Mr Roger outside of the court room (Photo: JMS Rogers)

Maintenance company owner loses lawsuit against debt collection agency; ordered to pay $7000 in costs

A 45-year-old maintenance company owner was ordered to pay $7000, excluding disbursements, at the Magistrates’ Court under the State Courts after the court dismissed the lawsuit filed for defamation in slander against JMS Rogers, a debt collection company earlier on 30 April.

Lin Mingwei, the sole director and shareholder of Supersonic Maintenance Services Pte Ltd, alleged that the defendant’s employees and/or representatives had hurled defamatory statements against him in front of his staff and clients. Consequently, he filed a lawsuit against JMS Rogers for a claim of S$30,000.

In the judgement summary that was delivered on 14 June, it was decided that the former had failed to successfully prove that the latter had committed slander in a bid to smear the former’s name in his office and entire profession.

Part of the judgement summary, in relation to the case between Lin Mingwei of Supersonic Maintenance Services Pte Ltd and JMS Rogers.

In delivering his judgement, District Judge Lee Li Choon reasoned that the Plaintiff has failed to prove that he has suffered significant and specific financial or monetary loss as a result of the words uttered by the Defendant, adding that the Plaintiff’s case did not fall within the four exceptions stated in two cases:

The video footage and the transcript thereof show that those words were uttered [by the Defendant].

For the purpose of examining this issue, I will accept the meaning of those words to be that the Plaintiff had understood and as pleaded in the Plaintiffs SOC.

It is trite law that no action will lie for slander unless the Plaintiff can prove that he has suffered special damage (see Workers’ Party v Tay Boon Too [1974-1976] SLR(R) 204 at [34]).

This means that the pecuniary loss must be quantified in monetary terms and specifically pleaded.

There are only four exceptions to this general rule where slanders are actionable without proof of special damage.

These four exceptions are as laid down by the High Court in Workers’ Party v Tay Boon Too and as reiterated in the case of John Roberson Gillies.

According to the plaintiff’s claim, the defendant’s representatives had visited his office at WCEGA Tower at 21 Bukit Batok Crescent on Nov 28, 2016 and Dec 5, 2016 respectively during office hours to recover a debt of S$38,000.

The plaintiff further alleged that the defendant’s representatives were shouting in his office and demanding that the plaintiff pay his debts.

The plaintiff said that he asked them to leave.

However, they hurled statements in Hokkien that the plaintiff had perceived as insulting, such as “lao ah gua” (old homosexual) and “le kiam lang lui mai heng” (you owe people money but do not want to pay up).

According to the claim, the debt collection company’s employees had been stirring trouble for 30 minutes. At the time, more than 10 employees in the office, as well as a business partner of the company, and a customer of the company were present. All of them had witnessed the alleged defamation taking place.

The plaintiff’s lawyers pointed out that the representatives of JM Rogers made slanderous accusations against the plaintiff in public, including insulting him and accusing him of dishonesty, risking his personal and professional reputation.

Consequently, the plaintiff’s lawyers sought to obtain S$30,000 and a court order prohibiting the defendant and its representatives from making any further controversial statements against Lin Mingwei.

The defendant’s lawyers argued in defence that their client’s representatives did not use defamatory words, although they admitted that the defendant’s company was commissioned by Manifield Design Consultants to recover a debt of $38,000.

The defendant’s lawyers argued that the plaintiff’s interpretation of the allegedly slanderous words was not the same as that which was understood by the defendant’s representatives, and that the statements were not meant to be conveyed to others.

The respondent also believes that the maintenance company’s default on the debt is true, so accusing him of owing money should not constitute a defect.

In response to the respondent’s rhetoric, the prosecution countered that the staff of the debt collection company had spoken out loudly at the time, and the purpose was to convey it to others, and the meaning of the content was clear.

JMS Rogers posted on their Facebook page, arguing that their use of “ah gua” was contextual:

What’s the definition of “ah gua” [?] Everybody has a definition of their own […] It can means a casual term […] a “name” but it is not [necessarily] defined as defamation. If all [of the] people who owe money start using this as a attack point, does that mean that you don’t have to pay the amount of money you owe?

Netizens were overwhelmingly supportive of the debt collectors, as reflected in their comments in response to the court case.

User Jazinta Bala wrote:

“Well, the fact is, as a debt collection company, the job requirement is to collect debts from the company that owes the company whom hired you… Rather than complicating things by filing for defamation, they should resort to a compromise on how to settle the dues owed by them…”

Andriani wrote:

“Nowadays if people owe money, just by getting a lawyer and attempt[ing] to start a defamation lawsuit, I can have a slight chance [at] not [having] to pay and get away with it …”

Danny Quek commented:

“Own money and ah gua are 2 different issue[s],
Some “ah gua” have better integrity than those [who don’t repay their debts]….”

Shaun Tan wrote:

“Seriously if everyone [is] like him. Then no need [to] pay lo. All debt collection company can close down better.”

Suresh Belle commented:

“Got money to sue, but got no money to settle his debts meh?”

On 14 Jun this year, JMS Rogers posted an update regarding the case on their Facebook page:

“Simon Lim [Li] sued our company in relation to JMS Rogers for defamation and lost in the Magistrates Court. He has to pay us $7000 costs excluding disbursements. The judgement was delivered today on 14 June 2018. Thanks to our lawyers, Rakesh Vasu and Nevinjit Singh of Gomez & Vasu LLC.”