Blog 46. Mere domestic relationship – No caveatable interest – Indemnity costs.

Burghley Pty Ltd v Soames & Anor [2021] VSC 236, McMillan J, 5 May 2021.

The facts were –

  • In 2016 the plaintiff became registered proprietor of a property at Red Hill.   The purchase price had been paid or lent by its sole director (Mr Cecil).  The plaintiff paid stamp duty and other expenses using funds borrowed from the first defendant (Ms Soames).
  • Mr Cecil and Ms Soames cohabited at the property, according to him from about 4 January 2017 to 29 November 2018, according to her from about 20 December 2016 to 24 December 2018.
  • On 11 June 2018 the loan by Ms Soames was repaid with interest.
  • On 8 November 2020 the plaintiff entered a contract of sale with settlement due on 8 February 2021.
  • On 17 November 2020 Ms Soames caused a caveat to be lodged over the property, naming the caveator as her then solicitor.  This caveat was withdrawn on 10 December. 
  • On 24 December Ms Soames issued a Federal Circuit Court (FCC) proceeding seeking relief including a declaration that she had been in a de facto relationship with Mr Cecil. 
  • On 14 January 2021 Ms Soames by her solicitors lodged a caveat claiming an implied, resulting or constructive trust.   On 25 January her solicitors stated as to the basis of the caveat that: Ms Soames instructed that a trust relationship existed between “her, your client and the vendor of the property”, the merits of which would be determined by the FCC; they believed the interest would be deemed to be a constructive trust; until the FCC determined this she legitimately sought to protect her interest in the property, and; she would lift the caveat to permit settlement of the sale if the plaintiff’s solicitors undertook to retain the proceeds in trust pending the FCC decision.  

The plaintiff applied under the Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3) for removal of the caveat.  The solicitor for Ms Soames filed an affidavit in which no basis for lodging the caveat was identified.  At the hearing Ms Soames offered to withdraw the caveat in return for $300,000 from the sale proceeds being held in trust pending determination of the FCC proceeding. 

McMillan J. held –

  1. Neither a mere relationship, nor the existence of the FCC proceeding, created a caveatable interest. [20]
  2. Claims by Ms Soames that a caveatable interest arose from the following alleged circumstances were rejected: her working for nominal wages in a restaurant owned by a company of which Mr Cecil was director or shareholder; her assisting in renovations, absent a joint endeavour in relation to purchase of the property; matters concerning companies and the loan.  The caveator accordingly had no arguable caveatable interest and the balance of convenience favoured the plaintiff. [23]-[29] 
  3. The caveat was lodged for a collateral advantage or to bring pressure on the plaintiff – a serious misuse of the caveat procedure for an ulterior or collateral purpose.  No proper attempt to articulate the basis of the caveat was given.  By inference the caveat was lodged as a bargaining chip in the FCC proceeding.   The caveator was ordered to pay indemnity costs. [21], [32]-[34]

Philip H. Barton

Owen Dixon Chambers West

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Blog 45. Getting your priorities straight.

This Blog deals with two recent caveat cases also involving priorities between interests in land, one simple, one complex. 

In Capital One Securities Pty Ltd v Lesic & Anor [2020] VSC 781, Ginnane J, 13 November 2020, the facts were –

  • Vongsa and Suzana Soch were registered proprietors of a property subject to a first mortgage to a bank and a second mortgage to the plaintiff securing a claimed debt of about $149,000.
  • A mortgagee’s auction had occurred.  The sale was not yet completed.
  • On 27 March 2020 the first defendant lodged a caveat claiming an implied resulting or resulting trust.  On 29 October 2020 he obtained a County Court judgment for $349,163.62 against Vongsa Soch for default in making discovery and in not attending a mediation, including a declaration that he had an equitable interest in the property and was entitled to maintain a caveat over the title. 

The plaintiff applied under the Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3) to remove the caveat.  Its director deposed to loan advances and that it would suffer a shortfall at settlement of the sale.   Ginnane J. removed the caveat and ordered the first defendant to pay costs on a standard basis.  Although there was a prima facie case that the first defendant had an equitable interest in the land, the plaintiff’s interest as second mortgagee had priority and the balance of convenience favoured removal of the caveat because it was impeding settlement of the mortgagee’s sale.

Roberts Gray Pty Ltd v Brunner & Ors [2021] VSC 76, Daly AsJ, 9 March 2021.

The facts were –

  • The first defendant (Brunner) owned a disused mining site at Yandoit Creek Road Franklinford worth about $320,000 (‘the land’). 
  • In 2016 a company (‘Vesterdix’) entered a rental agreement with TL Rentals Pty Ltd (‘TL Rentals’).   Brunner guaranteed Vesterdix’s obligations and as security agreed to mortgage the land to TL Rentals.  On 30 March 2017 TL Rentals caveated over the land based on this mortgage.  Vesterdix subsequently defaulted and TL Rentals eventually claimed a debt of about $96,000. 
  • On 11 April 2017 the fourth defendant (‘PG Walton’) registered a mortgage over the land to secure a short term advance. 
  • On 23 June 2017 it was agreed between the third defendant (Kellam) and Brunne that Kellam lend Brunner $30,000 and Brunner charge any freehold land he owned in favour of Kellam (‘June 2017 agreement’).  A copy of this document was in evidence but there was no direct or documentary evidence of the actual advance of monies.
  • Kellam also alleged that in August 2017 he acquired the debt (then standing at $188,065.50) and first mortgage held by PG Walton and made a further advance to Brunner.  There was, however, no direct or documentary evidence of payment to PG Walton.   However, PG Walton’s solicitors subsequently sent to Kellam’s solicitors the certificate of title and a discharge of its mortgage.  Kellam did not lodge these documents for registration. 
  • On 26 September 2017 Brunner executed a mortgage in favour of Kellam (‘Kellam mortgage’) under which Brunner promised to pay the mortgagee on demand all moneys owing by the mortgagor to the mortgagee including the moneys under a loan agreement between the parties executed that day.  However, no loan agreement was in evidence other than the June 2017 agreement.   There was no direct evidence of the sums secured and conflicting evidence about the size of the mortgage debt. 
  • From 2016 to 2018 the plaintiff (Roberts Gray), whose principal was Roberts, acted for Brunner including in a Family Court proceeding fixed for trial on 6 July 2018.  Brunner was non-compliant with financial disclosure orders and had not put Roberts Gray in funds.    
  • On 11 May 2018 Brunner emailed a draft financial statement to Roberts, prepared with the assistance of an accountant (‘the accountant’), which included: under the heading ‘Other mortgage payments’ that Kellam was the lender, that the address of the property was Yandoit Creek Road Franklinford and that the average weekly amount was $360; under the heading ‘Other mortgages’ that Brunner was the borrower, that ‘your share’ was 100% and ‘amount of your share’ was $200,000 (without specifying any security property).  However, the section headed ‘Liabilities’ did not list Kellam as a creditor.
  • On 5 July 2018 Brunner executed a document charging in favour of Roberts Gray ‘all land owned by me … now or in future as security for the payment of all professional fees and disbursements now owing or at any time may be owing by me to Roberts Gray Pty Ltd for legal services provided to me’.  (Roberts Gray subsequently conceded that the charge was ineffective to the extent that it sought an equitable interest in properties not legally and beneficially owned by Brunner, ie any property other than the land).
  • The Family Court trial date of 6 July was vacated.  On 20 July Brunner’s financial statement, in substantially similar form to the draft, was filed.  The reference to the payment of $360 per week to Mr Kellam remained.  However, under the heading ‘other mortgages’, appeared: ‘Jon Brunner borrowed against Yandoit and 308/6 Victoria Street the sum of $600,000’.
  • The plaintiff ceased acting for Brunner, claimed a debt of about $85,000 with interest, and on 30 August 2018 caveated over the land claiming an interest as chargee pursuant to an agreement with Brunner, J. B. & F. Investments Pty Ltd, and Vesterdix.  Brunner was the sole director of both companies and deposed that there was no agreement between Roberts Gray and either company.
  • On 10 December 2018 the Kellam mortgage was lodged for registration.
  • Following notice of this lodgment Roberts Gray commenced a proceeding seeking relief, including: an order under s. 90(2) that the Registrar of Titles delay registering the Kellam mortgage; an order that it have leave to amend the grounds of claim in its caveat by deleting all parties to the agreement with Brunner except itself; a declaration that it held an equitable charge; and an order for sale of the land.
  • Registration of Kellam’s mortgage was ordered to be delayed, eventually until the trial and determination of the proceeding.    
  • On 20 February 2020 Brunner was declared bankrupt.
  • Roberts deposed or gave evidence:
    • that on 25 August 2017 the solicitors for the other party in the Family Court proceeding, Lander & Rogers, sent a copy of the June 2017 agreement to his firm;
    • that on 2 November 2017 Lander & Rogers wrote referring to the June 2017 agreement and to a loan from PG Walton to Vesterdix of $165,000 secured by a mortgage over the land and another property.
    • that on receipt of the draft financial statement on 11 May 2018 he knew of the $30,000 loan by Kellam to Brunner;
    • that when the charge was executed (on 5 July 2018) he believed that this loan had been paid off or (he also deposed) significantly reduced but had not contacted Kellam about this;
    • denying that before execution of the charge he was aware that Kellam had an interest in the land or that Brunner (who deposed to the contrary) had so instructed him, or that the Kellam mortgage existed, and stating that before taking the charge he did not do a title search or attempt to ascertain what interest if any PG Walton or TL Rentals had in the land;
    • denying that Brunner told him, immediately before filing the financial statement on 20 July, of the Kellam mortgage;
    • stating that on 20 July 2018 the accountant told him that the loan of $30,000 had been repaid and had not told him of a mortgage securing $250,000 plus interest.  He denied (contrary to evidence of the accountant) that the accountant had told him that the ‘private client mortgage’ over Yandoit secured $250,000 plus interest and denied that the accountant had met him before 20 July;
    • that he had never seen any document evidencing a loan by Kellam in any amount other than $30,000;
    • that he believed that the sworn financial statement “loaded up” the land to defeat the interests of the other party.
  • Brunner gave evidence that: Roberts did not ask him how much equity he had in the land; and he did not tell Roberts that he had no equity in the land, as there was no need because, having prepared Brunner’s financial statements, Roberts knew this.

