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

 

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

 

30. Vendors agreeing to extend settlement date through act of agent with actual or ostensible authority – Not a formal variation of contract of sale required to comply with Instruments Act s. 126 but a waiver or estoppel – However caveator by withdrawing previous caveat had elected not to sue for specific performance but only to claim damages or was estopped from asserting the contrary – Caveat removed.

Chan & Anor v Liu & Anor [2020] VSCA 28 (25 February 2020) was a successful appeal from a decision of Forbes J [2019] VSC 650 upholding a caveat.  The facts were –

  • By a contract dated 21 July 2018 the first respondent Zhenzhu Liu agreed to purchase a property in Burwood Highway, Burwood, from the applicants for $2,450,000 with settlement due on 22 July 2019.
  • Most of the discussions concerning the sale were between Mr Liu’s wife Yumei Feng and Xuehang Cheng who was a sales consultant employed by the selling agents.  Soon after the contract was entered into she asked through him whether the vendors would agree to extend settlement to 15 September 2019 without penalty.  After speaking to the second vendor he conveyed that the vendors would only agree to an extension to 22 August 2019.  Ms Feng again sought an extension to 15 September, Mr Cheng again sought the vendors’ consent and again confirmed that the vendors would extend settlement to 22 August 2019.  Further interaction to similar effect then occurred between the purchaser’s solicitors and the agents, and on 10 August 2018 the agents again stated that the vendors had agreed to extend the settlement date to 22 August 2019.
  • Mr Liu deposed that he and Ms Feng believed that the extension to 22 August 2019 was confirmed and that only the further request to extend settlement to 15 September 2019 was not, and that they were preparing their finances for settlement on 22 August 2019 in reliance on the agent’s representation.
  • On 10 August 2018 Mr Liu caveated claiming an interest in the property pursuant to the contract of sale.
  • In late 2018 the vendors requested the purchaser to temporarily ‘lift’ the caveat so that they could refinance.  The caveat was accordingly withdrawn and on 21 December 2018 a second caveat was lodged.
  • Between 12 June and 22 July 2019 the solicitors for both parties engaged in manoeuvres and negotiations including: the purchaser’s solicitor asserting that the vendors had previously agreed to a penalty free extension to 22 August 2019 and the vendors’ solicitor disagreeing; the vendors’ solicitors seeking more money; the purchaser’s solicitor stating his client had difficulty obtaining finance and asking that the vendors consider an extension of the settlement date and a deferred payment of part of the price.
  • On 22 July, following no settlement by 4.00 pm, the vendors’ solicitor at 5.19 pm served a 14 day notice of default and rescission.
  • On 9 August the vendors’ solicitor wrote to the purchaser’s solicitor confirming termination of the contract and forfeiture of the deposit.  No response was received.
  • On 20 August the vendors’ solicitor wrote again noting that as a result of the purchaser’s default his clients needed to re-sell and demanding withdrawal of the second caveat.  In response, on 22 August the purchaser withdrew the second caveat and his solicitor advised the vendors’ solicitor of this.  However, next day the purchaser’s solicitor wrote again stating that the withdrawal of the caveat was ‘without prejudice to any of the [respondent’s] rights under the contract or at all, which rights are fully reserved’.  The vendors’ solicitor responded that day stating that his clients were attempting to re-sell quickly and requesting that the purchaser not jeopardise or delay this re-sale.
  • On 27 August the vendors entered into a contract of re-sale to a third party.
  • On 3 September 2019 the purchaser lodged a third caveat claiming an interest in the property pursuant to the (original) contract of sale and next day his solicitor sent a notice to complete by 19 September 2019.  The vendors subsequently disputed the validity of these actions.  They subsequently applied under the Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3) to remove the caveat.

The court (Beach, Kyrou and Kaye JJA) gave leave to appeal and allowed the appeal, holding –

  1. The power of the court under s. 90(3) was discretionary and so to obtain leave to appeal the applicants must establish material error by the judge in the exercise of that discretion of the kind described by the High Court in House v The King (1936) 35 CLR 499. [41]
  2. The principles applicable under s. 90(3) were as stated by Warren CJ in Piroshenko v Grojsman [2010] VSC 240, (2010) 27 VR 489, ie that the caveator must persuade the court that:

(1)  there is a probability on the evidence before the court that he or she will be found to have the asserted equitable rights or interest; and

(2)  that probability is sufficient to justify the caveat’s practical effect on the ability of the registered proprietor to deal with the property in accordance with normal proprietary rights.

