WHEN THE CLAIMANT WAS REFUSED PERMISSION TO ACCEPT £300,000: WHAT HAPPENED NEXT? (THIS DOESN’T END WELL FOR SOMEONE)
Earlier this week there was a post on the case of Houghton (Stanley) -v- P.B. Donaghue (Haulage & Plant Hire Ltd & Ors)  EWHC 1738 (Ch) in which a claimant was refused permission to accept an offer of £300,000 after the trial had started. That post caused a lot of interest. In particular many people asked via this blog and on Twitter what happened next. Lawyers, it seems, like a story and many people wanted to know how it ended. I am once again grateful to Simon Mills for sending me a transcript, this time of the judgment following the trial. This is a judgment that would fit well into the “Proving Things” series. If anyone wants to know about the “risks of litigation” this is a case they should read.
The claimant brought an action against the defendants claiming seeking accounts and payments in relation to payments allegedly due for various lettings of storage yards. Part way through the proceedings the claimant applied to the applications judge (not the trial judge) for permission to accept a Part 36 offer of £300,000 made by the defendants. The applications judge refused that application. The matter proceeded to trial. Judgment was given by Mr M H Rosen QC 2017 EWHC 1475 (Ch) Houghton v Donoghue – Judgment (Rosen QC)
THE CLAIMANT’S DISCLOSURE
There were some interesting observations in relation to the claimant’s disclosure
39. On Mr Houghton’s part, there was a dearth of any record, both as regards his own alleged dealings and entitlements and work for the Donoghue Group, and also as regards relevant third parties and, in particular, his various activities at the Watford site and the Cricklewood offices in connection with the tenants, he claiming that he was the manager of the Watford site in 2006/2007 and the tenanted offices at Cricklewood in 2008 and managed not only the obtaining of tenants but also the matters that arose in the course of their tenancies.
40. The position regarding invoices, receipts and documentary records is not assisted by Mr Houghton’s allegation that he received a number of payments in cash. This was to be viewed in the light of his somewhat surprising statement that, notwithstanding his various earnings and entitlements as contractor personally, and not through any companies or employments as such, he has never submitted a single tax return.
The judge observed that all the relevant documents did not support the claimant’s case.
“76. The explanations offered by the claimant I regard as symptomatic of the man as regards this aspect, as was the absence of any documentation supportive of his case. In fact all the documents go against his case because they demonstrate the contrast between documented agreements and what he alleges in this case to be wholly undocumented oral agreements, for which there is no evidence at all by way of performance after the first year’s letting.”
THE JUDGE’S ASSESSMENT OF THE CLAIMANT’S EVIDENCE
“45. Mr Houghton has made many allegations and of course gave evidence and was cross-examined. There were a number of striking moments in his oral evidence. One of them was when he was asked if he had been excited to have worked with the Biffas, apparently very well-known people in the waste industry, and he responded to the effect that they should have been excited to work with him.
46. It is not necessarily a bad thing for a man or woman to have proper self-regard, but that and many other statements in the course of his evidence suggested to me that Mr Houghton might possibly have an exaggerated view of his own importance and of the significance of his activities and his contributions to any business (especially successful) for whom he has done work in this industry.”
Having turned down £300,000 and having his application to accept that sum refused, the claimant received nothing -except a liability to pay a large sum in costs (the trial dates were 8 – 16 June 2017).
“119. For those reasons, which I have endeavoured to summarise in order to explain this conclusion, I find that Mr Houghton’s claims are without merit and should be dismissed in their entirety.”