1.By a notice of motion dated October 21, 2021, the defendant/ applicant sought the following orders; -a.Spent.b.Spent.c.That this honourable court be pleased to set aside the judgment delivered on July 15, 2020 against the defendant/ applicant and all consequential orders be set aside and the defendant/ applicant be granted unconditional leave to defend this suit.d.That the costs of this application be in the cause.
2.The application is based on the 5 grounds thereof and on the applicant’s supporting affidavit sworn on even date. The applicant avers that he was never served with summons or any pleadings in the matter. He further claims that in the case of substituted service; the onus was on the process server to mandatorily affix a copy of the process on the outer door or some other conspicuous part of the house, where the party ordinarily resides or carries on business or personally works for gain. He thus maintained that there was no proper service carried out as required by law hence the ex-parte judgment entered was irregular and ought to be set aside.
3.He further maintained that the suit as filed is res judicata, the same having been finally determined by the Rongo Principal Magistrate’s Court in ELC Case No 43 of 2018 vide a judgment delivered on January 15, 2019, which has never been appealed against, set aside or varied.
4.He deposed that he had a good defence which raised triable issues and urged the court to allow the application and grant him an opportunity to defend the suit against him on merit and in the interest of justice.
5.The applicant also filed a response to the replying affidavit; which he erroneously named a replying affidavit instead of a supplementary affidavit. He faulted the alleged substituted service by way of advertisement since the same did not conform to the provisions of order 5 rule 17 of the Civil Procedure Rules. He also annexed a copy of the decree marked “SOO1” in support of his claims that the suit was res judicata.
6.The application was opposed. The plaintiffs/ respondents filed a grounds of opposition dated September 19, 2022 and a replying affidavit sworn on November 2, 2022 by the 1st respondent on his own behalf and on behalf of the 2nd respondent. He deposed that the applicant had duly been served with the summons, pleadings, orders and all the relevant processes, by a substituted means of advertisement. That the said service was pursuant to the requisite leave of the court and before any proceedings in the matter.
7.It was his claim that the court upon being satisfied that service was proper and sufficient; the case proceeded for hearing and judgment was entered on merit in their favor. He therefore maintained that the said judgment was regular.
8.It was further his contention that the application was overtaken by events, the decree in question having been executed and the suit land jointly registered in their names on September 30, 2021 before the filing of the instant application.
9.On the issue of the suit being res judicata as raised by the applicant; he averred that the said allegations were incorrect and unsubstantiated and no evidence had been adduced in support of the same. It was his view that the application had been filed in bad faith and urged the court to dismiss the same with costs.
10.The application was canvassed by way of written submissions. Both parties filed their respective submissions and referred to several decisions, which I have read and considered in arriving at my decision.
Analysis and Disposition
11.I am of the considered view that the main issue arising for determination is whether the application dated October 21, 2021 is merited on account of: -
I.Whether the suit herein is res judicata
12.The applicant contends that the suit as filed is res judicata; that the dispute herein was heard and determined by the court in Rongo Principal Magistrate’s Court ELC Case No 43 of 2018 vide judgment issued on the January 15, 2019. The said dispute was between the same parties and in respect to the same subject matter. It is his claim that the said judgment has never been appealed against, set aside and/or varied todate.
13.The respondents on the other hand dismissed the said allegations as being incorrect and unsubstantiated. They maintained that no evidence had been adduced to prove the said allegations.
14.The doctrine of res judicata is defined and provided under section 7 of the Civil Procedure Act, which states as follows: -
15.The doctrine of res judicata essentially implies that, the matters directly and substantially in issue in the present suit must be similar to those previously in dispute, between the same parties and the same having been heard and finally determined on merits by a court of competent jurisdiction. It is aimed at ensuring that there’s an end to litigation.
17.The applicant contends that the suit herein was heard and determined by the court in Rongo Principal Magistrate’s Court in ELC No 43 of 2018; that the subject matter is similar in both suits and further that the dispute is between the same parties. It is important to note that other than stating that judgment in the previous case was delivered on January 15, 2019; the applicant has not provided any evidence in support of the said averments; no pleadings, proceedings or judgment was adduced in evidence. Be that as it may, I will proceed to analyze the 4 elements of res judicata.
