➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Luck Guard Ltd. v. Adariku & Ors (2022) – CA
by “PipAr” Branham-Paul C. Chima, SAL.
Court of Appeal – CA/A/1061/2020
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
15 December 2022
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
Contract of employment.
➥ PRINCIPLES OF LAW
⦿ WHAT ARE VAGUE AND UNREASONABLE GROUNDS OF APPEAL
In this preliminary objection, the crux of the complaint is that the grounds of appeal in the notice of appeal are vague and unreasonable. Vague and unreasonable grounds of appeal from our established principles of law are those grounds of appeal couched in a manner which does not provide any solid or explicit standard for it to be understood. An illusive complaint which is lacking in depth and is more windy, evasive, ambiguous, debatable, disputable and inexplicable. See the cases of Set Success Ent.& Co., Ltd v. Ibeju-Lekki Local Government (2021) LPELR — 56608 (SC), Adamu v. C.O.P. Plateau State Command (2020) LPELR – 51956 (CA). — S.J. Adah, JCA.
⦿ RATIONALE BEHIND PLEADINGS
The basic law is that parties are bound to plead all facts they intend to rely upon at the trial and facts not pleaded will go to no issue. One rationale behind this principle is that litigation must follow some restrictive order and not open-ended in order to save the time of both the Courts and the litigants. If the procedure of pleadings was not introduced in litigation, parties search for evidence could not have ended and that should have protracted litigation beyond expectation. The law simply put, is that litigation is fought on pleadings. The pleadings define the parameters of the case and they give notice of the case to the other party. Any evidence led must be within the circumference of the facts pleaded. Pleadings in that wise, must not be deficient of the facts required to build up the case. — S.J. Adah, JCA.
⦿ DECLARATORY RELIEF CANNOT BE GRANTED WITHOUT EVIDENCE
A declaratory relief implies a declaration by the Court of the action, cause or right of the parties before the Court. It is the law that declaratory reliefs are not granted as a matter of course and on a platter of gold. They are only granted when credible evidence has been led by a person seeking the declaratory relief. See Anyanru v. Mandilas Ltd (2007) 4 SCNJ and Chukwumah v. S.P.D.C (Nigeria) Ltd., (1993) LPELR – 864 SC. It invariably therefore means that a declaratory relief cannot be granted in the absence of any evidence or where the evidence led is unsatisfactory. A declaratory relief such as what was sought by the plaintiff is discretionary. If a substantial question exists to which one person has a real interest to raise, and the other to oppose, then the Court has a discretion to resolve it by a declaration which it will exercise if there is a good reason for so doing. It is the form of judgment which should be granted only when the Court is of the opinion that the party seeking it is, when all facts are taken into consideration, fully entitled to the exercise of the Court’s discretion. The power of the Court to make a declaration where it is a question of defining rights of two parties is only limited by its own discretion. The discretion should of course be exercised judicially, but it seems to me that the discretion is very wide. See Ibeneweka v. Egbuna and Ors., (1964) 1 WLR 210. — S.J. Adah, JCA.
⦿ WHAT IS A TRIANGULAR EMPLOYMENT RELATIONSHIP
What is a triangular employment relationship? A triangular employment relationship is a situation where the employer arranges for an employee’s placement or assignment with a third party. — S.J. Adah, JCA.
⦿ COURT CANNOT IMPOSE CONTRACT ON A PARTIES
The relationship between the parties in this case is well-scripted, known and appreciated by them. The Court cannot write or rewrite any agreement for the parties. The parties to any transaction usually have their positions which they bring to their table of negotiation. When they are done with their negotiations, they now have their terms well-crafted to govern the transaction they enter into. The parties and no other are responsible for their terms of engagement. No Court has the power to script or foist on the parties terms which are strange to their agreement. Parties are bound by the terms of their contract. — S.J. Adah, JCA.
⦿ CIVIL CASES ARE DECIDED ON THE PREPONDERANCE 9F EVIDENCE
The level of proof needed in the circumstances of this case is as per the required standard of proof in civil case, it is a cardinal principle of law that civil cases are decided on the preponderance of evidence and balance of probabilities. See the cases of Emeka v. Chuba- Ikpeazu and Ors., (2017) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1583) 345, A.B.C. (Transport Company) Ltd. v. Miss Bimmi Omotoye (2019) LPELR-47829 (SC). — S.J. Adah, JCA.
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Stephen Jonah Adah, J.C.A.
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
➥ CASE FACT/HISTORY
This is an appeal against the judgment of the National Industrial Court, Abuja, delivered on 26th October, 2018, in Suit No. NICN/ABJ/110/2016.
