ACTION – DECLARATORY RELIEF(S) – Nature of a declaratory relief; whether a declaratory relief can be granted for wrongful dismissal in a master/servant relationship


“The first issue being contested by the appellant is whether or not in the Master-Servant relationship that existed between parties declaratory reliefs are grantable for wrongful dismissal. Generally speaking, master-servant relationship is the association between one in authority and a subordinate – especially between an employer and an employee. And employer-employee relationship is the association between a person employed to perform services in the affairs of another who in turn has the right to control the person’s physical conduct in the course of that service. See Black’s Law Dictionary 9th edition page 1402. It is clear from the record that the respondent had sought, before the trial Court, for declaration that his purported summary dismissal by the appellant in April 1984 was wrongful and unlawful among other things. Declaratory claims are said to be invitations to the Court to make pronouncement on the legal position of a state of affairs and it is by itself not enforceable in law. Declaratory judgment therefore is a remedy for determination of a justifiable controversy where the plaintiff is in doubt as to his legal rights. It is granted as a judicial discretion only in circumstances in which the Court is of the opinion that the party seeking it is entitled, when all facts are taken into account. As earlier stated, the respondent was a servant of the appellant as the Master. He served the appellant for twenty-two (22) years prior to his said summary dismissal. He considered his dismissal as wrongful and unlawful but wanted the Court to so declare putting all the required and relevant facts before the Court. A wrongful act is characterized by unfairness or injustice. Contrary to law. In the judgment of the trial Court, it was found as follows on page 49T of the records: “In the suit before me, the plaintiff was employed by the Defendant and the conditions of service are as stated in Exhibit “C” – this is the document that binds the relationship between the parties. The Exhibit “C” is a mere condition of service drawn up by the Defendant to guide the employment terms and conditions. My attention has not been drawn to any statute under which the plaintiff is employed. I have not been shown either that the relationship has any statutory flavor. I have no doubt in my mind including that the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant does not go beyond mere Master/Servant relationship.” The Court later found and held that the dismissal of the respondent as defendant was wrongful and unlawful. In other words, the trial Court granted the declaratory relief sought in paragraph 15(a) of the amended Statement of Claim. That is, the respondent’s summary dismissal by the appellant was declared wrongful and unlawful. Generally, it is the practice that a declaratory relief will be granted where the plaintiff is entitled to relief in the fullest meaning of the word. See Guaranty Trust Co. Vs. Hamay (1951) 2 KB at 572, Chukwumah Vs. Shell Petroleum (Nig) Ltd (1993) LPELR 864 (SC). There is no doubt that the trial Court was right in granting the declaratory relief sought by the respondent on the wrongful act of his summary dismissal. The Court below was therefore correct in affirming the grant of the declaratory relief sought by the respondent on his summary dismissal.” Per OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA, JSC in U.T.C. (NIG) PLC v. PETERS (2022-LCER-46526-SC) (Pp 8 – 11; Paras F – E)

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