But that these propositions were qualified by the fact that the discretion conferred by s. 90(3) was expressed broadly and enjoined the court to make such order as it thinks fit, and so the test adopted by the court ought not to restrict the statutory power.   Further, (1) and (2) are not mutually discrete: the exercise of the court’s discretion ultimately involved a synthesis of the Court’s conclusions on each. [42], [43], [75], [76]

  1. Where a purchaser had a right, in equity, to specifically enforce a contract of sale the purchaser thereby had an interest in the land, akin to an equitable interest, which may be protected by a caveat. [53]
  2. The parties had agreed that the specified settlement date be extended to 22 August 2019. Even if the vendors had insisted that the agent Mr Chan impose a condition on the extension of time, which he failed to do, for the purpose of the summary application under s. 90(3) it was appropriate to proceed on the basis that he had, at least, ostensible if not actual authority to enter into such an extension arrangement on behalf of the applicants.  Accordingly there was a serious issue to be tried that that ‘arrangement’ did not constitute a formal variation of the contract of sale (which would have been required to comply with s. 126 of the Instruments Act) but, rather, was a waiver of the stipulated settlement date of 22 July 2019 or founded an estoppel precluding the vendors relying on that date (instead of 22 August 2019). [55], [56]
  3. However, as to whether there was a serious issue to be tried that the purchaser, when he lodged the third caveat, had and continued to have the right to specifically enforce the contract, notwithstanding failure to pay the balance of purchase monies on 22 July 2019, as a consequence of which the vendors purported to rescind the contract –

(a)  Under the doctrine of election, a party confronted by two truly alternative or inconsistent rights or sets of rights (such as the right to avoid or terminate a contract and the right to affirm it and insist on performance of it) may lose one of those rights by election by acting in a manner which is consistent only with that party having chosen to rely on the other alternative or inconsistent right; [60]

(b) Ordinarily, a caveat removal application, being in the nature of an application for an interlocutory injunction, was not an occasion for the final determination of disputed factual issues, or of the substantive claims which the caveat sought to protect, and so it was not appropriate or necessary for the court to determine conclusively whether there was a binding election.  In the circumstances of the case, it was sufficient that there were strong grounds for concluding that the purchaser had made an unequivocal election not to retain his right to specific performance but, rather, to treat the contract of sale at an end, and pursue a claim for damages ([57], [59], [63], [67], [71]) for the following reasons –

(i)       the purpose of the lodgement of the second caveat was to protect the right of the purchaser to specific performance; [64]

(ii)   on 9 August the purchaser was placed on clear notice that the vendors took the position that the contract had been terminated.  Then, in the context of neither seeking to rebut nor respond to that position, he on 22 August withdrew the second caveat in response to the demand that he do so that the vendors could re-sell.   At this point it was strongly arguable that, in those circumstances, the purchaser’s conduct in withdrawing the caveat was an election no longer to claim a right to specific performance, which was an essential pre-condition to maintaining the second caveat.  That proposition was reinforced by the email of 23 August reiterating that the vendors were attempting to re-sell the property.  There was no assertion by the purchaser at any time before the re-sale on 27 August that the vendors were precluded from doing so because the purchaser had a right to specific performance; [65]

(iii)  the context in which the purchaser’s solicitor emailed on 23 August stating that the withdrawal of the caveat was done ‘without prejudice’ etc militated strongly against the proposition that the purchaser thus preserved his right to specific performance.  The only purpose served by the removal of the second caveat was to enable the applicants to re-sell the property, which re-sale would be directly inconsistent with any potential right of the purchaser to specific performance, and the email of 23 August did not suggest that the rights sought to be preserved included a right to specific performance or that the vendors could or should not re-sell. [66]

(c) For the same reasons there was a strong basis for concluding that the purchaser, by his conduct between 9 August and 27 August 2019, was estopped from contending that he continued to have a right to seek specific performance of the contract of sale.  He represented that he did not seek to maintain a caveatable interest in the property, so implying that he no longer sought to pursue a right to specific performance; by his withdrawal of caveat on 22 August, and his conduct at that time, he enabled the vendors to re-sell; if he was now permitted to depart from this representation the vendors would suffer detriment, namely, the loss of the contract of re-sale and exposure of them to a claim in damages (or other relief) by the new purchaser. [69], [71]

6.   The degree of likelihood of success in the proceeding was relevant to evaluation of the balance of convenience.  The above conclusions on election and estoppel were  of critical significance in an assessment of the balance of convenience against the fact that retention of the caveat would prevent completion of the contract of re-sale.   The balance of convenience accordingly favoured removal of the caveat. [73], [74], [77]

