⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
SPDC v. EDAMKUE (2009) – SC
⦿ LITE HOLDING
A trial court has the inherent power to consolidate a suit.
⦿AREA OF LAW
– Law of Torts.
– Res ipsa loquitur;
– Rylands v. Fletcher
Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria Limited
CHIEF TIGBARA EDAMKUE
MR. BARNABAS DEEKAE
MR. GOTE GBARANWI
CHIEF SAM SINNAAOE CHI
EF NWIKUKU NWIKANEE
MR. GBENEKANU KWANGTE (for themselves and on behalf of the Gah-Gbeneyee Lukpa, Gah-Genetee Nyoku, Gah-Nyotee Ludue, Gah-Gbenemene Lumene, Gah-Kwanter Lutem and Gah-Nwikanne Gui Families of Duboro Community, Ken-Khana, Local Government Area)
MR. STEPHEN KORO (Gah-Gbenegba, Teenwa Lugah-Lumene, Duboro)
CHIEF MUDA JAMES DEEYOR (Paramount Chief, Duboro)
MR. GODWIN YAAKOR (Gah-Yaakaraban, Lumene, Duboro)
MR. SUNDAY GBENEENYE (Gah-Gbenenye, Lukpa, Duboro)
MR. GOOGO LOVE NAGBO (Gah-Denyo Kuru Lukpa, Duboro)
MR. EDWARD TUGUBEE (Gah-Tugubee, Lukpa, Duboro)
MR. CHRISTIAN NWIBUI (Gah-Ekun, Gui, Duboro)
MR. DEEKAE GBARAMANA (Gah-Gbene-Ebukwa, Nyokuru)
MR. MWIBARI EDO (Gah-Edo, Ludue, Duboro)
MR. DEEBARI NWIDUDEE (Gah-Kinea, Lutem, Duboro)
MR. CHRISTOP HER NWIKORI (Gah-Nwikori, Lutem, Duboro)
MR. DEEGBARA YAAKARANWA (Gah-Yaakaranwa, Lukpa) (For themselves and as representing the various other families in Lukpa, Nyokuru, Ludue, Lumene, Lutem and Gui Compounds which are not mentioned by the 1st plaintiff in this suit of Duboro Community, Ken-Khana, Khana Local Government Area)
CHIEF NWOKE NWUIKUNEE
CHIEF BEFI PIUS TEAKOR
CHIEF MGBARA EKORO
CHIEF MONDAY BOR
MR. LETAM FELIX YORKOR (For themselves and on behalf of Gan-Gui, Ga- Buagbaezu, Ga-Bara Gaken, Ga-Luuzue, Ga-Gbara Nyonwii Families of Baen Community)
(2009) JELR 56379 (SC)
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
* FOR THE APPELLANT
– Williams Esq. (SAN).
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Ugboduma Esq.
⦿ FACT (as relating to the issues)
At the trial court , there were two separate suits against the defendant/appellant. The first suit was instituted by the 1st set of plaintiffs/respondents in suit No. FHC/PH/ 84/94, while the second suit was instituted by the 3rd set of plaintiffs/respondents in suit No. FHC/PH/85/94.
In both suits, the claims were/are for damages each of them suffered as a result of a serious explosion and spillage of crude oil from the appellant’s Yorla Oil Field or Station in the Khana Local Government Area of Ogoni land in Rivers State which occurred on 31 July 1994.
Both suits were consolidated for trial by the trial court on 12 December 1995. After hearing and addresses of the learned counsel for the parties, in my respectful view, the trial court, Aina J. in a very well considered judgment (spanning from pages 618 to 730 of therecord) delivered on 28 June 1999, entered judgment in favour of the 1st and 3rd sets of plaintiffs/respondents. It/he granted their respective claims.
The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal which affirmed the said judgment of the trial court.
Dissatisfied with the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division (hereinafter called the “court below”) delivered on 27 March 2003, per Akintan JCA (as he then was), the appellant has now appealed to this court.
I note that although the 2nd set of plaintiffs were joined at their own instance by the trial court, the 1st set of plaintiffs/respondents successfully challenged the said joinder in an appeal to the court below which struck out their names. The decision striking out their names is contained in the judgment of the court below. The 2nd set of plaintiffs therefore, are not a party to the instant appeal, as they have not appealed against the said decision of the court below striking out their names.
1. Whether the Court of Appeal was justified in law when it held that the trial court had jurisdiction to amend the capacities in A which the actions at the trial court were brought. (Grounds 1 and 2 of the grounds of appeal).
2. Whether the Court of Appeal was justified when it held that the defendants/appellants was liable for the claims of the plaintiffs/respondents under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor and/or the rule in Rylands v. Fletcher. (Ground 3 of the grounds of appeal).
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT.
i. Even if the trial court did not effect the amendment as shown above in the decided cases, the court below has the power to amend if it deemed it fit and just to do so. It is settled that an appellate court can even suo motu amend the capacity in which a plaintiff sued.
ii. It is conceded that when the application to amend came up for hearing, that the appellant’s learned counsel did not oppose the same. I note that at page 66 of the record, the learned counsel for the appellant even asked for costs which were duly awarded.
