RECENT SUPREME COURT CASES DEC 2017 – FEB 2018 (6 of 6)

Costs

Toh & Anor v Wu & Anor [2018] VSC 36 (12 February 2018) Daly AsJ.

The chronology was –

 

2017                            First defendant commences family law proceeding in Federal Magistrates Court
against her husband.  The plaintiffs in the subsequently issued Supreme
Court proceeding are her in-laws and are registered proprietors of a
property.  Application (not yet determined) to join plaintiffs as parties
to the family law proceeding and to restrain sale of property or have proceeds
of sale retained in trust pending determination of
proceeding.   

28 November 2017   Caveat lodged by first defendant over the property, grounds of claim being “court order under the Family Law Act 1975”.

15 January 2018       Plaintiffs notify intention to issue and issue s. 90(3) application. 

16 January 2018       Service of application and material in support.

18 January 2018       Hearing at which caveat ordered to be removed.  Order that net proceeds of sale be held in trust.  Costs reserved.

29 January 2018        Settlement of sale of property due.

Daly AsJ ordered that each party should bear their own costs of the s. 90(3) application.  Her Honour reasoned –

  1. In removing the caveat the court had not considered whether there was a serious question to be tried.  Although the interest claimed in the caveat was not prima facie a recognized proprietary interest the underlying documents tolerably revealed claims pursuant to a resulting or constructive trust, and the suddenness of the application severely compromised the caveator’s ability to respond.  However, the balance of convenience overwhelmingly favoured removal because of settlement and finance difficulties.  The removal was also influenced by the fact that, having regard to the existing Federal Magistrates’ Court proceedings, it was in the parties’ interests for property interests to be determined in one proceeding, not fragmented across jurisdictions.
  2. Special circumstances warranted the plaintiffs not receiving their costs, namely their failure to warn the caveator of the intended application.  While it would often be unnecessary or impractical to warn of an application, the application here was made some 7 weeks after lodgement of the caveat and only 7 business days before settlement of the sale was due.  The caveator was ambushed.
  3. The caveator’s alleged impecuniosity was irrelevant to the costs decision.

 

RECENT SUPREME COURT CASES DEC 2017 – FEB 2018 (5 of 6)

Whether related VCAT proceedings rendered an application under s. 90(3) an abuse of process. 

Van Klaveren v Otelta Pty Ltd and Ors [2018] VSC 10 (23 January 2018) Daly AsJ.

Save for several interesting ancillary points this was a simple case of a caveat being removed under s. 90(3) because of no serious question to be tried that the caveator still had a leasehold interest claimed in the caveat, nor did the balance of convenience favour relief.  The ancillary points were –

  1. A reminder that the application was interlocutory. Accordingly objections to the admissibility of a solicitor’s affidavits were rejected.  Under Rules of Court evidence in an interlocutory application may be given on information and belief and it “would be unusual, albeit not unheard of, for cross-examination to be permitted on what is really a summary procedure”.
  2. The judge grappled with the argument that the application under s. 90(3) was an abuse of process because there was a proceeding on foot elsewhere. This argument was based on Yuksels Nominees Pty Ltd v Nguyen & Anor [2015] VSC 663 where T. Forrest J had stated that if there is already a proceeding on foot to substantiate the caveat an application to remove the caveat is prima facie vexatious and will likely be stayed.  In that case the caveator had commenced a County Court proceeding not to establish a proprietary interest but for damages and accordingly that application was not stayed.  In this case the lessee while still in possession had commenced a VCAT proceeding in 2016, not yet heard, disputing the right of the landlord to terminate the lease and prematurely claiming relief against forfeiture.  In 2017 the lessor re-entered but the lessee did not seek a hearing for relief against forfeiture although this relief remained in the Points of Claim.  At interlocutory hearings, in one of which an application for an injunction to restrain sale of the property was refused, VCAT members treated the claim as being only for damages and refused leave to amend to assert the lease was still on foot.   Her Honour held that the VCAT proceeding was not one to substantiate the interest claimed in the caveat, noted that T Forrest J only used the expression prima facie, and that unlike the County Court VCAT had no jurisdiction under s. 90(3)

Finally, insofar as the caveator argued that the caveat should remain as security for payment of any damages ordered by VCAT, this amounted to the impermissible use of the caveat as a bargaining chip.

 

Commentary: Yuksels must be read with authority that it is permissible for a registered proprietor both to take the procedure for caveat removal under the Transfer of Land Act s. 89A and also to commence an application under s. 90(3): eg Nineteenth Jandina Pty Ltd v Hijim Pty Ltd [2004] VSC 298 at [21] per Osborn J –“The fact that proceedings by a caveator are on foot to enforce the interest which the caveat has been lodged to protect, is not a bar to the exercise of the Court’s discretion under s. 90(3)”.

