The case of Housemaker Services & Anor -v- Cole and Anor  is a useful case for any litigant or law firm considering whether to make an application for a non-party costs order.
- The claim was brought under CPR Part 8 for a limitation direction under Section 1028 of the Companies Act 2006. The underlying claim related to three disputed invoices rendered by the First Claimant to the Defendants. The First Claimant had subsequently been struck off the register and dissolved.
- The Court dismissed the claim because the First Claimant could not demonstrate that the dissolution of the company had caused the claim not to be brought, and therefore the Court declined to give a limitation direction.
- The Court ordered the First Claimant to pay the Defendants’ costs on the standard basis. The Defendants applied for Mr Wayne Williams, the sole director of the Claimant, to be joined as Second Claimant to the proceedings, for the purposes of making an application for a non-party costs order against him.
- The Court made the order joining Mr Williams (Second Claimant) and then gave further directions for the application against him to be dealt with on paper. The Judgment essentially deals with those submissions and the Courts determination of the application for a non-party costs order against Mr Williams.
Submissions of Interest/Note
- Mr Williams gave instructions to pursue the proceedings and appeared to have funded them. The First Claimant had no assets and it was highly unlikely that they would be able to satisfy an order for costs.
- In respect of a non-party costs order, a warning at the earliest opportunity should be given. The first warning of the application was made at a very late stage.
- There was no suggestion that proceedings were brought in bad faith, for an ulterior motive or improperly.
Useful Information/Comments from the Judgment
- Paragraph 10 – “A decision to make a non-party costs order is exceptional, but this only means that it is outside of the ordinary run of cases. In a case where a non-party funds and controls or benefits from proceedings, it is ordinarily just to make him pay the costs, if his side is unsuccessful, because the non-party was gaining access to justice for himself, and thus can be regarded as the real party to the litigation”. (this was a general comment about non-party costs orders).
- Paragraph 11 – “However, the director of a limited company is in a special position. It is not an abuse of the process for a limited company with no assets to bring a claim in good faith. It is always open to a defendant to such a claim to apply for security for costs. The mere fact that a director who controls the company’s litigation also funds the claim is not enough in the ordinary case to justify a non-party costs order against him if the company’s case fails”.
- Paragraph 12 – “A company is indeed owned by its members. But this does not mean that the shareholder is the “real” party to the claim. In law, the assets of the company (including any claim) belong to the company, and not to the members. Where the proceedings are brought in good faith and for the benefit of the company (rather than for some collateral purpose), the company is indeed the real claimant. If it were otherwise, the principle of the separate liability of the company from its members would be eroded”.
- Paragraph 13 – “Moreover, it is not an unusual thing, let alone wrong, that a director who is a shareholder of a company and who funds the company’s claim will ultimately benefit from it if it is successful. It is simply a consequence of the policies adopted by our company law, allowing businessmen to take some risks in seeking profit without incurring unlimited liability”.
- Paragraph 14 – “A person choosing to deal voluntarily with (or to sue) a limited liability company does so against the legal background. Any potential unfairness caused to a party who is (involuntarily) sued by such a company is remedied by the security for costs jurisdiction”.
- Paragraph 15 – “Accordingly, in order to make it just to order a director to pay the costs of unsuccessful company litigation, it is necessary to show something more. This might be, for example, that the claim is not made in good faith, or for the benefit of the company or it might be that the claim has been improperly conducted by the director”.
The Court decided that this was not a case where non-party costs order should be made. The Court did not find that the behaviour of Mr Williams in controlling, funding and ultimately hoping to benefit from the claim went beyond the ordinary case of the director and shareholder of a company pursuing a legal claim (paragraph 22).
This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs and Litigation Funding team. He can be contacted on 0113 336 3334 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.