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Court sets aside contempt suit against Nigerian Bottling Company

By NAN
01 December 2021   |   3:14 pm
Justice Ambrose Allagoa of a Federal High Court, Lagos has set aside a committal proceedings by Rite Foods Ltd, against the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) over allegations of trade mark infringement.

Gavel PHOTO:Getty Images

Justice Ambrose Allagoa of a Federal High Court, Lagos has set aside a committal proceedings by Rite Foods Ltd, against the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) over allegations of trade mark infringement.

The court set aside the suit, while delivering ruling on the various motions filed and argued by the respective parties on Wednesday.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Rite Foods had initiated a contempt proceeding against NBC and its management, over issues bordering on alleged infringement on the Lion head trademark of its “Fearless” energy drink.

The substantive passing-off suit was filed by the plaintiff, before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke sometime in March in suit No: FHC/L/CS/92/2021.

The plaintiff alleged that the defendant had infringed on its trademark with its Predator energy drink, by adopting a Lion head similar to same mark on its Fearless energy drink brand.

The plaintiff claimed that it has been trading with the lion image since 2017 before the NBC’s Predator drink came into the market in 2020.

It, therefore, consequently, sought an exparte order before Justice Aneke, restraining the defendants from passing off on its energy drink, in a manner capable of infringing on its brand.

Justice Aneke consequently, dismissed the order.

NBC on its part, had filed an appeal, and accordingly, applied for a stay of proceedings before Justice Aneke, in order to await the outcome of the appeal.

Worried by the non-compliance with the interim order of the court, the plaintiff then initiated a contempt suit, before Justice Allagoa, seeking committal proceedings against the defendants for alleged disobedience of court orders.

The alleged contemnors on their part also filed motions before Justice Allagoa, seeking an order dismissing the contempt proceedings in its entirety.

They had argued that the committal suit cannot be enforced since the orders of Justice Aneke had already been discharged on Sept. 27.

NAN reports that at the last adjourned date on Nov. 15, the court heard arguments from the respective counsels to the parties, who moved, adopted and argued their motions.

The court consequently reserved the ruling for Wednesday Dec. 1.

Delivering its ruling the court held:

“I have perused the processes filed pursuant to the two applications and argument of counsels, and it is noted that the two motions brought by the first and second contemnors/applicants seeks for an order setting aside the committal proceedings in its entirety.

“All parties are in tandem in conceding to the fact that the interim orders of an injunction based on which the plaintiff seeks to commit the defendant for contempt, has been discharged by the court that granted the order.

“That order was discharged by my learned brother, Justice C.J Aneke on the 27th day of Sept. 2021.

“Whereas, the plaintiff/respondent argued that this court can punish for contempt for the period of the orders, the defendants/applicants argues otherwise.

“I am in agreement with the principle of law that a committal proceeding by its nature is a legal enforcement mechanism used to mandate the compliance to a validly existing and enforceable order, undertaking or directive of the court.

“The foundation for any committal proceedings is, therefore, a disobedience of a valid, existing, and enforceable order of the court.”

Relying on a judicial authority as held by Justice Tobi JCA, the court said that a committal proceeding must proceed against a valid judgment against the person who are alleged to be in contempt of court.

It held that if there was no such valid judgment, you cannot rely on the court to hold them in contempt.

“The question in the instant case, therefore, is whether the order of my Lord Justice C.J Aneke having been vacated on Sept. 27, is still enforceable to warrant this court to punish the alleged contemnors of the vacated order.

“My answer is that this court cannot; I am in agreement that it is trite law that the discharge or setting aside of an order of court automatically by implication, qualifies such order as a nullity or void ‘ab initio.’

“Without much ado, the motion filed by the alleged contemnors on Oct. 15 and Oct. 18 has merit.

“Consequently, the committal proceedings as initiated by the respondents against the defendant/applicant, is hereby set aside in its entirety including the issuance of all court processes and forms used by the plaintiffs in commencing the proceedings.

“This is the ruling of the court,” Allagoa held.