Judge finds £10.5m claim against council over refusal to allocate housing "totally without merit"

A case in which a man was at one point awarded compensation of £10.5m from a council for failing to house him has been thrown out as “totally without merit” by the High Court, with a civil restraint order imposed to prevent further litigation.

Mr Justice Choudhury also rejected an attempt to have a council legal officer committed for contempt.

The case is identified only as MB v RGB [2020] EWHC 3022 because in an earlier hearing Master Eastman agreed to it being held in private and all documents being confidential.

Choudhury J said: “That strikes me as being quite an extraordinary order to make in circumstances where neither party can be described as vulnerable and there is no obvious reason why open justice should be overridden in this way.” He did not though set it aside as he had not heard argument on this.

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MB was in 2017 evicted from a housing association property for rent arrears of some £11,000 and moved into a hostel in borough RGB.

He applied to RGB for housing and made visits to council offices which were “all highly fraught with the claimant acting in an increasingly aggressive manner towards staff” in one case with police being called, the court heard.

The council eventually decided MB was intentionally homeless due to arrears and his application was declined.

He requested a review but also issued a letter before claim and lodged complaints against various members of staff claiming harassment and bullying during his visits to council premises.

RGB had until 23 October 2019 to file acknowledgement of service and did so on that day believing this to be in time.

But on 30 October the County Court Money Claims Centre issued judgment for MB citing RGB’s failure to reply to the claim.

RGB was ordered to pay MB £10.5m, a step that, “appears to have been taken without any judicial input”, Choudhury J said.

The council appealed but in June 2020 - before this could be heard - MB applied to add an application to commit council legal officer Ms H for contempt for a statement made by her in support of RGB’s application to set aside the default judgment.

In July 2020 MB applied for a freezing injunction to prevent the council incurring any expenditure above £1m without his permission.

RGB then applied for a civil restraint order against MB, who responded by seeking an injunction preventing RGB from taking any further part in the proceedings and to adjourn all further hearings indefinitely. This was rejected by Cavanagh J as “plainly wholly misconceived”.

Dismissing MB’s entire case, Choudhury J said: “The first cause of action is said to be ‘aggravated damages’, however no details are provided as to the conduct that is said to give rise to such damages or to the claims to which they relate. This is little more than a bare assertion.

“The second and third causes of action are said to be 'mental distress’ and ‘harm to dignity’.”

He said that even if either had occurred “there is no basis for saying that this would warrant damages in the sum of several millions of pounds”.

The judge said the underlying complaint was RGB’s failure to house MB but it was “difficult to see how the loss which he or his family have incurred could exceed the cost incurred in spending a few nights in hotels.

“Such wildly speculative claims are not grounded in any of the well-established principles for assessing loss in respect of such matters, and can be said to have been included as, to put it colloquially, 'a try-on’.”

Choudhury J said the “most egregious” of the claims was that for £10.5m for which there was  “no conceivable basis…seeking grossly inflated damages is itself an abuse of the court's processes”.

He said Ms H’s alleged contempt was “about as far from a strong prima facie case of contempt as one could get… there is also no conceivable public interest in permitting contempt proceedings here”. The application for a freezing injunction was "manifestly misconceived”, he noted

Allegations against the council of defamation, emotional distress, breaches of data protection and racism all had no merit whatsoever, the judge said.

Choudhury J said his only proper course was to “strike this claim out so as to avoid any further time or money being wasted on what is clearly an abuse of the court's process”.

Turning to the civil restraint order question, the judge said: “I find that the claimant has persistently issued claims or made applications that are totally without merit. The threshold for the making of an extended CRO has been crossed. This claim and these applications have wasted an inordinate amount of time and costs and are…an abuse of process.”

MB is barred for two years from issuing further claims or applications without the permission of a High Court judge.

Mark Smulian

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