Woman awarded $1.5-m after court rules that Transport Authority breached her constitutional rights
KINGSTON, Jamaica – A woman was awarded $1.5 million after a Supreme Court Judge found that her constitutional right to her property was breached when members of the Transport Authority of Jamaica unlawfully seized her motor vehicle document.
Claudette Ellis, through her attorney-at-law Travis Ebanks, claimed that on or about January 19, 2015, members of the Transport Authority “unlawfully, maliciously and/or without reasonable and/or probable cause seized the motor vehicle documents for her motor vehicle.”
It was further alleged that to date the said motor vehicle documents have not been returned to her.
According to court documents, Ellis indicated that between January 19, 2015, to June 8, 2015, she made numerous requests to the Authority for the return of her documents, but this was not done. As such, Ellis claimed that she was unable to operate her motor vehicle “to earn an income.”
However, in the defence filed on March 23, 2016, then-managing director of the Transport Authority, Donald Foster stated that the Authority had no knowledge or record of any documents with the registration number Ellis provided being seized on January 19, 2015, “or on any other occasion by any of the servant and or agents of the defendant (the Authority).”
Foster went on to further state that by way of a letter dated March 30, 2015, the Authority wrote to Ellis’ then attorneys-at-law and denied the allegations that the Transport Authority had seized and detained the documents.
“Notwithstanding the denial, as a gesture of goodwill, the defendant advised the claimant’s then attorneys-at-law that the defendant would be willing to replace the claimant’s log book and reprint the claimant’s road licence,” the court document said, adding that “as a further gesture of goodwill, by way of a letter dated June 8, 2015, the defendant wrote to the Tax Administration of Jamaica and requested that the motor vehicle registration certificate for the motor vehicle in question be reissued.”
However, despite finding it appropriate to award Ellis the $1.5 million for vindicatory damages, which is the justification for awards of damages in cases involving an award of damages that could not easily be rationalised by reference to principles such as compensation, the judge did not find it appropriate to make a separate award for exemplary damages in the circumstances.
The civil matter was heard in the Supreme Court on April 19, July 14 and November 3, 2023.
Reacting to the judgement, Ebanks told Observer Online that “The claim was brought in the tort of detinue [an action to recover for the wrongful taking of personal property] against the Transport Authority and while the court agreed with us that our client had made an unconditional and specific demand that her motor vehicle documents be returned to her, the court, unfortunately, disagreed with us that the Transport Authority refused to comply with our client’s demand for her property to be returned to her.”
“However, notwithstanding the court ruling that our client has not proven her case in detinue, the court agreed with us that our client’s constitutional right to her property was infringed on by the Transport Authority, an agency of the State and therefore awarded her vindicatory damages and for that we’re grateful,” he added.