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WHEN ESTOPPEL PER REM JUDICATAM CAN SUCCEED

Dictum

Judicial authorities have enunciated the principles which are well pronounced in the case of Makun V. F.U.T. Minna (supra) wherein this court re-iterated that, for a plea of estoppel per rem judicatam to succeed, the party relying thereon must establish the following requirements or pre-conditions namely:- (a) That the parties or their privies are the same in both the previous and the present proceeding. (b) That the claim or issues in dispute in both actions are the same. (c) That the res or the subject matter of litigation in the two cases is the same. (d) That the decision relied upon to support the plea of estoppel per rem judicatam is valid, subsisting and final. (e) That the court that gave the previous decision relied upon to sustain the plea is a court of competent jurisdiction. It has also been held severally by this court that, unless all the above constitutional elements or requirements of the doctrine are fully established, the plea of estoppel per rem judicatam cannot sustain. See also the decisions in Yoye V. Olalode (1974) 10 SC 209; Alase V. Olori-Ilu (1965) NMLR 66; Fadiora V. Gbadebo (1978) 3 SC 219 and Udo V. Obot (1989) 1 SC (Pt. 1) 64.

— C.B. Ogunbiyi, JSC. Ogbolosingha v. B.S.I.E.C. (2015) – SC.165/2013

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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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WHAT IS AN ESTOPPEL

An estoppel is part of the law of evidence. It is no other than a bar to testimony. It’s sole function is to place an obstacle in the way of a case which might otherwise succeed or to remove an impediment out of the way of a case which might otherwise fail.

– Oputa JSC. Gbadamosi v. Bello (1985)

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INGREDIENTS FOR ISSUE ESTOPPEL TO APPLY

It is trite law that for issue estoppel to apply the following ingredients must be present: 1. The parties must be the same in the previous and present actions; 2. The same question that was decided in the previous action must arise in the present action in respect of the same subject matter; and 3. That question must be a final decision of a competent court. See Ebba v. Ogodo (2000) 10 NWLR (Pt. 675) S.C. 387.

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

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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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NATURE OF ESTOPPEL

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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REQUIREMENTS FOR ESTOPPEL PER REM JUDICATA

Before a judgment of a court can qualify as an estoppel per rem judicata and in order to bind a party; the following conditions must be satisfied: a) The judgment must be valid and subsisting; b) the parties in that judgment must be the same as the parties (either by themselves or their privies) in the subsequent proceedings; c) the subject-matter must be the same; and d) the issue or cause (in issue estoppel or cause of action estoppel as the case may be decided in the earlier proceedings must have arisen again in the later proceedings.

— Adeyemo v. Ida & Ors. (1998) – CA/1/6/92

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