Full Case Details
This was a decision on costs (and other consequential matters) arising out of a judgment in a breach of contract claim.
The underlying claim was about the performance of five mineral separating machines which the claimant (“Aldrees”) purchased from the defendant (“Rotex”).
Aldrees complained that right from the outset the machines were not capable of achieving the throughput stated in Rotex’s quotation, or “anything like it”.
Apart from one minor point, Rotex disputed the claim in its entirety.
Aldrees ultimately failed to prove its claim for some £38 million, but did establish some loss, recovering the sum of around £700,000, roughly 2% of the amount claimed.
The parties’ positions on costs
- Aldrees submitted that Rotex was the unsuccessful party and should therefore pay its costs of the action.
- Rotex submitted that there was no proper basis to treat Aldrees as the successful party and that it should have a substantial part of its costs, subject to some reduction to reflect the outcome of certain issues, such as:
- the terms of the representations;
- the timing of the agreement;
- the incorporation of Rotex’s standard terms; and
- the failure of Rotex’s counterclaim.
- It was submitted that such reduction should be no more than 40%.
SIR ANTONY EDWARDS-STUART:
46. In Oksuzoglu v Kay  2 All ER 631, the claimant, a five year old boy, had his leg amputated in order to save him from certain death. He claimed damages from two general practitioners for failing to refer him to hospital earlier, which would, it was claimed, have saved his leg. The claim in respect of the amputation failed on the ground of causation.
47. At paragraph 58, Brooke LJ, with whom Hirst and Millett LJJ agreed, said this:
“In this line of cases, where the plaintiff only recovers between 1% and 3% of his original claim (sometimes, but not always, after a late amendment) the court is entitled to ask itself: “Who was essentially the winning party?” It will not be distracted from making a just order as to costs by the absence of a payment into court which the plaintiff obviously would not have accepted . . . or where the defendants did not have a proper opportunity to make a payment into court which obviously would not have been accepted . . . Although all these cases are different, in the present case the substantive lis between the parties on the trial of the preliminary issues related to the big claim on which the plaintiff wholly failed.”
48. In Kastor Navigation v Axa Global Risks  EWCA Civ 277, Rix LJ, giving the judgment of the court, said, at paragraphs 143-146:
“143. It is trite to state but important to bear in mind that the rules prescribe the way in which the court’s discretion as to costs should be exercised rather than any decision of this court on the facts of any particular case. The general rule is that the “unsuccessful party will be ordered to pay the costs of the successful party” (CPR 44.3 (2) (a)). Does this mean successful party on any particular issue or successful party in the litigation? As a matter of construction it must mean the latter. Where the rule refers to part of a case or a particular allegation or issue it says so.
144. Mr Berry suggested that in Summit Property Ltd.v Pitmans  EWCA Civ 2020 Chadwick LJ had, as he put it, “redefined who has won”. In that case the judge had ordered the successful defendant to pay 65% of the unsuccessful claimant’s costs. This court confirmed that
under the CPR it was no longer necessary for a party to have acted unreasonably or improperly before he could be required to pay the costs of the other party of a particular issue on which he had failed.
In the course of his judgment Chadwick LJ said:
“An issue based approach requires a judge to consider, issue by issue in relation to those issues to which that approach is to be applied, where the costs on each distinct or discrete issue should fall. If, in relation to any issue in the case before it the court considers that it should adopt an issue based approach to costs, the court must ask itself which party has been successful on that issue. Then, if the costs are to follow the event on that issue, the party who has been unsuccessful on that issue must expect to pay the cost of that issue to the party who has succeeded on that issue. That is the effect of applying the general principle on an issue by issue based approach to costs.”
Longmore LJ who gave the leading judgment in this case (with which Tuckey LJ agreed) did not put it in this way, but Chadwick LJ’s general approach has subsequently been approved by this court in Stena v Irish Ferries Ltd  EWCA Civ 214.