Kellam submitted that he held two distinct security interests over the land: a subrogated right to the PG Walton mortgage; and an equitable interest by reason of his possession of the unregistered Kellam mortgage, the discharge of PG Walton mortgage and the certificate of title.  It was common ground that the interest in the land of TL Rentals had priority over any interest of Roberts Gray’s.  TL Rentals abided the outcome of the proceeding.

Daly AsJ held –

  1. On the balance of probabilities Kellam paid out the PG Walton mortgage.  While there was no evidence of the time and amount of funds transferred, the PG Walton loan was by inference discharged before October 2017, when the certificate of title and discharge of mortgage were delivered to Kellam’s solicitors.  The timing of the execution of the epitome of the Kellam mortgage was also consistent with this. [125]-[127]  
  2. Ordinarily, absent evidence that the epitome of mortgage was either a forgery or a sham, its very existence was compelling evidence of the evidence and validity of an equitable mortgage. [129], [133]
  3. The authorities were divided on whether a party claiming to be subrogated to the rights of a prior mortgagee was entitled to the benefit of the terms of the underlying loan contract.  The better view was that the subrogated party did not automatically acquire identical contractual rights to the original interest holder, such as, for example the interest rate payable by the mortgagor to the original lender. [123]
  4. Kellam had discharged the onus of establishing his entitlement to be subrogated to the rights of PG Walton under the PG Walton mortgage to the extent of the sum paid by him to it to discharge its loan to Brunner secured by the mortgage, plus interest. [83], [118], [131] 
  5. As Kellam was entitled to be subrogated to the rights of PG Walton under its mortgage, and this mortgage was registered, Kellam had priority over TL Rentals and Roberts Gray with respect to the amounts paid by him or on his behalf to PG Walton. [131]
  6. Any sums secured by the Kellam mortgage which were not referable to the PG Walton mortgage were thus secured only by an equitable mortgage, which ranked behind the interest of TL Rentals. [131]
  7. As to whether Kellam’s interest as the holder of an equitable mortgage should prevail over Roberts Gray’s later interest as chargee –

    (a)    Where merits were equal, the general principle applying to competing equi­table interests was that priority in time of creation gave the better equity. [118], [141], [160]

    (b)   Where merits were unequal and favoured the later interest, as for instance where the owner of the later interest was led by conduct of the owner of the earlier interest to acquire the later interest in the belief or on the supposition that the earlier interest did not then exist, the later interest would have priority.   It was always necessary to characterise the conduct of the holder of the earlier interest in order to determine whether, in all the circumstances, that conduct was such that in fairness and in justice the earlier interest should be postponed to the later. [141], [143], [144]

    (c)   The mere failure of the holder of a prior equitable interest in land to lodge a caveat did not in itself involve the loss of priority which the time of the creation would otherwise give. [144] (d)    A person taking an interest with actual, imputed, or constructive notice of an earlier interest took subject to that interest, unless the earlier interest holder had engaged in conduct to induce the belief in the later interest holder that the earlier interest no longer existed. [156], [157], [161]

    (e)    The onus rested on the holder of a later interest to show that the earlier should be postponed. [84]

    (f)    The evidence was inconclusive on whether Roberts Gray had actual notice of the Kellam mortgage.  However, it would have been open to Roberts Gray (and prudent) to conduct a title search before taking the charge.  This was inexcusable in the context of a priority dispute.  Although a title search at the time the charge was taken would not have disclosed Kellam’s interest in the land the PG Walton mortgage and the TL Rentals caveat would have been revealed.  Upon such a discovery, Roberts Gray would have been in a position to make more fulsome inquiries of PG Walton and/or TL Rentals and Brunner.  Accordingly Roberts Gray had at least constructive notice of Kellam’s interest. [118], [162], [165], [167]-[169]

    (g)     However, even if this finding of constructive interest was incorrect, there was no basis for postponing Kellam’s equitable interest to Roberts Gray’s interest.  Kellam had not so conducted himself as to induce a party in the position of Roberts Gray into believing there was no prior interest holder.  The agreement by Brunner and Kellam to keep their arrangements private did not misrepresent the position to third parties. [118], [170], [171] 

  8. The application to amend the caveat by deleting J. B & F Investments Pty Ltd and Vesterdix would be granted because:

    (a)    it would not alter the estate or interest claimed in the caveat, but amend the grounds of the claim, with no prejudice to anyone; [178]

    (b)    Roberts Gray undoubtedly had an interest in the land as chargee.  The ques­tion of the validity of the charge has fallen away and the only dispute was over priority, which should be determined on the merits; [179]

    (c)    although less latitude was affordable to a caveat lodged by a solicitor, as op­posed to one prepared by a lay person, the prejudice to Roberts Gray of not being able to amend the caveat outweighed this consideration. [118], [180]

  9. Given that Kellam stood in the shoes of the holder of a registered mortgage, he had a prima facie entitlement to take possession of and sell the land, provided the requirements of s. 77 of the TLA had been fulfilled, and subject to his obligations to account to TL Rentals and Roberts Gray.  However, there was no evidence that the threshold requirements of s. 77 had been met, and given that the parties all agreed on sale, the court would appoint the trustee in bankruptcy to do this and account to the interest holders. [118], [183]

Philip H. Barton

Owen Dixon Chambers West

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Blog 43. Claim for constructive trust based on derivative company proceeding.

AAGG Developments Pty Ltd v Saafin Constructions Pty Ltd & Ors [2020] VSC 768, Derham AsJ., 17 November 2020, was one of several Supreme Court cases between the same or related parties arising from the same transactions.  It is necessary to set out some factual background outside the judgment the subject of this Blog.

