Michael Hoey v Waterways Ireland

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMr Justice Peter Charleton
Judgment Date28 May 2021
Neutral Citation[2021] IESC 34
Docket NumberSupreme Court appeal number: S:LE:IE:2012:000227
CourtSupreme Court
Between
Michael Hoey
Plaintiff
and
Waterways Ireland
Defendant

[2021] IESC 34

O'Donnell J

Dunne J

Charleton J

Supreme Court appeal number: S:LE:IE:2012:000227

High Court Record Number: 2011 No. 15095 P

An Chúirt Uachtarach

The Supreme Court

Injunctive relief – Adequate remedy – Balance of convenience – Plaintiff seeking injunctive relief against the defendant – Whether there was a reasonably arguable case made by the plaintiff that the defendant acted illegally

Facts: The plaintiff, Mr Hoey, claimed a wide range of both prohibitory and mandatory injunctive relief against the defendant, Waterways Ireland, arising out of the removal and storage of a canal barge. In a judgment of 27 April 2012, the High Court (Murphy J) rejected the plaintiff’s claim for injunctive relief. The plaintiff then lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court but, as this coincided with the establishment of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Justice issued a general notice, including the parties, under Article 64.3.1 of the Constitution that the appeal would be heard by the Court of Appeal. Some years later, the defendant applied for an order pursuant to Article 64.3.3 that would have the effect of cancelling the direction made by the Chief Justice. That was granted. Therefore, the appeal came before the Supreme Court. The plaintiff submitted that his application was governed by the Campus Oil guidelines and that, “in consequence, all he must establish is”, in the words of O’Higgins CJ in Campus Oil Ltd v Minister for Industry and Energy (No. 2) [1983] IR 88 (at 107), “that he has raised a fair bona fide question”. The plaintiff claimed that an award of damages would be inadequate to compensate him for any loss he might suffer if an injunction was not granted and his barge 43M disposed of. He also claimed that the balance of convenience favoured granting an injunction, citing Rogers v An Post [2014] IEHC 412.

Held by Charleton J that there was a black letter law enabling the removal of an obstruction and there was a clear law allowing the storage of a vessel in such circumstances. He held that the defendant was empowered to dispose of the vessel; this was not realty, or a precious and irreplaceable item, nor was a noxious experience threatened such as the continued diminution in the amenities of a dwelling through nuisance by noise, smells, toxic fumes or disturbance in other ways. He held that the barge may be sold since there was statutory authority to do so. He held that it was easily valued. Charleton J held that there was no reasonably arguable case made by the plaintiff that the defendant acted illegally. Charleton J held that damages were an adequate remedy. He held that it was consequently unnecessary to proceed to consider the balance of convenience or maintaining any status quo.

Charleton J dismissed the appeal and upheld the order of Murphy J in the High Court.

Appeal dismissed.

Judgment of Mr Justice Peter Charleton delivered on Friday 28 May 2021

1

The plaintiff Michael Hoey claims a wide range of both prohibitory and mandatory injunctive relief against the defendant, Waterways Ireland, arising out of the removal and storage of a canal barge. In the past, the plaintiff ran a business called Canalways Ireland which provided tours of Ireland's canals and linked rivers, including the Barrow navigation. Waterways Ireland has statutory responsibility for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of inland navigable waterways, principally for recreational purposes. This all began when Waterways Ireland removed barge 43M, belonging to the plaintiff, ostensibly on the basis that it had sunk and was obstructing a canal. Did it sink? Like everything in these proceedings, even a simple question like that is overlain with inventive legal constructions which, whether this is the purpose or not, divert the channel of fact away from what matters and into ultimately unnavigable side streams. Included in the pleadings of the plaintiff are assertions as to rights of navigation, riparian rights, statutory duties as to the maintenance of watercourses and aspects of foreign law on boats, barges, depths of navigation, rivers and canals. Waterways Ireland are clear that 43M had sunk and that they recovered it from the canal bed, where, by obstruction, it had halved the navigation width. Asked during the hearing as to whether the barge had sunk, the plaintiff, representing himself on this appeal, replied: “The barge couldn't sink because there is nowhere for it to sink. It was full of water.”

