➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Abdul Rasheed Adesupo Adetona & Ors. v. Igele General Enterprises Ltd. (2011) – SC
by “PipAr” B.C. Chima
Supreme Court – SC.237/2005
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
Friday, the 14th day of January, 2011
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
Jurisdiction of Federal High Court:
➥ NOTABLE DICTA
⦿ WRIT & STATEMENT OF CLAIM MUST BE CAREFULLY EXAMINED TO ASCERTAIN JURISDICTION
In their arguments on the sole issue, both learned counsel for the parties correctly stated the often-stated principle of law in determining whether or not a court has jurisdiction to entertain the subject matter of a suit. That is that the writ of summons and the Statement of claim must be carefully examined. See OPITI v. OGBEIWI (1992) 4 NWLR (pt.234) 184 at 195; ADEYEMI v OPEYORI (1976) 9-10 SC.31 at 49. It is well settled that where there is no jurisdiction to hear and determine a cause or matter, everything done in such want of jurisdiction is a nullity. See MUSTAPHA v. GOVERNOR OF LAGOS STATE (1987) NWLR (pt.58). — S. Galadima JSC.
⦿ JURISDICTION CAN BE RAISED AT ANYTIME – IT SHOULD BE RAISED EARLIER
The issue of jurisdiction is fundamental and the law is trite that it can be raised by a party at any stage of courts’ proceedings, even at the level of the Supreme Ccourt. See Francis Durwode v. State 2000 15 NWLR part 691 page 467, Otukpo v. John 2000 8 NWLR part 669 page 507. It is however ideal that it be raised at the earliest stage of proceedings to avoid unnecessary waste of time, which the defendant has done in the instant case. — A.M. Mukhtar, JSC.
⦿ SUBJECT MATTER, TERRITORIAL, AND PERSONAL JURISDICTIONS OF COURT
By way of a rider, I would want to add that my observation for quite some time now, has shown that the issue of which court has jurisdiction over certain matters, between the Federal High Court and a State High Court, generates anxiety among lawyers. Let me say, from the outset, that the two courts are both superior courts of record. Each is a creature of the Constitution. The matters of jurisdiction in our courts, is generally, approached from three dimensions: territorial, subject matter and jurisdiction on persons. On territorial jurisdiction, the Federal High Court enjoys nationwide jurisdiction whereas a State High Court is confined to the territory of the State and that of the Federal Capital Territory to the Federal Capital Territory. On subject matter jurisdiction, the High Court of a State, by the provision of Section 236 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, enjoys unlimited jurisdiction. The Federal High Court has limited jurisdiction or jurisdiction on some enumerated subject matters. A State High Court has jurisdiction mostly over natural persons. Federal High Court has jurisdiction over both natural and artificial persons. There are areas where both the Federal High Court and High Court of a State enjoys concurrent jurisdiction. Example of such is the enforcement of Fundamental Human Rights conferred in Chapter IV of the Constitution. — I.T. Muhammad, JSC.
⦿ FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS BREACHED, NOT FALLING WITHIN FHC JURISDICTION, WILL BE INSTITUTED AT THE STATE HIGH COURT
Although, unlike the 1979 Constitution, Section 318(1) of the present Constitution does not define “High Court”, there is no doubt that the term carries the same meaning as given by Section 277(1) of the 1979 Constitution to mean Federal High Court or the High Court of a State. Therefore, it is my understanding that where a person’s fundamental right is breached, being breached or about to be breached, that person may apply under section 46(1) to the Judicial division of the Federal High Court in the State or the High Court of the State or that of the Federal Capital Territory in which the breach occurred or is occurring or about to occur. This is irrespective of whether the right involved comes within the legislative competence of the Federation or the State or the Federal Capital Territory, See the case of Minister of Internal Affairs v. Shugaba (1982) 3 NCLR 915. It has to however be noted that the exercise of this jurisdiction by the Federal High Court is where the fundamental right threatened or breached falls within the enumerated matters on which that court has jurisdiction. Thus, fundamental rights arising from matters outside its jurisdiction cannot be enforced by the Federal High Court. See: Tukur v. Government of Gongola State (1989) 3 NSCC 225. Equally, a High Court of a State shall lack jurisdiction to entertain matters of fundamental rights, although brought pursuant to section 46(2) of the Constitution where the alleged breach of such matters arose from a transaction or subject matter which fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court as provided by Section 251 of the Constitution. — I.T. Muhammad, JSC.
⦿ ISSUES BETWEEN CUSTOMER AND BANKER FALLS WITHIN A STATE HIGH COURT
So, where any dispute relates to breach of or non-compliance with certain formalities required by law for the lawful operation of banking business, the matter falls within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. See: Merchants Bank Ltd. v. Federal Minister of Finance (1961) All NLR 598. It is to be noted as well, where what is involved is only a dispute between a Bank and its customer in the ordinary cause of banking business, like an action by a bank to recover overdrafts granted to the customer, the Federal High Court has no jurisdiction. It is the State High Court that has jurisdiction in such a case. See: Jammal Steel Structures Ltd. v. African Continental Bank Ltd (1973) 1 All NLR (Pt.11)208; Bronik Motors Ltd & Anor v. Wema Bank Ltd (1983) 1 SCLR 296; FMBN v. NDIC (1999) 2 SCNJ 57 at 82. — I.T. Muhammad, JSC.