145. We do not read Chadwick LJ’s judgment in the way Mr Berry suggests. He does not refer to the terms of CPR 44.3 (2) (a). All he is saying is that if in carrying out the exercise required by CPR 44.3 (4) the court is considering the question of costs on an issue by issue basis and decides that costs should follow the event on a particular issue then “the party who has been unsuccessful on that issue must expect to pay the costs of that issue to the party who has succeeded . . .”. This was said in a case where it had been submitted (based on Elgindata principles) that before the judge could make an order which not only deprived the successful party of his costs on an issue, but also required him to pay the costs of the other side, he had to be satisfied that there had been some element of unreasonableness or impropriety.
146. So we do not therefore think that Chadwick LJ said anything to cast doubt on what we think is the plain meaning of CPR 44.3 (2) (a). The owners were undoubtedly the successful party in this case. They had recovered the full amount of their claim plus interest. In A.L. Barnes Ltd. v Time Talk (UK) Ltd.  EWCA Civ 402 Barnes had obtained judgment for a substantial part of their claim but were ordered to pay 50% of the other side’s costs because the judge had made a finding that one of its directors was dishonest, an issue which had taken up “the great bulk of court time”. This had led the judge to conclude that the defendant was the successful party. In allowing the appeal Longmore LJ (with whom Clarke and Ward LJJ agreed) said:
“It does seem to me that the judge has, with the greatest respect, fallen into an error of principle.
In what may generally be called commercial litigation . . . the disputes are ultimately about money. In deciding who was the successful party the most important thing is to identify the party who is to pay money to the other. That is the surest indication of success and failure.”
49. In Medway Primary Care Trust v Marcus  EWCA Civ 750, the claimant alleged that the negligence of the defendants had caused the amputation of his leg. Primary liability was not in issue, but the defendants argued that even if they had made the correct diagnosis, amputation of the Claimant’s leg would have been necessary in any event. On that issue, they were successful. Thus the claimant recovered only £2,000 in a case where the agreed value was about £500,000. The President of the Queen’s Bench Division, giving the principal judgment of the court, observed that no rational person would issue proceedings in the case of that kind if the recovery was only £2,000, and that no rational person would contest such proceedings if they were issued (at paragraph 16).
50. At paragraph 17, the President said this:
“In my judgment, the deputy judge was wrong in principle to conclude that the respondent was the successful party. The award of £2,000 was insignificant in the context of the claim and the action as a whole, and, although it was technically within the pleaded claim, it was in truth a last minute addition to salvage something (0.25%) from an action which the respondent lost. The whole action was about the cause of the need for the respondent to undergo a leg amputation, and, for all that the first defendants did not admit breach until a late stage, the second defendant’s early admission would have carried the entire claim, if the respondent had succeeded on causation. The causation issue was squarely advanced in the original defences.”
51. In Magical Marking v Ware & Kay  EWHC 636 (Ch), Briggs J gave a judgment on costs following a trial in which the claimant advanced a claim for damages exceeding £10 million but recovered only £28,000. He found that a modest proportion of the claimant’s many allegations of negligence against the defendant had been proved, following a three week trial involving over 50 lever arch files of documentation.
52. At paragraph 5 of this judgment, Briggs J said:
“Consistent with CPR 44.3 (2) (a), the first stage is to decide who is the successful party. In Procter & Gamble v Svenska Cellolosa Aktiebolaget SCA  EWHC 2839, Hildyard J said, at paragraphs 6-7 that in a money claim a simple mechanical test of identifying which of the parties is compelled at the end of the day to pay money to the other has much to commend it. Nonetheless, as he acknowledged, a more nuanced approach to the process of identifying the successful party has emerged from a series of Court of Appeal authorities, beginning with Roache v News group Newspapers Ltd  EMLR 161 in which, at page 168-9, Sir Thomas Bingham MR said:
“The Judge must look closely at the facts of the particular case before him and ask: who, as a matter of substance and reality, has won? Has the plaintiff won anything of value which he could not have won without fighting the action through to finish? Has the defendant substantially denied the plaintiff of the prize which the plaintiff fought the action to win?”
