Summary Judgment – What is it and When is it Available?
Summary judgment can be a useful strategic measure for plaintiffs to consider using where applicable in plenary proceedings. A recent Court of Appeal decision confirmed that the court has an inherent jurisdiction in plenary proceedings to grant relief on a summary basis. Although rarely invoked, the adoption of this approach could lead to justice being administered in an expeditious and inexpensive manner in future cases before the Irish Courts.

 

Introduction

Proceedings in the Irish High Court are generally commenced by an originating summons.  The relevant procedure is governed by the Rules of the Superior Courts (RSC).  Where oral evidence is required, a plenary summons will issue.  Where no oral evidence is required, and the proceedings can be determined by way of affidavit evidence, a summary summons will issue.   A special summons is required for specified proceedings. Finally, a personal injuries summons is used to initiate personal injuries actions. 

The Summary Summons procedure

A summary summons is used where proceedings are suitable for summary disposition without pleadings. The summary summons procedure allows a plaintiff obtain judgment against a defendant based on affidavits, where the plaintiff’s claim is quantifiable, and where the defendant does not have a valid defence.

In Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland v Hanley [2006] IEHC 405, Mr Justice Peart stated that the summary summons procedure “provided a simple, informal, expeditious and inexpensive method of obtaining a final judgment”, and was introduced "in the interests of efficiency and cost".

The weakness of the summary summons procedure is that a defendant may not be afforded an adequate opportunity to challenge a plaintiff's claim. Therefore, the courts strictly apply the rules surrounding the procedure. 

Order 2 Rule 1 of the RSC states that a summary summons can be used for three classes of claim:  

  1. actions where the plaintiff seeks only to recover a debt or liquidated demand in money payable by the defendant, with or without interest;
  2. actions where a landlord seeks to recover possession of land, with or without a claim for rent or mesne profits; and
  3. claims in which the plaintiff in the first instance desires to have an account taken, which in law means that one party is obliged to produce information as to dealings concerning the other party. 

Parties are not obliged to use the summary procedure in respect of these classes and can use the plenary procedure if they wish.

Summary Judgment: Wide Applicability 

Summary judgment is not confined to summary summons proceedings.  Rather, it has wide applicability. Where a claim does not fall within one of the above classes, the parties may nonetheless consent to use the summary procedure.

In addition, the courts have an inherent jurisdiction to grant summary judgment in plenary proceedings seeking unliquidated or unquantified amounts. This was recently addressed by the Court of Appeal in Shawl Property Investments Limited v A and B [2021] IECA 53 (Shawl Property).

Background to Shawl Property 

EBS Building Society (EBS) loaned approximately €8m to the first defendant (A) to acquire eight investment properties in October 2005. The proceedings concerned two of those properties, Whiteacre and Blackacre.   A failed to discharge his liabilities on foot of the mortgages executed over these two properties. 

In October 2009, EBS obtained an order from the High Court against A for possession of Whiteacre and Blackacre. In September 2013, EBS marked judgment in the Central Office of the High Court against  A in the sum of approximately €9m.  EBS transferred the loans and security to Beltany Property Finance, which in turn transferred them to Shawl Property Investments in 2018. 

Application for Summary Judgment in the High Court

In 2019, Shawl Property Investments issued a plenary summons in the High Court seeking declarations that the defendants had no estate, title or interest in Whiteacre and Blackacre and injunctions restraining the defendants from interfering with the properties. After a defence was delivered, Shawl Property Investments issued an application for summary judgment on its claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. 

Applications for summary judgment outside claims for a debt or liquidated sum are not common.  However, applying Abbey International Finance Ltd. v. Point Ireland Helicopters Ltd [2012] IEHC 37 it was contended, and the High Court accepted, that the court has jurisdiction to grant summary judgment in the circumstances where the defendants had no arguable defence to the claims of Shawl Property Investments.   

Appeal 

The defendants appealed to the Court of Appeal.  There was no appearance by A, and B did not address the jurisdiction of the court to grant summary judgment in plenary proceedings. Notwithstanding this absence, Ms Justice Whelan was prepared to accept, for the purposes of the appeal, that such a jurisdiction is vested in the High Court. Ms Justice Whelan stated that it will be for the courts on another day, should the issue be fully argued and its implications cogently stress-tested, to fully evaluate the nature, extent and scope of any such jurisdiction.

Key Takeaways

Seeking summary judgment, outside the summary summons procedure, can lead to a plaintiff expeditiously obtaining judgment against a defendant. It might be a useful strategic measure for plaintiffs to secure early access to justice, without the need for oral evidence. The Court of Appeal decision in Shawl Property, confirms, albeit for the purposes of the appeal before it, the jurisdiction of the High Court to grant summary judgment in plenary proceedings.  However, that jurisdiction may be limited in subsequent case law.  Summary judgment outside of the summary summons procedure is only available where the court is satisfied that the necessary threshold (as established in case law) has been met, including that the defendant has no bona fide defence to the claim.  
 

Contributed by Joanne Ryan 

 

 

Key Contacts

Richard Breen Partner

Lisa Carty Partner

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