Dinnegan v Ryan

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMurray, J.
Judgment Date13 May 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] IEHC 55
CourtHigh Court
Docket Number[2001 No. 304 C.A.],304 CA/2001
Date13 May 2002

[2002] IEHC 55

THE HIGH COURT

304 CA/2001
Record No. 154/99
DINNEGAN v. RYAN
On Circuit

BETWEEN

James Dinnegan and Teresa Dinnegan
Plaintiffs

AND

Eugene Ryan and Mary Ryan
Defendants

Citations:

M'MULLAN V MULHALL & FARRELL 1929 1 IR 470

GATLEY LIBEL AND SLANDER 9ED 1998 119

ONSLOW V HORNE 3 WILS 177

MICHAEL V SPIERS & PONDE LTD 1909 101 LT 352

JARVIS V SWANS TOURS LTD 1973 1 AER 71

JOHNSON V LONGLEAT PROPERTIES (DUBLIN) LTD UNREP HIGH 19.5.1976 1978 13 IR JUR 186 (NOTED ONLY)

Synopsis:

CONTRACT

Slander

Damages - Evidence - Compensation - Whether contract existed to provide refreshments - Whether alleged words constituted actionable slander - Whether proof of special damage (2001/304CA - Murray J - 13/5/2002)

Dinnegan v Ryan - [2002] 3 IR 178

Facts: The plaintiffs instituted proceedings against the defendants over what they alleged was a failure to provide light refreshments for a small post-wedding reception. The defendants were the owners of a public house and denied that there had ever been an agreement to provide refreshments. In the Circuit Court the plaintiffs were awarded £20,000 in damages for breach of contract and slander. The defendants appealed against the judgment.

Held by Murray J in awarding a total of €€2,000 in damages. The court was satisfied that a specific arrangement had been entered into to provide refreshments. The evidence tendered by the first-named defendant was not satisfactory and the court did not find him to be a credible witness. There had been a premeditated and conscious decision to refuse the plaintiffs service notwithstanding the prior agreement. The plaintiffs had not established that they had suffered any special damage arising from the slander alleged. The loss which the plaintiffs had suffered was a denial of the occasion for enjoyment and happiness to be shared with their family and friends. The plaintiffs were entitled to be compensated for the breach of contract and a sum of €€,000 would be awarded to each plaintiff.

1

13th day of May, 2002 byMurray, J.

Murray, J.
2

This is an appeal by way of rehearing from the judgment and Order of the Circuit Court in which the Plaintiffs were awarded the sum of IR£20,000 damages for breach of contract and slander. No apportionment of damages was made for the separate causes of action.

3

In these proceedings the Plaintiffs claim that they had an agreement with the Defendant's whereby the latter would provide light refreshments for a small post-wedding reception at their public house on St. Stephen's Day, 1998. It is alleged that when the Plaintiffs and their guests arrived at the public house the Defendants refused to serve drinks to the wedding party, in particular the Plaintiffs, or to provide them with any food. On the contrary it is alleged that the First Named Defendant in refusing to serve them asked them to leave in circumstances and in a manner which amounted to defamation of the Plaintiffs characters. Accordingly they claim damages firstly, for breach of contract and secondly, for slander. The Defendants on the other hand deny that there was ever any agreement at any time to provide refreshments for the wedding party. It is accepted that the wedding party and in particular the Plaintiffs were asked to leave their premises on St. Stephen's night when they arrived there. According to the Defendants this was because there being no agreement to provide any kind of wedding reception there was no food available to be served to them. Also, the public house was crowded to capacity and the First Named Defendant did not wish to get involved in any argument with the Plaintiff the premises over the alleged failure to provide the food and beverages for the wedding party.

4

Thus, it is not in issue that the Plaintiffs and their wedding guests arrived at the Defendant's public house at approximately 6.00pm on the 26th December. The Plaintiffs were informed that neither they nor guests would be served food or drink. They were asked to leave and they left.

5

There are two basic issues. The first is whether there was an agreement between the Plaintiff and the Defendants concerning the provision of food and drink for a post-wedding get together of the Plaintiffs and their guests. The second issue is whether the words alleged to have been spoken by the first named Defendant and his conduct in removing them from the premises in the presence of other customers in the public house at the time, constituted an actionable slander of the Plaintiffs.

