Background

In Dzekova v Thomas Eggar LLP,QB, September 2015, the claimant's solicitor issued a negligence claim against TE, only a few days before the expiry of the limitation period within which the claim had to be brought. Prior to service at the defendant's Gatwick office, the claimant's solicitor had telephone TE, and spoken to the managing partner's personal assistant (PA), HF.  He asked HF for confirmation of TE's "principal place of business". Whilst HF admitted that the claimant's solicitor had mentioned service of document, she did not know what "principal place of business" meant, and did not realise that TE was being sued or that this was a matter of formal service of a claim form.

HF asked whether the documents were confidential; C's solicitor said that they were. HF suggested that the claimant's solicitor should send the documents to the Gatwick office. The documents arrived at the firm's Gatwick office (which both parties accepted was not the principal place of business) two days before the expiration of the four-month validity period of the claim form. TE applied for an order setting aside service of the claim form and dismissing the claim. The Master held that HF had given an address for the purpose of service of proceedings within CPR 6.8(a), and had authority to bind TE. TE appealed that decision.

Judgment

Stewart J allowed TE's appeal, holding that HF had not provided an address for service "for the purpose of being served with the proceedings" within the meaning of CPR 6.8(a), and, in any event she did not have the relevant authority to bind TE in that regard. (There was no suggestion that the Gatwick office was the principal place of business of TE so as to make service valid under CPR 6.9 – the claimant having accepted that it was not).

Stewart J held that an address which "the defendant [gives] for the purpose of it being served with proceedings" was a term of art. It was not, in his opinion, an address where a PA, not knowing that proceedings are to be served, gives for serving confidential documents.

In any event, Stewart J held that HF did not have authority to bind TE, either actual or ostensible. Where HF had no authority to give an address for service, the fact that she was the managing partner's PA, and had tried to be helpful, did not mean she had ostensible authority.

Comment

The decision illustrates the danger of issuing and attempting to serve a claim form just days before the substantive limitation period expires.  Arranging for effective service can take some time. Where limitation is or may be an issue, it is imperative to obtain from an authorised representative of the opposing party an address for service or, if that cannot be done, the claim form must be served at one of the addresses listed in CPR 6.9.