A direct relationship establishes a juridical relationship

The involvement of a third party in a contract of works puts in doubt the juridical relationship between the parties

The involvement of a third party in a contract of works puts in doubt the juridical relationship between the parties. This was held in Rasem Al Soulaiman v Marija Caruana, Adrian Busietta and Castello dei Baroni Limited decided on 5 May 2021 by the Court of Appeal presided by Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff.

The case is a debt recovery case where the plaintiff askedthe court to order the defendants to pay him €5,422.30 for works he had carried out at Castello dei Baroni. In his evidence the plaintiff testified that he was engaged to paint, and to lay tiles. The works were carried out together with Arsenio Agius of Arsenio Projects. In fact, he gave the quote to Agius and a deposit of €4,000 was given to Agius. There was a balance due for the work which was carried out. The plaintiff admitted that the tiles were stained after a liquid was absorbed. All levels were dictated by defendants.

Marija Caruana disagreed that the works were carried out professionally. She explained that she engaged Agius, but at the time in 2011 and 2012 he was busy and had recommended the plaintiff and other workmen. She was not satisfied with the works. They took too long to complete and her architect picked out a number of deficiencies. The defendants’ manager also pointed out that he received a number of complaints from guests and from the catering staff on the level of the works.

The Magistrates’ Court dealt with the pleas raised by the Defendants. The first plea was that there was no contractual relationship between the parties, since the contract was made with Agius. The Magistrates Court held that the evidence produced concerned more the quality of works carried out than the commercial relationship. The Court quoted from Burmarrad Commercial Limited v Desmond Mizzi et decided by the Court of Appeal on 28 February 2007.  The Court has to examine the evidence to see whether the parties had a juridical relationship. There was no written agreement and Maria Caruana held that the arrangements were made with Agius and not the plaintiff. The plaintiff held that he had met Maria Caruana and she had asked him for a quote. She only accepted to pay the deposit if Agius was present.

The Magistrates Court held that it was convinced that the main contractor was Agius and the evidence showed that the defendants’ contractual relationship was with Agius and it did not accept that the agreement was made with the plaintiff directly. Caruana held that Agius had subcontracted the plaintiff to carry out the works. In Edward Sullivan v Paul Mifsud et decided on 11 October 2002 the First Hall of the Civil Court held that a subcontract does not exonerate the contractor from his responsibilities.

The Magistrates Court upheld the plea that there was no juridical relationship between the parties and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim.

The plaintiff appealed this judgement and complained that the Court was wrong to decide that there was no juridical relationship between himself and the defendants. He said it was true that he was introduced by Agius and a meeting was held at Castello dei Baroni. They had discussed the works that had to be carried out and Caruana had asked for a quote. The quote was given by Agius because he knew the defendants well. The plaintiff insisted that the contract was between himself and the defendants.

The deposit was paid and Agius was only a witness. It was the plaintiff that carried out the works. He also complained that there is no evidence of a subcontract. All payments were given to Agius and he then passed on the payment to the plaintiff and this is because both sides trusted Agius. Agius was not involved in the works at all. Caruana had also given instructions directly to the plaintiff and made complaints to him.

The defendants rebutted the appeal by saying that the plaintiff only carried out a part of the works, since the project was larger and Agius was contracted to do all the works. They always discussed these works with Agius, although other workers carried out these works. They pointed out that the quotation was given on Agius’s letterhead.

The Court of Appeal put emphasis on an email sent by the defendant to Agius stating “I know you, not the others” and thus showing who the defendants considered the contractor to be. The Court also took into consideration that it was Agius who sent the quotation to the defendants.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the Magistrates Court that the plaintiff did not have a juridical relationship with the defendants and dismissed the appeal.