7.    The vendors’ further argument that, insofar as the parties had arranged, in August 2018, for the settlement date to be extended to 22 August 2019, nevertheless the conduct of the respondent between June 2019 and 22 August 2019 in some way rendered the extension of time nugatory, raised a question of fact which the court could not determine. [79]-[82]

Comment:

This case is interesting for the following reasons –

1.     In cases of contracts of sale the caveator/purchaser will often win or lose depending on whether there was a contract at all or if there had been whether it had been repudiated.  In this case the caveator lost because by the withdrawal of the second caveat he had given up the right to specific performance by affirmation or by estoppel.

2.    The court (paragraph 3 above) states that the right to specific performance is an “interest in land, akin to an equitable interest”.  The words “akin to” are interesting and are based mainly on Tanwar Enterprises Pty Ltd v Cauchi (2003) 217 CLR 315 at 332–3.  Older cases simply said that a specifically enforceable contract of sale confers an equitable interest on the purchaser (eg Bunny Industries Ltd v FSW Enterprises Pty Ltd [1982] Qd. R. 712, based on earlier authorities). 

3.   The principle that on a caveat removal application it is not appropriate or necessary for the court to determine conclusively whether a particular legal event would happen (see paragraph 5(b) above) is normally applied in favour of caveators, ie that the caveator has only to show a serious question to be tried.  In this case the Court of Appeal turned this principle on its head by applying it in favour of the registered proprietor, ie it was sufficient that the registered proprietor showed only “strong grounds” for there being a binding election. 

Philip H. Barton
Owen Dixon Chambers West
7 April 2020

22. Caveats based on trusts alleged to arise in the domestic context – Muschinski v Dodds trust? Sale of land subject to caveat with requirement of retention of net proceeds to meet caveator’s future claim – Requirement in case of conflict of testimony that caveat be removed unless caveator commenced proceeding to establish interest – Power of courts exercising Family Law jurisdiction to alter property interests rests on legislation not on trusts – Family Law Act does not, of itself, give a party to a ‘marriage’ or a de facto relationship a caveatable interest though court order under that Act could have that effect – Comparison of procedures under TLA s. 90(3) and s. 89A – Indemnity costs against client and reserved against solicitor who lodged caveat.

Karan v Nicholas [2019] VSC 35 (7 February 2019) Daly AsJ.

McRae v Mackrae-Bathory [2019] VSC 298 (7 May 2019) Derham AsJ.  

Hermiz v Yousif [2019] VSC 160 (15 March 2019) Derham AsJ.

 

Karan is a case of a son with a caveatable interest in his parents’ property based on a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust.

McRae is a dispute between real or alleged domestic partners concerning two properties, involving a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust, with analysis by Derham AsJ of: (1) the balance of convenience where despite a caveatable interest it is necessary that a property be sold, and; in the case of a property not being sold, the law that, where a caveator has established a prima facie case but there is a conflict of testimony, the caveat would not be removed outright but may be ordered to be removed unless within a certain time a proceeding is issued to establish the caveator’s title.

Hermiz is a groundless claim for a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust by the mother of a registered proprietor’s child, which also: ventilated why the TLA s. 90(3) procedure should be taken rather than that under s. 89A, and; attracted an order for indemnity costs against the caveator and reserved the caveating solicitor’s liability also to pay them.  This case reiterates that the power of courts exercising Family Law jurisdiction to alter property interests rests on legislation not on the principles of constructive trusts; and that the Family Law Act does not, of itself, give a party to a ‘marriage’ or a de facto relationship a caveatable interest, although an order under that Act could have that effect.

Karan v Nicholas [2019] VSC 35 (7 February 2019) Daly AsJ.

The facts were –

  • Mrs Karan was the registered proprietor of a residential property. Her son Theo was registered proprietor of a neighbouring property where his parents and then his mother lived for many years.
  • She died, as administrator of her estate her other son Frank desired to sell the property, but Theo had caveated claiming an equitable estate in fee simple on the ground of an implied or constructive trust.
  • Frank applied under the Transfer of Land Act (TLA) s. 90(3) to remove the caveat. Theo was agreeable provided part of the sale proceeds was held in trust pending determination of his claim.
  • Theo alleged in substance:
    • residence in the property since 1988;
    • that Frank had used both properties to raise funds for business ventures on the basis of being responsible for the mortgage repayments which he subsequently ceased making leaving Theo to make some repayments;
    • payment of rates and outgoings including insurance;
    • expenditure on repairs, renovations and extensions;
    • in summary, total contributions of over $200,000.

