McDaid v Milford Rural District Council

JurisdictionIreland
CourtCourt of Appeal (Ireland)
Judgment Date01 January 1919
Date01 January 1919

K. B. Div.

Appeal.

M'Daid v. Milford R. D. C.
M'DAID
and
MILFORD RURAL DISTRICT COUNCIL (1)

Labourers (Ireland) Acts - Improvement scheme - Temporary letting of plot to a person not an agricultural labourer - Breach of statutory duty - Preferential right - Labourer's right of action - Labourers (Ireland) Act,1886, s. 15; Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1906, s. 29.

Case Stated by Gibson J. at Lifford Summer Assizes, 1917.

The appeal was by the defendants from a decree dated April 2nd, 1917, for £9 damages for breach of statutory duty under the Labourers Acts. The civil bill was for £20 damages "for that the defendants being under a statutory obligation under the Labourers Acts to provide a plot of land and cottage for plaintiff refused to provide such, and for that the defendants being under a statutory obligation to give plaintiff a preference in the letting of a plot of land in the townland of Fortstewart refused to give plaintiff the said preference, and gave the plot in question to one James O'Brien who did not sign a representation and who was not under the said Acts entitled to said plot." An improvement scheme under the Labourers Acts which provided for the taking of eighty-one plots and the erection of a cottage upon each was made by the defendants and confirmed by the Local Government Board on July 16th, 1912. In 1910 the defendants framed and approved regulations in pursuance of section 29 of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1906, and these were confirmed by the Local Government Board in April of the same year. The improvement scheme was based upon representations signed by or on behalf of agricultural labourers, among whom was the plaintiff, in respect of whose representation it was proposed to erect a cottage on a plot in the townland of Fortstewart.

Mr. Justice Gibson stated the other facts as follows:—

"The plot proposed to be let to the plaintiff was No. 310, an area somewhat under one acre. The plaintiff applied as a labourer without proper housing accommodation. He was married and had four children. The land was purchased by defendants on 4th February, 1913, but the houses could not be built, as the limit of expenditure prescribed by the Local Government Board (£170 for land and building together) would have been considerably exceeded. The representation was for house and land. The rent was to be 1s. 6d. a week; the defendants declined to authorize allotments.

The defendants let the plot pending the execution of the building part of the scheme to O'Brien, a small farmer, who was not an agricultural labourer, on the dates and for the rents following:—13th March, 1915, £1 5s.; 16th December, 1915, for the year, at £2 10s.; and 10th March, 1917, at £1 2s. 6d. Applications for the letting were invited by poster, and plaintiff offered for above respective periods £1 5s.; £2 5s.; and 15s. The first offer of £1 5s. was not received till after O'Brien's offer was accepted. The defendants thought it their duty to accept the higher offer.

The evidence of damages was not satisfactory; but it was agreed, as a question of the law was to be decided, to accept the figure in the decree if the plaintiff was entitled to recover damages.

Mr. Kelly, for the plaintiff, contended that the land having been let to O'Brien, who was not a labourer, the plaintiff's statutory rights were infringed, and he was entitled to sue for damages. Mr. Wood argued that no action lay, and as the point was important he requested me to state a case. I assented on the terms (accepted by him) that defendants should pay the plaintiff's costs in any event, as between party and party, up to the decision of the King's Bench Division, not exceeding £10.

I expressed no opinion on the question of law raised, but pointed out the difficulty from the right claimed relating to a house and land as one entity, and from the failure to provide the house being attributable to causes beyond defendants' control.

The questions for the decision of the Court are:—1. On the above facts is the action maintainable? 2. Should the decree be affirmed, reversed, or varied?"

The defendants appealed (3).

A rural district council made an improvement scheme under the Labourers Acts based upon a representation signed by, or on behalf of, agricultural labourers, amongst whom was the plaintiff, whose representation was in respect of a cottage and about an acre of land. Regulations in pursuance of section 29 of the Labourers (Ir.) Act, 1906, were framed and adopted by the council. Pending the erection of the cottage, the council, acting under section 15 of the Labourers (Ir.) Act, 1886, made a temporary letting of the plot to a farmer who had not signed a representation, whereupon the plaintiff claimed damages on the ground that they were bound to give him a preference.

