A timely reminder on requests to amend a claim
In a recent case, the High Court has confirmed the law in relation to a request for a late amendment to a claim. The main point to take away is that if an amendment is crucial to your case – it is best not to leave it until 'the 11th hour'.
The case itself (Bing Holdings Inc and Anor v Hue-Williams  EWHC 3149 (QB)) related to a claim by a Mr Hue-Williams, an art dealer, against his clients for commissions due under a contract, or alternatively under the principle of quantum meruit. A quantum meruit claim is relied upon in the alternative to a claim in contract where specific terms of a contract cannot be relied upon, as it is a claim for a reasonable sum for goods or services provided (for example, where payment terms need to be implied as there are no contract terms properly setting them out ).
Mr Hue-Williams wished to amend his alternative claim (i.e. the claim not relying upon the contract) so as to include a claim for an unjust enrichment. An unjust enrichment claim is somewhat similar to quantum meruit in that it relates to a situation where specific contract terms cannot be relied upon. However, the focus is on the benefit obtained by a defendant (and returning that benefit to a claimant) rather than an assessment of the sums that might properly be due to a claimant for goods or services provided.
Mr Hue-Williams made an application to court to add his claim in unjust enrichment to his existing claim. The application was heard six clear days before trial.
The Court's Response
The court refused Mr Hue-Williams' application. This is not entirely surprising, given that Mr Hue-Williams had himself conceded that the additional claim was a "gloss" to his existing claims and that he would not want to proceed with it should it delay the trial.
The Court's Reasoning
Notwithstanding Mr Hue-Williams' concession, the court applied existing legal principles (set out in Quah Su-Ling v Goldman Sachs International  EWHC 759 (Comm)) to conclude that the amendment application should not be allowed. It was confirmed that the court has discretion as to whether to allow an amendment, though a balance needs to be struck to between injustice to the applicant in refusing the amendment and injustice to the respondent and other parties if the amendment is allowed.
Summarising the court's approach, the important factors were that:
- the claim in unjust enrichment was a new claim and if it was allowed, the defendant would not have an appropriate amount of time to adequately defend this new claim (at the fixed trial date);
- in any event, the parties had agreed that there was a contract in place between them (making any claim for unjust enrichment highly likely to be redundant);
- no good reason was provided by Mr Hue-Williams for the requested change. The Judge was not willing to accept a change in legal representation as a good reason for the request to amend; and
- the amendments would require an adjournment of the trial and as such were "very late".
The points at iii. and iv. above come from the principles established in the Quah case. Indeed, the Judge in Quah said that "a heavy burden lies on a party seeking a very late amendment to show the strength of the new case and why justice to him, his opponent and other court users requires him to be able to pursue it" and "a very late amendment is one made when the trial date has been fixed and where permitting the amendments would cause the trial date to be lost. Parties and the court have a legitimate expectation that trial fixtures will be kept".
The law is quite clear on the subject of late amendments. If there are genuine reasons for the request for a late amendment, then proceed with an application (but do so as soon as possible and with an awareness of the risks). If there is little substance to the amendment, it is merely trivial or indeed if there is a good reason for the request but it is 'very late' it might be wise to expect it to be refused – and be aware of the costs implications of making an unsuccessful application.
For more information or advice please contact David Moore or your usual contact in the Litigation team at Blake Morgan.