6

Turning to the first issue, I do not think it is necessary to recall all of the evidence but to concentrate on the essential aspects of it. The background facts are not in issue. Prior to their marriage the Plaintiffs had been living together for quite a number of years. They had three children, the youngest of which was four and the eldest fourteen. Sometime in 1998 they decided to solemnise their relationship by getting married according to the rites of the Catholic Church and arrange for their wedding to take place on St. Stephens Day, December 26th, 1998. At that time the first named Plaintiff was unemployed. The Defendants are the proprietors of an extensive public house premises known as The Downs Inn a few miles outside Mullingar.

7

In his evidence the first named Plaintiff, Mr James Dinnegan said that he had been in The Downs Inn on a number of occasions prior to the incident in question. His father drank their regularly. He knew the proprietor, Mr Ryan. He went in there on a day around the end of November, early December at about 11.30am to make arrangements for a post-wedding reception. He told Mr Ryan about his forthcoming marriage on St. Stephen's Day and that he wished to bring his guests to The Downs Inn after the wedding for a small reception consisting of sandwiches and cocktail sausages and drinks. Mr Dinnegan said Mr Ryan at first expressed some concern about a 21st birthday party which he would be having that evening but this he said was resolved when he stated that the wedding party would arrive between 6 and 6.30pm and could leave at approximately 9.00pm before the 21st birthday party got under way. He told Mr Ryan that there would be about twenty persons in the party possibly thirty but not more than that. Mr Dinnegan agreed that no overall price for the provision of food was agreed. He explained this by saying since that it was only going to consist of sandwiches and cocktail sausages he knew it could not amount to too much. The drinks would be bought from the bar. He denied that he and the wedding party turned up at the public house without prior arrangements or that they had chosen the Downs Inn on the day because of an electricity blackout in Mullingar town. His main concern appears to have been to ensure that there would be some food available to his wedding party when they arrived after the wedding. As regards Mr Dinnegan's visit to the pub to make these arrangement, Mrs Dinnegan gave evidence that they were on their way to visit a brother-in-law in hospital and they took the opportunity to stop at The Downs Inn and her husband went in to make the arrangements while she waited in the car. This took about fifteen or twenty minutes.

8

St. Stephen's Day turned out to be a very stormy windy day as a result of which electricity wires were blown down and much if not of all Mullingar town was without power. This included the Catholic Church in which the wedding took place that afternoon as a result of which it had to be conducted in candlelight. The power cut gave rise to concern as to whether The Downs Inn was affected by the power cut and Mr Dinnegan's sister rang the public house to check the position. A female who answered the phone confirmed that they had power.

9

The Plaintiffs had invited a range of friends and relations to the wedding some of which had come from England and other parts of the country.

10

After the wedding ceremony the wedding party left for The Downs Inn. Inevitably some arrived before others although most arrived within a short time of one another. So far as a first named Plaintiff is concerned he came in from the car park with two uncles and a brother. Four drinks were ordered. He said a female behind the bar started to pour the drinks but that the first named Defendant, Mr Ryan came out to the lounge and told him that he did not want Mr Dinnegan there, that he was not being served and he wanted him to leave. According to Mr Dinnegan when he came out from behind the bar Mr Ryan waved his hands repeatedly telling him to "get out, I don't want you here." Mr Dinnegan says he was quite shocked, could not believe that this could happen, particularly just at that point on his wedding day without any notice. He felt completely humiliated. His own wedding party had begun to gather at this stage. The lounge was fairly busy and many people who knew him, as he lived in the town itself, could see what was happening. He tried to talk to Mr Ryan but there was no talking to him. After initially taking issue with Mr Ryan he felt so humiliated that he just wanted to get out. People were looking at them and he wished to avoid further embarrassment. They went home to his mother's house. He was very upset but his wife particularly so and they felt too upset to go anywhere else. They had a few drinks in his mother's house. In the course of his evidence Mr Dinnegan stated that when he walked into the pub he could see sandwiches laid out on trays in a small function room. At this point I would note that no other member of party who gave evidence observed sandwiches laid out on trays and whatever about the rest of the evidence of Mr Dinnegan I am not satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that he did infact see sandwiches laid out on trays. He may well have been attempting to gild the lily in this aspect of his evidence. According to Mr Dinnegan he then telephoned Mr Ryan twice that...

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