Legal Nuggets (60): Legal Position of Issues Arising from a Counter Cliam.- By Adedotun Habeeb Adetunji, LL.M (M.IoD), FCAI

Where a counter-claim arise from the same transaction as in the main claim, for purpose of convenience, the two claims can be determined together with each respective party in the reversed role leading evidence in proof or in defence of the claim. The trial Court is however expected to make separate pronouncements in respect of the main claim and the counter-claim in its judgment.
IYUA vs. PAUL & ANOR.(2019)LPELR-47266(CA)

ISSUE: COUNTER-CLAIM-Position of the law where common questions determinative of a claim and counter-claim arise in a case

"The Counter-claim was dismissed by the trial Court. The Appellant's complaint is that the Counter-claim was not independently considered on its merit and pronounced upon by the trial Court, occasioning a miscarriage of justice. For the 1st Respondent, it was submitted that the trial Court sufficiently pronounced on the counter-claim, the pleadings and the evidence on both the main and counter-claim having been interwoven. It was further submitted that the counter-claim was liable to be dismissed when placed on an imaginary scale with the case of the 1st Respondent, who proved a better title than the Appellant.

A counter-claim is an independent action with its own set of pleadings that must be established by credible evidence at the trial, unless they are admitted; Ogbonna v. The Attorney General of Imo State & Ors. (1992) LPELR-2287(SC); R- Benkay Nigeria Limited v. Cadbury Nigeria Limited (2012) LPELR-7820(SC). Although a counter-claim is a separate or cross action from the main action, the two are usually heard together for convenience, with a defendant including a counter-claim in his statement of defence, as permitted by Rules of Court, instead of filing an independent action against the same plaintiff. The parties in the counter-claim would change sides; the plaintiff in the main suit becomes the defendant in the counter-claim while the defendant in the main suit becomes the plaintiff in the counter-claim. A counter-claim may arise from the same transaction as in the main action and can for convenience, be determined together from the same set of facts and circumstances. In which event, main claim and the counter-claim are heard together, with each respective party in the reversed role leading evidence in proof or in defence of the claim, the parties having joined issues in their pleadings; Oroja & Ors. v. Adeniyi & Ors. (2017) LPELR-41985(SC).

The whole purpose is to ensure speedy trial and to minimize the cost of litigation in order to enable the Court to pronounce a final judgment in the same proceedings; Nwaenang v. Ndarake & Ors. (2013) LPELR-20720(CA). In the instant case on appeal, the main claim and the counter-claim arose out of a dispute over ownership of the same piece of land which the Appellant and the 1st Respondent both claimed they purchased from the same vendor. The learned trial Judge rightly noted, page 286 of the Record of Appeal: "The 1st defendant has also put up a counter-claim against the plaintiff for reliefs that are similar to those being sought by the plaintiff against him."

The Appellant as counter-claimant, sought in reliefs i - iv, a declaration of title to the land in issue, a perpetual restraining order against the 1st Respondent herein, an order directing the 3rd defendant to the counter-claim, PW2 herein, to hand over all title documents in respect of the land in issue to him and an order perpetually restraining the 2nd Respondent herein from processing documents in respect of the land in dispute in favour of the 1st Respondent herein. In reliefs v - vii, the Appellant sought special damages, general damages and costs of the action. The 1st Respondent as plaintiff sought similar reliefs. The evidence adduced by the parties in proof of their respective claims, were thus, completely entwined. In the judgment on appeal, the learned trial Judge noted that at the Pre-trial conference, Counsel for the 1st Respondent, plaintiff therein, had formulated two issues as follows: 1. Who, as between the plaintiff and the 1st defendant, has proved a better title to the land in issue? 2. Whether or not the plaintiff should be entitled to the damages claimed. Counsel for the Appellant, who was the 1st defendant therein, adopted Issue 1 as being relevant to both the main suit and the counter-claim, page 286 of the Record of Appeal. The trial Court thereupon considered the issues and determined the main claim and the counter-claim together as common questions arose for determination in both of them. A trial Court in this circumstance is not expected to consider the same question(s) arising for determination in the main claim and counter-claim separately; Ago v. Federal Mortgage Finance Limited (2013) LPELR-22820(CA); Digital Security Technology Ltd. & Anor. v. Andi (2017) LPELR-43446(CA). The trial Court is however expected to make separate pronouncements in respect of the main claim and the counter-claim. Upon a consideration of the issues arising for determination before it, the trial Court allowed the main claim and expressly pronounced upon the counter-claim, dismissing it in its entirety. The Appellant did not prove his counter-claim. No miscarriage of justice was occasioned to the Appellant in this circumstance." Per OTISI, JCA.(Pp.40-45,Paras.F-A).


ISSUE: COUNTER-CLAIM-Whether Court must pronounce on a counter-claim

"On issue 3, Mr. Akubo for appellant complained that the lower Court failed to resolve and/or pronounce on appellant's counter-claim which is in law a separate and independent action in its own right and that amounted to denial of fair hearing. Denial of fair hearing, counsel submitted, vitiates and nullifies the whole proceeding regardless of its merits. With all due respect to learned silk, if he means by his contention that the lower Court's failure to pronounce on the counter-claim vitiates even the main claim which was evaluated and pronounced upon, then he does not have me with him, for he will be contradicting the other ambit of his argument that a counter-claim is an independent and separate action from the main claim. If the two are separate and independent as he correctly submitted, I can not see how failure of the lower Court to pronounce on one can affect the other on which there is no such complaint.

In any event, and most importantly, on the facts of this case, where the claim and counter-claim of both parties were so interconnected and intertwined, with claimant and counter-claimant all founding their cases on the validity/ invalidity of the sale of respondent's property on 13/5/1993, the decision of the Court upholding respondent's claim that the sale conducted by appellant was invalid also resolves the counter-claim and renders it useless and academic: see Akpaji v. Udemba (2009) ALL FWLR (PT. 471) 811 @ 832 G-A; (2009) 6 NWLR (PT. 1138) 545 @ 565 C-E (SC); Ogbonna v. A.G., Imo State (1992) 1 NSCC 103 @ 138 lines 22 -24; Dabup v. Kolo (1993) 9 NWLR (PT. 317) 254 @ 2270, 281. It is thus a winner-takes-all situation, so the lower Court's failure to make another direct pronouncement on the counter-claim is of no moment; a pronouncement/order dismissing the counter-claim is implied in the order upholding the main claim. The two claims being incompatible, the grant of one automatically means the dismissal of the other. In the event, the issue is also resolved against appellant." Per UGO, JCA.(Pp.35-37,Paras.E-C).

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