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Court upholds claim for payments of sum owed by applicant in a case of contractual obligations for services rendered, with analysis regard diverging views on the actual role undertaken. This was decided by the Court of Magistrates on the 26th of June 2024, where Dr. Malcolm Mifsud appeared on behalf of plaintiff Saviour Camilleri. The Court was presided by Magistrate Marse-Ann Farrugia.

In his application, plaintiff requested to be paid the sum for 5,900EUR as a balance due to him for works relating to interior design for a commercial premises in Rabat, alongside accrued interest. In 2012, Camilleri provided services to Borg, but was never duly paid for the works and services executed.

In his statement of defence, Borg contended that no amounts were due since works were not completed nor carried out, and even if they had, excessive and unrealistic amounts were demanded. Defendant filed a counterclaim asserting that certain amounts had to be recovered because obligations were not fulfilled, along a claim for additional expenses and damages caused by the delay of the premise’s opening. The plaintiff argued that works were carried out as agreed upon in relation to designing the premises, producing a document for tender, and the bills of quantities. Witnesses in Court corroborated this view as argued by the plaintiff, implying that obligations were fulfilled.

The parties concurred that the defendant had engaged the applicant to provide services relating to the commercial premises. Moreover, they agreed that the sum due for such works amounted to a total of 7,700EUR, excluding tax, 2,360EUR already being paid.

However, conflicting views arose with regard to facts of the case. The Court commenced by making reference to caselaw and held that when it is faced with conflicting versions it has to look at credibility, and only when this cannot be determined on a balance of probabilities, should the maxim actore non probante reus absolvitur be applied.

The Court analysed the term turnkey, recognising that it was one of the main issues disputed between the parties. The parties had different opinions regarding the role assumed by the plaintiff. In the plaintiff’s affidavit, it was explicitly stated that the contract was not signed because the applicant refused to operate as a turnkey. The Court further elaborated that this term implies that, had the contract been one as the defendant contended, upon completion of works, plaintiff would have simply returned the key to the defendant will all works completed. However, the amount payable, being that of 9,086EUR, could never indicate that execution of works were carried out. Furthermore, the Court maintained that the role of the plaintiff was not that of a turnkey, since the parties had agreed that estimated prices for works could be obtained from contractors. This was further substantiated by the fact that the defendant regularly sent contractors to obtain plans from the plaintiff.

Another divergent opinion arose with regard to payments. Camilleri requested payments due for completed obligations. Noteworthy that the payment requests were split for specific transactions. From the evidence presented, both through evidence submitted in court and a tender vis-a-vis contractors, designs and plans relating to four of the payments were carried out by the applicant. If the plans and designs had not been produced, it would not have been logical for the defendant to send a contractor to the applicant to obtain such plans. The claim for the seventh payment was denied, seeing that this was for supervision, however, it was maintained that the relationship between parties terminated prior to the start of works hence supervision could never be carried out.

As for the defendant’s contention that amounts were excessive because he managed to negotiate on a lower amount with a third party, the Court relied on the principle of pacta sunt servanda and Article 993 of the Civil Code, which expressly holds:

“Contracts must be carried out in good faith, and shall be binding not only in regard to the matter therein expressed, but also in regard to any consequence which, by equity, custom, or law, is incidental to the obligation, according to its nature”.

The mere fact that that after termination of the relationship between the parties to the case the defendant negotiated a lower amount cannot negate the applicant’s right to recover what is duly his, and this is based on the law of obligations.

In light of the aforementioned reasoning, the Court moved to partially uphold the plaintiff’s claim and ordered the defendant to pay 4,720EUR for the works carried out, excluding the amount which was due since supervision was not carried out.

This article may also be accessed on Malta Today.

For more information you can contact one of our Team Members at Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates.