Woodman, Matheson Company Ltd v Waterford Corporation

CourtSupreme Court
Judgment Date01 January 1939
Date01 January 1939
Woodman, Matheson & Co., Ltd. v. Waterford Corporation.

Supreme Court.

Principal and agent - Authority - Fraud of agent - Liability of principal - Weighbridge owned by local authority - No statutory obligation on local body in respect of weighbridge - Local body exercising a right implied under the tolls and markets powers in their Charter - Goods weighed and weigh-dockets issued to members of the public - Weighbridge in charge of official of local body - Weigh-dockets issued by him when no goods weighed and false dockets given in respect of goods actually weighed - Whether local body liable for the fraudulent acts of official - Scope of authority.

The Waterford Corporation, in exercise of a right implied in the tolls and market powers contained in their Charter, maintained a weighbridge and gave to members of the public who tendered goods to be weighed a docket showing the weight of the goods. Plaintiffs, a firm of wool merchants, used to buy wool from W. and arranged with him to have his loads of wool weighed on the Corporation weighbridge before delivering them at the plaintiffs' store, and agreed to pay him for the amount of wool shown on the docket issued by the Corporation in respect of each load. H., who was assistant weigh-clerk at the Corporation weighbridge, conspired with W. to defraud the plaintiffs by giving W. false weigh-dockets in respect of loads that he had never weighed, inserting in the dockets the weights given to him by W. When these facts became known to the plaintiffs they brought an action against the Corporation, claiming £500 damages.

Hanna J. found as a fact that the extent of H.'s authority was to issue dockets in respect of loads weighed by him, and that it was outside the scope of his duty to give dockets for loads he had not weighed, and therefore the defendants were not liable.

On appeal, the Supreme Court (Sullivan C.J., FitzGibbon, Murnaghan and Meredith JJ.) affirmed this decision:

Per Sullivan C.J. on the ground stated by Hanna J., being satified that the plaintiffs had failed to establish the fact that in issuing the dockets in question H. was acting in the course of his employment.

Per FitzGibbon J.: H. was held out as having authority to weigh goods and to give dockets in respect of goods actually weighed by him; and there was no evidence that any representation was made by the defendants to the plaintiffs, or that the dockets issued by H. were accepted generally as evidence of the weight of goods; nor was there any evidence of any custom by which these or similar documents were accepted as evidence of the accuracy of any statement or figure contained therein.

Per Murnaghan J.:—Because H. was not acting within the scope of his authority; and further, there was no evidence of any agreement between the plaintiffs and defendants, or even between the plaintiffs and H., that the dockets would be accepted by the plaintiffs as correct.

Per Meredith J.:—On the ground that there was nothing to show that the defendants held out H. as having any authority to make any representation to the plaintiffs by means of the weigh-dockets in question.

Witness Action.

The plaintiffs, Messrs. Woodman, Matheson & Co., Ltd., who were a limited liability company carrying on the business of wholesale wool merchants in Waterford, issued a plenary summons against the defendants, the Waterford Corporation, claiming damages for negligence, breach of statutory duty, breach of contract, fraud, fraudulent misrepresentation and conspiracy to defraud.

In their statement of claim the plaintiffs stated that the defendants maintained a weighbridge at the Markethouse at Waterford for the use of the general public upon payment of a small toll; that the defendants held out one, Hurley, as the person having charge of the weighbridge, and as having authority to control and manage the same, and to issue dockets or certificates showing the weight, ownership and other relevant particulars of the property weighed. They further alleged that on various relevant dates the defendants, acting by their servant, the said Hurley, falsely and fraudulently issued weigh-dockets or certificates purporting to certify that the amount of wool specified in each of the dockets, respectively, had been weighed on their weighbridge on behalf of one, Woolfson, whereas to the knowledge of the defendants and their agent, the said quantity had not been weighed; that on most occasions no wool whatever had been weighed, and on two occasions a lesser quantity of wool than that specified in the relevant dockets had been weighed. The plaintiff's further pleaded, in the alternative, that the defendants, acting by their agent or servant, the said Hurley, fraudulently conspired with the said Woolfson to defraud the plaintiffs, and, in pursuance of the conspiracy, did the wrongful acts previously alleged.

The statement of claim further alleged, in the alternative, that the defendants were negligent in the management of the weighbridge inasmuch as they retained in their employment a person, to wit, Hurley, whom they knew to be fradulent and incompetent, and also that they had neglected to supervise the activities of the said Hurley. They further alleged, in the alternative, that the defendants had agreed and undertaken to issue true and accurate dockets but that in breach of such agreement they had issued false and inaccurate dockets in the manner previously alleged, and, further in the alternative, the plaintiffs pleaded that the defendants were guilty of breach of statutory duty inasmuch as they were empowered to provide weighbridges in the market at Waterford and to provide for the proper management of the same but had failed and neglected to provide such proper management. And the plaintiffs alleged that they had acted upon the dockets, believing them to be accurate, and had thereby suffered loss and damage. They claimed £500 damages.

The defence put in issue the material allegations in the statement of claim, and the defendants alleged that if the dockets in question were issued, they (the defendants). were unaware that a lesser quantity of wool than that specified in the dockets, or no wool at all, as the case might be, had been weighed. The defendants further pleaded that if the said Hurley was unreliable, fraudulent, or incompetent they were unaware of the fact. They also alleged contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiffs, and pleaded that, if Hurley were employed by them, as alleged, the acts complained of were not done by him in the course of such employment, and that he was not acting within the scope of such employment, and that the acts were not authorised by them.

The action was tried by Hanna J. without a jury. The further facts are sufficiently stated in the judgment of Hanna J.

Hanna J. :—

This is a case of importance to public or market authorities having public weighbridges.

I have no difficulty as to the facts in this case. I find that Hurley and Woolfson agreed to swindle the plaintiffs, Woodman and Matheson. The plan of the swindle was that when Woolfson had wool to sell to the plaintiffs, Hurley, who was the weighman at the Corporation weighbridge of the defendants in Waterford, would issue bogus weigh dockets for loads, most of which he had never seen and had not weighed, inserting in the dockets the imaginary weights given to him by Woolfson, these dockets being then presented by Woolfson to the...

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