Daly AsJ:

  1. Referred to a “Baumgartner constructive trust” (based on the High Court case of Baumgartner v Baumgartner (1987) 164 CLR 137, also known as a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust, based on the High Court case of that name: (1984) 160 CLR 583)). The elements of this trust are that a constructive trust for the holding of a beneficial interest in land in particular shares may arise regardless of agreement or intention where:

(a)   A relationship or joint endeavour has broken down without any blame attributable to any party to it;

(b)   There has been a financial contribution by one or both parties to the relationship or to the joint endeavour;

(c)   In these circumstances, and in all the circumstances, it would be unconscionable for one party to the relationship or joint endeavour to retain a benefit greater than that party’s contribution. [7]

  1. Held that Theo had established a serious question to be tried that such a trust existed from before 2012, on the basis of arguments that:

(a)   he and their parents were involved in a joint endeavour whereby he made contributions to the property, which enabled him and his family to live rent free at the property, and enabled his parents to live rent free at his property;

(b)   they all pooled their resources to facilitate the joint endeavour;

(c)   the joint endeavour ended without blame upon the death of the parents; and

(d)   it would be unconscionable for the estate to retain the benefit of his contributions. [8], [14], [16]

  1. Ordered removal of the caveat on condition that all or part of the net sale proceeds be retained to meet any claim by Theo, who was also required to commence a proceeding to pursue his claim within a specified time. [3(k)], [18]-[20]

McRae v Mackrae-Bathory [2019] VSC 298 (7 May 2019) Derham AsJ.  

The chronology was –

  • The plaintiff (Zachary) was the registered proprietor of a property at Albion acquired in 2004 and of a property at Lara acquired in 2013, each encumbered by the same mortgage.
  • In January 2019 the defendant (Rachel) caveated over each piece of land claiming an interest in the land “as chargee” under an implied, resulting or constructive trust.
  • In March 2019 Zachary entered into a contract to sell the Albion property to be settled in May 2019.
  • He applied for removal of the caveats under the TLA s. 90(3).
  • He alleged that:
    • in 2012 she gave birth to their twins, but he had never lived with her as a couple in a de facto relationship and there was no agreement between them sufficient to give rise to a constructive trust;
    • until recently the children lived with her during the week and with him every weekend;
    • in January 2019 she had attempted to kill him leading to an intervention order.
  • Rachel alleged that:
    • they had resided in a ‘full emotional and sexual’ committed de facto relationship between 2002 and 2019 and were publicly known as such;
    • they pooled their income for joint expenses;
    • the properties were acquired during the course of the relationship;
    • she made financial contributions to their purchase and development;
    • Zachary always ‘indicated’ to her that she had an interest in both properties and was entitled to a half share of them;
    • his evidence as to residence with the children was incorrect and that she had not assaulted him.

Derham AsJ held:

  1. The estate or interest claimed as chargee was likely to be the result of a legal error. [3]
  2. If Rachel’s testimony was accepted there was a sensible basis for, and a sufficient probability of, finding that there was a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust over both properties to the extent of her having an equitable estate in fee simple as a co-tenant with Zachary. This basis was: her direct contributions to the acquisition of the Albion property; her contributions to the maintenance and mortgage payments of both properties. [17]-[19]
  3. Accordingly, while it was neither necessary or appropriate to determine disputed questions of fact, Rachel had a sufficient likelihood of success justifying the practical effect of maintaining the caveat over the Albion property or of requiring deployment of most of the net sale proceeds in reducing the mortgage. [13], [20]
  4. The interaction between the strength of the caveator’s case and the balance of convenience was such that the lowest risk of injustice, whatever the outcome of the disputes, lay in removal of the caveat at settlement on the proviso that the net proceeds of the sale were (after payment of certain credit card debts – see below) applied to reduce the mortgage (Zachary also undertaking not to withdraw loan monies under the mortgage). This outcome preserved most of the benefit of Rachel’s caveatable interest.  To withhold this protection would do her irreparable harm if she succeeded in establishing her claimed interests, while to grant it would not greatly injure Zachary if her claims failed. [4], [21], [22], [24]
  5. However, certain of Zachary’s credit card debts were first to be paid out of the sale proceeds because most were incurred during the relationship alleged by Rachel and some had been incurred in completing the Lara property and so would ultimately benefit Rachel if her constructive trust claim succeeded. [4], [23]
  6. As regards the Lara property, it was clearly established law that where a caveator established a prima facie case but there was a conflict of testimony the court would not order outright removal of the caveat but may order removal unless steps were taken to establish the caveator’s title within a certain time. Accordingly the caveat would be ordered to be removed unless the caveator commenced proceedings to establish her title within a month. [5], [25], [26]
  7. Having regard to offers made by each side before the hearing, which were each to some extent appropriate, the defendant was ordered to pay the plaintiff’s costs fixed at $1,400, being disbursements incurred in issuing the originating process and paying the search fees incurred in putting forward exhibits to his affidavit in support. [27]