  • Hassan, Mohamed and Wael El-Saafin (‘the Saafin Parties’) were directors of and/or shareholders in the first defendant (‘the Company’). In 2015 the Company entered a contract with a builder to develop land owned by the Company in North Melbourne (‘the Land’).
  • On 28 October 2016 the Company entered agreements with a financier (‘Balanced Securities’) to finance this development in part secured by registered mortgage over the Land.
  • Building works were performed, a dispute arose between the Company and builder, and in April 2018 the Company terminated the building contract with the development partially completed.
  • On 9 April 2018 a Mr Franek purported to appoint receivers to the Company pursuant to an agreement securing a loan by him to Wael El-Saafin. On 18 April 2018 Balanced Securities assigned its rights to Franek, recording that about $3m was owed to it.  Subsequently, Franek nominated another company (‘MAG’) as the assignee.  Franek also assigned his personal rights to MAG.  The receivers resigned but were reappointed by MAG.
  • On 20 June 2018 various debts allegedly owing by the Company were assigned to MAG, with the purpose of turning unsecured into secured debt.  MAG then claimed that the debt owed to it was about $8.2m. by reason of the Balanced Securities loan, the Franek loan, interest, costs, and the debt assigned on 20 June.
  • Between 27 June and early August 2018: Hassan and Mohamed El-Saafin (‘the Saafins’) offered to pay approximately $4.4m. being what they considered was the sum required to obtain a discharge of the mortgage; MAG and the receivers disputed this amount; and the Supreme Court made restraining orders which were dissolved on undertakings by the receivers to the same effect.
  • On 9 July 2018, MAG as mortgagee entered into a contract to sell the Land to the plaintiff (‘AAGG’) by private sale for $4.5m. The shareholders in AAGG were persons associated with parties already involved in the above transaction, including the builder.  The sale was settled on 20 July 2018 and AAGG became registered proprietor.  The Saafins continued to offer to pay out the mortgage until advised of this sale.
  • On 26 July 2018 the Company and the Saafin Parties lodged a caveat over the Land, claiming an implied, resulting or constructive trust in their favour.
  • On 7 August 2018 the Supreme Court made interlocutory orders including restraining AAGG from dealing with the Land. The judge found a serious question to be tried as to whether: the 20 June debts were validly the subject of MAG’s security interest, and; the sale to AAGG should be set aside.
  • The Company subsequently went into liquidation.
  • In El-Saafin & Anor v Franek & Ors (No 4) [2020] VSC 389 (‘El-Saafin (No. 4)’) Lyons J. gave leave for the Saafin Parties to make a derivative claim on behalf of and in the name of the Company for relief including for a declaration that AAGG held the Land on constructive trust for the Company and orders that AAGG be restrained from disposing of the Land and re-convey it to the Company. His Honour found that a solid foundation existed for this relief.  However, this decision was subject to an appeal which had been heard with judgment reserved.  Nonetheless, pursuant to El-Saafin (No. 4) a proceeding (‘the Derivative Proceeding’) was commenced by the Company and the Saafin Parties as plaintiffs against AAGG and others.  This was fixed for trial in February 2021.

AAGG applied under s. 90(3) of the Transfer of Land Act for removal of the caveat and to restrain the Saafin Parties from lodging any further caveat.

Derham AsJ refused the application, holding –

  1. To the extent necessary, the plaintiff had leave pursuant to s. 471B of the Corporations Act 2001 to proceed with the current applications against the Company. [20]
  2. Notwithstanding appointment of Receivers and Managers to a company, its directors retained, generally speaking, residual powers enabling them to authorise the lodging of a caveat in the name of the company to protect its proprietary interest in land pending the determination of litigation to establish that interest. The Saafin Parties who were directors of the Company were in that position when the caveat was lodged.  The contrary view was not open without a thorough examination of the terms of appointment of the Receivers and Managers (there being no material in evidence enabling this examination). [13]-[14]
  3. The existence of the Derivative Proceeding and the claims for relief made in it established a prima facie basis for the interest claimed in the caveat by the Company, through the Saafin Parties, derivatively. The analysis of facts and law by Lyons J in El-Saafin (No 4) was the prima facie case.  The formulation of the interest claimed in the caveat was to be viewed having regard to the claims by the Saafin Parties ‘on behalf of and in the name of the Company’ in the Derivative Proceeding.   [15]-[17]
  4. By reason of the impending trial of the Derivative Proceeding, but subject to the outcome of the appeal in El-Saafin (No 4), the balance of convenience favoured the maintenance of the caveat to await the outcome of the appeal, or, if the appeal failed, of the Derivative Proceeding. [19]
  5. If the Court of Appeal reversed or varied the orders in El-Saafin (No 4) the underlying basis for the caveat may be destroyed and it then may be appropriate that the current application be revisited. Accordingly although the application under s. 90(3) would be refused there would be liberty to re-apply. [12]

Philip. H. Barton
Owen Dixon Chambers West
Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Blog 44. Indemnity costs and injunction against caveating.

BCA Asset Management Group Pty Ltd v Sand Solutions (Vic) Pty Ltd & Ors [2021] VSC 177, Derham AsJ, 13 April 2021.

Before 2009 William Attwood, married to Jane Attwood, became sole registered proprietor of approximately 29 ha. at Devenish (the AustLII report says this occurred on 17 April 2013 but this seems incorrect).  The subsequent chronology was –

16 February 2009        Broken Creek Developments Pty Ltd  (‘BCD’)  incorporated with the second defendant (‘Colling’) its sole director and member.

20 August 2009              223 Coopers Road Devenish (‘the Land’) now comprised the 29 ha. plus land in Certificates of Title Volume 11153 Folios 541 and 542.

1 February 2010           Colling and BCD lodge caveats over the Land claiming an interest as a beneficiary under a constructive trust of which the Attwoods were the constructive trustees (‘First Caveats’).

25 June 2010                 Sand Extraction Agreement between Jane Attwood and Devenish Sands Pty Ltd.  This agreement: was conditional on the grant of an Extractive Industry Work Authority and approval of the company’s Work Plan within 180 days (clause 2.1); had an initial term of 10 years (clause 11.1); and could be terminated by Ms Attwood on the happening of a Default Event, which was defined to include an Insolvency Event (clauses 12.1 and 13.1).  It was unclear whether Ms Attwood waived compliance with the conditions precedent or when this agreement commenced.

12 January 2011              First Caveats withdrawn.

26 May 2011                   Ms Attwood registered as the sole proprietor of the Land.

29 July 2011                    Work Authority issued to Devenish Sands Pty Ltd.

23 November 2011       Colling lodges caveat over the Land claiming an interest as beneficiary under a constructive trust between himself and Ms Attwood (‘Second Caveat’).

14 January 2013             First defendant (‘Sand Solutions’) incorporated.

9 July 2014                  Work Authority transferred from Devenish Sands Pty Ltd to Sand Sol­utions.

8 August 2014               Devenish Sands Pty Ltd wound up in insolvency.

17 April 2015                Devenish Sands Pty Ltd by its liquidator disclaims any interest in the Land under the Sand Extraction Agreement.

13/14 September 2016     Second Caveat withdrawn. 

July 2017 on                    Sand Solutions seeks access to the Land for the purposes of remediation. At all times, Sand Solutions proceeds on the basis it had no right of access.

10 November 2017       Contract of sale whereby Ms Attwood agrees to sell the Land to BCA Civil Pty Ltd.

20 March 2018            Caveat by Sand Solutions over the land in Certificates of Title Volume 11153 Folios 541 and 542 claiming an interest as the grantee of a profit à prendre pursuant to an agreement entered into 16 June 2010 (‘Third Caveat’).  Sand Solutions was not at this time in existence and the only agreement known that might support a profit à prendre was the Sand Extraction Agreement with Devenish Sands Pty Ltd.

23 March 2018              Ms Attwood commences proceeding seeking an order for the removal of the Third Caveat.  

Undated                            Caveat withdrawn before hearing.

28 March 2018              Zammit J. orders Sand Solutions to pay Ms Attwood’s standard costs and otherwise dismisses the proceeding stating that the Court would take a ‘very dim view’ if Sand Solutions again caveated.

4 May 2018                      Plaintiff registered as the sole proprietor of the Land.

1 August 2020                  Colling appointed sole director of Sand Solutions.

26 February 2021          Sand Solutions, by a solicitor, lodges caveat (‘Fourth Caveat’) claiming an interest as grantee of an easement pursuant to the Sand Extraction Agreement.

18 March                          Plaintiff writes requesting withdrawal of caveat. 

22 March                          Plaintiff email foreshadowing urgent application for caveat removal.

24 March                      Email by caveator’s solicitor saying he was to confer with his client.  No further response. 

31 March                          Plaintiff commences proceeding under Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3) returnable on 13 April.

6 April                        Email from caveator’s solicitor stating: his client maintained that it had rights to go upon the land and extract the sand, in accordance with a (cancelled) planning permit and a Licence granted by Earth Resources; it was anticipated that VCAT would reinstate the permit; if his client succeeded at VCAT then his client would, if necessary, commence court proceedings seeking a declaration that it had the rights it claimed; but to avoid costs the caveat would be withdrawn.

8 April                            Caveat not yet withdrawn, plaintiff’s solicitor writes with draft order for caveat removal and payment of indemnity costs. 

Undated                            Caveat withdrawn after service of Originating Motion and Summons. 

13 April                            Hearing.


An affidavit was filed on behalf of the plaintiff deposing that: no grant of easement by Ms Attwood to Sand Solutions had ever been drafted; the plaintiff intended to use the Land as a commercial water park with caravan facilities; to undertake this development other investors were required, one of whom withdrew on learning of the possible easement, others of whom would not proceed until the caveat issue was resolved, and one of whom was seeking return of her investment unless the caveat was removed within 30 days but would also seek immediate refund of her investment if Sand Solutions and Colling further caveated; delay put at risk necessary support by the Benalla Rural City. 