RECENT SUPREME COURT CASES DEC 2017 – FEB 2018 (4 of 6)

A claim for costs against the Registrar of Titles arising from lodgement of a Notice of Action

Lee Nyong Pty Ltd & Anor v Di Blasi & Anor [2018] VSC 5 (15 January 2018) J. Forrest  J. 

But for one novel point this was a standard case of a caveator claiming an equitable interest pursuant to a charge being ordered to pay indemnity costs to a prior registered second mortgagee.  The caveat was voluntarily removed only after the mortgagee had commenced a s. 90(3) application.  The caveator was motivated by alleged fraudulent withdrawal of a previous caveat: if so, his Honour observed, the appropriate action was to notify the police and claim compensation from the Assurance Fund not maintain a position with no chance of success vis a vis mortgagees.

The novel point was that costs were also sought against the Registrar of Titles, the facts relevant to this point being:

  • before the second mortgage was lodged for registration the caveator had caveated based on a charge but due, the caveator alleged, to forgery in a notice of withdrawal this caveat had been withdrawn;
  • after registration of a second mortgage the caveator re-caveated and the Registrar of Titles lodged a Notice of Action relating to the allegation, based only on the caveator’s assertion, of forgery.  The Notice was purportedly an exercise of power under the Transfer of Land Act s. 106(1)(f) enabling the Registrar to “take any other step necessary to protect the operation, effectiveness and integrity of the Register, including, but not limited to, the making of a notation on a folio of the Register”.  The Registrar stated that the Notice did not prevent the lodgement or registration of any dealings and would be removed when he considered appropriate;
  • the Registrar subsequently refused to remove this Notice unless in substance the caveator either consented or failed to enjoin registration of a transfer;
  • part of the relief sought in the caveat removal proceeding was that the Registrar withdraw the Notice and pay costs;
  • once the caveat was removed the Registrar removed the Notice.

His Honour observed:

  1. A Notice of Action had no statutory force. It is not a creature of statute and simply indicates that the Registrar has concerns about a particular transaction.
  2. The Registrar argued that he had a discretion to refuse to register dealings where registration may cause detriment to the public, or may result in a claim for indemnity under s. 110(1). The Notice was a reasonable initial response but eventually the principles associated with priority, indefeasibility, and bona fide purchasers should have prevailed.  His Honour had reservations as to whether proper consideration was given to the plaintiffs’ request for the removal of the Notice.
  3. However costs would not be ordered against the Registrar: the sole cause of s. 90(3) application was not the Registrar’s Notice but rather the caveator’s failure to remove the second caveat, whereby “this whole debacle would have been avoided”.

RECENT SUPREME COURT CASES DEC 2017 – FEB 2018 (3 of 6)

A claim for compensation under s. 118

KB Corporate Pty Ltd v Sayfe and Anor [2017] VSC 623, 22 December 2017, Mukhtar AsJ.

A judge had previously ordered the defendant to remove caveats lodged over the plaintiff’s properties.  This was a consequential application for compensation under s. 118 of Transfer of Land Act which created liability in any person lodging a caveat without reasonable cause to pay compensation to any person who sustained damage thereby.  The plaintiff claimed that the caveats delayed a purchase of a NSW property by a company with the same directorship and shareholding, which purchase was allegedly being funded by a loan from a financier to the plaintiff.  His Honour held –

 1.      The relevant principles under s. 118 were in substance:

  • The plaintiff had the onus of proving both lack of caveatable interest and that the defendant lacked an honest belief based on reasonable grounds that the caveatable interest existed. Even this may not suffice if it was established that the caveator was actuated not by the protection of the caveator’s interest but by an ulterior motive;
  • The fact that the caveator obtained legal advice to lodge the caveat may be of considerable significance in determining lack of reasonable cause, but the content and accuracy of the legal advice must be evaluated with all other relevant circumstances. However, his Honour noted NSW authority that, where a solicitor had no reasonable basis for advising the caveators to caveat, the caveators had no reasonable grounds for their belief that they were entitled to lodge a caveat.

      2.      The elements required under s. 118 were established. 

3.     Because of the caveats the lender to the plaintiff temporarily withheld certain funds, causing increased payments by the plaintiff to the lender for interest and re-scheduled and delayed settlement and legal fees.  This claim succeeded. 

4.      A second claim related to a payment to the vendor of the NSW property as a condition of extension of the settlement date (calculated on the basis of the vendor’s alleged lost interest, refinance fees and re-scheduled and delayed legal fees) because the caveat allegedly delayed receipt of the loan.  This claim failed for lack of proof that the inability to obtain the loan disabled or impaired the purchaser from completing the contract.

RECENT SUPREME COURT CASES DEC 2017 – FEB 2018 (2 of 6)

A caveat removed on the balance of convenience to permit refinancing.