18.Firstly, the matter in issue must be directly and substantially in issue in the former suit. A close look at the decree annexed herein and marked “SOO1”; the plaintiffs/ respondents claim is for an order of nullification of title deeds, the rectification of boundary thereof and the register records. They further sought for permanent injunction, restraining the defendant from further trespass into the suit land.
19.I have also looked at the originating summons herein dated April 17, 2019 and I note that the same is primarily centered on the issue of adverse possession. Thus, even though the dispute is over the same subject matter and between the same parties, the issues in both suits are fundamentally different. As stated in the Maina Kiai case (supra), all the elements of res judicata must be proved conjunctively, in this regard, I find that the present suit is not res judicata.
20.In the alternative and without prejudice to the foregoing; i have also noted that the claim herein is premised on the issue of adverse possession. I seek to reiterate that the court in Rongo Principle Magistrates’ Court is not vested with the requisite jurisdiction to determine a claim of adverse possession by virtue of section 38 of the Limitations of Actions Act. Hence, it cannot be said that the matter was heard and finally determined by a court of competent jurisdiction.
21.In conclusion, I find that the issue of res judicata does not arise.
II. Whether there was proper service of the summons and pleadings in the matter upon the applicant
22.The issue of service goes to the root of any ex-parte judgment; where the court is satisfied that there was no proper service, it has the discretion to set aside and/or vary any ex-parte judgment entered and all the consequential orders thereto.
23.It is the applicant’s claim that he was never served with the summons or any pleadings in the matter and denied the alleged service by substituted means. It was further his contention that the process server was duty bound to affix a copy of the substituted process on the outer door or some other conspicuous part of the house; where he ordinarily resides or carries on business or personally works for gain.
24.The respondents on the other hand maintained that the defendant was duly served with the summons, pleadings, orders and all the relevant processes by substituted means of advertisement. He further stated that the matter only proceeded for hearing upon the court being satisfied that there was proper service. He annexed the copy of the order directing service by alternative means and said service notices.
25.Order 5 rule 17 provides the law on substituted service and states as follows: -
26.I have carefully looked at the court record and I note that on July 8, 2019, my Predecessor, Ong’ondo J. granted leave for the defendant to be served by way of substituted service. Pursuant to the said order, the plaintiffs herein served the defendant through an advertisement on the Standard Newspaper. Mr Agure Odero, who previously had conduct of the matter consequently filed an affidavit of service sworn and dated on July 19, 2019, outlining the details of the said service and further annexed a copy of the newspaper notice.
27.Substituted service by way of advertisement in a newspaper shall be deemed as proper service where the same has been allowed by the court. I have looked at the said Standard Newspaper Notice on the Standard Newspaper and I am satisfied that indeed there was proper service, the same was in accordance to the provisions of order 5 rule 17(4) of the Civil Procedure Rules.
28.I have also looked at the proceedings of July 22, 2019 and December 10, 2019 and I note that the learned judge Ong’ondo J. proceeded with the matter only upon being satisfied that there was proper service upon the defendant and subsequently issued directions on the disposal of the suit. I therefore find that the judgment entered on the July 15, 2020 was a regular judgment.
III. Whether the defendant/ applicant has made out a case for setting aside the ex parte judgment delivered on July 15, 2020 and all consequential orders
29.This court retains unfettered discretion in determining whether or not to set aside such a judgment. The grounds for setting aside an ex-parte judgment are well settled and the court in exercising the said discretion ought to consider the circumstances of each case. The court in the case of Mbogo v Shah 1968 E.A 93 held as follows: -
30.The applicant avers that he has a good defence which raises valid triable issues and that the same ought to be canvassed at the full hearing. He further stated that the salient issues raised in the suit ought to be addressed by way of full trial.
32.I have looked at the annexed draft replying affidavit dated January 12, 2022 in response to the originating summons herein and I note that save for his confirmation that the plaintiffs have been in possession and occupation of the suit land, the same is marred with blanket denials. The applicant has further raised the issue of res judicata which I have already discussed hereinabove.
34.In view of the foregoing; I find that the applicant has not presented a justifiable explanation and/or basis to warrant the grant of the orders sought. The annexed replying affidavit does not raise bonafide triable issues and further he has not provided any justifiable explanation for the inordinate delay.
35.The upshot is that the notice of motion dated October 21, 2021 is not merited and I accordingly dismiss the same with costs to the plaintiffs/ respondents. It is so ordered.