Held, by the King's Bench Division (Sir James Campbell C.J. and Dodd J.) (following Tevlin v. Lisnaskea Rural District CouncilIR, [1914] 2 I.R. 15), that a temporary letting under section 15 of the Labourers (Ir.) Act, 1886, is a letting of an allotment within section 29 of the Labourers (Ir.) Act, 1906, and that the plaintiff was entitled to a preferential right thereto.

Held by the Court of Appeal, reversing the King's Bench Division, that the preferential right given by section 29 of the Act of 1906 applies only to the letting of a cottage and plot as one entity, and does not apply to a temporary letting under section 15 of the Act of 1886.

Held also, that the statutory preference given to a labourer who has signed a representation is only a right to be preferred, caeteris paribus, to agricultural labourers who are not representators, and is not absolute.

Tevlin v. Lisnaskea Rural District CouncilIR, [1914] 2 I. R. 15, overruled.

Quaere: Whether a personal claim for damages by a labourer can be sustained where there is a breach of statutory obligation on the part of a council in the letting of a cottage and plot.

Sir James Campbell C.J. delivered the judgment of the court as follows:—

The District Council of the rural district of Milford in the county of Donegal having made an improvement scheme under the Labourers Acts, whereby it was proposed that land should be taken compulsorily and house accommodation provided, the Local Government Board by Order of the 16th July, 1912, confirmed the scheme. Prior to this, that is to say upon the 28th January, 1910, the council framed and approved regulations in pursuance of section 29 of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1906 (6 Edw. 7, c. 37), which were adopted and sealed by the council on the 2nd April following, and duly confirmed by the Local Government Board upon the 27th April of the same year. The improvement scheme was based upon representations signed by or on behalf of agricultural labourers, and amongst the number was a representation signed by the plaintiff as an agricultural labourer, married, with four children, and without proper housing accommodation. This representation was in respect of a cottage and about an acre of land attached, in the townland of Fortstewart, within the Milford rural district, and was received by the council upon the 14th September, 1910. In the scheme, as confirmed, provision is made for the building of this cottage and the acquisition of one acre of land. The number of the site is given as 310, and it appears to be the only cottage provided for Fortstewart. The land was purchased by the council upon 4th February, 1913, but the house could not be built, as the limit of expenditure prescribed by the Local Government Board for the cost of house and land would, owing to the great increase in the cost of materials, have been considerably exceeded. Pending the erection of the cottage the council determined in the assumed exercise of their powers under sect. 15 of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1886 (49 & 50 Vict. c. 59), to make a letting of the plot. Applications for the letting were invited by poster, but except in this general way no notice was given or offer of a letting was made to the plaintiff; but lettings were made to a farmer named O'Brien on the dates and for the rents following:—13th March, 1915, at £1 5s.; 15th December, 1915, for the year at £2 10s.; and 10th May, 1917, at £1 2s. 6d. The plaintiff appears upon becoming aware of the lettings to have made offers of £1 5s.; £2 5d.; and 15s. for the corresponding periods, but his offer in respect of the first letting was not received until after 13th March, 1915, the date upon which the council made the first letting to O'Brien. In these circumstances the plaintiff issued a civil bill against the council for £20 damages "for that the defendants being under a statutory obligation under the Labourers Acts to provide a plot of land and cottage for plaintiff refused to provide such; and for that defendants being under a statutory obligation to give plaintiff a preference in the allotting of a plot of land in the townland of Fortstewart refused to give plaintiff the said preference, and gave the plot in question to one James O'Brien who did not sign a representation, and who was not under the said Acts entitled to said plot."

The learned and experienced County Court Judge for Donegal held that plaintiff was entitled to damages and gave a decree for £9. The defendants duly appealed from this decree to the judge of assize, and upon the hearing of the appeal Mr. Justice Gibson, at the request of the counsel for the defendants, agreed to state a case for the opinion of this Court, it being arranged that if plaintiff was held to be entitled to damages the £9 was to be accepted as the amount.

After careful consideration we have arrived at the conclusion that it is not possible to distinguish this case upon its material facts from those which were proved in the case of Tevlin v. Lisnaskea Rural District Council(1). In truth the present case has features which were absent in that case, and which so far as they affect the legal position would seem to...

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