Winding Up Petitions and Cross-Claims

I came across the unreported case of Josu Engineering Construction Sdn Bhd v TSR Bina Sdn Bhd [2013] MLJU 279 where Mary Lim J made a very thorough analysis of the issue of cross-claims and winding up petitions.This is a rare case where a cross-claim was successful in grounding an injunction to restrain the presentation of a winding up petition, even though the section 218 notice was based on a judgment debt.

There is a seemingly inconsistent position as to whether a genuine cross-claim (which exceeds the initial debt) is sufficient to oppose a winding up petition or to even ground an injunction to restrain the presentation of a winding up petition but this case carefully dissects the different Malaysian appellate authorities as well as other authorities from other jurisdictions.

BRIEF FACTS

The facts in Jose Engineering are important in understanding why the High Court allowed the injunction to restrain the presentation of a winding up petition. The Plaintiff and Defendant were earlier involved in litigation against each other in two different cases, and for ease of reference, I will call them the First Suit and the Second Suit.

In the First Suit, the Defendant succeeded in its counterclaim against the Plaintiff and then issued a section 218 notice seeking for payment under the counterclaim. There was an application filed for a stay of execution but with no hearing date fixed yet.

In the Second Suit, the Plaintiff in turn had obtained a judgment with damages to be assessed by the Senior Assistant Registrar. This was a final judgment as it was upheld by the Court of Appeal and leave to the Federal Court was dismissed. The assessment of damages had yet to be fixed for hearing and with the Plaintiff claiming that it had filed its bundles of documents and had prepared its witness statements. The Plaintiff’s contention is that its claim under the Second Suit judgment would far exceed the quantum of the First Suit’s counterclaim which was claimed in the section 218 notice.

LEGAL PRINCIPLES

The High Court’s analysis of the different authorities ran the gamut from the Malaysian cases of Pontian United Theaters Sdn Bhd v Southern Finance Berhad [2006] 1 CLJ 1067 (C.A.), People Realty Sdn Bhd v Red Rock Construction Sdn Bhd [2008] 1 MLJ 453 (C.A.) and Zalam Corporation Sdn Bhd v Dolomite Readymixed Concrete Sdn Bhd [2011] 9 CLJ 705 (C.A.) (where all the cross-claim arguments were dismissed) to the Singapore Court of Appeal cases of Metalform Asia Pte Ltd v Holland Leedon Pte Ltd [2007] SGCA 6 and Pacific Recreation Pte Ltd v SY Technology Inc & Another Appeal [2008] SGCA 1.

In general, where a debt is undisputed, an injunction to restrain the presentation of a winding up petition is generally refused. And a judgment debt is a clear undisputed debt. However, the High Court found guidance in the Singapore Court of Appeal Metalform decision which allowed an injunction to restrain the presentation of the petition even based on an undisputed debt due to the cross claim. The Singapore Court of Appeal rejected the New Zealand test of having to show that the winding up petition is “bound to fail.” In cross-claim cases, the appropriate test in allowing such an injunction that “there is a likelihood that the petition may fail or that it is unlikely that a winding up order would be made.”

APPLICATION

The High Court noted that unlike the facts before the Court, the earlier Malaysian cases did not involve a cross-claim in the nature of an interlocutory judgment. While the Defendant had a final judgment through the counterclaim, the Plaintiff was also armed with an interlocutory judgment which was also a final judgment. It was only the quantum of damages which had to be assessed. The cross-claim was therefore found to not only be genuine but also bona fide.

The injunction was allowed in restraining the presentation of the petition but on terms that the Plaintiff pay the full judgment sum to its solicitors to be held as stakeholders pending the assessment of damages.

CONCLUSION

This case, and the various authorities referred to in the decision, demonstrate the high threshold to be met in allowing a cross-claim to effectively defeat the right of a judgment creditor to present a winding up petition. This is understandable since the judgment creditor already comes armed with an undisputed debt through the judgment and has a statutory right to present a winding up petition. Whether the petition will be allowed at the hearing is another issue altogether. In litigation, the allegation of a cross-claim is sometimes only raised once the section 218 notice is presented and a cross-claim, exceeding the judgment sum, is cobbled together in order to try to prevent the presentation of the winding up petition.

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