【海量案例】ArXXXe Group v ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles  NSWSC 4X
IN THE SUPREME COURT
OF NEW SOUTH WALES
COMMON LAW DIVISION
ASSOCIATE JUSTICE HARRISON
FRIDAY, 12 FEBRUARY 2010
2009/29XX24 - ARXXXE GROUP PTY LTD v REXXXXXTIAL
LIFXXXYLES PTY LTD
JUDGMENT (Appeal decision of Local Court Magistrate)
1 HER HONOUR: By summons filed 9 July 2009, the plaintiff seeks firstly, an order staying the decision of her Honour Magistrate Tabbaa in the Local Court dated 12 June 2009 and its enforcements pending the hearing of this summons; secondly, an order that the appeal be allowed; thirdly, an order setting aside the decision of the Local Court dated 12 June 2009; and fourthly, an order remitting the matter to the Local Court for determination.
2 The plaintiff in these proceedings is ArXXXe Group Pty Ltd (ACN 125 0XX 3X0) (“ArXXXe Group”) who was the defendant in the Local Court proceedings. The defendant is ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles Pty Ltd (ACN 058 3XX 6X5) (“ReXXXXXtial LifXXXXles”) who was the plaintiff in the Local Court proceedings. For convenience, I shall refer to the parties by name. ArXXXe Group replied on the affidavit of CaXXie LXX sworn 3 September 2009 that annexed the Local Court pleadings, transcript and judgment. ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles did not rely upon any affidavit evidence.
3 ArXXXe Group seeks relief under s 39 of the Local Court Act 2007 which provides that a party to proceedings before the Court sitting in its General Division who is dissatisfied with a judgment or order of the Court may appeal to the Supreme Court, but only on a question of law.
4 The onus lies on the plaintiff to demonstrate that there has been an error of law. What is a question of law (as opposed to a question of fact) was considered in Allen v Kerr & Anor (1995) Aust Torts Reports 81-354; Azzopardi v Tasman UEB Industries Ltd (1985) 4 NSWLR 139 at 155-156; Carr v Neill  NSWSC 1263 and R L & D Investments Pty Ltd v Bisby  NSWSC 1082; (2002) 37 MVR 479. The judicial officer cannot act on evidence inconsistent with facts that are incontrovertibly established by the evidence - see Devries v Australian National Railways Commission (1993) 177 CLR 472 per Brennan, Gaudron and McHugh JJ at 479 and State Rail Authority of New South Wales v Earthline Constructions Pty Ltd (in Liq) (1999) 160 ALR 588.
5 Section 41 of the Local Court Act provides that the Court may determine an appeal either (a) by varying the terms of the judgment or order, or (b) by setting aside the judgment or order, or (c) by setting aside the judgment or order and remitting the matter to the Court for determination in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directions, or (d) by dismissing the appeal.
6 In Swain v Waverley Municipal Council  220 CLR 517, Chief Justice Gleeson at  reiterated that in the common law system of civil justice, the issues between the parties are determined by the trial process. The system does not regard the trial as merely the first round in a contest destined to work its way through the judicial hierarchy until the litigants have exhausted either their resources or their possibilities of further appeal.
Grounds of appeal
7 There are 14 grounds of appeal that are very lengthy. Some of them refer to factual findings where there is evidence to support them. Hence they are not proper grounds of appeal. I shall refer to the main grounds shortly.
8 In the Local Court, ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles, a building project manager, claimed that ArXXXe Group, a developer, owed it moneys pursuant to three separate agreements, namely, the first, second and third consultancy agreements. At the hearing before the Magistrate, Ms TraXX CuX gave evidence on behalf of ArXXXe Group. ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles had a number of witnesses, including its director, Mr StaXXy, and two former employees of ArXXXe Group, Mr RicXXXd SumXXXXille and Ms GrXXX ZXX. Ms ZXX was unavailable at the time of the hearing. However, ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles’s solicitor had prepared and served unsworn affidavit on Ms ZXX’s behalf. ArXXXe Group tendered the unsworn affidavit and it was admitted into evidence. Ms ZXX also signed a short statement, which was also admitted into evidence.
The first consultancy agreement
9 So far as the first consultancy agreement is concerned, ArXXXe Group submitted that the Magistrate used the evidence of Mr SumXXXXille that dealt with pre-contractual negotiations to construe the first consultancy agreement. According to Arise Group this use of the evidence not only breaches the parol evidence rules it gives rise to a denial of procedural fairness. This is because, it says, the Magistrate admitted Mr SumXXXXille’s affidavit into evidence but only for the purpose of giving her Honour “background” to as to what had occurred and notwithstanding her Honour’s undertakings as to how Mr SumXXXXille’s affidavit would be used, the trial Magistrate did use it as “evidence” (plaintiff’s submissions -).