 

Hermiz v Yousif [2019] VSC 160 (15 March 2019) Derham AsJ.

The chronology was –

  • In 1998 the plaintiff (Hermiz) and the first defendant (Yousif) were sexually intimate leading to the birth of a child.  They ceased their relationship at about this time and Hermiz had never met the child.
  • Hermiz paid child support.  Yousif never provided him with any financial support.
  • Hermiz married his wife Dina in 2004.  In 2010 they purchased a residential property, became registered proprietors and subsequently cohabited there.
  • Yousif made no contribution to the property, or to any other asset owned by Hermiz, he made no promise about the property or declaration of trust or like arrangement concerning it, and no court order related to it.
  • In December 2018 Hermiz and Dina entered into a contract to sell the land with settlement due in February 2019.
  • In January 2019 Yousif lodged a caveat claiming an interest in the land pursuant to a court order under the Family Law Act.  There was no order giving such an interest.  The caveat was voluntarily removed.
  • On 1 February 2019 Yousif via a firm of solicitors lodged the caveat the subject of this proceeding claiming a freehold estate on the basis of an implied, resulting or constructive trust.  Hermiz’s solicitors wrote to Yousif’s solicitors expounding the absence of basis for the caveat and forshadowing an application for damages and indemnity costs.
  • Hermiz and Dina could not complete the sale, but gave the purchaser possession under a licence and also remained liable to keep up mortgage repayments.
  • Hermiz applied under the TLA s. 90(3) to remove the caveat.
  • Two days before the Supreme Court hearing Yousif filed an application in the Federal Circuit Court for a property order, in particular for an order that the net proceeds of sale of this property be held in trust pending final orders, supported by an affidavit including allegations referred to in 1 below.

Derham AsJ held:

  1. Yousif had not discharged the burden of establishing a serious question to be tried (in the sense of a prima facie case) of the interest in land claimed in the caveat.  There was insufficient evidence of a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust: her allegation of cooking, cleaning and supporting Hermiz financially whilst he studied for his Australian medical qualification more than a decade before purchase of the land did not reveal that it is or would be unconscionable for him to deny her an interest in the land. [32]-[37], [40], [41]
  2. On the dissolution of marriage or the breakdown of a de facto or domestic relationship, the scope of the Federal Circuit Court’s power to alter property interests was determined by legislation, in this case the Family Law Act s. 90SM, rather than by the principles of constructive trusts.  The Family Law Act did not, of itself, give a party to a ‘marriage’ or a de facto relationship a caveatable interest, although an order under that Act could have that effect. [38], [39]
  3. The balance of convenience was also against Yousif. [42]
  4. Hermiz was justified in applying under the TLA s. 90(3) as opposed to using the administrative procedure in s. 89A. The very reason for the summary procedure under s. 90(3) was to enable an application that avoided the delay involved under s. 89A. [44], [45]
  5. Indemnity costs would be awarded against Yousif because: the nominated basis of resulting, implied or constructive trust for lodging the caveat was without merit, and; she was using the caveat process as a bargaining chip. [52], [53]
  6. Leave would be reserved to Hermiz to claim costs against the solicitors who lodged the caveat. [54]

3. Principles applicable to application to remove caveat under s. 90(3) of TLA

  • Absolute prohibition

  • Circumstances in which entitlement to payment for work on land caveatable

  • Injunction against future caveat

  • Amendment of caveat

  • Costs

  • Interest claimed being “implied, resulting or constructive trust”

  • Commentary

Yamine v Mazloum [2017] VSC 601 (3 October 2017) John Dixon J.

