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Court orders Co-op Bank to pay Valma Jessamy $170, 000.00

Valma Jessamy – ended up victorious in court against Co-op Bank

Environmentalist, Dr. Valma Jessamy is $170, 000.00 richer after a Master of the High Court on February 19 ruled in her favour in a case involving the Grenada Co-operative Bank Limited (GCBL).

Master Jan Drysdale ordered the bank to compensate Dr. Jessamy and her Jessamy Environmental Consulting & Research Caribbean Incorporated company for defamation and breach of contract over an issue involving a number of cheques that it returned from her account.

It was the first time that a local court is known to have delivered such a judgment against a major bank on the island.

Dr. Jessamy’s husband, attorney-at-law, Jerry Edwin filed the case against the bank on September 22, 2014 while Co-op Bank was represented by the law firm Lewis & Renwick.

As a public service, THE NEW TODAY highlights some of the main points covered by Master Drysdale in her ruling:

DECISION ON ASSESSMENT

[1] Drysdale, M.: The matter for consideration is the appropriate measure of damages for an action in defamation and breach of contract.

Background

On 22nd September 2014, the Claimant instituted proceedings against the Defendant for defamation and breach of contract. The claim was subsequently amended on 6th March 2015.

The Claimant alleged that by agreement in writing that the Claimant maintained an overdraft facility with the Defendant. During the period May to June 2011 whilst the account had the requisite funds the Defendant wrongfully and maliciously dishonoured 14 cheques and marked the same with the words ‘return to drawer’. Consequently, this communicated to its creditors that the Claimant was not credit worthy.

The Claimant also asserts that one of those wrongly dishonoured cheques was prominently displayed at a place of business with the words ‘return to drawer’ written thereon. As a result, the Claimant’s reputation was irreparably damaged which resulted in loss of business.

The Defendant failed to defend the claim and judgment in default was entered against it. Subsequently upon an application to the High Court the request for default judgment was set aside. This however was reversed upon appeal and the default judgment was restored.

Accordingly, the sole issue for determination is the quantum of damages that the Claimant is entitled to for the publication of the defamatory material.

In support of his claim for damages the Claimant filed one witness statement and submissions. The Defendant filed two witness statements and submissions opposing the level of damages claimed. All witnesses were cross examined.

A summary of the evidence of the witnesses is contained hereunder.

SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE

The Claimant’s Evidence

The Witness for the Claimant Dr. Valma Jessamy evidence is as follows:

i. That she is a Director or the Claimant. The Claimant is the oldest environmental firm in Grenada dealing in expert environmental consulting. The Claimant has had several regional and international clients from 1997 to date.

ii. The Defendant knew that the Claimant carried on the business as an expert environmental engineering consulting firm as the Defendant was in possession of inter alia the profile of the Claimant as well as copies of contracts.

iii. On 14th April 2011 the Defendant agreed to provide the Claimant with overdraft facility in the amount of $5,000.00. The period of operation was to commence 14th April 2011 and end 12th May 2011.

iv. Due to certain circumstances the Defendant’s Deputy Manager agreed to extend the facility beyond May 2011 .

v. From May 13, 2011 to 24 May 2011 the Defendant honoured 8 cheques.

v. However, from 25th May 2011 to 10th June 2011 the Defendant dishonoured 14 cheques all the while continuing to charge the Claimant at the rate of 15.5% the interest rate for the overdraft facility. Further some of the cheques dishonoured were for relatively small sums.

vii. The Defendant knew the negative impact that such an action would have had on the Claimant.

viii. That the Claimant became aware of the wrongful dishonour of its cheques in August 2011 when a member of the Grenada Association of Beekeepers which entity had received a cheque dishonoured by the Defendant informed the Director of the Claimant of the same.

xi. The Executive Secretary of the Association did not believe that the Claimant was in funds and therefore accompanied the Director of the Claimant to the Defendant’s offices where a request was made to prove that the Claimant was liquid enough to cover the cheques issued.

x. Upon ascertaining that there were enough funds in the account the Director of the Claimant and the Executive Secretary attended the office of the Manager of Corporate Credit of the Defendant to seek an apology but that the Manager refused to meet with them. To date no apology has ever been issued.

xi. To date 4 of the 6 vendors to whom the dishonoured cheques were made payable have refused to accept cheques issued by the Claimant.

The remaining two companies only resumed accepting cheques from the Claimant upon the Claimant presenting certain documents to prove that the Claimant was in good financial standing.

a. That he is unaware of the Claimant being the oldest environmental consulting firm in Grenada or the Claimant hosting any lectures or seminars.

b. That the Claimant is the registered trade name of Dr. Valma Jessamy.

c. That the Claimant applied for a short-term loan of $5,000.00 for 30 days to assist with the execution of a new landscape contract to be executed in two phases from April to December 2011.

d. There is no signed letter signifying an agreement to the terms of the offer made for the overdraft facility. Therefore, there was no contract between the parties.

e. Cheques which were presented after May 12th were honoured when the account was put in sufficient funds by the Claimant to facilitate this.

f. One cheque wherein the words ‘refer to drawer’ were impressed thereon was not for insufficient funds but because the cheque had been defaced.

g. The Defendant did not charge the Claimant an interest rate of 15.5%. The interest rate was 14.5% with an additional 1% for any balance over the limit.

h. The Defendant made every effort to facilitate the Claimant. There was no malice or ill will when the cheques were dishonoured because of the Claimant’s failure to honour the offer letter dated 14th April 2011 for an overdraft facility.

i. The Claimant’s acceptance of the terms of the offer was a requirement for the creation of an overdraft facility.

(To be continued)

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