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NATURE OF ESTOPPEL

Dictum

It is trite law that where a court of competent Jurisdiction has settled an issue by a final decision, in respect of matters in dispute between the parties neither party may re-litigate on that issue again by raising same in any proceedings except on appeal. This issue of relitigation falls within the ambit of estoppel. There are two kinds of estoppels; the first is called cause of action estoppel which occurs where the cause of action is merged in the Judgment which can be described as transit in rem judicatam either party is precluded from litigating on the same cause of action. See Fadiora Gbadebo (1978) 3 SC 219, Ebba v. Ogodo (2000) 10 NWLR (Pt.675) 387. The second kind of estoppel inter parties usually occurs where an issue has earlier on been adjudicated upon by a court of competent Jurisdiction and the same issue comes in question in any subsequent proceedings between the same parties. Idigbe JSC distinguished the two types of estoppel by record of inter parties in Fadiora v. Gbadebo Supra where he held: “Now, there are two kinds of estoppel by record inter parties or per rem judicatam, as it is generally known. The first is usually referred to as ’cause of action estoppel’ and it occurs where the cause of action is merged in the judgment, that is Transit in rem judicatam – See King v. Hoare (1844) 13 M.& W 495 at 504. Therefore, on this principle of law (or rule of evidence) once it appears that the same cause of action was held to lie (or not to lie) in a final judgment between the same parties, or their privies, who are litigating in the same capacity (and on the same subject matter), there is an end of the matter they are precluded from re-litigating the same cause of action. There is however, a second kind of estoppel inter parties and this usually occurs where an issue has earlier on been adjudicated upon by a court of competent jurisdiction and the same issue comes incidentally in question in any subsequent proceedings between the same parties (or their privies); in these circumstances, ‘issue estoppel’ arises. This is based on the principle of law that a party is not allowed to (ie., he is precluded from) contending the contrary or opposite of any specific point which having been once distinctly put in issue, has with certainty and solemnity been determined against him. See Cutram v. Morewood (1803) 3 East 346. Issue estoppel applies whether the point involved in the earlier decision is one of fact or law or one of mixed fact and law. However, for the principle to apply, in any given proceedings, all the pre-conditions to a valid plea of estoppel inter partes or per remjudicatam must apply, that. (1) the same question must be for decision in both proceedings (which means that the question for decision in the current suit must have been decided in the earlier proceedings), (2) the decision relied upon to support the plea of issue estoppel must be final (3) the parties must be the same (which means that parties involved in both proceedings must be the same) (per se or by their privies)”. See also Ladega v. Durosimi (1978) 3 S.C. 91, 102-103where Eso, J.S.C. said: “The doctrine of res judicata, which finds expression in the maxim ‘nemo debet his vexari pro una et eadem causa, lays emphasis on the ‘causa. It is the cause of action that would have been determined and nay suit, brought to relitigate such action, which has been determined, would be dismissed. Where, however, what is raised in an issue estoppel, then, it is only in regard to that issue, that has been raised that the parties to an action, shall be bound, and the proper course to take would be one of striking out all the paragraphs in the pleadings raising that issue”. Though the whole concept of ‘estoppel’ is viewed as a substantive rule of law (see Haustead v. Commissioner of Taxation (1926) A.C. 155 at pp. 165.166 and also Canada and Dominion Sugar Coy. Ltd. v. Canadian National (West Indies) Steamships Ltd. (1947) A.C. 46 at p.56, it is essentially a rule of evidence.

— R.O. Nwodo, JCA. Teleglobe v 21st Century Tech. (2008) – CA/L/694/2006

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REQUIREMENT FOR ESTOPPEL PER REM JUDICATA

Now, for a judgment to constitute issue estoppel the following conditions must be satisfied: – 1. the same question must be for decision in both proceedings (i.e. the same question for decision in the current suit must have been decided in the previous suit); 2. the decision relied upon to support the plea of issue estoppel must be final; 3. the parties or their privies must be the same. The three elements must be present and co-exist for a plea of estoppel per rem judicata to apply. See Ito v. Ekpe & Ors (2000) 3 NWLR (pt. 650) 678; Oshoboja v. Amida & Ors (2009) LPELR-2803 (SC) and Oleksandr & Ors v. Lonestar Drilling Co. Ltd & Anor (2015) LPELR – 24614 (SC).

