It is exactly two months since Judge Kennedy Peabody of Civil Law Court ‘A’ affirmed a jury’s guilty verdict of US$884,762 as damages against National Contracting Company, (NCC), an Indian run entity, but the company is yet to adhere to the court’s order for payment and doesn’t seem ready to do that anytime soon.
This is because the company has chosen the steps to appeal against the judgment, with the intention not to pay the money to Augustine Quioquio, chief executive officer of the Global Group, a Liberian company that filed the lawsuit in 2020.
NCC initially rejected the jury verdict, and filed a request for new trial, claiming that the earlier verdict was contrary to the weight of evidence adduced during the trial.
However, Judge Peabody denied the new trial request, and demanded that the money must be paid, which cannot happen now, thereby leaving Quioquio to fend for himself.
According to Judge Peabody, out of the US$884,762, the amount of US$75,000 as special damages, US$500,000, as general damages for mental anguish, suffering, pain, inconveniences, embarrassment, and psychological injuries NCC caused to Quioquio, and US$209,762, as the full contract amount, since NCC breached the contract.
The case grew in February 2020, when the defendant, NCC, subcontracted a specific portion of the project for excavation of slots, piling, stub setting assembly, reinforcement, to Global Group. Later, the defendant terminated the contract on June 22, 2020 by an email, and informed Quioquio that they have already allotted towers 39 and 40,to M/S K-Line, another Indian company, as the new subcontractor.
The decision then prompted the Global Group to file the lawsuit before the Civil Law Court, where he sought the US$884,762 as damages.
Before the termination of the contract, the Global Group argued that it created the amount of US$75,000 from several institutions and individuals and purchased materials and equipment for the implementation of the project.
Meanwhile, in Judge Peabody’s judgment, he said, as a result of the termination of the contract, those who loaned Quioquio the money decided, out of fear, to complain the Global Group CEO to the police who arrested him, handcuffed him and had him jailed in a cell.
Judge Peabody however said in the ruling that the termination of the contract was illegal because during the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of emergency, the work on the project was stalled.
Judge Peabody said further that the contract was consummated on February 3, 2020. “Historically, it tells us that the pandemic had hit the country in the month of March 2020.”
Because of the pandemic, Peabody said, residents of Liberia including the NCC itself, knew and are aware of this fact that the pandemic was beyond the control of mankind.
“This was an act of God, force majeure, which is defined as a superior force, an event or effect that can be neither anticipated nor controlled,” according to the judge’s ruling.
Interestingly, and in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, Peabody said, President George Weah pursuant to the powers granted him by Article 86 of the Liberian Constitution, declared the existence of a state of emergency in 2020.
Peabody also explained that the state of emergency prohibited gathering of people in groups and barred certain individuals and institutions from work.
“There is no showing in the testimonies and documentary evidence that NCC was one of the institutions allowed by the state of emergency, to go to work, but rather it obtained a permit for TRANSCO CLSG and not for Global Group,” Peabody’s ruling said.
“Under the state of emergency, certain rights and privileges were suspended and measures taken, including quarantine of persons confirmed to have the virus, restricting the movement of people and entities from going to work.”
According to Peabody, Global Group CEO Quioquio, during the trial, produced as evidence photos of him being handcuffed and placed in a common jail.
“Which NCC did not deny, and the plaintiff rented pickups, equipment, build and the materials purchased amount to US$75,000,” according to Peabody. “Therefore, this court says special damages were established and proved as a result of the jury verdict.”
According to Peabody, the plaintiff produced as evidence photos of him being handcuffed and placed in a common jail, which the defendant did not deny.
He said the Supreme Court held that this is entitled to general damages.
“It is undisputed from the records that the CEO of Global Group was handcuffed and jailed as the direct result of the termination of the contract, because he had earlier loaned money from institutions and individuals, and the contract was the guarantee to paying back the creditors,” Peabody noted. Unfortunately, when the creditors heard that the contract had been terminated, they took the CEO to the police, where he was jailed and publicly humiliated.
The court adjudged the defendant liable in the action of damages for wrong, according to the judge.
Therefore, Peabody ruled, “the clerk of the court is hereby ordered to issue a writ of execution and have the same placed in the hands of the sheriff to have the defendant pay US$284,762 as special damages, US$500,000 as general damages. The clerk is further ordered to issue out a bill of cost, and have same tax by the counsel for the defendant, and place same in the hands of the sheriff for the said taxation and thereafter have the defendant to satisfy same, failure of which execution must be issued"
In his lawsuit, the Global Group chief argued they cleared and cleaned around four towers out of the ten towers and mobilized equipment, materials and manpower.
Quioquio also argued that they constructed two of the ten towers with blinding lights and made an effort to get a loan from Guaranty Trust Bank (GT Bank). But the bank needed a letter of confirmation from the defendant. Surprisingly, the defendant deliberately delayed sending the letter until the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed Liberia, followed by the pronouncement of the state of emergency, which slowed down, strangulated the granting of a loan and to speedily complete the work on schedule.
According to the plaintiff, not only did the defendant delay the letter to GT-Bank, but the letter was sent without a letterhead which GT-Bank did not honor.
This testimony was not denied by the defendant, according to Peabody's judgment.
The Global Group boss said “the delay in the implementation of the project was attributed to the insurgence of COVID-19 and the state of emergency which plaintiff cannot take responsibility for. because COVID-19 was a natural phenomenon by God and that plaintiff took significant steps prior to the pandemic to implement the contract.”
According to the plaintiff, while it was performing at the project site, the defendant e-mailed it on May 8, 2020, threatening that if the towers #39 and 40 were not completed on time, the defendant would award the contract to an Indian Company.
He claimed that because of the defendant’s threat, he wrote to defendant on March 30, and May 7, 2020 respectively requesting an extension of time due to the pandemic, and as well, the state of emergency by the government, and requested the defendant to secure advance 10% of the project fund so as to procure additional materials and to communicate with CEMENCO and Sethi Brothers for credit facility for materials for construction but the defendant refused.
“I secured a loan outside of the bank and began implementing the project, Surprisingly, the defendant unilaterally, summarily terminated the contract without notice, as against section 24 subsection of the agreement, and the defendant used its remaining materials on the project site,” he said.