Derham AsJ ordered –

1.     Sand Solutions and Colling to pay indemnity costs because –

(a)      the claim to an easement (or to any other proprietary interest) lacked any basis;

(b)     the plaintiff sought withdrawal of the caveat before the proceeding was commenced, which did not occur;

(c)   before the proceeding was commenced Sand Solutions was warned that the plaintiffs would suffer damage from the Fourth Caveat, and after commencement of the proceeding an award of indemnity costs against Sand Solutions and Colling was foreshadowed;

(d)     the caveat was lodged as a bargaining chip;

(e)   it was impermissible for the innocent registered proprietor to bear any differ­ential between standard and indemnity costs, occasioned by the delinquent conduct of Sand Solutions and Colling. [27]-[28]

2.   That Sand Solutions and Colling be restrained, until further order, from lodging for regis­tration any caveat in reliance on a profit à prendre or an easement.  As to the power to grant an injunction –

(a)   Normally the injunction would be in the nature of a final or permanent injunction: as an injunction restraining Sand Solutions and Colling from lodging any further caveat on the basis of the Sand Extraction Agreement, or on the basis of an alleged profit à prendre or easement, would be an order in aid of the plaintiff’s proprietary right to quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the Land as registered proprietor; [15]

(b)  However because Sand Solutions and Colling had not appeared in court, and there may be some other basis for their belief that a subsisting proprietary right existed surviving the indefeasibility provisions of the Transfer of Land Act, it was appropriate to apply principles applicable to the grant of interlocutory injunctions by analogy; [16]

(c)         An interlocutory injunction would go because –

(i)    The plaintiff had demonstrated a prima facie case that there was a high proba­bility, approaching a certainty, on the evidence, that its proprietary interest in the Land was free from any proprietary interest of the kind claimed in the Third and Fourth Caveats.   There was also a prima facie case that if not restrained Sand Solutions and Colling would continue to lodge caveats as bargaining chips in pursuit of asserted rights under the Sand Extraction Agreement; [29]-[30]

(ii)      The injury which the plaintiff was likely to suffer was one for which dam­ages would not provide an adequate remedy.  In cases concerning the ‘quieting of title’, meaning the seeking of the assistance of the Court to protect and preserve the title to land against unwarranted challenges or claims, damages were not considered an adequate remedy; [31]

(iii)  The balance of convenience favoured the plaintiff.  The strength of the plaintiff’s claim, the weakness of the claims raised by the Third and Fourth Caveats, and the evidence of actual and potential injury to the plaintiff occasioned by the caveat entailed that the course carrying the lower risk of injustice (if it should turn out to have been wrong) was to restrain Sand Solutions and Colling, but, because they had not appeared, to give them liberty to apply to discharge the injunction. [32]

                                                                                     Philip. H. Barton
Owen Dixon Chambers West
Tuesday, May 25, 2021

42. Claim for compensation under TLA s. 118.

Long Forest Estate Pty Ltd v Singh & Anor [2020] VSC 604 (23 September 2020), John Dixon J., is a very long case only part of which involves a caveat.  It is also an interesting decision on whether a vendor’s statement is required to disclose declarations or decisions by a Minister or Department of the Commonwealth.  Briefly the facts were –

  • The plaintiff (Long Forest) owned farmland adjacent to a Nature Conservation Reserve.  It had acquired the land for residential development but without any active planning approvals in place.
  • The land was subject to –
    • three declarations of the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Heritage under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (Cth) as to threatened species, ecological communities and key threatening processes;
    • two decisions of the Minister under that Act which related to Long Forest’s proposal for residential development.  The former decision, in 2014, described the proposed construction of a particular residential development as a controlled action, stating that the project would require assessment and approval under the Act before it could proceed.  The latter decision, in 2015, informed the plaintiff that its proposal to construct the residential development would be approved subject to conditions.

The declarations, applications for approval for projects constituting controlled action and any final approval by the Minister were publicly available documents. 

  • However, by 2016 the plaintiff no longer intended to develop the land.  It was listed for sale without a planning permit. 
  • Negotiations occurred between representatives of Long Forest and the first defendant (Singh).  The Sale of Land Act s. 32D(a) required the vendor to disclose –

“[P]articulars of any notice, order, declaration, report or recommendation of a public authority or government department or approved proposal directly and currently affecting the land, …”

The vendor’s statement did not disclose the Minister’s declarations or decisions. 

  • Singh signed the contract of sale after being given a copy of the vendor’s statement.  He subsequently nominated the second defendant as purchaser. 
  • The purchaser did not pay the balance of the purchase price.  On 13 June 2017 the vendor served a rescission notice.  On 21 June 2017 a caveat was lodged on behalf of the nominee purchaser claiming a freehold estate with an absolute prohibition on dealing on the grounds that the caveator was a purchaser under an uncompleted contract of sale.  On 27 June the vendor’s solicitors wrote to the purchaser’s solicitors stating that as the rescission notice had not been complied with the contract was terminated and the deposit was forfeited.   In the meantime the defendants contended that they had validly rescinded the contract for non-compliance with s. 32D.
  • Long Forest applied to the Registrar of Titles under the Transfer of Land Act (TLA) s. 89A for service of a notice on the caveator.   In response the caveat was withdrawn and two replacement caveats were lodged on behalf of Mr Singh and the second defendant, each claiming a purchaser’s lien to secure repayment of the deposit of $400,000.
  • Long Forest’s solicitors wrote demanding that these caveats be removed, foreshadowing proceedings under s. 90(3), notifying that the caveat was preventing refinancing at a lower interest rate, and foreshadowing a claim for compensation under the TLA s. 118 for loss suffered by the refinancing delay.
  • Proceedings under s. 90(3) were issued but by agreement, reflected in a consent order, the caveats were withdrawn on the undertaking of Long Forest’s solicitors to hold $400,000 in trust not to be withdrawn without agreement or further order.

Long Forest made a number of claims against the defendants including under s. 118 for compensation for the delay in refinancing from 22 November 2017 to 11 April 2018.

John Dixon J. relevantly held –

  1. The plaintiff had validly rescinded the contract for non-payment of the residue of the price and was entitled to forfeit the deposit.  The defendants’ argument that the plaintiff had breached s. 32D by not disclosing the Minister’s declarations or decisions failed.  Neither the Minister nor the Department was a public authority or a government department as those terms were used in the Sale of Land Act – the Victorian Parliament never contemplated that information issued by Commonwealth agencies or departments would need to be attached to a vendor’s statement.  Further, none of the declarations or notices directly and currently affected the land at the relevant time, as Long Forest had already abandoned its application for ministerial approval of the controlled action constituted by the subdivision of the land.   Under the federal statutory regime, any approval of a proposed action and the conditions attached was affixed to the designated proponent and the project constituting the controlled action, rather than the land that constituted the relevant habitat or environment. [8]-[10], [13], [117], [141], [157], [158], [169], [174]-[176], [179], [181], [182]
  2. His Honour stated the law under s. 118 in conventional terms, in particular referring to KB Corporate Pty Ltd v Sayfe & Anor.  (KB is dealt with in Blog 9 but its summary of six relevant propositions is set out in Blog 24, Lanciana v Alderuccio per Moore J., paragraph 2). [339]-[341]
  3. Mr Singh had an honest belief, based on reasonable grounds, that he was entitled to the interest claimed in the caveat on the grounds identified.  Where a caveat is lodged by solicitors on behalf of a caveator, it would usually be inferred that those solicitors received instructions, gave advice and were then further instructed to lodge the caveat.  Ordinarily, such inferences will be drawn in the absence of specific evidence demonstrating departure from expected conveyancing practice.  Long Forest had not discharged the onus of proving that the solicitors lodging the caveats either never genuinely advised Singh that there was a proper basis to contend for breach of s 32D, entitling him to return of the deposit, or were not his lawyers at the relevant time.  His Honour was not persuaded that there was not a genuine dispute between the parties about the termination of the contract and the entitlement to the deposit, a dispute that has only been quelled by this Judgment. [11], [342], [343], [351], [352], 354]-[356]

Philip H. Barton

Owen Dixon Chambers West

27 October 2020

41. Indemnity costs – Injunction against caveating – Mercury Draught Cider drinking caveator attracts both injunction and indemnity costs.

