Moram v Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of Ireland

JudgeMs. Justice Costello
Judgment Date28 March 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] IECA 90
CourtCourt of Appeal (Ireland)
Docket NumberRecord No. 2017/165
Date28 March 2019
- AND -





[2019] IECA 90

Record No. 2017/165


Abuse of process – Res judicata – Statute barred – Appellant seeking to appeal against the judgment of the High Court striking out her claim – Whether the plaintiff’s claim constituted an abuse of process of the court, was res judicata, was statute barred and was not justiciable

Facts: The plaintiff/appellant, Ms Moram, appealed to the Court of Appeal against the judgment of Baker J delivered on the 23rd March 2017 where she struck out the plaintiff’s claim on the basis that the matter constituted an abuse of process of the court, was res judicata, the claim was statute barred and was not justiciable. She also made an order restraining the plaintiff from instituting any further proceedings against the defendants/respondents, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Ireland, Mr Beeston, Mr Van Benthem and Mr Bell, or any of them without prior leave of the court. Two issues arose in this appeal: first, whether these proceedings raised a new cause of action which could not have been brought in the 2013 proceedings prior to their dismissal by Barrett J in March 2014; and second, the impact of the decisions of Barrett J and the Court of Appeal in the 2013 proceedings on these 2016 proceedings.

Held by Costello J that the plaintiff had not established that a fresh cause of action which would entitle her to maintain the 2016 proceedings arose against the respondents after the 2013 proceedings were struck out by the High Court. Costello J held that, insofar as the 2016 proceedings claimed damages in respect of the exacerbation of the appellant’s injuries in 2016 as a matter of law they properly formed part of her claim brought in the 2013 proceedings; the Court was bound by the judgments in the 2013 proceedings and could not go behind them. In so far as the appellant asserted that her claim for damages in respect of that injury was not statute barred because it was a new injury and therefore a new cause of action, the Court held that this was not correct as a matter of fact or law in this case. Costello J was satisfied that the continuation of these proceedings would be an abuse of process. Costello J held that in the circumstances of this case and in light of the history of the litigation brought by the appellant, where the 2013 proceedings had been struck out on the basis that they were statute barred, where the High Court held that in the 2016 proceedings the appellant was repackaging her earlier claim, that the proceedings were vexatious and the 2016 proceedings also were statute barred, the trial judge was entitled to exercise her inherent jurisdiction to grant the Isaac Wunder order in the terms she did and Costello J saw no error in her application of the relevant principles.

Costello J held that she would refuse the appeal and uphold the order of the High Court.

Appeal dismissed.

JUDGMENT of Ms. Justice Costello delivered on the 28th day of March, 2019

This is an appeal against the judgment of Baker J. delivered on the 23rd March 2017 where she struck out the plaintiff's claim on the basis that the matter constituted an abuse of process of the court, was res judicata, the claim was statute barred and was not justiciable. She also made an order restraining the plaintiff from instituting any further proceedings against the defendants or any of them without prior leave of the court. Background


There has been a very lengthy unhappy history between the appellant and the respondents going back more than twenty years. These proceedings are the third set of proceedings which the appellant has brought against the respondents.


The first named respondent is a company limited by guarantee and is the representative body of Jehovah's Witnesses in Ireland, a religious corporation with charitable status. The second and third named respondents are elders (that is religious ministers) in the congregation and the fourth named respondent is a member of the Killarney Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.


In or around 2004 an internal disciplinary process was conducted by the elders of the Killarney Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in relation to the appellant. The appellant is seriously critical of the manner in which the elders conducted this disciplinary procedure which she says is ultimately at the haert of her complaints against the respondents.


The elders determined that she was guilty of certain charges laid against her and decided she should be ‘disfellowshipped’, that is expelled, from the congregation. She appealed this decision and a committee of elders upheld the decision to disfellowship the appellant. Finally, the appellant asked the branch office of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Greystones County Wicklow to review the matter and that branch office decided that the appellant should not be disfellowshipped. The appellant argued that this meant that she was not guilty of the charges levelled against her and that she had been falsely accused by the second, third and fourth named respondents on the basis of unlawful procedures.