53. Briggs J referred also to the decision of the Court of Appeal in Fox v Foundation Piling Ltd  EWCA Civ 790, a judgment which followed closely after that in Medway Primary Care Trust v Marcus, and in which Jackson LJ was also a member of court. He said, at paragraph 11:
“In the Fox case, the Court of Appeal (Ward, Moore-Bick and Jackson LJJ) were faced with an outcome where a claimant for personal injuries in the sum of some £280,000 obtained judgment for a net £31,700 odd, beating a Part 36 offer by the defendant of £23,500 odd. It became common ground during the appeal that the claimant ought to be regarded as the successful party. In giving the leading judgment, Jackson LJ included among the principles which are derived from a lengthy summary of the authorities, the following, at paragraph 48:
“In a personal injury action the fact that the claimant has won on some issues and lost on other issues along the way is not normally a reason for depriving the claimant of part of his costs:
see Goodwin v Bennett UK Ltd  EWCA Civ 1658. For example, the claimant may succeed on some of the pleaded particulars of negligence, but not on others.”
At paragraph 63 he concluded:
“In the context of personal injury litigation where the claimant has a strong case on liability but quantum is inflated, the defendant’s remedy is to make a modest Part 36 offer. If the defendant fails to make a sufficient Part 36 offer at the first opportunity, it cannot expect to secure cost protection.
Different considerations may arise in cases where the claimant is proved to have been dishonest, but (on the Judge’s findings) that is not this case.”
54. At paragraph 14, Briggs J said:
“In my judgment the critical distinction between the Medway and Fox cases is that the former was, but the letter was not, about the question who ought to be regarded in the substance as the successful party. In deciding that question in the Medway case, the Court of Appeal followed the Roache case, as well as the closely analogous decision of the Court of Appeal in Oksuzoglu v Kay  2 All ER 631.”
Briggs J then quoted the passage from the judgment of Brooke LJ that I have set out above.
55. Directing himself in accordance with the principles in the Roache line of authorities, he went on to reach the “clear conclusion” that Ware & Kay ought to be regarded, in substance, as the successful party (at paragraph 16).
56. In Fox v Foundation Piling Ltd, Jackson LJ said this, at paragraph 62:
“There has been a growing and unwelcome tendency by first instance courts and, dare I say it, this court as well to depart from the starting point set out in rule 44.3(2(a) [that the “unsuccessful party will be ordered to pay the costs of the successful party”] too far and too often. Such an approach may strive for perfect justice in the individual case, but at huge additional cost to the parties and at huge costs to other litigants because of the uncertainty which such an approach generates. This unwelcome trend now manifests itself in (a) numerous first instance hearings in which the issue is costs and (b) a swarm of appeals to the Court of Appeal about costs, of which this case is an example.”
57. In Atlasjet Havacilik Anonim Sirketi v Kupelli  EWCA Civ 1264, the Court of Appeal (Davis and Hickinbottom LJJ) was concerned with an appeal on the question of costs. After setting out the relevant provisions of CPR 44.2, which appear under the heading “Courts discretion as to costs”, Hickinbottom LJ, with whom Davis LJ agreed, said (at paragraph 5) that, in relation to that rule, several points were worthy of note. He set out the following:
“i). In considering orders for costs, the court is of course bound to pursue the overriding objective as set out in CPR rule 1.1, i.e. it must make an order that deals justly with the issue of costs as between the parties. Therefore, when considering whether to make a costs order – and, if so, the order it makes – the court has to make an evaluative judgment as to where justice lies on the facts and circumstances as it has found them to be.
. . .
6. Although, as CPR rule 44.3(2)(b), (4), (5) and (6) demonstrate, there may be all sorts of reasons for departing from the principle, in providing that, if the court decides to make an order for costs, the general rule is that the “the unsuccessful party will be ordered to pay the costs of the successful party”, CPR rule 44.2(2)(a) represents the prima facie or starting position . . .
7. . . .
8. It is well-established that the question of who is the “successful party” for CPR purposes requires a fact-specific evaluation by reference to the litigation as a whole . . .