In this case, the 1st Respondent as Claimant before the trial Court sought declaration that there was a triangular contract of employment between him and the 2nd Respondent, Appellant and the 3rd – 6th Respondents. After hearing the claims and evaluating the evidence before the Court, the trial Court gave judgement in 1st Respondent’s favour. Being dissatisfied, the Appellant has now appealed before this Court.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION(S)
[PRELIMINARY OBJECTION: OVERRULED]
I. An Order of this Honourable Court, striking out/dismissing the appellant’s appeal in limine for being vague.
RULING: IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
A. THAT THE GRIEVANCES OF THE APPELLANT ARE UNDERSTANDABLE VIA THE GROUNDS.
“The notice of appeal in the instant appeal is at pages 787 to 792 of the Record of Appeal transmitted on 3/12/2020. I have carefully gone through grounds 1 to 6 of the grounds of appeal with their respective particulars. What is manifestly certain about the grounds of appeal is the fact that the learned counsel for the Appellant who drew up the grounds is with due respect lacking in poise and elegance in the drafting of the grounds. The contents of the grounds are not in any sense vague or unreasonable. They in a fair and subtle manner convey the grievances of the Appellant against the decision of the trial Court. The objection therefore, is lacking in merit and it is accordingly dismissed.”
[MAIN APPEAL: ALLOWED]
I. Whether the claimant placed enough oral and documentary evidence before the Court to warrant the grant of the declaratory and other reliefs sought that the 1st Respondent was duly employed by the 2nd Respondent?
RULING: IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
A. NO LETTER OF EMPLOYMENT THAT THE 2ND RESPONDENT EMPLOYED THE 1ST RESPONDENT
“In the instant case, there is no letter of employment indicating that the 2nd Respondent recruited or gave employment to the 1st Respondent. Issues of contract of employment are definite things. They are not what one can under any guise consign to circumstantial predictions. If there is a contract of employment, there must be clear evidence of such a contract laying out clearly the terms and conditions of the contract. What is disclosed from the evidence in this case is the fact that the Appellant had a contract of service with the 2nd Respondent, it engaged many people including some of the 1st Respondent to perform her role and obligations to the 2nd Respondent. The 2nd Respondent did not directly recruit the 1st Respondent. It follows therefore, that the finding of the trial Court that the 1st Respondent were employed by the 2nd Respondent had no foundation in facts and therefore, perverse.”
“In the instant case, in an attempt to establish their assertions that they were employees of the 2nd Respondent and that they were not employees of the Appellant and the 3rd – 6th Respondents, the 1st Respondent called five (5) witnesses, Felix Adariku testified on behalf of the 1st Respondents as CW1, Isaiah Obobolo as CW2, Timi Bognett Untung as CW3, Adeleke Quadri as CW4 and Jaja Iniobong as CW5. The 1st Respondent’s witnesses stated in their evidence that they were employees of the 2nd Respondent before their purported employment with the 2nd Respondent were allegedly terminated. They claimed that they were called for interviews at the office of the 2nd Respondent. That they were thereafter offered the jobs, given ID cards with IGG Number, then rolled over to the Appellant and the 2nd to 6th Respondents without their consent. That they were not paid salaries, they tried to unionize to no avail and that they tried to negotiate their conditions of service to no avail until they were finally terminated with no terminal benefits. The 1st Respondents did not produce any documentary evidence showing that they were employees of the 2nd Respondent at any time whatsoever. The 1st Respondent has a duty to support their averments that they are employees of the 2nd Respondent with evidence. The evidence required here is the LETTER OF EMPLOYMENT or CONTRACT OF SERVICE, between the 1st Respondent and the 2nd Respondent. It is this document that shows the relationship between the parties and the terms governing the relationship. The letter of termination should be tendered. These are the major documents that are to be examined and interpreted by the Court in order to decipher if there is a relationship and where there is, whether or not there was a breach of the terms thereof.”
II. Whether the learned trial Judge was right to have held that there was a triangular employment relationship between the 1st Respondent, the 2nd Respondent and the Appellant and the 3rd-6th Respondents and whether in the light of the issue of triangular employment, the decision of the Court is not perverse in its entirety?
RULING: IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
A. THERE WAS NO TRIANGULAR EMPLOYMENT RELATIONSHIP DUE TO THE DOCTRINE OF PRIVITY OF CONTRACT
“As a general rule, the doctrine of privity of contract is that a contract cannot confer or impose obligations arising under it on any person except the parties to it. In other words, only the parties to a contract can sue or be sued on the contract, and a stranger to a contract cannot sue or be sued on the contract. The doctrine of privity of contract is all about the sanctity of contract between the parties to it. It does not extend to others from outside. The doctrine will not apply to a non-party to the contract who may have, unwittingly, been dragged into the contract with a view to becoming a shield or scapegoat against the non-performance by one of the parties. See – Febson Fitness Centre v. Cappa holdings ltd (2014) LPELR — 24055 (CA) and UBA Plc and Anor., v. Jargaba (2007) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1045) 247. From the foregoing therefore, there is no iota of evidence to indicate that the arrangement and agreement of the parties could admit of any triangular employment relationship.”
III. Whether the 2nd Respondent’s alleged verbal promise to apply the local technical assistance grid of rates for 2013 to the 1st Respondent as alleged by the 1st Respondent makes the said local technical assistance grid of rates enforceable against the appellant or at all?