The two cases in this Blog are, but for one point, mundane cases of removal of hopeless caveats, indemnity costs and in the second case an injunction against caveating.  The one point is that in the second case the case for an injunction was so strong that the Associate Justice did not require an undertaking as to damages.  The mundaneness of the cases is also enlivened by some remarks by the caveator in the second case.

In Devine v Bernstone [2020] VSC 507, (17 August 2020), Croucher J, the facts were –
  • The plaintiff and defendant were involved in litigation pending before the County Court relating to monies which the defendant alleged were owed to him by a company of which the plaintiff is or was a director.
  • In 2018 the defendant caveated over a property owned by the plaintiff to protect his alleged interest under the agreements the subject of the County Court proceedings. His solicitors advised him that he had no caveatable interest and the caveat was withdrawn.
  • The plaintiff subsequently entered a contract to sell this property. Settlement was due on 28 November 2019 but was postponed because the defendant caveated again, this time on the ground of an alleged agreement dated 18 November 2019.
  • The plaintiff’s solicitors wrote to the defendant seeking details regarding the alleged agreement without response. They also requested that he remove the caveat to which he responded that he would do so in exchange for payment of $240,000.
  • The plaintiff commenced proceedings under the Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3) to remove the caveat. At the hearing in December 2019 the defendant (who was self-represented) said that the reference in the caveat to an agreement dated 18 November 2019 was erroneous, stated that he instead relied on an alleged conversation with the plaintiff and on a term in a loan agreement, but ultimately accepted that the caveat had no proper basis and withdrew his opposition to removal.

His Honour ordered the defendant to pay costs on an indemnity basis because of special circumstances, being –

  1. The ground stated in the caveat did not exist. [31]
  2. The alternative justifications for the caveat raised at the hearing were unmeritorious and the alleged conversation with the plaintiff was unsupported by evidence. [32]-[34]
  3. The caveat was lodged in wilful disregard of repeated advice to the defendant (including from his solicitors) that he had no caveatable interest. [35]
  4. The caveat was lodged with the ulterior motive of exerting pressure on the plaintiff to repay monies allegedly owed. [36]
  5. Because the defendant refused to withdraw the caveat the plaintiff had to commence this proceeding and so incur costs. [37]
  6. The plaintiff’s solicitors warned that indemnity costs would be sought. [38]

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology v Galloway & Anor [2020] VSC 575, (9 September 2020), Derham AsJ.

RMIT owned the Oxford Scholar Hotel.  It entered a contract with Schiavello Construction (Vic) Pty Ltd (Schiavello) to redevelop and refurbish the hotel.  Schiavello engaged the first defendant as a subcontractor for the works.  He claimed that Schiavello owed him money.  RMIT called for expressions of interest, closing on 26 August, for the purchase of other land (“the land”) owned by it.  After this call the first defendant on 18 August lodged a caveat on the title to the land claiming a freehold estate pursuant to an agreement with the registered proprietor dated 3 August 2020.  Various expressions of interest were lodged and RMIT desired to advance the sale.

The first defendant had no legal relationship with RMIT, whose solicitors wrote to him twice seeking withdrawal of the caveat and warning that failing this proceedings would be issued and indemnity costs and compensation for loss suffered by RMIT would be sought.  He replied derisively including inviting the writer to “feel free to drop a slab around sometime”, stating that he drank Mercury Draught Cider, stating “see you in Court honey”, and accusing RMIT of behaving like foolish little children.

He also emailed RMIT: threatening to dump a truckload of rubbish outside the hotel and to put up posters at RMIT making allegations against RMIT; making personal threats against RMIT personnel; and demonstrating that he was aware of the baseless nature of the caveat and that he intended by it to inflict legal cost and media attention on RMIT.

RMIT applied for removal of the caveat under the Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3).  The first defendant acknowledged that the caveat was a desperate attempt to induce RMIT to intervene in his dispute with Schiavello.  Derham AsJ:

  • stated the criteria for caveat removal under s. 90(3) in conventional terms (eg see Blogs under Category “Caveat – Test for maintenance on s. 90(3) application”); [16]-[18]
  • removed the caveat on the ground of no prima facie interest in the land and (if necessary) balance of convenience; [20]-[22]
  • enjoined the first defendant against further caveating on the title of any land of which RMIT was registered proprietor.  Although an undertaking as to damages was offered by RMIT his Honour stated that the legal right to an injunction was so clear and the balance of convenience so weighted that an undertaking was neither necessary nor appropriate [24]; and
  • as the caveat was lodged for an ulterior motive and being used as a bargaining chip, ordered him to pay indemnity costs. [23], [25]

Philip H. Barton

Owen Dixon Chambers West

29 September 2020

40. B acquires monies from A by mistake or in breach of trust, which B passes on to a third party, who uses them to purchase land of which third party becomes registered proprietor – Monies held on constructive trust for A – Not mere equity – Caveat by A based on constructive trust upheld – AE Brighton Holdings Pty Ltd v UDP Holdings Pty Ltd [2020] VSCA 235. No purchaser’s lien and so no caveatable interest because purchaser in breach of contract of sale – Ironbridge Holdings Pty Ltd v O’Grady [2020] VSC 344.

AE Brighton Holdings Pty Ltd v UDP Holdings Pty Ltd [2020] VSCA 235 (11 September 2020) was an unsuccessful application for leave to appeal from the case of that name covered in Blog 32, in which Ginnane J dismissed an application under the Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3) for caveats to be removed.  The facts are now restated from that Blog and supplemented –

  • 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 that its sole shareholder 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 2017 UDP caveated over the properties on the grounds of an implied, resulting or constructive trust.
  • In 2018 the Supreme Court gave UDP leave to enforce the Award and ordered that it be given effect as a judgment of the Court (‘Award recognition judgment’).
  • In 2019 AE Brighton entered contracts to sell two of the properties.

After the decision of Ginnane J in October 2019 UDP took an assignment of a mortgage registered on the properties, took possession, as mortgagee in possession rescinded the contracts of sale, and sold the properties with settlement due on 4 September 2020.  Its solicitor swore that the net proceeds of sale would be paid into court pending resolution of a proceeding.

The Court of Appeal (Kyrou, Kaye and Sifris JJA) held or stated –

  1. The law related to applications under s. 90(3) in conventional terms (eg see Blog 1). [25]-[26]
  2. A successful challenge to the exercise of judicial discretion by Ginnane J required establishment of an error of the kind identified in House v The King (1936) 55 CLR 499 at 505. [27]
  3. Only a legal or equitable interest in land could sustain a caveat and accordingly, as stated by the High Court in Boensch v Pascoe [2019] HCA 49 (Blog 29), a mere statutory right to take steps to avoid a transaction did not suffice – the interest asserted must be in existence when the caveat was lodged. A mere equity, defined in various ways including ‘a right, usually of a procedural character, which is ancillary to some right of property, and which limits it or qualifies it in some way’, was not a proprietary interest. [28]-[29]
  4. The constructive trust of the type upon which UDP relied was an institutional trust arising from the retention of funds known to have been paid by mistake. More particularly –

(a)        This trust arose at the time when the person who received the funds acquired knowledge of the mistake, if the moneys paid could still be identified at that time.  The recipient’s conscience was then bound and it would be against conscience for the recipient to use the funds as his or her own. [30]

(b)      “Knowledge” meant the payee having actual knowledge, or wilfully shutting his or her eyes to the obvious, or wilfully and recklessly failing to make such inquiries as an honest and reasonable person would make, or having knowledge of circumstances which would indicate the facts to an honest or reasonable person. [31]

  1. A third party may be liable to account as a constructive trustee where it received trust property with notice that it was being dealt with in a manner involving a breach of trust. In accordance with the equitable principle of tracing, the beneficial owner of misappropriated property could recover it or its traceable proceeds from someone holding the asset, subject only to the defence of bona fide purchaser for value without notice.  Where a trustee wrongfully used trust money to provide part of the cost of acquiring an asset, the beneficiary was entitled at his or her option either to claim a proportionate share of the asset or to enforce a lien upon it to secure his or her personal claim against the trustee for the amount of the misapplied money. [32]-[33]
  2. This case had two features usually absent from cases where a caveator claimed an interest under a constructive trust –

(a)     There was a declaration, recognised by the Award recognition judgment which itself had the effect of declaring as a matter of law, that Esposito Holdings held the purchase price paid by UDP on constructive trust for UDP from 31 January 2014;

(b)    Secondly, the sole director of the corporate registered proprietor of the properties (Mr Esposito) had given sworn evidence at a public examination that funds subject to the constructive trust were used to purchase the properties.  He was aware of all the facts giving rise to the constructive trust.  As he was its sole director his knowledge was attributable to Esposito Holdings.  It was its knowledge of those facts, which operated on its conscience, that could give rise to an institutional constructive trust without the need for a court order and which enabled the arbitrator to declare the existence of a constructive trust from 31 January 2014.  Importantly, as Mr Esposito was also the sole director of the plaintiff, his knowledge was attributable to the plaintiff.