9. In the context of private law claims, in Bank of Credit and Commerce International SA (In Liquidation) v Ali (No 4) (1999) 149 NLJ 1734 (“BCCI”), Lightman J said that:
“For the purposes of the CPR, success is not a technical term but a result in real life, and the question as to who has succeeded is a matter for the exercise of common sense.”
58. Hickinbottom LJ then went on to refer to two decisions in which the Court of Appeal had said that the question of who is the successful party can usually be determined by deciding who has to write a cheque at the end of the case: Day v Day  EWCA Civ 415; A.L. Barnes Ltd. v Time Talk (UK) Ltd.  EWCA Civ 402.
59. However, at paragraphs 14 and 15 he went on to say this:
“14. There are, however, limits to which the “the payer of the cheque” must be considered the unsuccessful party in the litigation. In Medway Primary Care Trust v Marcus  EWCA Civ 750 the claimant claimed that he had had his left leg amputated as a result of the clinical negligence of the defendant. The defendant admitted breach of duty, but denied causation. On the basis of the claimant’s case, quantum was agreed £500,000. However, the defendant succeeded on the causation issue, and the claimant was awarded only £2,000 for pain and suffering. There had been no offer on quantum by the defendant, either in Part 36 form or otherwise. The trial judge ordered the defendant to pay 50% of the claimant’s costs. The majority of the Court of Appeal (Sir John Thomas PQBD and Tomlinson LJ) considered that no rational person would have pursued proceedings to recover only £2,000, and the real claim had failed. The defendant was therefore the successful party. Nevertheless, although the absence of a Part 36 offer was not a reason for reducing the costs, it was relevant defendant had not made a Calderbank offer of a small amount, together with costs proportionate to the recovery. In the circumstances, the claimant was ordered to pay 75% of the defendant’s costs.
15. However, as an illustration of how strong the direction of money transfer may be taken to reflect success for these purposes, it is noteworthy that Jackson LJ, in a dissenting judgment in that case, found that the defendant ought to have made a Part 36 offer, and, in its absence, the claimant has succeeded in the action, so that the starting point should be that he was entitled to his costs – albeit with some considerable discount, the award of 50% made by the judge below being (in Jackson LJ’s view) “generous”.”
60. Finally, I was referred to a judgment on costs by Butcher J in Rotam Agrochemical Company v GAT  EWHC 3006 (Comm). Although this case was argued about six months after the decision in Atlasjet, the Judge does not appear to have been referred to that case. However, he was referred to the other decisions which I have cited above.
61. At paragraphs 18 and 19 of his judgment, Butcher J said this:
“18. Consistently with this, I consider that if a party, though ordered to pay a sum of money, has in reality and in substance won, it should be regarded as the successful party. In my judgment, in the present case it cannot be said, with any degree of plausibility, that Rotam won, or that they were, in the terms used in Oksuloglu v Kay, “essentially the winning party”. By contrast it can be said that GAT, substantially and in reality won, and in particular that GAT substantially denied Rotam the prize which Rotam fought the action to win. Rotam recovered an amount of only some 2% of their claim as initially put forward, and some 3% of their subsequently reduced claim. Their recovery was very significantly exceeded by the costs which they occurred in the action, which were over £1.5 million. In reality, Rotam would not have incurred costs of that magnitude had the price [sic] which they were seeking to win been the recovery which they ultimately made.
19. Further, the claim in enrichment on which Rotam prevailed was an alternative claim, which only succeeded on the basis that Rotam’s primary claim failed. Rotam’s evidence and argument in the trial were very largely directed to seeking to establish that a binding collaboration agreement or data transfer agreement had been concluded. To only a minor extent were they directed to establishing a right to restitution on the basis of a failure of consideration, because success on that claim could only arise if Rotam’s principal claims in contract failed. As Mr Cuddigan QC for GAT put it, the claim in unjust enrichment was one which Rotam wanted to lose. This emphasises that it was not the prize which Rotam fought the action to win.