RULING: IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
“I have gone through the processes and the evidence before the trial Court, there is no evidence placed before the trial Court to suggest that there was any concrete agreement for the 2nd Respondent to apply the Local Technical Assistance grid of 2013 rates to the Respondents.”
IV. Whether the judgment of the trial Court is against the weight of evidence and if it is, whether it ought to be set aside?
RULING: IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
A. In the instant case, there is no credible evidence to prove any of the declaratory reliefs claimed by the 1st Respondent at the trial Court. The judgment of the trial Court was truly against the weight of evidence. This issue is therefore, resolved in favour of the Appellant.
“The appeal is therefore, allowed, the judgment of the National Industrial Court in Suit No: NICN/ABJ/110/2016, delivered on the 26th day of October, 2018, is hereby set aside.”
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ WHEN IS A GROUND OF APPEAL SAID TO BE VAGUE
The case of Hassan v. Buhari and Ors., (2022) LPELR – 56677 (CA), where this Court per Abiru, JCA, explained what constitutes a vague ground of appeal, as follows: “Now, a ground of appeal is said to be vague and imprecise when it is couched in a manner which does not provide any explicit standard for its being understood or when what is stated is so uncertain that it is not susceptible of being understood. It may also be considered vague when the complaint is not defined in relation to the subject or it is not defined in relation to the subject or it is not particularized or the particulars are clearly irrelevant – Central Bank of Nigeria v. Okojie (2002) 8 NWLR (Pt. 768) 48, Governor, Ekiti State v. Osayomi (2005) 2 NWLR (Pt. 909) 67, Imam v. Sheriff (2005) 4 NWLR (Pt. 914) 80 and Nwabueze v. Nwora (2005) 8 NWLR (Pt. 926) 1. In other words, where the complaint in a ground of appeal is discernible vis-a-vis the judgment of a lower Court, the ground of appeal cannot be said to be vague or imprecise”.
⦿ WHAT IS AN ISSUE
In the case of Olafisoye v. FRN (2004) LPELR-2553 (SC), the Supreme Court per Tobi, JSC, held that: “An issue is the question in dispute between the parties necessary for the determination of the Court, see Chief Ejowhomu v. Edok-Eter Mandalis Limited (1986) 5 NWLR (Pt. 39) 1. An issue which is usually raised by way of a question is usually a proposition of law or fact in dispute between the parties, necessary for the determination by the Court; a determination of which will normally affect the result of the appeal. See Adejumo v. Ayantegbe (1989) 3 NWLR (Pt. 110) 417. Issues for determination of appeal, are short questions raised against one or more grounds of appeal and are meant to be a guide to the arguments and submission to be advanced in support of the grounds of appeal. It is a succinct and precise question either of law or of fact for determination by the Court, see Imonikhe v. The Attorney-General of Bendel State (1992) 6 NWLR (Pt. 311) 370. An issue is a disputed point or question to which parties in an action have narrowed their several allegations and upon which they are desirous of obtaining either decision of the Court on question of law, or of the Court on question of fact. See Chief Okoromaka v. Chief Odiri (1995) 7 NWLR (Pt. 408) 411”.
⦿ THE NATURE OF PLEADINGS – IMPORTANCE
In the case of Osondu Co Ltd. and Anor v. Akhigbe (1999) LPELR – 1433 (SC), the Supreme Court per Uwaifo, JSC, held as follows: “It must be realized that pleadings is a statement of candour as to what a party to a case relies on to prove or defend a cause. It ought to be made as clear as it possibly can, not evasive or misleading or ambiguous. Each party must endeavor to place and must be presumed to have placed, all necessary pleadable acts on record the best way it can in order to achieve the best of its case. It must put the other party and the Court on a firm understanding of what the issues joined or denied, or issues admitted or not admitted. Pleadings are the guiding light by which all concerned trace the path to the justice of a case. That path should not be hampered by and littered with stumbling blocks of uncertainties, misrepresentations and ambushes embedded in the averments. That will be an effort to spring surprises and will not be proper pleadings. As was said by Phillimore J., in The Why Not (1888) LR 2A and E. 265 and quoted with approval in Enwezor v. Central Bank of Nigeria (1976) 3 SC 45 at 56 Per Madarikan, JSC, pleadings “…are not to be considered as constituting a game of skill between the advocates. They ought to be so framed as not only to assist the party in the statement of his case but the Court in its investigation of the truth between the litigants.”
⦿ NO EMPLOYMENT CAN BE INFERRED WITHOUT A LETTER OF EMPLOYMENT PRODUCED
In the case of Organ and Ors. v. Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd., and Anor (2013) LPELR – 20942 (SC), the Supreme Court emphatically held as follows: “The letter of employment is the bedrock on which any of the appellants can lay claim to being employees of the respondent and without the production of such a document, no employment can be inferred. The Employees’ Handbook issued by 1st Respondent is not a substitute for the letter of employment”.
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)