The Dispute Resolution practice group recently acted for a successful family-run waste management business, P B Donoghue, in their defence of a High Court claim for £3million. 

The claimant, Mr Houghton, had obtained third-party funding for his claim and alleged that the waste management business had breached four oral agreements, entitling him to commission (or royalty) payments with a combined value in excess of £3million. P B Donoghue denied the claims in their entirety.

Craig Williams and Rajiv Malhotra advised and defended P B Donoghue throughout almost two years of litigation. Working with barrister Simon Mills of Five Paper Buildings, they successfully fought a number of applications along the way in relation to the discontinuance of the claim against one of the group companies; disclosure of commercially sensitive material; requests for further information; disagreements on cost budgets and whether or not the parties ought to be allowed to rely on expert evidence.

P B Donoghue made attempts to settle the matter out of Court to try to minimise the disruption to their business. Craig and Rajiv represented them at an all-day mediation and made a “Part 36” settlement offer on their behalf in December 2016 – a special type of offer with certain ingredients, which give the offeror protection if the opposition refuses to accept the offer but then fails to beat it at court.

The attempts to settle the case were unsuccessful and the claim fell to be determined at an eight-day trial in the High Court before Deputy Judge Rosen QC in June 2017.  P B Donoghue was represented at court by B P Collins and barrister Simon Mills.

In an unusual twist, part-way through the trial, Mr Houghton attempted to accept the companies' Part 36 offer to try to bring the trial to a premature end. P B Donoghue had made the offer seven months previously and based on their legal team’s advice they took the view that the trial was going well and that it would be unjust for Mr Houghton to be allowed to accept the offer at such a late stage, after he had already “rolled the dice” at Court.

The team advised P B Donoghue to object to Mr Houghton accepting the offer. This resulted in Mr Houghton making an application to a separate High Court judge half-way through the main trial, for permission to accept the offer, which the team defended. The Judge ultimately agreed with P B Donoghue’s interpretation of the rules and gave Judgment in its favour. He dismissed Mr Houghton’s application and refused permission to accept the old offer. The trial of the main claim then continued the next day…

At the end of the trial, the Judge dismissed Mr Houghton’s claims in their entirety. He branded Mr Houghton’s recollection of the alleged oral discussions as “fanciful” and his claims as “more than simply exaggerated” but “false”.  

The Judge awarded P B Donoghue all of its costs and ordered Mr Houghton to pay £200,000 as an interim payment on account of those costs, with the rest of the costs to be assessed in due course.

Speaking on behalf of P B Donoghue, Finance Director Eithne McGowan commented:

“Craig Williams and Rajiv Malhotra were indispensable. Their advice was forward thinking, strategic and ultimately, spot on. We could not have hoped for a better result. They were always mindful of trying to reach a solution in the most cost effective way and delivered the result at court.” 

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