The timeline was –

Undated                         Plaintiff registered proprietor asks caveator to assist him to prepare property for sale.  Caveator subsequently alleges that in substance: the plaintiff asked him to work to finish his house and prepare it for auction; the caveator replied that a tremendous amount of work was involved which he could not even put a figure on, asked how he would be paid, and said that he would not help unless assured he could be paid; the plaintiff replied that he would be paid for his work from the proceeds of sale. 

March – 23 June 2017  Caveator moves into the property and allegedly fixes it for sale. 

8 July                               Property sold, settlement date 6 September, rescission notice served in September. 

26 July                             Caveat lodged, grounds of claim “implied, resulting or constructive trust”, estate or

interest claimed is a “freehold estate”, all dealings prohibited.

18 September                Following provision of information by caveator’s solicitors and inconclusive negotiations plaintiff foreshadows application to remove caveat, caveator offers withdrawal in return for $45,000 to be held in caveator’s solicitor’s trust account pending resolution of the dispute.

The plaintiff applied for removal of the caveat under the Transfer of Land Act 1958 s. 90(3). John Dixon J ordered removal of the caveat with costs. His Honour reasoned –

1. His Honour first recited certain standard principles, namely –

(1) The power under s. 90(3) was discretionary.

(2) Section 90(3) was in the nature of a summary procedure and analogous to the determination of interlocutory injunctions.

(3) The caveator bore the onus of establishing a serious question to be tried that the caveator had the estate or interest claimed. The caveator must show at least some probability on the evidence of being found to have the equitable rights or interest asserted in the caveat.

(4) The caveator must further establish that the balance of convenience favoured maintenance of the caveat until trial.

(5) As to the balance of convenience generally the court should take the course appearing to carry the lower risk of injustice if the court should turn out to have been wrong in the sense of declining to order summary removal where the caveator fails to establish its right at trial or in failing to order summary removal where the registered proprietor succeeds at trial.

(6) The stronger the case that there was a serious question to be tried, the more readily the balance of convenience might be satisfied. It was sufficient that the caveator showed a sufficient likelihood of success that in the circumstances justified the practical effect of the caveat on the registered proprietor’s ability to exercise normal proprietary rights. [15]

2. His Honour also noted authority for the proposition that “a caveat may only be lodged in a form commensurate to the interest it is designed to protect”. [16]

3. The argument that the caveator’s entitlement to be paid for his work on a quantum meruit was enforceable in equity by a constructive trust was invalid. The plaintiff did not accept any intention to charge or secure the land with the obligation to repay the cost of the work or to create any beneficial interest in it. The concept of salvage, deriving from Re Universal Distributing Co Ltd (1933) 48 CLR 171 at 174 – 5 per Dixon J, was inapplicable: the current case concerned property rights, not rights in insolvency and the property was preexisting and not converted into a fund for the benefit of claimants. There was only an oral agreement for services on a quantum meruit. [19], [24], [26] – [32]

4. If the caveator now evinced an intention to lodge a further caveat claiming an interest as chargee, an injunction would likely lie. [33]

5. No application to amend the caveat was made, and the discretion to amend would not have been exercised because:

(1) The application would have been to amend the interest claimed ie to chargee or equitable lienee, an amendment of interest claimed “not usually be[ing] permitted”, not merely to amend the grounds of claim or scope of protection. [35]

(2) The circumstances the grounds or interest claimed were erroneously stated was were relevant: the caveat was lodged not by an unrepresented person but by a solicitor certifying that he had taken reasonable steps to verify the identity of the caveator and had retained the evidence supporting the claim. [36]

(3) The court should not encourage the belief that caveats could be imprecisely formulated and then fixed up later: a caveat was in effect an interlocutory injunction by administrative act with possible serious consequences. Wrongly formulated caveats should not easily be tolerated. Caveats should not be used as bargaining chips. [37]-[38]

(4) The court should have regard to all of the considerations that arise on applying for removal of the caveat in the terms of the amendment sought. If this caveat was amended the caveatable interest claimed would still lack merit because even if the caveator’s version of the oral agreement was proved it would not create a charge or an equitable lien. [39] – [40]

6. His Honour not merely awarded costs but also reserved liberty to the plaintiff to make any application pursuant to r 63.23 as it may be advised against the first defendant’s solicitors. [44]

7. His Honour noted in passing that use of the phrase “implied, resulting or constructive trust”, which identified three different forms of trust, was “usually evidence of a degree of loose thinking”. [20]

Commentary –

1. His Honour deals with the principles applicable to s. 90(3) and amendment of caveats at length and touches on other interesting points now expanded on.

