HOW S'PORE JUDGE CLEMENT TAN THREW OUT ACS PARENT'S LAWSUIT OVER CONFISCATED IPHONE

Case Number : District Court Suit No. 841 of 2017, DC/SUM 1082/2017
Decision Date : 28 April 2017
Tribunal/Court : District Court
Coram : Clement Julien Tan Tze Ming

Counsel Name(s) : Mr Andrew John Hanam (M/s Andrew LLC) for the Plaintiff; Mr Alphonso Ang Cheng Ann / Ms Cheah Shu Xian (M/s A.Ang, Seah & Hoe) for the Defendant.

Excerpts of Judge Clement Julien Tan Tze Ming's Judgment:

"24 Having regard to the above principles, my view is that the defendant should not be held liable in the tort of conversion. I accept the plaintiff’s submission that by confiscating the Phone for a period of three months, the defendant would, in effect, be exercising temporary dominion over it. However, it cannot be said that the defendant formed an intention to act inconsistently with the plaintiff’s rights to the Phone in that the defendant’s refusal to return the Phone was unconditional and unjustifiable. The defendant deposed in his affidavit dated 24 April 2017 (the “defendant’s Affidavit”) that the Phone would be returned to the Plaintiff’s son on 20 June 2017, in accordance with school rules. This is an unambiguous acknowledgment by the defendant of the plaintiff’s rights to the Phone.

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25 Further, it is undisputed that the plaintiff’s son flouted the Phone Rule by using the Phone during school hours. By confiscating the Phone, the defendant had merely sought to enforce the Phone Rule, which he had authority to do. All proper procedures were also adhered to in the lead up to the confiscation of the Phone. The defendant’s evidence is also that the Phone Rule is applied consistently and uniformly across the student body and that there is no reason for the plaintiff’s son to be treated differently. On this point, I note that whilst the plaintiff took issue with the harshness of the punishment in his email of 21 March 2017, the plaintiff did not raise any issue with the reasonableness of the Phone Rule in these proceedings. Hence, I accept that the defendant’s refusal to return the Phone until 20 June 2017 is justifiable.

26 I also disagree with the plaintiff’s assertion that he is not bound by the school rules. The plaintiff does not deny knowledge of the Phone Rule or the 3 January Letter. If the plaintiff took issue with the Phone Rule, the plaintiff could have enrolled his son in another school. Surely, as the defendant counsel submitted, by continuing to let his son study at the School, the plaintiff would have either expressly or impliedly agreed that his son would abide by the School’s disciplinary policies and rules. Whilst the plaintiff stopped short of asserting that his son is not bound by the school rules, this appeared to be the upshot of his submissions. The plaintiff’s position is, in effect, that since he is not bound by the school rules, neither is his son and therefore the confiscation of the Phone by the defendant was wrongful. Such a position is, in my view, untenable.

27 In addition, I also noted that the plaintiff appears to have taken inconsistent positions. The plaintiff’s first request for the return of the Phone was by way of his email dated 21 March 2017. In the said email, the plaintiff wrote, amongst other things, that his son “has assured me that he will not break this rule again”. This appears to be a concession by the plaintiff that his son had flouted the Phone Rule and also an acknowledgment that his son has to abide by the Phone Rule. This is at odds with the position the plaintiff has taken in this application.

28 The plaintiff has not established any special circumstances in the present case. In the circumstances, I am of the view that this is not a clear case for which an interim mandatory injunction should be granted. Whilst this would have been sufficient to dispose of the case, I would, for completeness, address the other arguments that were canvassed before me.

36 I largely agree with defendant counsel’s submissions that any injustice to the plaintiff would be confined to the loss of use of the Phone for 3 months for which, as explained above, damages would be quantifiable and provide an adequate remedy. Conversely, if this mandatory injunction were to be granted and it turns out to have been wrongly granted at the end of the day, the plaintiff’s son would have been wrongly and unfairly spared the consequence of flouting the Phone Rule.

I accept that there may be a risk that until the matter is fully and finally disposed of, the School may be faced with demands from parents or guardians for the return of confiscated phones. This may also send a wrong signal to the students that they can use their mobile phones during school hours with impunity, thus rendering the Phone Rule otiose, however temporarily this might be so. To this extent, I agree that there may be some “loss of school discipline and principal’s authority” in the School.

Conclusion

37 In light of the above reasons, I dismissed the plaintiff’s application with costs."

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