Course of proceedings
2

In the High Court, Murphy J, judgment of 27 April 2012, rejected the plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief. The plaintiff then lodged an appeal to this Court but, as this coincided with the establishment of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Justice issued a general notice, including these parties, under Article 64.3.1 of the Constitution that this appeal would now be heard by the Court of Appeal. Some years later, Waterways Ireland applied for an order pursuant to Article 64.3.3 that would have the effect of cancelling the direction made by the Chief Justice. That was granted. Therefore, the appeal has come before this Court. That happened in 2018 but neither party has sought to bring the matter on before now.

3

A comment is appropriate as to this inaction. As all of the authorities make clear, an application for an interlocutory injunction is a plea to the courts holding equitable jurisdiction that justice should respond by the making of an order compelling a defendant to stop doing something, a prohibitory injunction, or should do something, a mandatory injunction, in the face of what is claimed to be an infringement of the plaintiff's rights that is so serious that such action is needed, even prior to a full trial, and where a judge will have only a limited knowledge of the facts, usually deposed to on affidavit, and in circumstances where a full review of the law may be difficult. For reasons set out below, every such order carries consequences for the parties and, mindful of that, the granting of an interlocutory injunction is a serious step, one potentially fraught with the danger of injustice, for a court to make. It may happen, for reasons related to the overall justice of the position in which the parties find themselves at interlocutory stage, or related to the weakness of the plaintiff's argument as to law, or where damages rather than a court order of compulsion emerge as adequate to meet the case, or where the balance of convenience does not favour such an order, that an application for an interlocutory injunction is refused. What the course of this case exemplifies, and what is in the nature of a plaintiff having applied for an injunction prior to trial, is that a plaintiff has asserted: this is urgent, this is an infringement of rights where unless a plaintiff responds speedily, serious harm will be done. That is what an interlocutory injunction is about. Yet, the case languished for nine years. There is an obligation on a plaintiff, having made such an assertion, through applying for an interlocutory injunction, to consistently pursue the path of urgency by seeking to bring forward the full trial. Consistent with the principle that delay can equate to acquiescence, failure to follow through on promptness may have consequences at the full trial. More importantly, having sought the urgent aid of the courts through an interlocutory application, a plaintiff is required to consistently seek the disposal of the case through application to preparation and in seeking an early hearing. The Rules of the Superior Courts enable defendants who are faced with a reluctant plaintiff to set a matter down for trial. Where State parties are involved, the especial duty of cooperation with the courts should prompt defendants in the face of a recalcitrant plaintiff to use the procedures of the court to have the full trial of a failed interlocutory injunction disposed of.

Core facts
4

The plaintiff claims illegality in the removal by Waterways Ireland of barge 43M, which happened on 11 October 2011. The course of proper attention for the High Court, and this Court on appeal, was and remains on a narrow range of issues and not on the very wide scatter of assertions that characterise the pleadings in this case. The key issues are: whether the barge had sunk; had the plaintiff previously been asked to remove it prior to Waterways Ireland removing it; was the barge obstructing the narrow canal where it was lying on the canal bed; did Waterways Ireland have the statutory power to take the barge away and to dispose of it or to store it pending the resolution of these proceedings? In contrast to focusing on these points, the plaintiff asserted before the High Court a range of issues related, not to the barge but, to the general management of waterways. Hence, he claimed that there were ten abstractions of water from the Barrow Navigation by Kildare Woodchip Limited, not a party to the proceedings, which allegedly interfered with the draft of the waterway. Further, it is pleaded that in November 2001, Kildare County Council made a proposal to take surface water from the Barrow for domestic and industrial purposes. Also asserted is that Waterways Ireland propose to sell the Barrow navigation. To whom, when or for what is not detailed. What purported to be a statutory Interference Notice was issued by the plaintiff, in respect of both the surface water and groundwater from the catchment of the Barrow navigation. The plaintiff, however, is not one of the statutory bodies entitled to issue such a notice. Instead, he is a private person without authority to issue any such notice. The plaintiff, nonetheless, claims to have had navigation authority status under s 21 of the Water Supply Act 1942. S 21(1) of the Act gives definition whereupon an Interference Notice may be issued on...

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