2. The stress on a caveat not imposing an absolute prohibition if inappropriate is expanded on in Lawrence & Hanson Group Pty Ltd v Young [2017] VSCA 172 to be the subject of a future Blog.

3. Other cases related to whether works on land will create a caveatable interest are –

• Walter v Registrar of Titles [2003] VSCA 122 at [18] – mere work and labour done not caveatable;

• Depas Pty Ltd v Dimitriou [2006] VSC 281 – a builder was found to have at most a contractual right to, and perhaps even an equitable interest in, half a joint venture’s net profit, but not a half interest in the land;

• An equitable lien will give rise to a proprietary and so caveatable interest, a foundational statement on equitable liens being that of Deane J in Hewett v Court (1983) 149 CLR 639 at 668. Caveat cases where no lien was established are: Western Pacific Developments Pty Ltd (in liq) v Murray [2000] VSC 436 and HG & R Nominees Pty Ltd v Caulson Pty Ltd [2000] VSC 126;

• In Popescu v A & B Castle Pty Ltd [2016] VSC 175 Ginnane J held that the only Romalpa clause conferring an equitable interest in land was one entitling the holder to enter upon the land to sever and remove the fixtures, and accordingly removed a caveat based on a clause simply providing that all materials used in a contract remained the supplier’s property until paid in full.

4. As to injunctions against future caveats, or the similar order that the Registrar not register any caveat without its leave or further order see also Westpac Banking Corporation v Chilver [2008] VSC 587, Lettieri v Gajic [2008] VSC 378, Marchesi v Vasiliou [2009] VSC 213; Wells v Rouse & Ors [2015] VSC 533.

  1. 5. The reservation of liberty to apply for costs against the solicitors ties in with an increasing judicial tendency to so order, eg Gatto Corporate Solutions Pty Ltd v Mountney [2016] VSC 752.

2. When does a caveat lapse and can the effect of lapse be avoided?

Tawafi v Weil [2017] VSC 643 (21 August 2017) Digby J.

Section 90(1)(e) of the Transfer of Land Act 1958 provides that, subject to certain exceptions, a caveat lapses as to land affected by a transfer upon the expiration of thirty days after notice by the Registrar that a transfer has been lodged for registration.  If within this period the caveator appears before a court and gives an undertaking or security the court may direct the Registrar to delay registration for a further period, or may make such other order as is just (s. 90(2)).  If the Registrar is of opinion that the doing of any act is necessary or desirable, then, if the act is not done within such time as the Registrar allows, the Registrar may refuse to proceed with any registration (s. 105(a)).

The timeline was –

11 April 2017         Plaintiff enters contract to purchase certain land. 

30 May                  Defendant caveats on the grounds of “part performed oral agreement” et cetera with the registered proprietor. 

26 June                  Settlement of the purchase without the caveat being removed. 

28 June (about)   Lodgment of the instrument of transfer (Transfer) for registration. 

29 June                 Registrar notifies caveator that pursuant to s. 90(1) the caveat would lapse on 31 July unless the caveator obtained an order pursuant to s. 90(2).  No order was obtained. 

2 August               Caveator commences a proceeding against registered proprietor inter alia claiming declarations of a proprietary interest in the land and for other relief in substance supporting the existence of the caveat and preventing registration of the Transfer.  An

agreement with the registered proprietor proprietor in early 2016 is alleged whereby the caveator agreed to lend $86,000 on security of this land, followed by that loan.  The second defendant was the conveyancer acting for both sides and the third defendant was the purchaser.  

3 August               The Registrar accordingly issues a Notice of Action prohibiting registration of further dealings until withdrawal of that notice or further order. 

16 August             Purchaser files Originating Motion seeking order for registration and Summons for dismissal of the caveator’s proceeding. 

Digby J ordered the Registrar to register the Transfer and remove the Notice of Action.  His Honour reasoned –

  1. The counting of days under s. 90(1) commenced from 30 June, being the day after the notice, thirty days elapsed on Sunday 30 July, and so the expiry date was 31 July. Accordingly the caveator was out of time.  It was irrelevant that s. 105(1) might have achieved a similar result in suspending the progress of registration. [24]-[25]
  2. The judicial approach to caveat removal applications was analogous to that in applications for injunction, ie the burden of proving the caveatable proprietary interest and maintaining the caveat was upon the caveator who must also establish on the balance of convenience that the caveat should be maintained until the trial of the contested proprietary interest. However, because the caveat had lapsed this case was not the usual caveat removal contest. [17]-[19]
  3. In any event the caveator had not raised a sufficient prima facie case of or arguable triable issue concerning the asserted proprietary interest. Further, the balance of convenience heavily favoured the purchaser because: the asserted triable issue was palpably weak; and the purchaser would be prejudiced by deferral of registration, particularly having entered a building contract to improve the property which could not be financed until the financier could register a mortgage. [28], [35]-[38]
  4. Indemnity costs were awarded against the caveator, particularly because of her very weak case, the purchaser having previously asked the caveator in writing to identify an arguable caveatable interest, without proper response, and given appropriate warning to the caveator. [43] – [59]

