Adjudication: Linked issues formed single dispute

In Whitney Town Council v Beam Construction (Cheltenham) Ltd [2011] Akenhead J gave guidance as to one way of identifying whether or not two separate disputes had been invalidly referred to an adjudicator:

“A useful if not invariable rule of thumb is that if a disputed claim No 1 cannot be decided without deciding all or part of disputed claim No 2, that establishes such a clear link and points to there being only one dispute.”

In that case a claim for a final account and a claim for the financial consequences of termination were ruled part of a single dispute.

In Wycombe Demolition Ltd v Topevent Ltd [2015] an adjudicator awarded £113,666.63, with interest and his fees and expenses due from the employer (“Topevent”) to the claimant contractor (“Wycombe”).

Topevent complained that the adjudicator had no jurisdiction because more than one dispute was referred to him. The adjudicator was addressing both the issue of valuation and, what they said, were separate issues arising out of the termination/cessation of the works, and that they were two entirely separate disputes.

The High Court said it was plain from the Notice of Adjudication that the dispute between the parties concerned the outstanding payment due to Wycombe, following the cessation of works on site.

That payment was made up of a number of elements, including both the value of variations, and the financial consequences of termination and demobilisation.

There was a claim for one final payment comprising all outstanding sums, including the £4,000, for “wrongful termination of contract.” Wycombe wanted one final payment so as to be able to close their books on this contract. That could only be achieved if the adjudicator addressed all their outstanding claims. So there was a clear link between their rejected claim for the cost consequences of the “wrongful termination”, and the overall claim for all sums outstanding. They were not separate disputes.

Secondly Topevent’s representative had written a letter saying that the valuation of Wycombe’s work could not be carried out properly unless the amount of incomplete work was taken into account. That letter made a direct link between those two issues.

Accordingly, both elements of the claimed payment were part of a single dispute. They were simply different components of the total sum in dispute.

Even if there were two separate disputes paragraph 11.1 of the TecSA Rules which were the basis of the adjudicator’s appointment made it clear that the adjudicator could deal with “any further matters which all Parties agree should be within the scope of the Adjudication”.

The disputes concerned with the valuation of the work, and the dispute about termination, were addressed without qualification by both parties during the adjudication.

Indeed, Topevent’s counterclaim of approximately £180,000 was based on the latter. But Topevent had never suggested that the termination dispute should not be dealt with in the adjudication. In fact, they wanted it so decided.

So if were two separate disputes, Topevent’s acquiescence in, and failure to object to, the adjudicator dealing with both disputes, gave him the necessary jurisdiction anyway.

This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not replace the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.