow the issue or issues in controversy in the interest of accuracy, clarity and brevity.”
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
Howbeit, the fact that the quantum of damages is at the discretion of the Court does not mean that there are no circumstances when an Appellate Court would interfere with the award of damages. An Appellate Court will interfere with the award of damages by a Trial Court in situations which include: a) Where the Court acted under wrong principles of law. b) Where the Court acted in disregard of applicable principles of law. c) Where the Court acted in misapprehension of facts. d) Where the Court took into consideration irrelevant matters and disregarded relevant matters while considering its award. e) Where injustice will result if the Appellate Court does not act. f) Where the amount awarded is ridiculously low or ridiculously high that it must have been an erroneous estimate of the damages. – Ogakwu, JCA. Kupolati v. MTN (2020)
The law is settled beyond peradventure that general damages are always made as a claim at large. The quantum need not be pleaded and proved. The award is quantified by what, in the opinion of a reasonable person, is considered adequate loss or inconvenience which flows naturally, as generally presumed by law, from the act of the defendant. It does not depend upon calculation made and figure arrived at from specific items. The issue of award of damages in any given case is a matter based on the discretion of the trial Court. – Ogakwu, JCA. Kupolati v. MTN (2020)
Judicial discretion is a vital tool in the administration of justice. Judicial discretion is a sacred power which inures to a Judge. It is an armour which the judge employs judicially and judiciously in order to arrive at a just decision. In matters of judicial discretion, since the facts of two cases are not always the same, Courts do not make it a practice to lay down rules and principles that would fetter the exercise of its discretion or the discretion of the Lower Courts. In matters of discretion, no one case is an authority for the other. Also, the fact that the Appellate Court would have exercised its discretion differently from that of the Lower Court is not sufficient reason to interfere with the exercise of discretion by the Trial Court. A Court cannot be bound by a previous decision to exercise its discretion in a regimented way because that would be putting an end to discretion. The Court will not interfere with the exercise of discretion in the absence of proof that it was wrongly exercised. No hard and fast rules can be laid down as to the exercise of judicial discretion by a Court, for the moment that is done, the discretion is fettered. – Ogakwu, JCA. Kupolati v. MTN (2020)
In considering the appropriate assessment of damages and what would be considered adequate in the opinion of a reasonable person, due regard will be had to the evidence on record. – Ogakwu, JCA. Kupolati v. MTN (2020)