⦿ MANAGEMENT AND ADMINISTRATION OF COMPANIES FALLS WITHIN THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT JURISDICTION
Matters relating to management and administration of a Company under the Companies and Allied Matters Act fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. See: Sken Consult (Nig.) Ltd. & Anor v. Godwin Sekondy Ukey (1981) 1 SC 6; Omisade v. Akande (1987) 2 NWLR (pt.55) 158. Equally, where the suit involves only the interpretation and/or application of the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the Company, it falls within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court Section 251(1)(e) of the Constitution. — I.T. Muhammad, JSC.
⦿ FEDERAL HIGH COURT APPELLATE JURISDICTION – SECTION 27 FHC ACT
The Federal High Court, like a High Court of a State or of the Federal Capital Territory has appellate jurisdiction conferred by Section 27 of the Federal High court Act. It can hear and determine appears from: 1) the decisions of Appeal Commissioners established under the Companies Income Tax Act, 1961 and the Personal Income Tax Act, 1968 in so far an applicable as Federal Laws; 2) decisions of the Board of Customs and Excise established under Customs and Excise Management Act, 1958 3) decisions of Magistrates Courts in respect of civil or criminal cases or matters transferred to such courts pursuant to the Federal High Court Act; 4) decisions of any other body established by or under any other Federal enactment or law in respect of matters concerning which jurisdiction is conferred upon that court by the Act. — I.T. Muhammad, JSC.
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Suleiman Galadima, J.S.C.
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
Olatunde Adejuyigbe Esq.
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
➥ CASE HISTORY
Sometime in June, 2000, the 1st Appellant took over the management of the 2nd Appellant following his appointment as Receiver/Manager of the 2nd Appellant by the 3rd Appellant. On 7th December, 2000 (six months after the takeover), the 1st Appellant in the purported exercise of his duties broke into and locked up the premises at 27A Fatai Atere Way, Matori Mushin, Lagos, which premises also housed the Respondents office and warehouse. The Respondent has averred that the 1st Appellant refused it access to its office and warehouse in which its chemicals and other properties worth millions of naira were kept until 6th April, 2001, in spite of efforts by the Respondent to convince him to open up the premises.
By a Notice of preliminary objection dated 16th October, 2001, the appellants challenged the jurisdiction of the trial court to hear and determine the suit on the ground that the Federal High court is the court vested with jurisdiction in respect of the subject matter of the suit. In his ruling, Oshodi (J) upheld the objection and held that the court has jurisdiction to entertain the suit and dismissed the preliminary objection.
The appellants by a Notice of Appeal dated 21st May, 2002 lodged an Appeal against the ruling of the trial court. The Lower Court in its Judgment on 10th March, 2005 dismissed the appeal and upheld the decision of the trial court assuming jurisdiction to entertain action instituted by the Respondent.
This is a further appeal.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION
I. Whether the Court of Appeal was right in its decision that the High court of Lagos State has jurisdiction to entertain the suit instituted by the Respondent?
RULING: IN RESPONDENT’S FAVOUR.
A. “Therefore in the light of the foregoing, I hold contrary view to the position taken by the appellant’s counsel in his submission that the court below “fell into grave error when it held that the claim is not related to or arose from performance of the duties and powers of the 1st, Appellant as Receiver/Manager of the 2nd Appellant.” It is my respectful view that the paragraphs of the statement of claim, as set out above support the decision of the lower court since the Respondent that it is merely a tenant and therefore a different and separate entity from the 2nd Appellant which is in receivership.”
“The Respondent, a third party, at the trial court is asking for damages in tort for detinue and disruption of its business.”
B. “The complaints are all about the alleged tortious acts of the Appellants and the damages ensuring there from. I am also of the opinion that the claims of the Respondent have nothing whatsoever to do with the 1st Appellant’s functions as Receiver/Manager of the 2nd Appellant. They are, pure and simple, allegations of tort allegedly committed by the Appellants and over which the Lagos state High court has jurisdiction. For the jurisdiction of the High Court over claims founded on tort see the case of SEVEN UP BOTTLING CO. LTD & ORS V ABIOLA AND SONS B.TTLING CO. LTD. (2001) 6 SC 73 at 84 85.”
“In the light of the foregoing the appeal is dismissed for lacking in merit. The decision of the court below is affirmed. Consequently, the matter is remitted to the High Court of Lagos state for expeditious trial. I make no order as to costs.”
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ RECEIVER/MANAGER WHO IS LIABLE OF CONVERSION WILL BE TRIED IN HIGH COURT OF A STATE
The position of the law is admirably captured and enhanced in the case of 7UP BOTTLING CO. LTD. and ors. v ABIOLA and SONS LIMITED (2001)13 NWLR (pt.730) 469 where the acts and conduct complained of are that of a Receiver/Manager. It was similarly argued on behalf of the Appellants in that case that because it was a Receiver/Manager who sold the Respondent’s properties, it was a matter which bordered on the operation of the companies and Allied Matters Act and falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. This Court Per ONU JSC discountenanced this argument and held that since there was an extant injunction restraining the Receiver/Manager from selling the Respondent’s properties, the sale of those properties amounted to conversion which is an action in tort over which the Kwara State High Court has jurisdiction.
⦿ TORT OF CONVERSION IS ACTIONABLE AT THE HIGH COURT
In TRADE BANK PLC v. BENILUX LIMITED (2003), 9 NWLR (pt.825) 416, this court in considering the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High court in matters provided under the section 230 (1) (d) of the constitution (suspension and Modification) Decree No.107 of 1993, held that although there is no relationship of customer and banker between the respondent and the appellant which fact would ordinarily have conferred jurisdiction on the High court, the respondent’s case therein, was simply a tort of conversion and therefore actionable in the High Court of a State.
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)