A High Court ruling today has given a temporary reprieve to about 150 workers employed by 911 Retail Ltd in food service outlets at 32 Esso fuel stations across Ireland.
Esso Ireland Ltd and its subsidiary Ireland Roc Ltd, which runs Esso service stations, had sought injunctions against 911 Retail Ltd alleging it is trespassing on the fuel stations' premises following alleged expiry on June 20th last of operating licence and/or concession agreements to operate food service facilities there. 911 retail has operated such facilities for some 11 years at the fuel stations.
The injunctions were sought pending the hearing of the main action by Esso and Ireland Roc against 911.
Both companies argued 911 Retail had no real defence to their case but it insisted it had a defence on grounds including it was entitled to one year’s notice of termination of its agreement and remained in lawful occupation, as no such notice had been served.
Today, Mr Justice Peter Kelly said he would refuse the injunctions sought on grounds because, apart from the loss and inconvenience they would inflict on 911 Retail, it would also mean 150 employees would lose their jobs. For whatever period 911 Retail remains on the Esso premises, at least those persons will continue to be employed, he said.
“In the current dismal economic climate, the making redundant of another 150 persons is not something I would wish to bring about, save in compelling circumstances.”
Esso and Ireland Roc had been unable to demonstrate the continued presence of 911 at its premises would inflict irreparable damage on them and had accepted, in terms of the balance of convenience, they could not make a case more persuasive than that advanced by the defendant, he noted.
They also had no other tenant ready to move in or take over the operation being carried on by 911 Retail, and leaving it in situ would mean a continuing income stream for the plaintiffs via the contractual arrangements between the parties, the judge said.
In those circumstances, he would exercise his discretion to refuse the injunctions sought.
Earlier the judge said he believed, given existing case law, that 911 Retail faced an uphill struggle in successfully defending the case on the grounds advanced but said he could not find the defences were so frivolous, vexatious or unstatable as to have no prospect of success.
He also noted the plaintiffs had said, if an injunction were granted, they would be sympathetic to a three-month stay being placed on it. As it would be possible to have the full trial in a timescale of just over three months, granting the injunction sought now would effectively decide the entire matter at the interlocutory stage, without giving the defendant the opportunity to make a case in full.
In all the circumstances, he was refusing the order subject to the court’s directions aimed at having a speedy trial being scrupulously observed and to 911 retail continuing to discharge its obligations to the plaintiffs.