Service of Court Process on a Company and the Decision in Mobil v. Davidson by Moruff Balogun
ON WHETHER SERVICE OF COURT PROCESS ON COMPANY MUST BE EFFECTED AT ITS HEAD OFFICE: An insight into the Court of appeal (Port Harcourt Division) laudable decision in Mobil Prod. (Nig) Unltd v. Davidson 11 NWLR PT.1722 PG. 1-11.
Courtesy: Moruff O. Balogun Esq.
Summary of facts:
The respondents filed a representative action on 20/01/2016 against the appellant at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt. They claimed a declaration that the effect of crude oil spillage was still continuing in the respondents’ community, that the appellant allowed the spillage to occur and refused to clean up the crude brought into the respondents’ community and that as a result of the spillage, the remnant of the crude oil are still visible in the respondents community, sea creeks and substantial part of their land/properties and this has continued to devalue the respondents’ land/properties causing enormous damages to the respondents.
The respondents also claimed the sum of NI,013,187.00 as special damages suffered by the respondents as a result of the crude oil spillage which occurred at the appellant’s Idoho Production Platform, Eket, Akwa Ibom State on or about 12/1/1998 and caused extensive damages on the respondents’ fishing culture, materials, activities and businesses with continuing effect till date in the respondents community; and the sum of N9,216,813.00 as general damages.
The respondents claimed that the effect of the crude oil spillage was still continuing till date in their community as the appellant allowed the spillage to occur, refusing to clean up the crude. The respondents further averred that on or about 12/01/1998 crude oil escaped from the appellant’s pipeline and it continued to escape from the appellant’s pipelines in large quantity into several rivers, streams, lakes, swamp, fishing ports, water creek, ponds and forests.
Upon settlement of pleadings, the appellant filed a motion on notice contending that the action was statute-barred and that the service of the originating process on it was not effected in accordance with the law. The appellant argued further that the service of court processes on its operational base not being its head office is improper.
After hearing argument of parties, the trial court in its ruling resolved all the issues against the appellant, held the application to be unmeritorious and struck it out.
Dissatisfied, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Held (Unanimously dismissing the appeal).
LAMIDO J.C.A. ( Delivering the leading Judgment ) raised and addressed the following issues.
On Whether service of court process on company must be effected at its head office-
Order 6 Rule 8 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009 did not mandate service of an originating process on a company at its head office. The word used in the rule is “office” simpliciter and the word as employed in the rule must be given its ordinary meaning. To insist that a proper service can only be had upon serving the originating process at the head office of a company is not within the purview of the provision. If it was intended that a company can only be served through its registered or head office, the rule would have stated that. The underlying rationale of the rule is to simplify matters of service of originating processes on a company or corporation in not insisting on service at the registered or head office. In matters of service of processes on a company, the Companies and Allied Matters Act 1990 has made provision that eliminated the rigorous and cumbersome procedure for service under the Act of 1968 by permitting service under the domestic rules of courts. Service of process at the office of a company is permitted and not been necessarily at its registered office. In the instant case, in the circumstances, service of the originating process effected on the appellant at its office in Port Harcourt was a proper service within the purview of the provision of Order 6 rule 8 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009.
On Mode of service of court process on company-
The provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act donate the powers to the rules of court to regulate the service of court processes on a corporation or registered company in Nigeria. By virtue of section 78 of the Act, a court process shall be served on a company in the manner provided by the rules of court and any other document may be served on a company by leaving it at or sending it by post to, the registered office or head office of the company. To comply with the provision in serving a court process, there must be a strict observance of the section.
On Mode of service of court process on companies –
By virtue of Order 6 Rule 8 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009, when a suit is against a corporation or a company authorized to sue and be sued in its name or in the name of an officer or trustee, the writ or other document may be served, subject to the originating enactment establishing that company as the case may be, by giving the writ or document to any director, secretary or other principal officer or by leaving it at the office of the corporation or company. The rule creates two ways of serving an originating process on a company either by serving same on a director, secretary or other principal officer of the company or by leaving it at the office of the company. Whichever mode of service employed will be deemed a proper service in the eyes of the law.
On Effect of continuous damage or injury on limitation period –
There are certain situations in which the application of limitation law will be curtailed and an action which would otherwise be held to be statute barred would escape the hammer of the limitation law. The doctrine of continuous damage or injury relates to cases where something has been brought on land and wrongfully or negligently left there and it continues to cause damage or injury to the land and its owners. The act in itself will give rise to actions de die in diem so long as it lasts. In these types of situation, the limitation period will be frozen until after the cessation of the damage or injury. Where limitation law is pleaded by a defendant, it cannot be sustained on the strength of the writ of summons and the statement of claim where a plaintiff alleges continuance of damage or injury; it must be proved and it can only be proved where evidence is led. In the instant case, ordinarily, the respondents’ claim ought to have been caught up by the Limitation Act but for the averments in the statement of claim that the damage or injury arising from the appellant’s negligence was continuing.
Moruff O. Balogun Esq.
IJEBU ODE, OGUN STATE.