Six Bruce Pty Ltd v Milatos and Ors [2017] VSC 784, 19 December 2017, Keogh J. 

The chronology was –

19 February 2016      Plaintiff becomes registered proprietor of a property using funds secured by registered first mortgage. It subsequently defaults under the mortgage.

20 May 2016              VCAT orders that a permit issue allowing construction of a four-storey apartment building on the property.

5 February 2017        Plaintiff contracts to sell the entire property to first defendant.  Deposit paid.   

20 March 2017          Purchaser nominates substitute purchaser.

3 July 2017                 Settlement date extended to 4 August 2017 on the basis that purchaser pay an additional deposit which it (not the nominee) does.   

31 July 2017               Purchaser learns of undisclosed drainage easement
affecting the property.

8 August 2017            Vendor serves rescission notice based on non-payment of balance of price.

14 August 2017          Purchaser services rescission notice based on alleged
non-disclosure of the easement in the vendor’s statement.  Vendor retains
deposit.

September 2017        Vendor enters joint venture agreement to develop the property. 

3 October 2017         Purchaser caveats on ground of lien to secure repayment of money paid under the contract.  Caveat does not name the nominee substitute purchaser.  Two registered mortgages and two previous caveats exist.  There is a subsequent caveat.

10 October 2017        Purchaser sues for return of deposit or declaration re caveat.

12 October 2017        Mortgagee sues vendor for repayment under mortgage. 

20 November 2017    Vendor receives refinance offer from other lenders.

27 November 2017    Vendor files Defence to purchaser’s proceeding substantially disputing the claim. 

The vendor commenced a proceeding under s. 90(3) to remove the purchaser’s caveat to permit refinance.  

Keogh J removed the caveat subject to conditions.  His Honour held –  

1.      There was a prima facie case that the caveator had the interest claimed.  The prospects of the vendor being excused under the Sale of Land Act s. 32K(4) for breach of the law in the section 32 statement were entirely uncertain.

2.      The caveat was not required to name the nominee. The effect of the nomination clause was to empower the purchaser to require the vendor to complete the contract by transfer of the property to the name of the nominee.  After nomination the nominee did not acquire rights as purchaser.

 

3.      However the balance of convenience favoured removal of the caveat because: most of the deposit had been released, presumably by agreement; the trial of the purchaser’s proceeding was distant; without the refinancing a mortgagee’s sale was likely; the vendor undertook not to deal with the property pending determination of the purchaser’s proceeding; the vendor agreed to charge the property to secure the amount of any judgment thus then enabling a further caveat; accordingly the purchaser’s position would probably be improved by the refinancing. 

RECENT SUPREME COURT CASES Dec 2017 – Feb 2018 (1 of 6)

Today’s blog is the first of six brief entries discussing recent Supreme Court cases.

 Whether a purchaser of a lot in land yet to be subdivided, who caveats over all the land, can, after subdivision and transfer to it of the lot sold, retain the caveat over the rest of the land.

 Bisognin & Anor v Hera Project Pty Ltd & Anor [2017] VSC 783 (15 December 2017) Daly AsJ.

 The chronology was –

13 March 2015          Plaintiffs enter contract to sell the southern portion (“southern lot”) of their soon to be subdivided land to the first defendant, retaining the northern portion (“northern lot”).

4 March 2016            Sloss J holds the vendors contractually required to undertake water supply and sewerage facility works.  Works remain unperformed. 

3 June 2016               Purchaser caveats claiming an estate in fee simple over the whole of the land, the interest claimed being as purchaser. 

16 December 2016    Court of Appeal holds the purchaser contractually required to pay fees (the “bonds”) on the vendors’ behalf to Water Authorities.  Payments subsequently made.

22 May 2017              Riordan J orders specific performance of the contract.  Vendors appeal seeking relief including recovery of southern lot.  Appeal subsequently heard but judgment reserved.

15 September 2017   Registration of plan of subdivision creating both lots.
Caveat remains registered over both. 

2 October 2017       Settlement of sale of southern lot. 

27 October 2017    Application to remove caveat under Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3). 

The purchaser argued that: the caveat was lodged to secure the vendors’ performance of their outstanding contractual obligations; by not undertaking the works the vendors had taken the benefit of the bonds; if the vendors did undertake the works and the bonds were refunded the vendors were required to repay the bonds to the purchaser, and this obligation created a lien or a resulting or constructive trust. 

Daly AsJ removed the caveat, holding –

  1. A purchaser of land anticipated to be subdivided could caveat over the whole of the land before subdivision, and over the purchased land after subdivision.  But on transfer of a subdivided lot the purchaser retained no interest in the unsold lot.
  2. The purchaser was in effect seeking to use the unsold lot as security for contractual obligations: but, absent a contractual term creating a charge, continuing actual or contingent liabilities of the vendor did not create a caveatable interest in the land retained.  
  3. Referring to authority that a purchaser had a lien over the property to secure repayment of the deposit if the contract ended, even if the vendors’ contingent liability to repay the bonds automatically created a lien there was no serious question to be tried that this created the estate or interest claimed in the caveat.  