20. I do not consider that the absence of a Part 36 or Calderbank offer from GAT alters the conclusion that it was GAT which was the successful party. I consider that the correct date to judge when any offer might reasonably be expected to have been made was at the point that the claim in unjust enrichment was added to the Particulars of Claim in January 2017. While there had been reference to the sum paid to GAT in the original Particulars of Claim, it was not pleaded as a claim in unjust enrichment. By January 2017 significant costs had already been incurred by the parties in dealing with Rotam’s originally pleaded causes of action, which, as I have decided, were unfounded. A Part 36 offer would have meant that GAT could not recover those costs. A Calderbank offer made by GAT at or after the time of the amendment to pay the amount of the enrichment plus the costs of that issue, but on the basis that Rotam should pay it the costs incurred in relation to the other causes of action, would undoubtedly have been rejected, and the making of such an offer would have been “mere matter of ritual”, as it was put in Medway.”
62. Before deciding to apply these authorities to the facts of the present case, I think it is necessary to consider the issues and how they were resolved.
The issues in the case
63. The principal issues raised by the Statements of Case and explored at the trial can be summarised as follows:
(1) What Rotex said to Aldrees about the performance of the machines and the extent to which such representations were justified.
(2) Whether or not the contract incorporated Rotex’s terms and conditions.
(3) Whether the machines as delivered were capable of achieving the promised throughput.
(4) If not, whether and to what extent the loss caused by any initial breach of contract was successfully mitigated by subsequent modifications to the machines, including the fitting of different bottom meshes, by Rotex.
(5) What level of throughput the machines were capable of achieving once put into commercial production.
(6) Rotex’s counterclaim for the balance of the price (due on commissioning).
(7) Whether or not Aldrees suffered a continuing loss of production, and hence loss of profit, because the machines were not capable of achieving in service the promised throughput, or whether the reduction in throughput from 2014 onwards was attributable to factors for which Rotex was not responsible.
(8) The extent to which there was a continuing market for the product for which the machines had been designed.
64. Taking these issues discretely, without regard for their impact on the eventual outcome, Aldrees prevailed on issues (2), (3) and (6) and in part on (1). Rotex prevailed on (7), in part on (1) and – for want of proof by Aldrees – on (4) and (5). Issue (8) did not really occupy much of the evidence or time at the trial.
65. In terms of issue-based results, therefore, each side had a roughly equal measure of success. However, the analysis cannot stop there because that would ignore the overall outcome, which was that Aldrees achieved, at best, a Pyrrhic victory. Its recovery of about £700,000 was not, of itself, nominal, but it was a tiny fraction (about 2%) of the sum claimed and less than the costs that it incurred in recovering it. To adopt an expression used in the authorities, whilst Aldrees was substantially denied the prize which it fought the action to win, it did achieve something of value which I consider that it probably would not have achieved without fighting the case.
66. However, looking at the outcome from the other end of the telescope, if Rotex fought the action to defend its products, its testing regime and commercial reputation, then it fell short of achieving those aims.
The application of the authorities to the facts of this case
67. I do not find it easy to apply the principles set out in the authorities to the facts of this case. The answer to the question who has to write the cheque at the end of the day, in this case Rotex, does not in my view provide a reliable test for identifying the unsuccessful party.
68. Conversely, I do not consider that the fact that Aldrees recovered only a very modest sum in comparison with the amount claimed provides a conclusive answer either. Rotex lost on many points also, including its counterclaim. If Aldrees had thought that its claim was only worth, say, £1 to £2 million, because it had sustained no loss beyond the end of 2014, it would still have justified the bringing of proceedings, albeit at substantially lower cost. So I do not categorise this is a case where it can be said that no rational person would have pursued the much reduced claim if that had been the sole objective.
69. If Rotex had accepted from an early stage in the litigation (as I consider it should have done) that it had been in breach of contract, not least because it had fitted the machines with the wrong bottom meshes, as a result of which Aldrees would almost certainly recover some damages in respect of the delay in putting the machines into production, it could have made a Part 36 offer or an appropriate Calderbank offer. That, in my view, would have been the appropriate way in which to protect itself against an exposure to costs.