The combination of those two features established a prima facie case that the beneficiary of the constructive trust had an equitable interest in the properties, in accordance with the principles of tracing. [55], [56], [58].

  1. The Evidence Act 2008 s. 91 provided that evidence of the decision, or of a finding of fact, in an Australian or overseas proceeding was inadmissible to prove the existence of a fact that was in issue in that proceeding. However, s. 91 did not preclude Ginnane J from relying on the Final Award and the evidence adduced in the arbitration, as they were not being used to prove the existence of any fact but were being considered in assessing whether there was sufficient evidence to enable UDP to establish a prima facie case of the existence of a caveatable interest. [45], [59]-[60]

In Ironbridge Holdings Pty Ltd v O’Grady [2020] VSC 344 (11 June 2020), Ginnane J, the facts and relevant holdings were –

  • In 2006 the plaintiff entered a contract of sale to purchase land from vendors of which the defendant was the survivor.  The settlement date was no later than 7 years but was extended.
  • A deposit and certain instalments of purchase money were paid, but the final instalment was not.  Part of the land was transferred.  The vendor rescinded the contract.
  • The purchaser caveated on the basis of an alleged equitable (purchaser’s) lien over the untransferred land to secure repayment of instalments of purchase money and interest.
  • The purchaser succeeded in a claim for restitution.  However the purchaser was held not to have a caveatable interest.  His Honour observed that where title was not conveyed the purchaser’s lien secured the repayment of monies paid by the purchaser, to whom it gave a right to sell the property and take a share of the proceeds of sale in an amount equal to the debt.  But there must be a debt which the lien could secure.  Here there was no lien because the purchaser was in default of its obligations under the contract: the purchaser was only entitled to the lien where the contract went off through no fault of its own. [307], [309], [310], [312]-[314]

Philip H. Barton

Owen Dixon Chambers West

21 September 2020

 

39. Solicitors’ sigh of relief made permanent – Not liable for compensation under TLA s. 118. 

Comment.   Blog 24 dealt with Lanciana v Alderuccio [2019] VSC 198 which held that a solicitor lodging a caveat on behalf of a client was not liable for compensation under the Transfer of Land Act s. 118.  The Court of Appeal confirmed this in Lanciana v Alderuccio [2020] VSCA 152 (12 June 2020). 

The facts and relevant legislation were (for convenience largely copied from Blog 24) –

  • The plaintiff and Bloomingdale Holdings Pty Ltd (Bloomingdale) were equal unitholders in two trusts. The sole shareholder and director of Bloomingdale was Antonio Gangemi.
  • In 2001 – 2 the trustee of one trust purchased a property and the trustee of the other trust purchased another property.
  • A dispute arose between the plaintiff and Gangemi concerning their business dealings and rights in respect of both properties. The defendants acted as solicitors for Bloomingdale and Gangemi.
  • In 2003 the dispute was settled by an agreement whereby Gangemi’s and Bloomingdale’s interests in both properties would be transferred to the plaintiff or his entities. This transfer to the plaintiff occurred, on which he became solely entitled to the beneficial interest in both properties, and caveats lodged on behalf of Bloomingdale over both properties were withdrawn.
  • However, on 29 March 2005, the defendants as “Alderuccio Solicitors” lodged caveats over both properties on behalf of Bloomingdale as caveator, claiming an equitable estate in fee simple pursuant to a deed of trust dated 25 February 2002 between Bloomingdale and both trustees. The caveats identified “Alderuccio Solicitors” as the address for service of notice and were signed by an “agent being a Current Practitioner under the Legal Practice Act 1996”.
  • The plaintiff alleged that these 2005 caveats caused it loss and damage.
  • Section 118 provided that –

“Any person lodging with the Registrar without reasonable cause any caveat under this Act shall be liable to make to any person who sustains damage thereby such compensation as the Court deems just and orders”.

  • The plaintiff sued the defendants alleging that when the 2005 caveats were lodged they knew or ought to have known that Bloomingdale did not have a caveatable interest and could not reasonably have held an honest belief based on reasonable grounds that it had a caveatable interest.
  • Moore J held that the solicitors were not “a person” lodging a caveat for the purposes of s. 118. The plaintiff applied for leave to appeal.

The Court of Appeal (Tate, Hargrave and Emerton JJA) refused leave to appeal holding –

  1. The reasoning of Moore J was correct. [10]
  2. Insofar as a caveat is lodged by an agent of a person claiming an interest in land, the agent stood in the shoes of that person. The act of lodging the caveat was the act of the principal. The acts of the respondents in lodging the caveats were the acts of Bloomingdale. [31]
  3. Section 118 was to be read in tandem with s. 89(1). The person “who lodged the caveat” was (s 89(1)) “Any person claiming any estate or interest in the land …”. [33]
  4. Authorities on “reasonable cause” under s. 118 were Edmonds v Donovan (2005) 12 VR 513, [2005] VSCA 27; New Galaxy Investments Pty Ltd v Tomson [2017] NSWCA 153 and (the subject of Blog 9) KB Corporate Pty Ltd v Sayfe [2017] VSC 623 [19] (Mukhtar AsJ). [36]
  5. The fact that ss. 89(1) and 118 used the words “any person” rather than “the caveator” was a function of the fact that both the “claiming” and the “lodging” preceded the “recording” of the caveat in s. 89(2). The opening phrase “[a]ny person lodging” in s. 118 was in the present tense because that was the point in time at which the question of “reasonable cause” was to be assessed, that is, when the person is about to lodge or is in the course of lodging the caveat and the caveat had not yet been recorded. [39]

Philip H. Barton

Owen Dixon Chambers West

21 July 2020

38. Removal of caveats by courts exercising Family Law jurisdiction

Comment. 

To non – Family Lawyers, including me, one approaches the topic of this Blog as approaching a rumoured mystery.  However on examination the jurisdiction of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court to remove a caveat is considerable.  As the cases below show the jurisdiction is exercisable not only where one party to a marriage caveats over the other’s property, but also where one party to a marriage caveats over the property of someone joined as a party to a proceeding (typically a second respondent), and even over non – party caveators with notice of it who had not intervened, the Registrar of Titles also not being a party. This removal under the TLA s. 90(3) of a caveat lodged by a non-party is unique to Family Law. 

Examples of courts exercising Family Law jurisdiction ordering removal of caveats appear to date at least from Bowe & Bateman [2012] FamCA 392 where the court issued a mandatory injunction requiring removal of a caveat.  Then in Auricchio & Auricchio and Ors (No. 2) [2014] FamCA 240 Forrest J. followed Bowe but also held that the court could have ordered removal of a caveat under the Queensland equivalent of the TLA s. 90(3). 

This Blog deals with recent Victorian cases of removal of the following caveats – 

Green & Walls [2019] FamCA 76 – caveat by Husband thwarting performance of Family Court order. 

Tailor & Tailor [2019] FamCA 383 – caveat by Wife over property owned by Husband from before marriage.  Also a reminder of the basic proposition that an application under s. 79 of the Family Law Act for alteration of property interests was not a caveatable interest – see also Hermiz v Yousif  [2019] VSC 160 (Blog 22). 

Siebel & Siebel & Anor [2019] FCCA 3367 – caveat by Husband over property owned by second respondent (son). 

Skye & Saidel and Anor [2020] FamCA 18 – caveats by non-parties over land owned by the second respondent who was the Wife’s mother. 

Green & Walls [2019] FamCA 76, (22 February 2019), Cronin J.

·        In 2014 the Husband lodged a caveat over property claiming an interest on the basis of an “implied, resulting or constructive trust”.

·     Final property orders were made in 2016 in which the Wife was required to “discharge and refinance” the mortgage over that property, thereby releasing the Husband from the mortgage, and so she would be sole registered proprietor.  Contemporaneously with the refinance the Husband was required to withdraw the caveat.  If she could not obtain this release she was required to sell the property.  There was no order indicating that the parties held any property upon trust for the purposes of the completion of their obligations under the orders.

·      Because the Husband did not comply with a particular payment order the Wife was forced to put the property on the market, requiring removal of the caveat. 

