Tom Longstaff secures mandatory injunction to ensure essential items are returned to NHS staff

April 8, 2020

Tom Longstaff from Exchange Chambers, instructed by Joanne Shelley of Glenville Walker and Partners, has secured a mandatory injunction via remote video hearing to ensure that essential clothing and linen is returned to NHS workers and individuals at high risk of COVID-19.

In Laundrapp (OPS) Limited v (1) The Dry Cleaning Business Limited (2) JSP Dry Cleaning & Laundry Limited, the Claimant was the owner of ‘Laundrapp’ – a mobile application which offers laundry and cleaning services – which it recently purchased from the administrators of Laundrapp Limited.

The previous owners of Laundrapp had operated a supplier agreement with the Defendants, which the Claimant initially intended to continue, but subsequently decided to terminate for commercial reasons.

In response, in the early hours on 30 March 2020 the Defendants wrote to the Claimant stating that they were retaining a large volume of clothing and linen which had been due for collection between 30 March 2020 and 31 March 2020.

As a condition of release, the Defendants insisted that the Claimant immediately paid all sums that were due, including for the work presently being undertaken. The Claimant’s position was that payment was not yet due on the agreed terms, and would be made in due course.

As a result of the Defendants’ purported ‘lien’ (a right to keep possession of property belonging to another person until a debt owed by that person is discharged), the Claimant was placed at risk of breach of contract with its customers, which included NHS workers and individuals at high risk of COVID-19.

The Claimant instructed Glenville Walker and Partners and applied, on an urgent basis and on short notice the Defendants, for a mandatory injunction compelling the Defendants to deliver up the items of property which belonged to its customers.

The Claimant’s position was that the Defendant had no right to exercise a lien, and in any event, applying the well-known principles established in American Cyanamid Co Ltd v Ethicon Ltd [1975] AC 396, the balance of convenience pointed in favour of granting the relief sought given the impact of the Defendants’ actions on innocent third parties. 

The matter came before HHJ Eyre QC by way of remote video hearing on 3 April 2020 and the outcome was as follows:

  1. It was appropriate to abridge the time for service of the application. The Defendants had effectively been on notice of the Claimant’s application since 30 March 2020 and had been served with it on 2 April 2020 before deciding not to attend the hearing or file any witness evidence. Further, the circumstances of this case, including the government lockdown and the urgent nature of the application, were good reasons for the court to exercise its discretion to abridge time for service.
  1. Whilst at this stage the court did not need to make a final determination as to whether the Defendants were entitled to exercise a lien over the goods, it could be satisfied that where commercial parties were involved in a dispute and one party purported to exercise a lien over goods belonging to an innocent third party, particularly members of the public affected by the current crisis, the balance of convenience pointed in favour of granting an order for immediate delivery up.

HHJ Eyre QC therefore granted the Claimant’s application and made an order for immediate delivery up on condition that the Claimant paid into its solicitor’s client account the sums which it said would eventually be paid to the Defendants, such funds to be released either on the date the Claimant said payment was due, on the agreement of the parties, or further order of the court. 

Commenting on the judgment, Tom Longstaff said:

“This ruling ensured the return of clothing and linen to NHS workers and those at high risk of COVID-19.

“It affirms that the American Cyanamid principles apply in applications for a broad range of interim relief, including applications for immediate delivery up of goods at the pre-action stage of litigation.

“It also endorses the argument that where a commercial organisation purports to exercise a lien over goods which belong to an innocent third party, the balance of convenience will normally fall in favour of ordering the immediate release of those goods, irrespective of whether there remains a dispute as to whether a valid lien has arisen. Importantly, the Defendant can be compensated in damages if it be later found the mandatory injunction should not have been granted.

“This case is also an illustration of how the courts are conducting hearings during the ongoing government lockdown. HHJ Eyre QC heard the Claimant’s application by remote video hearing that was without a suitable recording facility. A hearing in private was therefore permitted pursuant to CPR r.39, and the Claimant’s solicitors were ordered to take a detailed note of the hearing and upload it to CE-File so that there was a record of what had occurred. That approach demonstrates the pragmatism presently being adopted by the courts to ensure that hearings such as this can still be accommodated, notwithstanding the ongoing situation.”