Section 14A, don't delay!
The Court of Appeal has upheld a judge's decision to deal summarily with a dispute as to the claimant's date of knowledge under s14a Limitation Act 1980. The judgment also contains a handy summary of the key law in the area.
In Su –v- Clarksons Platou Futures Limited & Anor  EWCA Civ 1115, the claimant, Mr Su, appealed Teare J's decision to grant summary judgment to the defendants on the ground that Mr Su had no reasonable prospect of proving that his claims against his finance broker were not time-barred.
In a dispute with shipping company Lakatamia, Mr Su's companies were found to have acted in breach of contract and Mr Su was found to be personally liable. Following the judgment in October 2014, Mr Su issued proceedings against the defendants (who had allegedly brokered the Lakatamia contract) for failing to ensure that he would not be personally liable in the event that the contract was not performed.
It was common ground that primary limitation in respect of Mr Su's claims in contract and tort had expired in 2014, 6 years after the Lakatamia contract had been agreed. Mr Su relied on s14A and claimed that it was not until judgment was handed down in Lakatamia's claim that he had sufficient knowledge for the purpose of s14A.
Teare J and the Court of Appeal disagreed. By July 2012, Mr Su knew (1) that Lakatamia's particulars of claim alleged that he was personally liable and (2) that two High Court judges and the Court of Appeal considered that Lakatamia had a good arguable case (as they had considered the issue during the course of the Lakatamia claim). He therefore knew enough for it to be reasonable to start asking questions and investigating further. He had issued proceedings against the defendants more than 3 years after he acquired the knowledge required in s14A(5) Limitation Act 1980, so his claims against the defendants were time-barred.
This case is useful for two reasons:
- Lord Justice Kitchen's concise judgment contains a handy summary of the key law in this area.In short, the starting point is the Limitation Act 1980 itself and the House of Lord's guidance in Hawards v Fawcett  UKHL 9:
"[Section 14A knowledge] means knowing with sufficient confidence to justify embarking on the preliminaries to the issue of the writ, such as submitting a claim to the proposed defendant, taking advice and collecting evidence".
"Suspicion, particularly if it is vague and unsupported, will indeed not be enough, but reasonable belief will normally suffice". In other words, the claimant must know enough for it to be reasonable to begin to investigate further…
"[Time started running] when [the claimant] first knew enough to justify setting about investigating the possibility that [the defendant's] advice was defective".
- The Court of Appeal approved Teare J's decision to grant summary judgment on a s14A issue.Often parties argue that oral evidence is needed to determine the Claimant's date of knowledge, so it is not apt for determination by summary judgment.This case demonstrates that it can be appropriate for the court to determine summarily a claimant's date of knowledge.Whilst it won't be appropriate in every case, the court here had sufficient documentary evidence (including witness statements from Mr Su made in the Lakatamia claim) to resolve the dispute summarily.