32. Where B wrongfully acquires monies from A, which B passes on to a third party, who uses such monies to purchase land of which it becomes registered proprietor – Or where B fraudulently transfers land owned by A to a third party who becomes registered proprietor – Caveat by A upheld if there is a constructive trust in A’s favour, but not if there is a mere equity to set aside the transfer – Contrast between AE Brighton Holdings Pty Ltd v UDP Holdings Pty Ltd and Super Jacobs & Anor v Esera Faalogo & Ors.

In AE Brighton Holdings Pty Ltd v UDP Holdings Pty Ltd [2019] VSC 688 (15 October 2019) Ginnane J. the facts were –

  • Esposito Holdings Pty Ltd (Esposito Holdings) agreed to sell and the first defendant (UDP) agreed to purchase the issued shares in a company. An arbitration occurred related to disputes arising under that agreement.  The arbitral award stated that Esposito Holdings had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct contrary to s. 18 of Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) and director Mr Antonio Esposito was involved in the contravention within the meaning of s. 2(1) and for the purposes of s. 236 of Schedule 2.  The award also declared that on and from 31 January 2014 Esposito Holdings held the purchase price on constructive trust for UDP which had suffered loss of $54,144,847.
  • The plaintiff (AE Brighton) purchased and became registered proprietor of four properties.
  • There was prima facie evidence that, when Mr Esposito was also sole shareholder and director of AE Brighton, part of the purchase price received from UDP under the share sale agreement was paid by Esposito Holdings, possibly through another company controlled by Mr Esposito, to AE Brighton to purchase the properties, possibly in the case of one purchase through repayment of an earlier loan used for that purchase.
  • In 2018 the Supreme Court gave UDP leave to enforce the award and ordered that the award was given effect as a judgment of the Court.
  • UDP caveated over the properties on the grounds of an implied, resulting or constructive trust.
  • Subsequently AE Brighton entered a contract to sell two of the properties.

Ginnane J dismissed an application by AE Brighton for the caveats to be removed, but required the caveator to commence proceedings promptly to support its claim, on the following grounds –

  1. Where a trustee wrongfully used trust money to provide part of the cost of acquiring an asset, the beneficiary was entitled at his option either to claim a proportionate share of the asset or to enforce a lien upon it to secure his personal claim against the trustee for the amount of the misapplied money. It was irrelevant whether the trustee mixed the trust money with his own in a single fund before using it to acquire the asset, or made separate payments (whether simultaneously or sequentially) out of the differently owned funds to acquire a single asset.  This principle was not reliant on proof of fraud, merely on breach of trust. [32]-[33]
  2. Based on this principle there was a prima facie case that the caveator had an estate or interest in the properties as a beneficiary under a constructive trust. This arose from money (ie the purchase money under the share sale agreement) obtained by Esposito Holdings as a result of misleading or deceptive conduct, from which the caveator suffered loss, held on trust by Esposito Holdings for the caveator, being paid in breach of trust by Esposito Holdings to AE Brighton which used it to purchase the properties.  While the evidence in the arbitration did not bind AE Brighton, because it was not a party to the arbitration, it was relevant in determining this prima facie case. [28], [36], [37], [38], [40], [41]
  3. AE Brighton had more than a mere equity, which was not an equitable estate and so not caveatable. [30]-[31]
  4. Although the court took into account that AE Brighton had entered into two contracts of sale, the caveats predated the contracts and AE Brighton had made no submission about how, taking into account the interests of the mortgagees and other caveators, the caveator’s security interest in the properties could be protected if the caveats were removed. Accordingly the balance of convenience favoured maintenance of the caveats on terms requiring the caveator to commence its proposed proceeding promptly. [42]-[43]

An application for leave to appeal against this decision has been lodged, the respondent’s application for security for costs being dismissed: AE Brighton Holdings Pty Ltd v UDP Holdings Pty Ltd [2020] VSCA 43.

In Super Jacobs & Anor v Esera Faalogo & Ors [2019] VSC 778 (3 December 2019) Daly AsJ the facts were –

  • The defendants were registered proprietors of a residential property. They were migrants, of limited means, not highly educated or familiar with legal or financial matters.  In 2016 they gave a general power of attorney to a mortgage broker who they believed was arranging finance for them to be secured against their property.
  • In 2017 the mortgage broker, the defendants’ claimed fraudulently, used the power to execute a contract of sale of the land to the plaintiffs who became registered proprietors in June 2018. The sale was not by auction or private treaty or advertised and had other unusual features.
  • The defendants received no funds from sale, subsequently discovered this transfer, and later in 2018 caveated on the ground of: “Registered proprietor(s) being entitled to possession of the certificate of title for the land and to prevent improper dealings”. This was one of the grounds of claim in the drop-down menu in the Registrar of Titles’ electronic lodgment service.
  • The plaintiffs applied for removal of the caveat and for an order for possession.

Daly AsJ removed the caveat, holding –

  1. Even if (which they denied) the plaintiffs obtained the property by fraud or improper dealing the caveators’ claim to have the transfer set aside on the grounds of a fraud by, or which could be sheeted home to, the registered proprietors was not an interest or estate in land. They did not hold an equitable interest in the property until the claim was made good in a court.  Until then their equitable right to assail the transfer for fraud was a ‘mere equity’, being a personal right of action.  On the same principle, if a mortgagee sold land in breach of its duties to the mortgagor the mortgagor had only an equity to set aside the pending transfer of land and could not caveat. [18]-[20], [28]-[32]
  2. Accepting for present purposes that the mortgage broker owed the defendants a fiduciary duty, and that as such, if (as they denied) the plaintiffs were knowingly concerned in the broker’s breach of trust, or were a knowing recipient of trust property (being the land), then the plaintiffs may be liable to the defendants pursuant to the principles in Barnes v Addy (1874) LR 9 Ch. App. 244 with the remedy of a remedial constructive trust. However, this did not convert the defendants’ potential claim into an equitable interest as opposed to a personal claim against the plaintiffs.  This was to be contrasted with an equitable interest arising from proprietary estoppel or a common intention constructive trust: in such a case the equitable interest arose from when the promise was relied upon or the common intention was given effect. [34]-[36]
  3. It was accordingly unnecessary to consider whether the caveat ought to be removed because the grounds of claim did not refer to an interest in land known to the law, or whether the caveat should be amended. [37]
  4. If the defendants had had an interest in the land the balance of convenience would have been in their favour. [17]

Comment.  Both cases considered the decision of the Full Court in Swanston Mortgage Pty Ltd v Trepan Investments Pty Ltd [1994] 1 VR 672 that where, under the Torrens system, a mortgagee sells in breach of its duties to the mortgagor, the mortgagor has an equity to set aside the pending transfer of land, but until the equity is made good by bringing a successful claim the mortgagor has no equitable interest in the land and therefore no right to caveat.  The first case distinguished it.  The second applied it.

The principle that the interest claimed in the caveat must be in existence at the time of its lodgment – it was not enough that the caveator had commenced proceedings which may result in such an interest being vested in him or her – was also asserted in Boensch v Pascoe [2019] HCA 49 which was the subject of Blog 29.

Philip H. Barton

Owen Dixon Chambers West

20 April 2020

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s