The Commercial Case Law Index is a collection of judgments from African countries on topics relating to commercial legal practice. The collection aims to provide a snapshot of commercial legal practice in a country, rather than present solely traditionally "reportable" cases. The index currently covers 400 judgments from Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.
Get started on finding judgments that are relevant to you by browsing the topic list on the left of the screen. Click the arrows next to the topic names to reveal a detailed list of sub-topics. Most judgments are accompanied by a short summary written by subject-matter expert postgraduate students from the University of Cape Town.
The matter involved a dispute as to whether there was a contract and in effect breach of contract.
The main issue before the court was whether there was a contract for sale of goods and in consequence whether there was breach. Citing trite law that there is no contract if there is no agreement on the essential terms of contract, the court established that the alleged contract did not mention the amounts allegedly guaranteed whilst the demand for payment itself was not linked to the telephone transactions. The court considered the definition of a proforma invoice and concluded the alleged contract was part of negotiations and was therefore an offer to treat. As there was no indication of agreement on the essential terms, there was therefore no contract and consequently no breach of contract.
In obiter, the court also dealt with the question whether special damages were rightfully awarded by the court a quo. Acknowledging special damages as damage in fact caused by wrong and the claim requirements for specificity of pleading and proof, the court concluded that the award of special damages was inconsistent as liability could not be imported on a non-existent contract.
The court thus concluded in favor of the appellant and allowed the appeal.
The plaintiff sued the defendant for breach of contract following its failure to pay in full – inclusive of VAT and penalties accruing from delayed payment – for construction services rendered. Two clear issues arose: whether the plaintiff was entitled to the sum claim and what remedies were available to the litigants. The contract provided for specific procedures in the event of disputes between its signatories. The plaintiff’s grievances with the project manager’s final certificate (which confirmed the amount owing by the defendant) ought to have been aired via these channels, so the defendant could be alerted thereto.
Because timeous and effective payment was based on certificates, the court found that the defendant could not be held liable for non-payment exceeding the certified amount. The court accordingly reduced the sum claim. Because the defendant had hampered the plaintiff’s commercial endeavours through its breach, it stood liable for general damages. The plaintiff provided no elucidation on the quantum thereof, and so its determination fell to the court’s discretion.
The defendant procured the services of the plaintiff for upgrades to some of the city’s drainage sites. Following the defendant’s non-payment – pursuant to the issuing of several interim payment certificates by the project manager – the plaintiff terminated the contract, upon which time a final certificate was issued by the project manager for work hitherto completed, in observance of the agreement’s termination procedure. The defendant objected to the payable figures outlined in the final certificate due to its apparent failure to factor in alleged performance anomalies on the part of the plaintiff. The defendant unilaterally reviewed the certificates before issuing a final certificate with a reduced outstanding fee. Establishing which set of certificates was legally enforceable formed the heart of the dispute.
The court ruled in favour of the plaintiff, finding the defendant’s claims to be substantially impaired on several grounds. The regulations impacting the issue and review of payment certificates came into force after the conclusion of the contract, so general legal principles and the agreement’s terms took precedence in the court’s analysis. The defendant’s unilateral amendment of the final certificate did not accord with the parties’ General Conditions of Contract; it was not delivered to the plaintiff nor agreed to in writing thereby.
The issuing of final certificates creates a liquid debt – discrepancies ought to have been raised prior to certification and resolved by adjudication or arbitration as per the parties’ agreement. Failing this, the court found that the set-off sought by the plaintiff ought to have been raised in the current suit via counter-claim and not through unilateral adjustment of the final certificate.
The defendant was found further to have misrepresented a final certificate of completion to the plaintiff, following the project manager’s issuing thereof, and consequently estopped from raising the erroneous conduct of its project manager as a justification for its non-payment. The plaintiff was awarded damages with interest reflecting the conventional rate for commercial banking.
The appeal stemmed from the denial of the appellant's right to defend on merits due to the lower court’s grant of an Order 14 summary judgement in favor of the respondent, without properly engaging with the merits of the matter.
Substantively, the court held that in a summary judgement application the plaintiff must bring a prima facie case for the claim, which includes showing the basis of the claim, before the burden shifts to the defendant to defend. However, a complete defence is not required but rather the defendant only needs to show that he has a reasonable defence to the claim and his defence is not a sham or intended to delay payment.
Since the respondent’s claim had been based on an agreement and an alleged assignment, the court reasoned that on assessment of the evidence the argument of assignment lacked the element of intent and thus could not stand. Further, the argument that the respondent was a beneficiary of the agreement in question was unfounded. The trial court therefore erred in its decision to grant summary judgment as the very basis of the claim was reasonably challenged on the facts.
The court thus concluded that the appellant had been unjustifiably been shut out of trial. It thus allowed the appeal setting aside the summary judgement.