Cornwall Council has successfully applied to have a breach of contract claim brought by a care provider struck out just as a trial listed for five days was about to start.
In Devon and Cornwall Autistic Community Trust v The Cornwall Council  EWHC 403 (QB) the claimant – trading as Spectrum – provides care and residential accommodation to adults with autistic disorders in Cornwall and other parts of the West Country.
The trust is one of a number of suppliers used by the council to fulfil its statutory duties. Cornwall pays a fee to any supplier of such care and accommodation by reference to the needs of and care provided to each individual service user.
The claimant alleged that the council had underfunded services the trust had provided to eight named service users since at least from 2006.
Each service user was the subject of a contractual arrangement between Spectrum and the council through which the claimant agreed to provide the necessary care and accommodation.
However, the agreements did not stipulate the amount of money to be paid in respect of such provision. Spectrum was entitled to be paid a reasonable price for the services provided. It argued that the council had not paid this reasonable price but rather some lesser figure.
Proceedings were issued in July 2012. However, Cornwall maintained throughout that it had paid Spectrum the fees agreed for the placements and no evidence of under payments had ever been provided.
Immediately prior to the date that the case was scheduled to go to trial (18 February) Cornwall applied for the claim to be struck out. The council argued that:
- The claim had no reasonable prospect of success; and
- Spectrum had failed to provide details of the sums allegedly owed and comply with court orders.
Granting the council’s application, Mr Justice William Davis noted that certain correspondence produced by the claimant provided “no evidence to show that Spectrum was not being provided with reasonable recompense, rather the reverse”.
The judge concluded: “Given the witness evidence and the accompanying documents served by the claimant I am quite satisfied that the prospects of success for this claim are illusory.
“Although it is very late in the day for the court to reach that conclusion, I am sure that it is a proper use of the court's power to exercise its summary jurisdiction even at this late stage. It follows that, irrespective of the striking out of the statement of case, I would give summary judgment against the claimant.”
Spectrum was ordered to pay the council’s costs on an indemnity basis.
A spokesperson for Cornwall said: “We are extremely pleased with this decision which recognises that the Council has paid Spectrum a reasonable amount for the services it has provided.”