Amin (t/a Amin Lumber Enterprise) Guyana Oil Company Ltd

JurisdictionCaribbean States
CourtCaribbean Court of Justice
JudgeSaunders, J. CCJ.
Judgment Date08 May 2014
Docket NumberCCJ Appeal No. CV 14 of 2013; GY Appeal No. 39 of 2010

Caribbean Court of Justice

Byron, P. CCJ.; Saunders, J. CCJ.; Wit, J. CCJ.; Hayton, J. CCJ.; Anderson, J. CCJ.

CCJ Appeal No. CV 14 of 2013; GY Appeal No. 39 of 2010

Amin (t/a Amin Lumber Enterprise) Guyana Oil Company Limited
Appearances

Mr. Rajendra Poonai and Mr. K A Juman-Yassin for the appellant.

Mr. Hari Ramkarran SC and Mr. Kamal Ramkarran for the respondent.

Civil Practice and Procedure - Defence — Whether the Court of Appeal erred where it held that the Appellant did not advance a plausible ground of defence and awarded judgement in the full sum of monies claimed where the Court of Appeal focused on errors before the substantive trial and did not direct its attention to indicate the flaws that emerged in the first instance judgement — Admission letter — Whether the letter detailing an admission of partial indebtedness should have been examined by the judge where the contents were never challenged by the Appellant — Statement adverse to maker's interest — Appeal allowed in part — Order 12 Rule 2

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

[1] On 12 December 2005, by way of a specially indorsed writ, Guyana Oil Company Limited (‘Guyoil’) initiated legal proceedings against Mr. Amin claiming $101,280,423.00 allegedly owed to it for petroleum products supplied between 7 September and 28 September 2005. Mr. Amin denied Guyoil's allegations and stated that all amounts owing to the company had been liquidated and paid. Guyoil replied with an affidavit to which it exhibited a letter signed by Mr. Amin (the ‘admission letter’) in which he admitted owing Guyoil the sum of $97,609,000.00. Mr. Amin responded with an explanation for his writing of the admission letter, indicating that he wrote it as a result of economic coercion. The dispute proceeded to trial on the merits.

[2] The trial judge gave judgment for Mr. Amin and dismissed the claim with costs. The judge considered the weight, if any, to be given to the contents of the admission letter. The judge concluded that since it had merely been marked for identification he could not consider the truth of its contents and so it was of no evidential value. The trial judge proceeded to find fatal flaws in the oral and documentary evidence presented by Guyoil in support of its claim. The judge accordingly dismissed the claim. Dissatisfied with the trial judge's decision, Guyoil appealed to the Court of Appeal.

[3] The Court of Appeal was primarily concerned with whether the judge was right to have given Mr. Amin leave to defend since, in the view of that court, Mr. Amin had no reasonable grounds of defence. Save for its criticism of the non-admission into evidence of the admission letter, the Court of Appeal did not evaluate other aspects of the trial judge's assessment and conclusions on the merits of the case. The Court of Appeal rejected Mr. Amin's explanation for writing the admission letter and the court ultimately set aside the judgment of the trial judge and gave judgment to Guyoil in the full sum claimed of $101,280,423.00, together with interest. Mr. Amin appealed to the CCJ.

[4] The Court first accepted the importance of trial judges not unnecessarily prolonging litigation by embarking upon trials when there is neither a reasonable prospect of defending the claim or a bona fide defence raised to the claims of a plaintiff. It indicated, however, that in the instant case there was a trial on the merits and judgment was actually given in favour of the defendant. The Court stated that the Court of Appeal could not ignore the trial judge's finding that Guyoil did not establish the debt. Moreover, the CCJ noted that section 6(5)(c) of the Court of Appeal Act precludes the Court of Appeal from determining whether the grant of leave to defend was appropriate.

[5] Notwithstanding, the Court agreed with the Court of Appeal that, having been exhibited as an annexure to Guyoil's affidavit in reply, the contents of the admission letter should have been taken into account by the trial judge. Also, the Court agreed that Mr. Amin's explanation for writing the letter was unbelievable and the Court concluded that since the letter was a statement adverse to the maker's interest, it should have been received as evidence of its truth.

[6] The Court allowed the appeal in part. It concluded that the trial judge's erroneous treatment of the admission letter was sufficiently serious to warrant judgment for Guyoil. Since the Court of Appeal's basis for giving judgment in the full amount could not be supported, the Court gave judgement for Guyoil in the sum of $97,609,000.00, the amount originally admitted by Mr. Amin, together with interest. Mr. Amin was ordered to pay 80% of the costs of the appeal to Guyoil.

Saunders, J. CCJ.
THE PARTIES AND THEIR RESPECTIVE CONTENTIONS
1

The respondent, Guyana Oil Company Limited (‘Guyoil’), used to supply Mr. Amin, a gas station owner, with petroleum and petroleum products. What was once a congenial business relationship took a turn for the worse when there emerged a dispute over payment. On 12 December 2005 Guyoil initiated legal proceedings against Mr. Amin by way of a specially indorsed writ. Guyoil claimed $101,280,423.00 allegedly owed to it for petroleum products supplied between 7 September and 28 September 2005. The action was supported by an affidavit verifying the claim and a statement that there was no defence to the claim.

2

Mr. Amin responded with an affidavit of defence dated 15 September 2006 in which he denied Guyoil's allegations. He disputed the debt and stated that all amounts owing to Guyoil had been liquidated and paid. He indicated that his lawyers had perused the invoices that supposedly supported the debt and he noted that none of these invoices had been acknowledged or signed by him; that the amounts claimed had apparently been mixed up with other accounts; that there were irregularities at the Accounts Section of Guyoil and that payments that were made by him were not taken into consideration.

3

Guyoil replied with an affidavit filed on 26 October 2006. The thrust of this reply was that the defence was a sham because Mr. Amin had previously sent to Guyoil a letter dated 14 October 2005 (the ‘admission letter’) in which Mr. Amin actually admitted owing Guyoil, as at that date, the sum of $97,609,000.00. The letter, signed by Mr. Amin himself, was exhibited to the affidavit. The letter's last paragraph clearly stated, “[I]t will take me some time to collect on the money I owe you but I promise will pay. An outstanding balance due to the sum of $97,609,000.00.”

4

Faced with this damning admission Mr. Amin filed an affidavit of rejoinder in which he attempted to explain away his acknowledgment of indebtedness. He stated that the admission letter was written as a result of economic coercion; that he was informed by Guyoil that in order to continue receiving supplies from them he had to confess some indebtedness to them but that any such admission did not preclude subsequent adjustments being made by Guyoil. Mr. Amin also filed a defence on 2 February 2009 that incorporated all the points that were made in his affidavits save that it made no reference to the admission letter.

THE FIRST INSTANCE TRIAL
5

The dispute proceeded to trial on the merits. Ms Roslyn Franklyn, the Credit Controller of Guyoil, testified that Mr. Amin was given credit for goods supplied between 1st and 20th September 2005 but that no credit was given after that date. A credit application form signed by Mr. Amin was tendered in evidence. The approved credit limit on the form was $25 million. Ms Franklyn also exhibited a bundle of some 72 invoices and receipts to establish the debt on which Guyoil was suing. She also gave evidence of Guyoil's receipt of the admission letter. She said that the original could not be found but she produced a copy which was marked for identification. She denied that “any force of persuasion” was placed on Mr. Amin to elicit the letter.

6

If the judge's handwritten note of the evidence recorded is accurate (and there has been no suggestion that it was not) none of the...

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