Portharcourt – The Presiding Judge, National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Portharcourt Division, His Lordship, Hon. Justice F. I. Kola-Olalere has dismissed the suit filed by Intels Nigeria Limited and one other against their former employee Sajibu Krishnan for being frivolous and abuse of court process.
The court held that by the agreement of the parties on their contract of employment, the Court has no jurisdiction to resolve the matter that only in UK and according to the UK Law the controversy in question can be resolved, awarded the sum of N750,000 against the claimant as punitive cost.
In summary, On February 20, 2017, the claimants filed complaint against the defendant for payment of US$3,000,000.00 (Three Million United States Dollars), or its Naira equivalent being special damages for the drunken, unruly, violent conduct of the Defendant while in the employment of the Claimant which said conduct seriously tarnished the Claimants’ business image/reputation leading to the loss of business and income by the Claimant in the Claimants’ business operations.
However, the defendant filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection sought for an order dismissing the instant suit for abuse of court process, gross incompetence and want of jurisdiction, likewise, Punitive cost of Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N750,000.00) against the Claimants/Respondents for instituting the frivolous and vexatious suit.
On the grounds that it was an Oppression and intimidation of the Defendant to drop his claims against the Claimants pending at the London Central Employment Tribunals, United Kingdom, that the claim for loss of business reputation is a claim in tort quite outside the jurisdiction of the court, that there is no employer-employee relationship between the parties on record.
Counsel maintained that the present suit is an abuse of court processes as same was instituted to Harass, oppress and intimidate the Applicant. He continued that the case was initiated for forum shopping.
The applicant continued that his contract of employment contains an express and exclusive choice of United Kingdom jurisdiction in the resolution of any dispute between him and his said employer.
Counsel submitted that it was an abuse for the Claimants (as defendants in the London proceedings) to file the present suit against the Defendant (who was the claimant in the London proceedings) in respect of the same subject matter of the contract of employment;
In reply, Counsel to the claimant argued that the issue or question of an abuse of process by multiplicity of suits by one and the same person(s) against the same opponent(s) does not arise. To him, the London Employment Tribunal Suit and the instant case before the National Industrial Court of Nigeria were not instituted by the same person as Plaintiffs/Claimants urged the Court to hold that this suit is not an abuse of Court’s process.
After careful evaluation of all the processes filed, and the submissions of the learned Counsel from both sides, the Court presided by Hon. Justice Kola Olalere held that decisions of foreign courts are no longer binding but only persuasive to Nigerian courts.
“It is to be noted that the loss of the claimants’ image and reputation as a result of the alleged conduct of the defendant/its employee in the instant case is incidental to employment and labour matter and this is quite different from the tort of defamation argued by counsel to the defendant.
“In the circumstance, I find and hold that by the agreement of the parties on this contract of employment, this Court has no jurisdiction to resolve this matter as it is only in UK and according to the UK Law that their controversy in question can be resolved.
“Nonetheless, on December 20, 2017; the claimants filed this action in this Court after they have responded to the case filed against them by the claimant in London and have even filed a joint Statement of Defence at the London Employment Tribunal. The defendant’s case against the claimants was filed on February 14, 2017. This means that this matter was filed during the pendency of the defendant’s case in London.
“The claimants knew that this case cannot be tried here in Nigeria and particularly in this Court, yet they went ahead to institute it. In the circumstance, I find that the claimants did not file this action to seek justice, but they filed it merely to annoy, punish and irritate the defendant.
“I hold that the claimants abused court’s process by filing this case in this court.
“Consequently, I find and hold that this Court has no power under the provisions of the NIC Act, 2006 and under the NICN (CP) Rules, 2017 to transfer this case to a Court in UK. Since the claimants have not satisfied the Court that it is the Rivers State High Court that has jurisdiction to try this case, I hereby decline to exercise my power of transferring the case as prayed. In the circumstance, this case is accordingly dismissed." Justice Kola-Olalere rules.
The court held that defendant is entitled to punitive cost from the claimants to serve as a deterrent to the claimants and others from engaging in conduct similar to the one that formed the basis of this suit, awarded the sum of N750,000 in favour of the claimant and must be payable with 30 days.