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N8.1m Judgment Debt: Emirates Aircraft Seized, Court Declares

By Francis Iwuchukwu

IKOYI, LAGOS STATE, NIGERIA - Justice Mohammed Liman of a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria, has directed the seizure of an aircraft owned by Emirates Airline over N8.1 million  judgment debt.

Justice Mohammed Liman arrived at the decision, consequent upon a motion filed by Dr Charles Mekwunye asking for the enforcement of a Supreme Court judgment in a suit between Promise Mekwunye and the airline.

In granting the request sought by Promise Mekwunye, Justice Mohammed Liman, declared that, "It is accordingly ordered that an attachment is hereby issued on the judgment debtor's aircraft registered as 'A6 Aircraft Type 77W EK: 783/784', or any other aircraft belonging to the judgment debtor which flies into Nigeria Territory, to be arrested and detained until the judgment debt is fully paid: in default after 30 days, the aircraft shall be auctioned to satisfy the judgment debt."

Justice Mohammed Liman further held that Emirates Airline shall bear the cost of  maintainance and custody of the detained aircraft.

It would be recalled that Promise Mekwunye, who was at the time a student of North Texas University, Denton, Texas USA, had in 2008 instituted a legal confrontation against the airline for refusal of boarding of her two-way flight ticket from Dallas to Nigeria and back for no reason and for further refusing to fully refund the cost of the  ticket of American Airline she bought to come back to Nigeria. 

Promise Mekwunye further claimed that the airline gave no reason for its action, thereby leaving her stranded for days at the airport until she was able to secure a more expensive flight ticket on a longer route to Lagos. 

According to his judgment delivered on November 15, 2010, Justice Mohammed Liman held that the refusal of Emirates Airline to carry Promise Mekwunye amounted to a breach of contract of carriage.  

Justice Mohammed Liman consequently ordered full refund of ticket without any deduction or charge, and further granted N2.5 million in general damages and N250,000 in legal costs against the airline.

But Emirates Airline went on appeal with an argument that the trial Judge erred in law when he awarded N250,000.00 in legal fees when the plaintiff claimed 1,000,000.00 but led no evidence.

Emirates Airline further argued that the award of general damages was contrary to the Montreal Convention which not only limits the damages recoverable but placed obligation to prove wilful misconduct/gross negligence against the airline before the airline can be liable for damages.  

The Court of Appeal had upheld the contention of Emirates Airline and upturned the award of N250,000 and N2.5million earlier awarded to Promise Mekwunye.

Then the case proceeded to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, which in its lead judgment handed down on February 1, 2019, by Justice Ejembi Eko, overruled the decision of the Court of Appeal and upheld the earlier judgment of the Federal High Court.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria insisted that the trial court was right in ordering Emirates Airline to pay in the circumstances N2.5m as general damages in addition to ticket refund as the airline cannot rely on the Montreal Convention for limitation of liability when it was guilty of fundamental breach of the contract as argued by the appellant's lawyer,  Dr. Mekwunye.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria equally declared  amongst other things that the Court of Appeal was wrong to have heard and upturned the decision of the lower court when Emirate Airline never obtained leave of court to file the appeal as to costs.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria posited that the denial of the Emirates Airline as per boardingwas a repudiation of its contract with Mekwunye and a breach of the fundamental term of the contract which does not entitle it to rely on the Montreal Convention which sets limit  of claims in an action between an airline and it passenger. 

The judgment debt plus interest has since accumulated to about N8.1 million as Emirates airlines refuses to comply with the judgment.

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