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Court grants strike out motion on lease dispute

The Supreme Court has granted a strike out motion on a claim brought by a church against a businesswoman, who worked for a company that leased space in a building owned by the church. 

The Board of Trustee of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) filed a claim against the Harbourside Restaurant (first defendant) and Ve’a Watts (second defendant) in relation to a lease at the John Williams building which dates back to the 1980s.

The C.C.C.S. Board claimed that the defendants had unpaid rent of over $91,000.

Ms. Watt rejected the claim and filed a motion to strike it out.

Ms. Watt is a businesswoman and was the then Director of the Habourside Restaurant. 

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Ms. Watt, granting her strike out motion while the claim against the first defendant remained. 

Former Chief Justice, Patu Tiava’asue Falefatu Sapolu, delivered the decision last month and pointed out that Ms. Watt was only an employee for the Harbourside Restaurant.  

He said any commitment made by Ms. Watt to pay the rental arrears was a commitment made in her capacity as manageress of the first defendant’s restaurant.

“It was not a guarantee given by the second defendant to the plaintiff that the second defendant would be personally answerable for the first defendant’s indebtedness,” ruled Justice Patu.  

“But even if it is assumed that the second defendant entered into a contract of guarantee with the plaintiff, counsel for the second defendant, in my view, correctly submitted that such a guarantee would be oral and not in writing.  

“It was therefore unenforceable.”

Background on the matter stated that the C.C.C.S. Board leased office space in its John William building to a company called International Cuisines Ltd on July 3, 1984 at a specified rent for a term of 15 years.   

On February 7, 2000 the said term was renewed for another 15 years.  

A month later on March 6, 2000 by deed of assignment of lease, the lease was assigned to Harbourside Investments Ltd, the first defendant.

The first defendant became lessee as from March 6, 2000 while Ms. Watt became the Director of the first defendant and Manager of the restaurant.

In mid 2006, Harbourside Restaurant fell behind with its rental payments in which the C.C.C.S. Board served a notice of rental arrears in July of the same year.

It was then further pleaded that in August 2006, a committee of the plaintiff met with Ms. Watt and both agreed that the latter would first pay an amount of $10,000 and then $500 per month towards the first defendant’s arrears of rent.

It was alleged that the second defendant failed to comply with these arrangements and in spite of repeated reminders from the plaintiff continued to fail to comply with those arrangements.  Correspondence that took place was alleged to have been between the plaintiff and the second defendant.   

Eventually, on September 20, 2012 the plaintiff filed a statement of claim for $91,346.45 against the second defendant for unpaid rent.

On March 14, 2014 the plaintiff filed a motion for leave to amend its statement of claim.  

Leave to amend was granted and an amended statement of claim was filed citing both the first and second defendants.

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