Caveats lodged over NSW land based on Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust – Under Real Property Act 1900 (NSW) s. 74K(2) caveat not to be extended unless caveator’s claim has or may have substance – claim without substance

D’Agostino v Zandata Pty Ltd and Ors [2018] VSC 115 (15 March 2018) McMillan J. 

This case is novel for a Victorian court, being an application of NSW law, but the caveat would equally have been removed under Victorian law.

A man died survived by various family members including his de facto partner and the plaintiff who was her son.  The deceased was a director of and held controlling interests in the three defendant companies.  The plaintiff lodged caveats with the NSW Registrar-General over land owned by the companies, claiming an interest in each under a constructive trust.  The Registrar-General served lapsing notices requiring the caveator to apply for order extending the caveats.  He applied to the NSW Supreme Court for an order under s. 74K(2) of the Real Property Act 1900 (NSW) which provided that the court may, if satisfied that the caveator’s claim has or may have substance, extend the caveat.  The proceeding was cross-vested to Victoria. 

 The caveator alleged that over a period of 38 years he acted to his detriment in reliance on the encouragement of the deceased by contributing to the acquisition, maintenance and/or improvement of the properties, and this encouraged an expectation that he and his mother would eventually own those properties. 

 McMillan J held –

1.     The application was to be determined in accordance with the law of New South Wales.  An application for the extension of the operation of a caveat was treated as analogous to an application for injunctive relief. Her Honour cited conventional authorities. [20], [22]  

2.   A constructive trust claim may form the basis for a caveatable interest in real property.  The plaintiff relied on a trust of the type enunciated by the High Court in Muschinski v Dodds.  There was however no sufficient prima facie case giving rise to a serious question to be tried that there was a constructive trust here.  There was substance in the defendants’ submission that even at their highest the promises were not to the effect stated nor did the plaintiff rely on them as alleged.  Further, the properties were owned by the companies and there was not allegation that the deceased made any representation as an officer or representative of the companies. [26], [27], [36]-[39]  

3.      The balance of convenience was also against extension of the caveats.  There was no immediate risk of dissipation of the land.  The injury caused to the plaintiff by non-extension did not outweigh the injury the defendants would suffer through extension. [48] 

4.      The lower risk of injustice was for the operation of the caveats not to be extended. [49]

 

 

 

 

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