Cronin J directed the Registrar of Titles to remove the caveat.  Because the orders of the Family Court were still executory it was still seized of the matter and had power to direct the removal of the caveat arising from its accrued jurisdiction [14]-[15].  More particularly – 

(a)   The claim for removal came within the “scope of the controversy” which is “identifiable independent of the proceedings… brought for its determination”.  The scope was not limited to matters “incidental” to that which attracted federal jurisdiction in the first place but was here incidental to the completion of the obligations under the 2016 orders; [22]

(b)    What was required to be identified was whether or not the claim which might otherwise appear to be outside of the Family Court’s usual jurisdiction was essential for the determination of the federal claim.  Here, the federal claim was determined in 2016 but the efficacy of the order as an exercise of the power of the Commonwealth depended upon the caveat issue being determined; [23]

(c)    The court had power either as a court of competent jurisdiction (within the definition in s. 4 of the Transfer of Land Act) or as part of its determination of the federal claim.  The use of the State law was essential, or an integral element of the controversy between the husband and the wife about the alteration of property interests.  Accordingly the exercise of power in s. 90 was within the jurisdiction of the court. [24], [26]

Tailor & Tailor [2019] FamCA 383, (2 July 2019), McEvoy J.

·      In February 2019 the Wife caveated over property which the Husband had owned from long before the marriage.

·      In May 2019 she filed an Initiating Application seeking final orders for the adjustment of property interests.  A few days later he filed an Application seeking orders including that the Wife forthwith remove the caveat.  This order was made upon the Husband’s undertaking not to sell, dispose of, or encumber the property without notice.  His Honour held –

1.   An application pursuant to s. 79 of the Family Law Act for alteration of property interests was not a caveatable interest. 

2.   Applying Auricchio & Auricchio and Ors (No. 2), if a party had lodged a caveat on a property the subject of litigation in the Family Court, an application for the removal of that caveat was properly to be regarded as arising out of a common substratum of facts and formed part of a single justiciable controversy.  It accordingly fell within the jurisdiction of that court which could require the party to remove the caveat by the issue of a mandatory injunction in these terms pursuant to the Family Law Act s 114.

Siebel & Siebel & Anor [2019] FCCA 3367, (21 November 2019), Judge Blake

·     The Applicant Husband advanced a sum to his son towards purchase of a property.  The son became registered proprietor. 

·    In 2017 the Husband lodged a caveat on the basis of an implied, resulting or constructive trust.  In 2018 he applied under s. 79 of the Family Law Act for a just and equitable division of property of the marriage.  As the Applicant asserted that the property should be transferred to him and the Wife and then be available for distribution between them as part of the asset pool of the marriage his son was joined as second respondent. 

·     The Federal Circuit Court held that the advance of money was an unconditional gift and so that no trust existed, but that even if there had been evidence of a resulting trust the presumption of advancement applied in favour of the son.  Accordingly the property was not part of the asset pool.

·     His Honour also ordered that the Husband withdraw the caveat failing which the Registrar of Titles was directed pursuant to s. 90(3) of the Transfer of Land Act to remove the caveat.  His Honour followed the reasoning of Cronin J. in Green & Walls:
the substance of the dispute before the Court concerned the ownership of the property and the efficacy of the orders made as an exercise of the Commonwealth power depended upon the caveat issue being determined.

Skye & Saidel and Anor [2020] FamCA 18, (17 January 2020), Macmillan J. 

·       In 2011 the second respondent, who was the mother of the Wife, provided the moneys for purchase of a property of which they and the Husband became joint registered proprietors. 

·       In 2014 D Pty Ltd lodged a caveat over the property on the basis of a Credit Account Application and guarantee for the supply of materials for a business, which was signed by the Husband in his capacity as a director – the Husband had agreed to charge his interest in any real estate in which he had a beneficial interest. 

·      In 2018 a second caveat was lodged by the liquidator of that company on the basis of an equitable mortgage given by the Husband over his interest in the property in settlement of proceedings by the liquidator against the company and the Husband. 

·     In 2018 the Wife filed an Initiating Application against the Husband seeking orders for property settlement.  The orders eventually sought included an order that she and the Husband transfer their interests in the property to her mother who was formally joined as second respondent.  In an Amended Response the second respondent sought a declaration pursuant to s. 78 of the Family Law Act as to the legal and beneficial ownership of the property and consequential orders.  The Wife sought a similar declaration. 

MacMillan J was satisfied that the caveators had been given notice of the proceedings, were aware of the orders sought and had elected not to intervene in the proceedings.

Her Honour held – 

1.    Although the second respondent was not a party to the marriage, where there was a single justiciable controversy the Family Court could exercise its accrued jurisdiction to make the orders the second named respondent sought: the Court could not determine the proceedings pursuant to s. 79 of the Family Law Act without first determining the husband and wife’s legal and equitable interests in the land.  Also s. 78 provided a proper judicial basis for the making of a declaration binding the parties to this proceeding so long as the proceedings in which the declaration was to be made was, as in this case, a matrimonial cause. [25]. 

2.    As the Husband and Wife held their interest in the land on a resulting trust or on a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust for the mother the declaration sought would be made.  [27]-[31]

3.    If the Husband had an interest in the land he could charge or mortgage it without notice to the other registered proprietors.  However, as the Husband did not hold his interest in the property beneficially he had no interest to mortgage or charge which could sustain the caveats. [42], [45]

2.    Exercising the court’s power arising under the accrued jurisdiction the Registrar of Titles would be directed under the Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3) to remove the caveats. [53], [54], [56]

 

Philip H. Barton

Owen Dixon Chambers West

2 June 2020

 

 

 

37. Caveat claiming resulting implied or constructive trust removed – No prima facie case – Difference between “prima facie case” and “serious question to be tried” tests – Circumstances in which hearsay admissible on application under TLA s. 90(3).

SMAV Nominees Pty Ltd v Bakal Enterprises Pty Ltd [2020] VSC 203 (24 April 2020), Derham AsJ

Comment.   This case is interesting for the following reasons –

1.   It considers the circumstances in which hearsay is admissible on an application to remove a caveat under the Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3).  See also Blog 11.

2.     Derham AsJ considers whether the caveator has to show, as to the existence of its asserted legal or equitable rights in the land, on the one hand a prima facie case or on the other hand a serious question to be tried.  His Honour states that the first is the correct test (as previously stated in Blog 1) and indeed states (at [64]) that the first test requires a higher standard than the second, citing the decision of Warren CJ in Piroshenko v Grojsman [2010] VSC 240; (2010) 27 VR 489.  It is, however, difficult to find any case in which a court holds that a caveator met one and not the other test (in this case Derham AsJ finds that caveator failed both), and indeed in Concrete Mining Structures Pty Ltd v Cellcrete Australia Pty Ltd [2015] FCA 888 at [33] (not a caveat case) Edelman J stated that the difference between the two tests is one of language not of substance.

3.   Although his Honour simply ordered that the caveator pay the plaintiff’s costs of the application he reserved liberty to apply in relation to his proposed orders.  It was ominous that he also found that the caveat had been used as a bargaining chip as this may foreshadow indemnity costs – see Blog 35 and previous Blogs on costs. 

The facts were –

·      In October and November 2017 the plaintiff’s sole director Mavroudis loaned Sabawi a total of $200,000.

·     In April 2018 Mavroudis was introduced to 294 Pound Road Hampton Park (“the property”) by Sabawi, whom he believed to be a licensed real estate agent.   On 13 April he signed a “Letter of Offer Expression of Interest” and paid a holding deposit of $10,000 to one of the vendors at the direction of Sabawi.

·    On or about 17 April 2018 Sabawi asked Mavroudis for his bank account details so that he could repay the loan of $200,000.  Mavroudis did this.  Sabawi subsequently advised Mavroudis that he had repaid the $200,000 to his account.  Mavroudis received the $200,000 into his account on 18 April 2018, recorded in his bank statement as “Inward Telegraphic Transfer 180490”.   

·   On 7 July 2018 Sabawi presented the contract of sale to Mavroudis for signing with the purchaser named as “294 Pound Road Pty Ltd” and the vendor’s estate agent named as a particular company formed by the two of them other than for the purpose of selling real estate.  Mavroudis signed only after insisting that the document be altered to show the plaintiff as purchaser and the sale as being by private treaty.   The plaintiff became registered proprietor. 

·  On 23 August 2019, the solicitors for the plaintiff and Mavroudis received a letter of demand from the then solicitors for the first defendant (“Bakal Enterprises”) demanding repayment of $200,000.  Among other things the letter alleged that, following discussion with an unnamed mutual friend, Bakal Enterprises had paid $200,000 into Mavroudis’s account on 18 April 2018 as a contribution towards a development on the property, which had fallen over.  Shortly before this letter Mavroudis received a telephone call to similar effect from, he gathered, Bakal, who was Bakal Enterprises’ sole director.