The appellant says that the respondents ought to have informed other members of the congregation of the fact that she was not a slanderer. This did not occur and relations continued to be cantankerous. In 2009 the appellant contemplated instituting proceedings against the respondents, but she was dissuaded from doing so by a member of the organisation, Mr McCaslin, who promised the appellant that he would or could resolve her issues with the respondents. The appellant subsequently was very critical of this representation as shall appear below. Relations were not restored, as according to the appellant, the fourth named respondent continued to make accusations against her. She says that as a result she was obliged to leave the organisation in 2010.


On the 17th January 2011 the plaintiff commenced defamation proceedings against the second to fourth named respondents herein in proceedings entitled ‘ Ruth Moram v. Martyn Bell, Peter Van Bentham and Andrew Beeston, South Western Circuit Record No. 2011/18’ (the 2011 proceedings).


The second to fourth named respondents applied to have the 2011 proceedings struck out pursuant to O.21 of the Rules of the Circuit Court on the grounds that they involved litigating issues relating to the merits of religious beliefs and practices, ecclesiastical rules of conduct and/or discipline which were not justiciable, were specifically prohibited from the jurisdiction of the secular courts at common law and/or under Art. 44 of the Constitution or alternatively they were statute barred and bound to fail by virtue of the provisions of the Statute of Limitations 1957(as amended). On the 2nd June 2011 Judge O'Sullivan struck out the 2011 proceedings.


On the 7th November 2011, the High Court (Edwards J) sitting in Tralee dismissed the appellant's appeal against the dismissal of her Circuit Court proceedings on the basis that any such appeal required to be brought to the High Court in Dublin and not the High Court on Circuit in Tralee. On the 21st December 2011 the appellant applied to the Master of the High Court for an extension of time to appeal the order of the Kerry Circuit Court striking out the 2011 proceedings. The Master granted the appellant the extension of time sought and the appellant lodged an appeal against both the order of the Circuit Court and the order of Edwards J of 7th November, 2011


The second to fourth named respondents brought an application seeking orders to set aside the order of the Master extending time in which to appeal the order of Judge O'Sullivan and confirming that the appeal to the High Court in the 2011 proceedings had already been determined by Edwards J. All matters were heard before the High Court in Dublin (Hedigan J) on the 5th March 2012. Hedigan J. permitted the appellant's appeal to proceed and, in a written judgment fully considering the merits of her case, he dismissed the appeal from the decision of Judge O'Sullivan.


The appellant then issued a second set of proceedings against the respondents in the High Court on 23rd May 2013 claiming damages for personal injury arising out of the congregation's disciplinary process in proceedings entitled ‘ Ruth Moram v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Ireland, Andrew Beeston, Peter Van Benthem and Martyn Bell, Record No.2013/5238P’ (the 2013 proceedings).


The appellant pleaded that in March 2011 and December 2012 the appellant discovered a conspiracy on the part of the respondents to allow the appellant to be considered a slanderer in order to cover up their wrongful acts. She pleaded that the wrongful acts were done or permitted in accordance with secret procedures of the first named respondent. She said that the first named respondent has a secret book issued to elders appointed by the organisation containing secret instructions. She pleaded that the secret procedures were in violation of her human rights and her right to fair procedures. She said that the first named respondent knowingly and recklessly acted fraudulently and that the second to fourth named respondents concurred with this. They concealed their actions so as to prevent the appellant from taking legal action consequent to her injury and that they conspired to keep all matters secret so that the appellant could not bring proceedings against them. She said that her injuries were attributable to those wrongful acts. At para. O of her personal injury summons, she stated that:-

‘each time the plaintiff discovers procedures which affected her badly and which were kept secret from her, she is unable to cope with the stress involved. The stress from the discovery of 18th December 2012 [of certain secret...

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1 cases
  • Moram v Watchtower & Tract Soc
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 31 July 2019
    ...McGovern and Costello JJ.) delivered by Costello J. on 28 March 2019 ( Moram v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Ireland and ors [2019] IECA 90), these proceedings were dismissed by the High Court and that dismissal was upheld by the Court of Appeal. In substance, the basis of the dism......

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