10 The first consultancy agreement is a written contract that required ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles to prepare a construction certificate submission for the council. ArXXXe Group admitted that the final instalment amount of $3960 had not been paid to ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles.
11 The scope of works defined under the first consultancy agreement provided that ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles was to assist in the preparation of the relevant components of the construction certificate application for the Forestville property. The written agreement specified the following works:
Complete architectural plans and specifications on plans
Complete electrical layout plans
Complete internal only plumbing and draining design
Prepare electrical schedule’
Prepare plumbing and draining schedule
Obtain updated notice of requirements for Sydney Water
Confirm fees for bonds, council contributions, long service levy.
12 The only issue that was in dispute so far as this first consultancy agreement was concerned was whether ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles supplied complete internal only plumbing and drainage design. At  and  of Mr StaXXy’s affidavit he deposed that on or around December 2007 to January 2008 he completed a preliminary electrical schedule and plumbing and drainage schedule for the 15 dwellings in the Forestville property. Both schedules contained the quantities required, however, ArXXXe Group or the builder had to select the style and type of light fittings when ordering the items. Likewise ArXXXe Group had to select the taps, basin and sinks. Copies of the electrical schedules were tendered in evidence (Annexure LS). Mr StaXXy gave evidence that detailed plumbing and drainage designs which were included in the architectural plans and if you look at the architectural plants you will find a shower screen, toilet and hand basin on very floor plan (t 89.10 and also see t 91.7-22). It was open to the Magistrate to accept the evidence of Mr StaXXy that the work had been completed. These findings were not made from background information supplied by Mr SumXXXXille. There is no error of law nor is there a denial of procedural fairness.
The second consultancy agreement
13 Firstly, ArXXXe Group has contended that this second consultancy agreement was between it and Mr StaXXy in his personal capacity.
14 Mr StaXXy, at  of his affidavit sworn 9 March 2009, deposed to a conversation between himself and GrXXX ZXX. GrXXX ZXX was director of ArXXXe Group. Mr StaXXy’s version is as follows:
“GZ: What did you think of our offer?
LS: [In reference to the offer faxed to LeX StaXXy on 24 October 2007] The offer is too low to accept this salary pack.
GZ: We can increase the offer to $80,000 per annum plus employee benefits.
LS: Your offer is still very low the hourly rate is low. But I can work for you on a part time basis for now and we’ll discuss in the future about full time employment. I am only available 20 hours a week.
GZ: Ok then we can increase the hourly rate to $70 an hour for working 4 hours a day 5 days a week from 2pm till 6pm from our office in the city, would that be ok?
GZ: Because of the part time position that bonus wont apply [referring to the bonus of 0.7% of $12,000,000], instead you will be getting $10,000 for the Parramatta project and $20,000 for the Forestville project.
LS: Yean that’s fine. I can start Monday (being 29 October 2007, but stated as 30 October 207 in the written offer). I will invoice you as consultant, not an employee, at the end of each week.”
15 Mr StaXXy gave evidence that while the offer was made to him personally he was to invoice as a consultant and (at t 61-62) he gave evidence that his agreement was to work on a part time basis and he did specifically tell GrXXX ZXX that he could not work as an employee, and would work as a consultant. That is precisely what he did. Further Ms CuX at  of her affidavit dated 23 March 2009 deposed that her understanding was that Mr StaXXy did not want to work fulltime for ArXXXe Group. Rather he wanted to consult through ReXXXXXtial Lifestyle. All invoices were raised by ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles not Mr StaXXy personally and paid by ArXXXe Group. Hence, it was open on the facts for the Magistrate to find that the second consultancy agreement was between ArXXXe Group and ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles.
16 The other outstanding issue for determination so far as the second consultancy agreement was concerned, was whether ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles is entitled to bonuses. ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles pleaded in the Local Court that it was a further term of the second consultancy agreement that ArXXXe Group would pay ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles the sum of $10,000 plus GST upon the council issuing a construction certificate for the Forestville property; and ArXXXe Group would pay ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles the sum of $10,000 plus GST upon the certifier issuing a compliance certificate for the Parramatta property ( ASC). The total amount that ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles claimed for bonuses is $22,000 ( ASC). ArXXXe Group admitted that it offered bonuses to ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles, but says that a concluded agreement was never reached.