·        On 27 August 2019 the plaintiff’s solicitors responded, stating that Mavroudis’ first knowledge of these allegations was in this telephone call and refuting them.  On 16 September 2019 the then solicitors for Bakal Enterprises responded confirming that the mutual friend was Sabawi, enclosing a receipt so as to corroborate the statement that Bakal Enterprises and not Sabawi had made the $200,000 payment, and demanding its repayment. 

·     The plaintiff heard nothing further until receiving notice that Bakal Enterprises through its new solicitors Madgwicks had caveated on 10 February 2020 claiming a freehold interest in the property on the basis of a resulting implied or constructive trust.

·     The plaintiff’s solicitors demanded removal of the caveat and stated  that the $200,000 had been repayment of a loan by Sabawi.  On 27 and 28 February Madgwicks and the plaintiff’s solicitors communicated, in the course of which:

·       Madgwicks stated that Sabawi denied the loan, maintaining that the caveator had an interest in the land arising from the contribution of $200,000 towards its purchase;

·   the plaintiff’s solicitors provided documentary evidence of the $200,000 loan to Sabawi, foreshadowed caveat removal proceedings, reiterated Mavroudis’ previous account of the facts, and stated that: the plaintiff had purchased the property with its own funds and financial assistance from Mavroudis’s father; a planning permit for a subdivision of the property was imminent; the plaintiff had a very interested buyer once it could sell with plans and permits but that this was impeded by the caveat. 

·        On or about 5 March Bakal and Sabawi conferred with Madgwicks. On 12 March Madgwicks wrote to the plaintiff’s solicitors stating, after reiterating its instructions about the $200,000 payment, that Sabawi had instructed it that Mavroudis inappropriately altered the name of the purchaser in the contract of sale from 294 Pound Road Pty Ltd (to be incorporated between Mavroudis and Sabawi) to the plaintiff’s name and “[we] are informed by Mr Sabawi that this change was made under false pretences and without adequate payment to Mr Sabawi, who was instrumental in facilitating the sale in the first place …. Mr Sabawi is currently attending to swearing a statutory declaration confirming the above…”.

The plaintiff applied under s. 90(3) of the Transfer of Land Act for removal of the caveat.  Before the caveator filed any evidence Madgwicks offered in return for withdrawal of the caveat that $300,000 be held in trust pending determination of the dispute.

The material before the court included –

·      an affidavit by the caveator’s solicitor which stated that a statutory declaration was being prepared by Sabawi;

·       an affidavit by Bakal.  This affidavit exhibited a statutory declaration, inferred by his Honour to have been prepared by Madgwicks, said to have been made by Sabawi, containing Sabawi’s evidence including disputing Mavroudis’ account of the facts.   Bakal asserted that Sabawi had not sworn an affidavit because of the social distancing measures required in the COVID-19 pandemic. The statutory declaration omitted reference to the false pretences allegation contained in Madgwicks’ letter of 12 March.  It included that: in March 2018 Sabawi told Mavroudis that he was getting a friend to pay the deposit for the purchase; that after the $200,000 payment, Mavroudis acknowledged to Sabawi that the plaintiff had received the money; and he informed Mavroudis at the time of payment that the money was sent to him from Bakal for the purposes of the purchase.

·        Bakal’s affidavit contained a rendition of financial and property dealings between Sabawi and Bakal, with repetition of statements allegedly made by Sabawi about Mavroudis.  Bakal deposed –

·        that he did not know Mavroudis personally and other than the transfer of the $200,000 he had not had any relationship or dealings with him or his entities;

·        (partly denied by Mavroudis) as to an alleged involvement in this transfer of $200,000, garnished with further complex dealings.  He deposed that: on or about 18 April 2018, he transferred $200,000 to the plaintiff by electronic fund transfer, without contact between the plaintiff (or Mavroudis) and Bakal Enterprises (or Bakal); the details of who and when to pay were provided by Sabawi to him.  The reference on the payment produced by Bakal was “Deposit Pound Road”.  

·        affidavits by Mavroudis in which he deposed that when he signed the contract of sale he did not know, or know of, the caveator or anyone associated with it, and that he had not entered into any agreement, either personally or through any agent, with the caveator or any other party in relation to the property.  Mavroudis deposed that there was no truth in the account in the statutory declaration. 

The plaintiff submitted that the statutory declaration was inefficacious for non- compliance with the Oaths and Affirmations Act 2018 in its execution and witnessing. 

Derham AsJ held –

1.     Sabawi could have sworn an affidavit deposing to the matters in his statutory declaration.   The inconsistencies between the statutory declaration and matters raised in correspondence, in particular in the Madgwicks letter of 12 March, were relevant to an assessment of the strength of the caveator’s claim.  [27]-[28]

2.     However, regardless of the efficacy of that statutory declaration under the Oaths and Affirmations Act, the material in it was admissible because –

(a)     Under r. 43.03(2) of the Supreme Court (General Civil Procedure) Rules 2015, on an interlocutory application an affidavit may contain a statement of fact based on information and belief if the grounds were set out.  This included the identification of the supplier of the information, ie its source.  Nonetheless, the Court had a discretion to admit an affidavit non-compliant in this regard;

(b)     Section 75 of the Evidence Act 2008 provided that in an interlocutory proceeding the hearsay rule did not apply to evidence if the party who adduced it also adduced evidence of its source.  The source must be identified by name;

(c)     If Bakal’s affidavit had related the material in the statutory declaration as what he had been told by Sabawi it would have been admissible, this application being interlocutory and the source being disclosed. [51]-[56]

3.     His Honour set out the law on caveats in conventional terms, which, as this law is set out in Blog 1, it is unnecessary to repeat except in one regard.   His Honour noted that: the caveator bore the onus of establishing a prima facie case to be tried, ie a probability on the evidence that the caveator will be found to have the asserted legal or equitable rights or interest in the land, not that it was more probable than not that at trial it (his Honour states “the plaintiff” but this appears to be a slip) would succeed; and that probability is sufficient to justify the practical effect which the caveat has on the ability of the registered proprietor to deal with the property in accordance with their normal proprietary rights;

this test was often used interchangeably with whether the caveator established a serious question to be tried, but the prima facie case test was to be preferred;

the “prima facie case” test required a higher standard that the “serious question to be tried” test.  [30]-[33], [64]

4.     Where two people provided the purchase money for a property jointly, but the property was put into the name of one of them only, the property was, in the absence of a relationship giving rise to a presumption of advancement, presumed to be held on resulting trust in favour of the unregistered party in proportion to their contribution. [57]

5.     The caveator had not established a prima facie case or even, if it had been applicable, satisfied the serious question to be tried test, because Mavroudis gave evidence that he believed the payment of $200,000 was repayment of a debt and the evidence to the contrary was at best contained in Sabawi’s statutory declaration, which was of little weight, ambiguous and contrived.   Insofar as it purported to ascribe knowledge to Mavroudis of the purpose of the payment, it did not support a resulting trust claim: there was no identification of the supposed beneficiary of the trust beyond “a friend” and the ambiguous statement that the money was sent to the plaintiff by Bakal for the purpose of purchasing the property.  That might indicate that the beneficiary was to be Sabawi or Bakal.   The only objective evidence supporting the caveator’s claim was the payment of $200,000 itself and the record that Bakal produced that it related to “Pound Road”.   However, there was no evidentiary link between the payment of $200,000 and the payment of the deposit nearly three months later. [58]-[65], [76]

6.     For the same reasons there was also no prima facie case of a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust.  There was no evidence of consensus between the caveator and the registered proprietor which could give rise to a joint endeavour. [66]-[69]

7.    There was no suggestion that the existence of a claim for restitution gave rise to any equitable interest in the property. [70], [76]

8.     The caveat had been used as a bargaining chip to obtain payment of $200,000.  Although there were many cases in which a caveat dispute was resolved as proposed by the caveator’s solicitors, with the addition of a mechanism for the resolution of the dispute sometimes involving the caveator commencing a proceeding, the registered proprietor was entitled to deal with its property as it saw fit without being restrained by the injunctive effect of the caveat unless the caveator established a proper basis for the caveat. [73]-[76]

9.     The caveator was ordered to pay the plaintiff’s costs of the application.  His Honour however reserved liberty to apply in relation to his proposed orders. [77]

Philip H. Barton

Owen Dixon Chambers West

26 May 2020