27 February 2019 by and Dispute Resolution Alert

Back to basics – locus standi in litigation

Locus standi in iudicio concerns “the sufficiency and directness of a litigant’s interest in proceedings which warrants his or her title to prosecute the claim asserted”, and should be one of the first things to establish in a litigation matter.

In Four Wheel Drive Accessory Distributors CC v Leshni Rattan NO 2018 JDR 2203 (SCA), the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) scrutinised the locus standi of the appellant, the powers of the court a quo to venture outside of the issues raised on the papers, as well as whether leave to appeal should have been granted at all.

Firstly, the facts. Mr Rattan delivered his motor vehicle to the Land Rover dealership in Umhlanga for repairs. He signed an agreement between himself and Land Rover Experience Rentals CC (a non-existent entity – and not the appellant) for the use of a courtesy vehicle. Two days later another courtesy vehicle (owned by Land Rover SA – also not the appellant) became available, and was delivered to Mr Rattan, who signed a document identical to the first agreement. In terms of the agreement, Mr Rattan was obliged to return the vehicle in the same condition as he received it. Mr Rattan was shot and fatally wounded whilst driving the vehicle, and as a result of his demise, did not return the vehicle.

The appellant sued the executrix of Mr Rattan’s estate for breach of contract and claimed the cost of the repairs to the vehicle (which was riddled with bullet holes and had to be retrieved from the police).

The evidence led before the court a quo did not establish a sufficient or adequate interest in the vehicle entitling the appellant to claim damages from Mr Rattan’s estate. The appellant was not the owner of the vehicle and could not convince the court of its version that Land Rover SA had concluded an oral lease agreement in terms of which the appellant bore the risk of loss and damage to the vehicle. The SCA considered the requirements for locus standi, being that the appellant must have an adequate interest in the subject matter of the litigation; the interest must not be too remote; the interest must be actual; and the interest must be current (not hypothetical), and concluded that the court a quo rightly found that the appellant had failed to establish locus standi.

Irrespective of having found that failure to prove locus standi was dispositive of the entire action, the court a quo went to great lengths to analyse whether the agreement between Mr Rattan and the appellant was against public policy and contrary to the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, even though these issues had not been raised in the pleadings. The SCA expressed its dissatisfaction with the court a quo for introducing issues on its own accord, and emphasised that a judgment must be confined to the issues before the court. The SCA went even further and warned that “when a judge intervenes in a case and has recourse to issues falling outside the pleadings which are necessary for the decision of the case and departs from the rule of party presentation, there is a risk that such intervention could create an apprehension for bias.”

In a final paragraph, the SCA felt obliged to mention that leave to appeal should not have been granted in the matter. Leave should only be granted when there is a “sound, rational basis for the conclusion that there are prospects for success on appeal.” In light of the failure to prove locus standi, there was no reasonable prospect of an appeal to succeed. The parties were put through the unnecessary expense of the appeal which should have been avoided.

What do we take away from this case? It is always worth analysing the basics before rushing into court.

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