Whether the Jurisdiction of the Federal High Court Extends to the Tort of Negligence

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CASE TITLE: UGHANZE v. OKIE & ORS (2022) LPELR-58520(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE: 18TH AUGUST, 2022

PRACTICE AREA: COURT (JURISDICTION)

LEAD JUDGMENT: HARUNA SIMON TSAMMANI, J.C.A.

SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:

INTRODUCTION

This appeal borders on the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.

FACTS

This is an appeal against the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja Division, delivered by B. F. M. Nyako, J., on the 7th day of November 2006 in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/221/2000.

On the 16/4/2000, at about 6.00pm, while one G. A. Tyotswom (PW2) was driving a Mercedes Benz 200 Salon car with Registration No. AM736 ABJ belonging to the 1st Respondent along Independence Avenue towards the Airport, he was hit by a Peugeot 504 Salon car with Registration No. NASS 455, being driven by the Appellant, thereby resulting in the damage to the 1st Respondent’s Vehicle. The accident was reported to the Police, who investigated the incident but parties were unable to resolve the matter amicably.

The 1st Respondent institute an action at the trial Court, claiming the following reliefs:

1. The sum of N362,160.00 (Three Hundred and Sixty-two Thousand, One Hundred and Sixty Naira) only being the cost of repairs effected on his motor vehicle damaged by the negligent driving of the First Defendant.

2. The sum of N440,000.00 (Four Hundred and Forty Thousand Naira) only, being the loss of earning between the 17th day of April 2000 and the 10th day of June 2000 when his motor vehicle was out of business, at the rate of N8,000.00 (Eight Thousand Naira) only per day.

3. The sum of N150,000.00 (One Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira) only as general damages for negligence.

Upon being served, the Appellant who was the 1st Defendant filed a Statement of Defence and also counter-claimed as follows:

(a) N1,927,880.00 is the sum spent on spare parts and labour in repairs of vehicle NASS 455.

(b) N555,000.00 is the sum spent on car hire services from 17/4/2000 to 30/06/2000 at the rate of N7,500.00 per day for 74 days.

(c) N200,000.00 general damages. ​

The trial commenced, after which the trial Court granted some of the reliefs sought by the 1st Respondent against the Appellant and the 2nd – 4th Respondents. Piqued by the decision, the Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal. The 2nd – 4th Respondents did not file any brief in response to the Appellant’s appeal, but filed a cross-appeal.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION

The Court determined the appeal based on the following issues for determination:

“1. Whether the Federal High Court by virtue of Section 251 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended have jurisdiction to entertain a claim for damages for negligent driving?

2. Whether the Appellant was not denied fair hearing when there was no evidence before the trial Court that the Appellant was served with hearing notice(s)?”

The issues for determination in the cross-appeal were:

“1. Whether on the basis of the claims/reliefs of the Plaintiff before the trial Court, the Honourable Trial Court was right to have assumed jurisdiction and entertained the said claim/reliefs putting into consideration the provisions of Section 251(1) -(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

2. Whether the claims of the Plaintiff at the trial Court in this suit disclosed any reasonable cause of action against the 2nd – 4th Respondents/Cross-Appellants to enable them to be joined as parties and Judgment delivered thereof, against them.”

DECISION/HELD

The appeal and cross-appeal were held to have merit and both were accordingly allowed.

RATIOS:

  • JURISDICTION – JURISDICTION OF THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT: Exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in matters pertaining to the Federal Government or any of its agencies
  • JURISDICTION – JURISDICTION OF THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT: Whether the subject matter of a dispute is relevant to determine the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court
  • PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE – ISSUE OF JURISDICTION: When the issue of jurisdiction can be raised; what the Court will consider in determining its jurisdiction
  • PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE – HEARING NOTICE: Duty of Court to ensure service of hearing notice on parties; effect of failure to serve hearing notice(s)

SOURCE: LAW PAVILLION

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