2. ISSUE 2 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT.
i. The 1st set of plaintiffs/respondents pleaded at paragraph 7(a) of their amended statement of claim at page 176 of the record, that there was an explosion preceding the occurrence of the spillage. But the appellant, in the said paragraph 7(3) of its further amended statement of defence referred to by me earlier in this judgment, averred that the spillage was caused by the malicious acts of vandalism and wanton destruction of its installation at its said station, by the respondents and members of their families which they purport to represent.
The trial court at pages 709 to 710 of the record, held that the said averment of the appellant in the said paragraph aforestated, amounted to or constituted criminal allegation and that the appellant, failed to prove the same beyond reasonable doubt. I note that the appellant did not appeal against this finding and holding by the trial court. The consequence of course, is that not only did that finding and holding subsist, but they are deemed to have been accepted by the appellant.
ii. The court below, at pages 1121 to 1125 of the record, dealt with this issue and issue (iv) of the appellant and thereafter, affirmed the said findingof fact and holding of the trial court. Thus, there are concurrent findings of fact and holdings or judgments by the two lower courts and on the decided authorities, this court cannot and will not disturb or interfere. This again, should have been the end of the appeal.
⦿ SOME PROVISION(S)
⦿ RELEVANT CASE(S)
The house of lords said in the case of Rylands v. Fletcher: “We think that the true rule of law is, that the person who for his own purposes brings on his land and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequences of its escape. He can excuse himself by showing that the escape was owing to the plaintiffs default; or perhaps that the escape was the consequence of vis major or the act of God, but as nothing of this sort exists here, it is unnecessary to inquire what excuse would be sufficient.”
⦿ CASE(S) RELATED
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
It is now firmly settled that the general rule is that issue or issues for determination must relate to or be derived from a ground or grounds of appeal, otherwise, it/ they will be incompetent and must therefore, be discountenanced or struck out. – Ogbuagu, JSC. SPDC v. EDAMKUE (2009)
This Rule is so clear and unambiguous that it needs no further interpretation. – Ogbuagu, JSC. SPDC v. EDAMKUE (2009)
Even where a person sued in a personal capacity instead of in a representative capacity, an appellate court can in the interest of justice amend the plaintiffs capacity to reflect the evidence and enter judgment for the plaintiff as representing his family or community. – Ogbuagu, JSC. SPDC v. EDAMKUE (2009)
If a counsel or party treats a document or procedure or matter as admissible or regular etc., then he cannot be heard or be at liberty to object or complain later or before an appellate court. – Ogbuagu, JSC. SPDC v. EDAMKUE (2009)
However, I am aware and concede and this is also settled, that no Judge, can or is entitled, to reverse, vary or alter the order or decision of another Judge of co-ordinate jurisdiction except on issue of jurisdiction: Akporue and Anor. v. Okei (1973) 12 SC 137; (1973) 3 ECSLR 1010 at 1014; Orewere and Ors. v. Abiegbe and Ors. (1973) 3 ECSLR 1164 at 1167, (1973) 1 All NLR (Pt.11) 1, (1973) 9-10 SC 1 – that the proper action is to go on appeal); National Insurance Corporation of Nigeria v. Power and Industrial Engineering Co. Ltd (1990) 1 NWLR (Pt. 129) 697 at 707. – Ogbuagu, JSC. SPDC v. EDAMKUE (2009)
In other words, in the absence of statutory authority, one Judge, has no power to set aside or vary the order of another Judge of concurrent and co-ordinate jurisdiction. – Ogbuagu, JSC. SPDC v. EDAMKUE (2009)
The duty of appraising evidence given in a trial, is pre-eminently that of the trial court. – Ogbuagu, JSC. SPDC v. EDAMKUE (2009)
When there is evidence as in the instant case, to support the conclusion of a trial court/Judge either in granting or dismissing a claim or relief, a Court of Appeal will not interfere. – Ogbuagu, JSC. SPDC v. EDAMKUE (2009)
The law is well settled that a trial court, is entitled to rely and act on the uncontroverted or uncontradicted evidence of a plaintiff or his/its witness/witnesses. In such a situation, there is nothing to put or weigh on the imaginary or proverbial scale. In such a case, the onus of proof is naturally discharged on a minimum of proof. – Ogbuagu, JSC. SPDC v. EDAMKUE (2009)
As regards evidence of any authorization from the two (2) families or communities of the 1st and 3rd sets of plaintiffs/respondents to initiatethe two suits on their behalves/behalf, I hold that the appellant has no locus standi to object to the said representation not being a member of those families or communities. It is settled that once the plaintiff/plaintiffs, expressed on a writ or statement of claim that the action was brought in a representative capacity as appears in the two (2) consolidated suits, it is/was prima facie, though not conclusive evidence of authority by his/their group, family or community to sue in that capacity. It is only a member of that group, family or community, who can dispute, intervene or challenge, the proper representation or the capacity in which the plaintiff/plaintiffs sued. It will be futile for a defendant who is not one of those the plaintiff/plaintiffs purport to represent, to challenge his/their said authority, for or because, if the plaintiff/ plaintiffs wins/win, the losing defendant, cannot share in the victory and if the plaintiff/plaintiffs case be dismissed, such dismissal can never affect the defendant adversely. – Ogbuagu, JSC. SPDC v. EDAMKUE (2009)