17 On 25 October 2007, there was a meeting at Forestville RSL where Ms ZXX made notes on a document (Annexure LS). As in paragraph  (reproduced earlier), it was Mr StaXXy’s evidence that Ms ZXX offered the bonuses. During cross examination, Mr StaXXy gave evidence (at t 56.35) that he accepted the last offer as he calculated it was worth $100 per hour, and because of the bonuses. However, I accept that Ms ZXX’s version of the conversation does not support Mr StaXXy’s insofar as she does not say that she offered bonuses. However, Ms ZXX does say (at  Aff, 2/2009) that there were many rounds of negotiations between ArXXXe Group and Mr StaXXy in relation to the terms and conditions and bonus payment; and that she could not recall details of every occasion because she had never been the decision maker throughout her employment at the ArXXXe Group.
18 Before I refer to the Magistrate’s reasons on the topic of bonuses, I should mention that her Honour found the evidence of Ms CuX unconvincing and did not accept her evidence. Her Honour (at –) gave three reasons. They are:
“70 Firstly, [ArXXXe Group] cannot deny any knowledge of an agreement in relation to bonuses. It was contained in the proposal provided to [ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles] when the offer of full-time engagement was made. That proposal was amended in view of the fact that [ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles] negotiated a part-time agreement. In addition, it cannot be denied on one hand and then on the other issue a formal notice to [ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles] to explain why it was being withdrawn.
71 Secondly, it is not true that Mr StaXXy did not co-operate in providing advice in relation to the defects notice. Ms ZXX stated that she received an email from Mr Stacy on 6 January requesting a copy of the Building Inspection Report. She confirmed that Mr StaXXy had provided advice and support directly to the Site Manager, Saverio Vescio, in regards to rectifying the defects. She said she received another email from Mr StaXXy dated 9 January 2008, regarding enquiries he had made in relation to rectification of the retaining wall on that project. The said wall was eventually rectified on or around early to mid January 2008 by MXX ChXX, a licensed builder engaged by [ArXXXe Group]. [ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles] tendered copies of emails between the period 20 November 2007 and 9 January 2008 evidencing discussions with Mr TaXX VelXXas of AXX Design regarding the retaining wall, a site visit by Mr VelXXas and advice by Mr StaXXy to Mr VelXXas that the final decision as to the successful tenderer rested with Ms CuX. No evidence had been put by [ArXXXe Group] that the plans prepared by AXX Design on the instruction of [ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles] were inadequate. [ArXXXe Group] conceded that there were a number of matters which [ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles] had no control over because they were issues not concerning [ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles].
72 Thirdly, it is noted that that Ms CuX’s statement did not indicate that [ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles] gave “wrong advice” in relation to the retaining wall. It stated that the objection to his advice was that it would have taken a lot longer and cost a lot more to undertake the work as recommenced by ArXXXe Group then the way in which MXX ChXX undertook the work.”
19 Counsel for ArXXXe Group submitted that in making these findings the Magistrate misused the advantage of seeing and hearing the witnesses. In my view it was open to the Magistrate to make these findings and there was no palpable misuse of her Honour’s advantage of seeing and hearing the witnesses. Later in this judgment I reproduce a document prepared by ArXXXe Group that represents an offer made to Mr StaXXy.
20 So far as the bonuses are concerned, the Magistrate stated at :
“59 In relation to the bonuses, Ms ZXX’s evidence was that during the negotiations she advised that the amounts stated in the proposal would not apply to part time work. Instead, she offered a bonus of $10,000 for the Parramatta project and $20,000 for the Forestville project. Mr StaXXy agreed and recalled that she had said to him, “ On top of your weekly salary of $2007.50 we are willing to offer you a bonus incentive of $10,000 for Parramatta upon obtaining a Compliance Certificate and $20,000 for Forestville, $10,000 upon obtaining the Construction Certificate and the other $10,000 upon obtaining the Subdivision Certificate ”.
21 Her Honour continued at  and :
“96 The emails between Mr StaXXy and Mr VelXXas do not indicate any delay on the part of Mr StaXXy. In addition, the Agreements between the parties only indicate achievement of certain milestones but do not stipulate any deadlines for their achievement. So long as he was involved in their achievement, the bonuses are due and payable.
97 I accept the submission that the Defendant seems to have been holding out a carrot to the Plaintiff on each occasion an Agreement was negotiated in relation to the bonuses. Although there was a slight variation, there was no question of non-payment of bonuses to the plaintiff until 18 February 2008 despite all the problems raised by the Defendant as being in existence since the first Agreement.”