1. Caveats in Victoria – the basic requirements

On the evening of 5 July, I gave a paper entitled “Questionable Caveats – To lodge or not to lodge?” at Leo Cussen Centre for Law.  Over 50 persons attended in weather mildly reminiscent of that described in Love’s Labour’s Lost in words commencing “When icicles hang by the wall”.  This indicated the concern in the Victorian profession about this topic.  I intend to deal with Victorian cases as they are decided, but commence with the basic tests under the Transfer of Land Act 1958 s. 90(3).

1.                  Power to lodge a caveat over land is given by s. 89(1) which materially provides –

“(1)  Any person claiming any estate or interest in land under any unregistered instrument or dealing or by devolution in law or otherwise or his agent may lodge with the Registrar a caveat in an appropriate approved form forbidding the registration of any person as transferee or proprietor of and of any instrument affecting such estate or interest either absolutely or conditionally ….”

A caveat as a “statutory injunction to keep the property in statu quo until the court has an opportunity of discovering what are the rights of the parties” (Kerabee Park Pty Ltd v Daley [1978] 2 NSWLR 222 at 228).  A caveat or failure to caveat may well also affect priorities between unregistered interests: eg Mimi v Millennium Developments Pty Ltd [2003] VSC 260 at [39].

2.                  The methods of instigating removal of caveats: to lodge certain transfers or dealings for registration (ss. 90(1), (2)); to apply to the Registrar for a notice requiring the caveator to commence proceedings (s. 89A); or to proceed in the Supreme Court or County Court against the caveator for removal, the Court being empowered to make such order as it thinks fit.  This blog will deal with s. 90(3) as cases under s. 89A tend to resolve into full trials in which the caveat issue recedes.

3.                  In Nicholas Olandezos v Bhatha [2017] VSC 234 at [16] Derham AsJ sets out the summary of principles by Elliott J in Sylina v Solanki [2014] VSC 2 at [43].  These with embellishment are:

(1) The court’s power under s. 90(3) is discretionary.

(2) A caveator bears the onus of establishing a serious question to be tried that it has the “estate or interest in land” claimed (Elliott J).  Derham AsJ expands this [17] by noting that the “serious question to be tried test” was often used interchangeably with the “prima facie case test” and that the latter was preferable: this did not mean that caveators must show that it was more probable than not that at trial they would succeed, but must show a prima facie case with sufficient likelihood of success to justify the maintenance of the caveat and the preservation of the status quo pending trial.  As to the interplay between serious question and prima facie case see further Nicholas Olandezos at [18] and the foundational case of Piroshenko v Grojsman [2010] VSC 240 at [22] (Warren CJ).   Ordinarily the final determination of disputed factual issues or of the claimed interest is unnecessary and inappropriate; but that an exception may be where there is no substantial issue of fact: Nicholas Olandezos at [19].

(3) The caveator must also establish that the balance of convenience favours the maintenance of the caveat until trial (Elliott J).  The court (as in an interlocutory injunction case) takes whichever course appears to carry the lower risk of injustice if it should turn out to have been “wrong”, in the sense of maintaining the caveat in favour of a party who fails to establish his right at trial, or in removing the caveat of a party who succeeds at trial: Piroshenko.

(4) The stronger the case in establishing a serious question/prima facie case, the more readily the balance of convenience might be satisfied.  It is sufficient that the caveator show a sufficient likelihood of success that, in the circumstances, justifies the practical effect which the caveat will have on the ability of the registered proprietor to deal with the property in question in accordance with its normal proprietary rights (Elliott J).

Finally, in Saafin Constructions Pty Ltd v Vidak & Anor [2015] VSC 441 at [21] Warren CJ stated that the two-stage test (ie in (2) and (3) above) “informs, but does not subsume, the exercise of the Court’s discretion”.

Philip. H. Barton

Owen Dixon Chambers West

Wednesday, September 20, 2017