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Colonial Cases

Docter v. Hall, 1899

[breach of contract]

Docter v. Hall

Supreme Court for China and Japan
Hannen CJ, 2 February 1899
Source: North China Herald, 6 February, 1899

Shanghai, 2nd February.
Before Sir Nicholas J. Hannen, Chief Justice.
  In this case Alexander Docter, an American citizen, sued defendant, H. E. Hall, butcher and provision merchant of Shanghai, for the recovery of Tls. 250 said to be due in respect of clerical assistance and advice rendered in certain legal proceedings instituted against the defendant.
  Neither party was represented by counsel.
  The hearing was delayed nearly twenty minutes through the non-appearance of the defendant, who on being questioned as to the cause of his delay merely observed that "times differed" and that "it was hard to get through the streets."
 Plaintiff, in opening his case, read the petition and answer. In the former it was alleged that Mr. Hall went to him and that the amount claimed was a reasonable remuneration for the services rendered. Defendant, in his answer, admitted applying to the plaintiff and paid Tls. 75 into Court as an adequate settlement of his indebtedness.
  Plaintiff was sworn and deposed that on the 16th of November Mr. Hall came to him and said he was being sued by three different people and that he wanted plaintiff to do the necessary clerical work and to advise him so far as he was able. Witness replied that he was not a n attorney and as it was a matter of importance the defendant had better engage an attorney.  Defendant remarked that he had seen several attorneys who had refused to take up his case, and that if he would do the necessary work he would pay him well. Witness drew up various papers, forms, letters, etc., and in the early part of December sent Mr. Hall a bill for Tls. 250. Mr. Hall objected to its payment, but witness pointed out that what he had done involved a lot of hard work and expenditure of time which he could otherwise have profitably employed. Mr. Hall agreed to pay but added that if he lost the cases he would have no funds and that he would negotiate a loan to settle.
  On the 29th of December plaintiff wrote saying he would wait no longer and that he would not do any more work. He had in addition to attending to these three particular cases attended to issues in the Mixed Court, written a number of letters and in all occupying the best part of his time for 43 days. In reply to Mr. Hall, the witness said it was a fact that he had no fixed scale of charges, but he did not remember tendering a bill for Tls. 200.
  Mr. Hall, addressing his Lordship, said that the plaintiff gave him to understand that he was being pressed for money in respect of a transaction in shares and could he let him have Tls. 200 which would see him out. He also wanted him (the speaker) to lend him certain title deeds to raise money on. It was understood between them that the charge should be a reasonable one. He (Mr. Hall) looked upon what the plaintiff had to do as ordinary office boy's work.
  Mr. Hall was subsequently sworn and in the course of a rambling statement admitted that when he sought the plaintiff's counsel he did not ask his charges. Docter had been employed by him previously to collect bills and he had always found him honest.  In this particular matter, however, he promised to charge witness reasonably, when he sent in a bill for Tls. 200 he replied that it was an exorbitant figure. Docter then told him that he wanted money and attempted to satisfy his requirements at the expense of his title deeds and if he (Mr. Hall) had been "a little more lunatic" he would have had them, but he thought it better to put them in his pocket when he left the plaintiff's room.
  Cross-examined by Docter - He did not say that if he succeeded in raising money sufficient to pay his Court fines and other claims made against him should they be sustained that Docter would get his Tls. 250.
  His Lordship in giving judgment said - This is in reality a suit by Mr. Docter against Mr. Hall for services rendered in certain suits brought against Mr. Hall in this Court and it appears from the note of what was done ought to have been done by a solicitor. For such work Mr. Docter is not entitled to recover in this Court.
  There are certain things contained in the list of services rendered by Mr. Docter which I think are amply covered by the Tls. 75 paid into Court. I therefore give judgment for the defendant with costs, and the money paid into Court after deducting Mr. Hall's costs and the Court fees will be paid to the plaintiff.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School