22 The Magistrate at  noted that ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles was not pursuing the second leg of the Forestville bonus. Her Honour accepted Mr StaXXy’s version of events and held that it was a term of the second consultancy agreement that bonuses were to be paid. The Magistrate concluded, in relation to the remaining bonuses, “all milestones have been achieved and consequently are due for payment.” It is my view that it was open to the Magistrate to make a finding that the bonuses were due and payable. It was the third consultancy agreement that was not terminated, not the second.
23 ArXXXe Group submitted that the Magistrate erred in finding that ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles was entitled to the consultancy rate, allowances and superannuation totalling $2007.50 per week as per the second consultancy agreement in circumstances where the Magistrate firstly, found that ArXXXe Group was not aware of the sum of $2007.50 per week; secondly, that the sum of 2007.50 was never discussed; thirdly, ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles admitted that the sum of 2007.50 per week had never been offered by ArXXXe Group; fourthly, Ms GrXXX ZXX gave evidence that no offer of superannuation, a car allowance or a phone allowance was ever made; fifthly, the Magistrate did not make a determination as to the terms of the second consultancy agreement; and sixthly, there was no evidence to support such a finding. At Annexure LS-S, appears a copy of an offer that Mr StaXXy says was prepared by Ms ZXX. It states:
I am inviting you to join our rapidly growing company and I trust you will be capable of helping to build a winning team. We are pleased to offer you’re (sic) the position as out project manager with the following awards package:
Base Salary of $75,000 p.a.
Super at 9% of 6,570 p.a.
Mobile phone at $1,200 p.a.
Training fee at $2,500 p.a.
Total of $ 97,450 p.a.
Plus 0.7% of the turnover of the Forestville project, the minimum turnover of Forestville will be $12,000,000, so the incentive will be $84,000, be shared amongst the project manager and a project manager assistant, amounts to be de
24 During the discussion Mr StaXXy made some handwritten amendments to the document. Hence, there is evidence to establish that offers for superannuation, phone and car allowances were made. The sum of $2007.50 represented $70 per hour x 4 hours x 5 days. These invoices were paid by ArXXXe.
The third consultancy agreement
25 ArXXXe Group alleged that the third consultancy agreement was formed on 17 December 2007 at ReXXXXXtial LifXXXyles’s offices and that it was partly oral and partly written. ArXXXe Group disputed that agreement had ever been reached, although it did admit that negotiations had occurred between the parties on 17 December 2007.
26 Counsel for ArXXXe Group submitted that the third consultancy agreement came to an end on 16 February 2008 and therefore no bonuses were payable as the contract was terminated prior to the compliance certificates being issued. However, as previously stated, there is evidence that the bonuses were part of the second consultancy agreement not the third.
27 Further, the Magistrate stated the email of 7 February 2008, confirmed that the agreement signed on 20 September 2007 regarding the bonus payments on the Forestville project would still be honoured, $10,000 would be paid upon issue of the compliance certificate and a further $10,000 would be paid if the project was completed on time. Her Honour at  then stated that the emails between Mr StaXXy and Mr VelXXas did not indicate any delay on the part of Mr StaXXy. In addition, the agreements between the parties only indicated achievement of certain milestones but did not stipulate any deadlines for their achievement. So long as he was involved in their achievement, the bonuses were due and payable and that all milestones had been achieved and consequently were due for payment.
28 Further, ArXXXe Group submitted that the Magistrate erred in law in her findings on the credibility of Ms CuX’s evidence and by preferring Mr StaXXy’s evidence the Magistrate misused the advantage of seeing and hearing the witnesses and acted on improbable evidence. I do not agree. As previously stated, it was open to the Magistrate to make the findings as to Ms CuX’s credibility.
29 There has been no error of law. There has been no denial of procedural fairness. This appeal largely seeks to reargue the issues raised in the Local Court. The decision of her Honour Magistrate Tabbaa dated 12 June 2009 is affirmed. The appeal is dismissed. The summons filed 9 July 2009 is dismissed.
30 Costs are discretionary. Costs usually follow the event. The plaintiff is to pay the defendant’s costs as agreed or assessed.
The Court orders:
(1) The decision of her Honour Magistrate Tabbaa dated 12 June 2009 is affirmed.
(2) The appeal is dismissed.
(3) The summons filed 9 July 2009 is dismissed.
(4) The plaintiff is to pay the defendant’s costs as agreed or assessed.