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. APM v INEC & Ors. (2023) – CA/PEPC/04/2023

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PRINCIPLE OF ESTOPPEL BY CONDUCT – WAIVER OF RIGHT

The principle of estoppel by conduct is based on the public policy that says that there must be an end to litigation. Its aim is, not only to hold a party to his undertaking that he will no longer insist on either his right to appeal or the accrued right or obligation from the judgment, but also not to allow a person benefit from his prevarication. Equity, generally abhors subterfuge, deception and some other unconscienable conduct. Equity acts in personam … It operates thus: if a person with full knowledge of the rights, interest, profits or benefits conferred upon or accruing to him by and under the law, intentionally decides to give up all these, or some of them, he cannot be heard to complain afterwards that he has not been permitted the exercise of his right, or that he has suffered by his not having exercised his rights. In the circumstance, just like in the instant case, he should be held to have waived his rights and consequently estopped from raising the issue subsequently.

— Ejembi Eko, JSC. County Dev. Co. v Hon. Min. Env. Housing Urban Dev. (2019) – SC.239/2011

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WHEN DOES ISSUE ESTOPPEL ARISES

Issue estoppel arises when the issue has been decided upon to finality by a Court of competent jurisdiction. In other words, once an issue has been raised and distinctively determined between the parties, neither party can be allowed to fight that issue all over again. The same issue cannot be raised by either party again in the same or subsequent proceedings except in special circumstances. See Adone & Ors v. Ikebudu & Ors (2001) LPELR 191 (SC) and Tukur v. Uba & Ors (2012) LPELR 9337 (SC). For issue estoppel to apply, the following conditions must be satisfied: (a) The same question was decided in both proceedings; (b) The decision which creates the estoppel must be final; and (c) The parties to the judicial decision or their privies to the proceedings in which the estoppel is raised. To determine whether the above three elements exist (they must co exist), the Court will closely examine the reasons for the judgment and other relevant facts that were actually in issue in the proceeding. See Oyekola & Ors v. Amodu (2017) LPELR-42391 (CA); OSPM Ltd v. Nibel Co. Nig. Ltd (2017) 3 NWLR (pt.1552) 207 at 234 and Dasuki (Rtd) v. F.R.N. (2018) LPELR-43969 (CA).

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. APM v INEC & Ors. (2023) – CA/PEPC/04/2023

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MAKING A PERSON BELIEVE IN A STATE OF THINGS CREATES ESTOPPEL

Joe Iga & Ors v. Ezekiel Amakiri & Ors. (1976) 11 S.C 1, this court stated at pp.12-13: “If a man by his words or conduct willfully endeavours to cause another to believe in a certain state of things which the first knows to be false and if the second believes in such state of things and acts upon the belief, he who knowingly made the false statement is estopped from averring afterwards that such a state of things does not exist at the time; again, if a man either in express terms or by conduct, makes representation to another of the existence of a state of facts which he intends to be acted upon in a certain way, in the belief of the existence of such a state of facts, to the damage of him who so believes and acts, the first is estopped from denying the existence of such a state of facts. Thirdly, if a man whatever his real meaning may be, so conducts himself that a reasonable man would take his conduct to mean a certain representation of facts and that it was a true representation, and that the latter was intended to act upon it in a particular way, and he with such belief, does act in that way to his damage, the first is estopped from denying the facts as represented.”

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WHERE BY WORDS OR CONDUCT A PARTY HAS MADE THE OTHER PARTY CHANGE HIS STANCE

The position of the law still remains the same. It is that where by words or conduct, a party to a transaction freely makes to the other an unambiguous promise or assurance which is intended to affect the legal relations between them and the former acts upon it by altering his position to his detriment, the party making the promise of assurance will not be permitted to act inconsistently with it. This is as pronounced in Central London Property Trust Ltd. v. High Trees House Ltd. (1947) K.B. 130. It has remained good law for a long time now. I approve same without any reservation.

— J.A. Fabiyi, JSC. BFI v. Bureau PE (2012) – SC.12/2008

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WHEN A COURT DECIDES AN ISSUE, IT CREATES AN ISSUE ESTOPPEL

Para. 12: “On 27th October 2009, the court issued a ruling in an application for preliminary objection raised by the defence. These issues about the court’s jurisdiction in this matter as well as the exhaustion of local remedies were decided in that ruling. It is thus inappropriate for Counsel to raise the same issues again. The principle of law is clear that when a court has decided on some issues in the case, the decision creates issue estoppel as between the parties and/or their privies in the present and any subsequent proceedings in which same issue’s is/are raised. Besides, the decision of this court is final and can only be altered through a revision if the correct procedure is followed. In view of the foregoing, the court cannot re-open these two issues about its jurisdiction and exhaustion of local remedies.”

— SERAP v FRN (2010) – ECW/CCJ/JUD/07/10

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