70. Further, for the reasons I have already given I am quite satisfied that Rotex’s approach to the case was significantly affected by its erroneous belief that Mr Smith had not visited the Aldrees factory in June 2013 – with the result that it contended that Aldrees had put the machines into production before Rotex had commissioned them and that the initial problems stemmed from that. In addition, as I have already indicated, I consider that Rotex saw this litigation as an unjustified attack on its commercial reputation which had to be defended. In that, it fell far short of being successful.
An application of an issue based approach, as set out above, might lead to the conclusion that each party should bear its own costs. However, that would take no account of the facts that Aldrees did recover a sum of money that was significantly more than nominal and that Rotex made no appropriate offer.
72. I should add that after I issued my judgment in draft both parties then made offers to the other. By a letter dated 14 November 2018, Rotex offered to pay Aldrees £700,000, plus interest, with costs to be determined by the court. By letter dated 3 January 2019, Aldrees offered to accept a sum of £2.5 million, plus its costs, together with a supply of 170 µm meshes on the same terms as they were supplied to other customers. Of the two offers, Rotex’s was the more realistic, but I do not consider that I should attach a very much weight to either of them since they were not made until after all the major findings of fact were known to the parties.
73. I consider that this case, unlike some of the other cases to which I have referred, is one where the paramount consideration is the absence of any early and admissible offer to pay some compensation for Rotex’s breach of contract. I quite accept that there must be a considerable degree of uncertainty as to whether any relatively modest offer – which is all it could have been – would have been accepted. However,
it is not for the court to speculate upon whether or not a hypothetical offer would have been accepted; rather, it is for a defendant to make a reasonable offer and then rely on its refusal (if that is what happens).
If this was one of those cases in which it would have been impossible to make a Part 36 offer at an appropriate level without incurring a disproportionate liability in respect of costs, then I do not consider that it would not have been possible to write an effective Calderbank letter in appropriate terms.
The fact that Rotex was unaware of two significant facts until the trial, or shortly before it, is not in my view a ground which should be permitted to work to its advantage in relation to costs. Both facts (the incorrectly fitted bottom meshes and Mr Smith’s visit to Aldrees in June 2013) were ones which ought to have been known to Rotex before any claim was made.
It is a matter of speculation what Rotex would have done if they had been aware of these facts and had appreciated their significance. To give Rotex the benefit of the doubt in this situation is to put a premium on unjustified ignorance.
75. I have already indicated that a broad brush conclusion that could be drawn from an issue-based approach is that there should be no order for costs. However, I consider that a more nuanced approach is possible and should be adopted if it leads to a different result.
76. On the basis of the figures in relation to costs put forward by Rotex’s solicitor, Mr James Morris, in his witness statement dated 12 February 2019, and my own assessment, I consider that about 40% of Rotex’s costs were attributable to the claim for lost production (particularly beyond 2014). There would, in my view, be nothing unjust in ordering Aldrees to pay Rotex’s costs to that extent.
77. Looking at the matter from Aldrees’ point of view, I consider that no more than about 30% of its costs was spent on that aspect of the case. Accordingly, any recovery in respect of its own costs should be limited to about 70%.
78. The total costs incurred by Rotex were £2,273,306, and the total costs incurred by Aldrees were about £1,839,220 (after converting the expenditure of €253,307 into sterling). Thus Rotex’s costs were about 23.5% higher than those of Aldrees.
Having regard to the provisions of CPR 44.2(7), and the higher level of costs incurred by Rotex, I consider that the appropriate order is that Rotex should pay 20% of Aldrees’ costs: in that way Aldrees will not recover its costs of the issues on which it lost (which I have assessed at 30% of its total costs), and it will in effect forego costs (on issues on which it succeeded) to the extent of Rotex’s costs of those issues on which Rotex was successful (that is, 40% of Rotex’s costs – which is about the same as about 50% of Aldrees costs).