(CMR) The Court released its 13-page written judgment from Judge The Honorable Justice Robin McMillan on Thursday afternoon giving his reasons for setting aside the default judgment against Cayman Marl Road's Sandra Hill. The court found that a “material irregularity in the granting of the original default judgment” was fatal to the entire process from that point on.
“Crucial evidence in relation to how the Default Judgement was proceeded upon and obtained was not adduced by the Plaintiff under circumstances where the Plaintiff had a legal obligation to adduce it”
McMillan accepted all of the grounds submitted in the November 2 Summons – which essentially acts to do away with the judgment. Now that the default judgment has been set aside the CI$105,000 judgment for damages by Acting Judge Carter will also be set aside.
The defamation case was brought against Hill in 2019 by John Felder, formerly of Cayman Automotive and Leasing who alleged that several articles written on CMR's website were libelous. Principally, he claimed that he had not been fired as was alleged by the articles. He also claimed that using the term “fraudster” to describe him was defamatory as he was a well-respected businessman.
The lawsuit was served on Hill who did not file a defense against it despite indicating that she intended to do so. A July attempt to have the matter set aside by Hill herself was unsuccessful based on a technicality. However, in November Kyle Broadhurst from Broadhurst Attorneys-at-Law reapplied to have the default judgment set aside on several grounds which the court accepted.
Priestley's Attorney's-at-Law did not serve the Statement of Claim outside the timeframe required by the Grand Court Rules. During the hearing they accepted that it was “an administration error” despite having several occasions to engage Hill's attorney prior to the hearing. They argued that despite the error the court should ignore it because their client would “suffer significant prejudice” if the judgment was set aside.
They went on to argue that Hill had suffered “no prejudice” because of their error. The judge's position was clear where he stated:
“With great respect to the Plaintiff, this is an over-simplification”.
Priestley's continued during the course of several hearings to not disclose the irregularity to the court. The error was discovered by Broadhurst after Hill retained legal counsel in September 2021. The court noted:
“A material irregularity has arisen and no effort has been made to correct it before the Default Judgment was both sought and obtained”.
Felder's attorneys blamed the earthquake in January 2020 for the oversight but the Judge noted that:
“While a major earthquake may well justify an application for an extension of time … it cannot justify taking no action at all and, even if unintentionally, leaving a material irregularity both uncorrected and unknown to the Court”
Acting Justice Carter then issued a substantial judgment against Hill of $105,00 based on a technical basis “without any hearing on the merits”. Realizing the gravity of the situation Justice McMillian noted:
“If the Defendant's recently appointed attorneys had not made enquiry of the Plaintiff's attorneys a full account of these events might never have become known.”
Felder had several attorney's from the firm including David Lewis-Hall and James Dixon.
In August 2021 Hill attempted to settle the matter with the plaintiff after the judge suggested the parties go away and do their best to dispense with the matter amicably. Copied on that correspondence was Partner Daniel Priestley. Not only did they refuse to settle the matter but they also threatened additional litigation should Hill share the documents in her possession that proved the initial publications were not defamatory.
Speaking to CMR on Thursday Hill shared:
“This is quite an important lesson for me. Attorneys will not always get it right nor will they always do the right thing. A self represented person is at a disadvantage and should seek legal counsel. I am most grateful for the team at Broadhurst for their attention to detail and desire to see the right thing done. Having this judgment done away with is a significant burden lifted. I thank the judge also for his consideration of the relevant facts.”
Hill was made to take down the articles as part of the default judgment. However, now that the judgment has been set aside all articles can be restored on the website.