Court Addresses Service of Claim Form, Jurisdiction Challenges, and Default Judgments in Simon Bain Building Services Limited v Jenna Cardone & Anor [2023] EWHC 2916 (Ch)

Citation: [2023] EWHC 2916 (Ch)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Simon Bain Building Services Limited v Jenna Cardone & Anor [2023] EWHC 2916 (Ch), Master Teverson delivered a reserved judgment addressing a series of applications pertaining to service of claim form, jurisdiction challenges, and setting aside default judgments. This article analyses the key topics discussed, the legal principles applied, and the impact of these principles on the outcome of the case.

Key Facts

The case arose from a construction contract dispute between the contractor (Simon Bain Building Services Limited) and employers (Jenna Cardone & Mr Kevin O’Keefe). The claimant contended the existence of a cost-plus agreement for services rendered, while the defendants maintained it was a lump sum contract. Service of the claim form was improperly executed, leading to an application to set aside default judgments and subsequent challenges to the court’s jurisdiction.

Service of the Claim Form

The court acknowledged that service of the claim form had not been correctly effected under CPR 6.7(1)(b). The claimant’s legal representatives had been notified by the defendant’s solicitor that they were instructed to accept service, which the claimant failed to confirm after changing legal representation. This error was considered ‘serious and significant’ because it allowed default judgments to be entered.

Challenge to Jurisdiction

Despite the error in service, the decision hinged on whether the defendants submitted to the jurisdiction of the court, an issue governed by Part 11 of the CPR. The defendants highlighted their intention to contest jurisdiction in an Acknowledgement of Service but failed to act within the prescribed period, effectively treating theirs as an acceptance of jurisdiction under CPR r.11(5).

Applications to contest jurisdiction were made belatedly, leading to a debate on whether they could be treated as valid under CPR Part 11. Master Teverson compared the situation with Caine v Advertiser and Times Ltd [2019] EWHC 39 (QB) and Pitalia v NHS Commissioning Board [2022] EWHC 1636 (QB), concluding a submission to the jurisdiction had occurred substantively and procedurally.

Statute of Limitation

The defendants posited a potential limitation defense, arguing that the six-year period under section 5 of the Limitation Act 1980 barred parts of the claim. However, the court deemed this a ‘real prospect of success’ and a substantive ground for setting aside the default judgment.

Application to Set Aside Default Judgment

The court had discretion under CPR r.13.3 to set aside or vary default judgment if there was a ‘real prospect of successfully defending the claim’ or ‘some other good reason.’ Swift action by the defendants in applying to set aside and the provision of a full draft defence contributed to the decision to grant relief from sanctions under the Denton v TH White Ltd [2014] 1 WLR 3926 tests.

Outcomes

Master Teverson set aside the default judgments, holding that the defendants had a real prospect of successfully defending the claim on both limitation and substantive merits. The court declined to extend time for filing an Acknowledgement of Service to contest jurisdiction, acknowledging that the opportunity had passed but allowed filing with an intention to defend, with subsequent directions provided.

Conclusion

This case underscores the imperative of complying with procedural regulations in civil litigation, especially concerning the service of claim forms and contesting jurisdiction. It also reaffirms the discretion courts possess in granting relief from sanctions where there is a legitimate defense against claims, further influenced by efforts to promptly rectify procedural defaults. The judgment in Simon Bain Building Services Limited v Jenna Cardone & Anor exemplifies a balanced approach, reflecting a preference for resolving disputes on their merits rather than on technical procedural grounds.

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