Supreme Court: Man who claimed solicitors’ private detective threatened him and his family loses appeal

A man who claimed, inter alia, that law firm McCann FitzGerald hired a private detective who threatened him and his family, has had his appeal dismissed by the Supreme Court. The man sought damages for nuisance, and alleged that the actions of McCann Fitzgerald and a number of other solicitors firms amounted to a breach of his constitutional rights; however his claim in the High Court was struck out for being frivolous and vexatious. Delivering the judgment of the three judge Court, Chief Justice Susan Denham found no error in the judgment of the High Court and dismissed the appeal accordingly.


The claim brought by Mr Edward O’Neill arose out of a dispute between Mr O’Neill and Statoil (U.K.) Limited concerning an allegation by Mr O’Neill that Statoil authorised him to act as its agent in the negotiation of oil supply contracts, and that Statoil is indebted to him in respect of a considerable amount of money.

McCann FitzGerald was retained by Statoil to acts as its solicitors in this dispute, and consequently sent to Mr O’Neill correspondence on behalf of Statoil, which stated that Statoil believed that his claim was entirely without merit.

In the present proceedings, Mr O’Neill’s complaints were in relation to the actions of McCann FitzGerald when acting as solicitors for Statoil.

High Court

In January 2011, Mr O’Neill instituted High Court proceedings against McCann FitzGerald Solicitors, Brian Lynch & Associates Solicitors, Orla Cullinan Solicitors, and Timothy Doyle by way of plenary summons, claiming a range of remedies, including damages for nuisance, breach of constitutional rights and orders for discovery.

In the High Court, Mr O’Neill submitted that:

  • McCann FitzGerald engaged in a conspiracy with the other defendants to deny him his entitlement to the monies he claims.
  • McCann FitzGerald engaged a private detective whose activities are threatening him and his family.
  • McCann FitzGerald co-ordinated efforts with the other defendants to make fraudulent allegations against him in the United States of America.
  • In March 2011, McCann FitzGerald brought an application seeking orders, pursuant to the Rules of the Superior Courts and the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court, striking out Mr O’Neill’s claim on the grounds that the allegations raised by him in his plenary summons and statement of claim disclosed no reasonable cause of action and were bound to fail; and that they were frivolous and vexatious, and an abuse of process, and ought to be struck out.

    In considering whether the proceedings should be struck out, Justice Hedigan referred to the test in Bernadette Ennis v. Colm Butterly 1 I.R. 426, the principles of which were summarised as follows:

    • Where no reasonable cause of action is disclosed.
    • Where the proceedings are frivolous and vexatious.
    • Where the claim is clearly unsustainable.
    • In striking out Mr O’Neill’s claim, Justice Hedigan noted that no reasonable cause of action arose out of McCann FitzGerald having acted on the instructions of Statoil to vigorously defend Mr O’Neill’s claim; that solicitors have every right to engage the services of a private investigator, which is common practice in litigation; and that McCann FitzGerald was entitled to communicate with Statoil’s US lawyers, and that there is no basis upon which Mr O’Neill could claim that they should not have engaged with the firm.

      Appeal to the Supreme Court

      The matters raised by Mr O’Neill on appeal included, that:

      • McCann FitzGerald and the other defendants engaged in a conspiracy in order to deprive Mr O’Neill of a sum of money which Mr O’Neill alleges is owed to him by Statoil.
      • McCann FitzGerald hired a private detective who threatened him and his family.
      • McCann FitzGerald and other defendants colluded and communicated with lawyers in the United States of America, to devise allegations of fraud against Mr O’Neill.
      • McCann FitzGerald had knowledge of certain information concerning Mr O’Neill, which it ought to have disclosed to the High Court, which would have had a bearing on the decision of the High Court had it been brought to its attention. In this respect, Mr O’Neill contends that there was a “breach of duty of candour or full and frank disclosure” by McCann FitzGerald.
      • Addressing the claim that they had knowledge of information concerning Mr O’Neill that should have been disclosed in the High Court, McCann Fitzgerald submitted that this argument should have been made in the High Court, and that in any event there was no reason to believe that this would have impacted Justice Hedigan’s ruling.

        Justice Denham stated that the issue for the Court was whether Justice Hedigan had erred in the High Court by striking out Mr O’Neill’s claim.

        Finding no error in the judgement, Justice Denham dismissed the appeal.

        • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News
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