Three County Court Cases

Today’s blog looks at three County Court cases from 2017, one on whether a contractual right to caveat created a charge/caveatable interest, one on whether a contract of sale existed so giving rise to an equitable and thus caveatable interest, the third on costs.

  • A mere contractual right to caveat, insufficient in this case: Tannous and Anor v Abdo [2017] VCC 304 (31 March 2017) Judge Macnamara.

The plaintiffs alleged that they agreed with Mr Abdo to purchase an interest in a bakery and paid money towards this, which went into the purchase of land by Mrs Abdo. At one point in the litigation to recover the sum paid towards the bakery the parties entered a document which included an undertaking by the Abdos not to sell this land and to permit the plaintiffs to lodge a caveat over it. They caveated claiming “an equitable interest as chargee”. His Honour held that whether, absent an express charging clause, an equitable interest in the nature of a charge was created by a contractual entitlement to lodge a caveat depended on the interpretation of the particular contractual provision: there was no principle establishing what implication must be drawn in all cases from authority to lodge a caveat in connection with an obligation to pay money. No charge was created here: for the plaintiff to succeed here there must be implied not just a charge but also a guarantee by Mrs Abdo of Mr Abdo’s alleged debt. The contractual language did not support creation of a charge. The agreement created at best a negative covenant not the deal with the property, creating no caveatable interest. 

  • No contract, no caveatable interest: Matthews v Knight & Anor [2017] VCC 1537 (27 October 2017) Judge Anderson.

 The facts of this case could be used in a University Exam Paper on whether or not a contract existed. The facts broadly were: delivery by an agent of three contracts (one for each of three properties) to a prospective purchaser; receipt by the agent of $1,000 partial deposit for each contract; the creation of three further contracts, partially reusing the former contracts, signed by the parties, requiring payment of a full 10% deposit by 15 September 2017, if necessary enforceable by reason of part performance; the solicitors acted as though there were enforceable contracts; the purchaser caveated; the balance of deposit was not paid; the vendor’s solicitors rejected a proposal to vary the contract and issued a rescission notice which was not complied with; the erstwhile purchaser engaged in an “opportunistic ploy” to suggest that contracts were still on foot; a further caveat.

The caveats were removed under TLA s. 90(3). The purchaser failed to satisfy the onus of demonstrating a serious issue to be tried that a contract and so an equitable interest in the land existed. There was no contract following the second contracts because: the second contracts were not intended as offers but if they had they were revoked or had lapsed; the purchaser’s purported acceptance of an alleged offer constituted by the delivery of the second contracts (ie the “opportunistic ploy”) did not accept the terms offered but proposed variation which variation the vendor never accepted.

  • Indemnity costs: Hooi & Anor v Lim & Anor [2017] VCC 949 (13 July 2017) Judge Cosgrave.

The first defendant caveated over land of which the plaintiffs were registered proprietors.  He alleged a constructive trust.  He subsequently stated that the basis of the caveat was wrongful diversion of monies and work from a partnership, but also acknowledged that he had no evidence that these monies (or what monies) had been used to purchase the land.  The plaintiffs requested removal of the caveat, asserted that the caveator had no caveatable interest, and foreshadowed indemnity costs.  Subsequently they applied for removal under the TLA s. 90(3).  The first defendant removed the caveat on day before hearing.    

Judge Cosgrave reiterated the legal principles for caveatable removal in conventional terms (roughly as set out in Blog 1) and noted that there was never any serious question to be tried that the defendant had the interest in land claimed.  As to costs his Honour held:

1. Awarding costs involved a discretionary exercise of the court’s powers. The relevant factors to consider in this context included: :

·   whether the caveat was maintained in circumstances where the defendant, properly advised, should have known there was no chance of success;

·    whether the caveat was being used as a bargaining chip;

·    whether the party lodging the caveat was a lawyer.

2.  Indemnity costs would be awarded for several reasons:

·  The first defendant had lodged the caveat without any proper basis, and knew or should have known this;

·  Unjustified allegations of fraud, in this case that land had been purchased with allegedly misappropriated funds, attracted liability for indemnity costs.  One solicitor should not make such an allegation against another without proper basis, exacerbated here because the defendant believed that the plaintiffs had to consent to the lodgment yet had lodged unilaterally.  This increased the likelihood that lodgment was for a collateral or improper purpose; 

·   The first defendant had ignored warnings to remove the caveat; 

·    The interest claimed in the caveat was exaggerated.