Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED August 13, 2003

The issues of fact and of the application of New York law raised by the claim against the first defendant were sufficiently complex for it to be inappropriate to grant summary judgment on either the claim or the defence to it. However the claim against the second defendant had no real prospect of success and was therefore dismissed.Applications for summary judgment by the claimant ('Gulf') and the defendants ('Albaraka' and 'Wachovia'). On 20 March 1999 Albaraka, on the application of its customer ('Solo') opened a letter of credit in favour of a third party ('Simetal'). The letter of credit was negotiable by Wachovia's London branch and Wachovia was authorised to seek reimbursement from Albaraka's US dollar account with Gulf in New York. Wachovia subsequently accepted the documents presented to it by Simetal and made an immediate discounted payment to Simetal under the letter of credit. Albaraka later confirmed to Wachovia that the documents were in order and duly authorised Gulf to honour Wachovia's claim for reimbursement. However, before that claim was received Albaraka cancelled that authorisation and advised Wachovia to withhold payment to Simetal because it suspected that Solo and its associates were involved in fraud. Since Wachovia had already made the discounted payment to Simetal, it refused to refrain from seeking reimbursement. Due to an administrative error on the part of Gulf, Albaraka's cancellation instruction was overlooked and Wachovia's claim for reimbursement was in fact honoured. Gulf debited Albaraka's account with the amount of that payment, but subsequently refunded that sum on learning of its error in making payment to Wachovia in breach of Albaraka's instructions. Gulf demanded repayment from Wachovia, which the latter refused. It subsequently brought an action to recover the payment from Wachovia, or in the alternative, Albaraka. It was common ground that: (i) Gulf had paid Wachovia under a mistake of fact; and (ii) there was at least an arguable case that New York law applied in relation to that mistake. Wachovia contended that the rule of New York law known as "discharge for value" gave it a complete defence to Gulf's claim, whereas Gulf contended that that rule was not available to Wachovia, with the consequence that it had no defence to the claim. Alternatively, Gulf submitted that it was entitled to recover the payment from Albaraka either because it was not entitled to recover from Wachovia, because the payment to Wachovia discharged a liability of Albaraka under the letter of credit or because Albaraka had been unjustly enriched at Gulf's expense.HELD: (1) Both the facts and the law applicable to them were sufficiently complex to make it inappropriate to grant summary judgment on either Gulf's claim against Wachovia or Wachovia's defence thereto. It was at least arguable that New York law applied and under that law triable issues arose between Gulf and Wachovia. (2) Gulf had no prospect of succeeding on any of the grounds advanced in its alternative claim against Albaraka. Accordingly, Gulf's application for summary judgment against Albaraka was dismissed and Albaraka's application for summary judgment against Gulf was granted.Judgment accordingly.