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Judge throws out $900,000 Morgan’s Point clean-up claim

Remediation work at Morgan’s Point (Photograph by Simon Jones)

A claim that the Ministry of Finance owed a sanitation firm more than $900,000 for clean-up work at Morgan’s Point has been thrown out by a judge.

Hunt’s Sanitation Services, run by Nelson Hunt, claimed it was owned $908,766 for remediation and clean up work it had carried out without a contract in 2011 and 2012.

The claim was made last year after Magistrates’ Court found Hunt’s Quarry Services and Hunt’s Food and Supplies owed the Ministry of Finance a combined $326,727 in unpaid social insurance payments.

Mr Hunt launched his legal action to ask for payment for the remediation work in the wake of the judgement.

But Puisne Judge Larry Mussenden said the claim had been lodged outside the six-year time limit and Mr Hunt’s mistake was not a reason to extend it.

Mr Justice Mussenden said in his ruling that Hunt’s Sanitation Services was asked by the Ministry of Public Works to carry out remediation works at the Southampton site on a “cost and charge” basis.

The work was needed to clear the site in advance of construction of the $2 billion Caroline Bay resort project, led by Mr Hunt and businessmen Brian Duperreault and Craig Christensen.

Hunt’s Sanitation Services was not awarded a contract for the remediation work, but the court heard the company started work on the site in June 2011.

The Ministry of Public Works verbally told the company to halt its work in December that year, but it continued.

The company sent the Government an invoice for $774,368 in February/March 2012.

The Permanent Secretary at the ministry later recommended a retroactive payment of $226,570, but the proposal was rejected by the then Minister of Finance.

The Permanent Secretary sent a letter to Mr Hunt in February 2015 and confirmed the Government had no evidence of an agreement with the company for the work and was satisfied it was under no obligation to pay.

But the company argued that visits to the site by the Minister of Public Works and his representatives indicated Government approval, despite the lack of a contract.

On January 20, 2020, Magistrates’ Court found that Hunts Quarry Services owed the Ministry of Finance $139,659 in social insurance payment benefits for the period between January 2012 and August 2019, while Hunts Food and Supplies owed $188,907 for the same period.

Mr Hunt’s legal action was launched after the Magistrates’ Court ruling.

But the Ministry of Finance sought to have Mr Hunt’s claim struck out as it was filed more than eight years after work was completed - outside the legal limit of six years.

Michael Scott, counsel for Mr Hunt, said his client had received a 2013 e-mail from the Permanent Secretary that had left him with the impression that Government intended to pay for the work.

He said that Mr Hunt only became aware that the sum would not be paid when he received the January 2015 denial letter, and that the six-year statute of limitations should start from then.

Mr Scott added the Magistrates’ Court action had triggered the right to counterclaim, and that the Ministry had acted “unconscionably” in refusing to pay for the work.

But Mr Justice Mussenden found the six-year time period started at the end of March 2012.

He said: “The Limitation Act 1984 sets the time limit for suing on a debt, namely the plaintiff had six years from the date on which the date occurred in which to bring an action.

“It follows that the primary limitation date for commencing any claim would be March 2018.”

Mr Justice Mussenden said that the claim was unsustainable and it would be an abuse of process to allow it to continue.