15. Caveat removed because nothing remaining after discharge of prior registered mortgage

Glenis & Anor v Ikosedikas & Ors [2018] VSC 278 (30 May 2018) T Forrest J.

The defendants alleged that in 2011 the first plaintiff entered into a loan agreement consolidating previous loans with a then balance of about $250,000.  The agreement gave the lender had the right to caveat over certain residential land owned by the plaintiffs if the loan was not repaid that year.  The first plaintiff said that his signature on the agreement was forged but did not dispute a debt which by April 2018 had with compound interest risen to between $450,000 and $690,000.

In March 2018 the plaintiffs entered into a contract to sell that land for $1.995 m.  It was subject to a registered mortgage securing loans with current balances of over $2 m. though apparently another property owned by the second plaintiff was linked to this

mortgage.

In April 2018 the defendants caveated on the grounds of “part-performed oral agreement with the registered proprietors”, the estate or interest claimed being “interest as charge”. 

The plaintiffs applied to remove the caveat.   Counsel for the plaintiffs was prepared to assume for the purposes of argument on this application that the loan agreement was genuine.  He also argued that the caveat was defective: in its reference to oral agreement; because it was over the whole property; and when the charge was allegedly created the plaintiffs did not have legal estate in the land.

His Honour held –

1.      The existence of the loan agreement sufficed to establish a serious question to be tried.  Assuming the authenticity of the agreement, the first plaintiff intended to grant the defendants a charge over the property as security for a loan already advanced.  The fact that the first plaintiff possessed no proprietary rights as at the date of the agreement was not fatal as the parties understood that the charge related to future property which at the time of enforcement could be identified.  Questions of a carve out of the second plaintiff’s interest and whether the caveat ought be struck down as defective or amended to reflect the assertedly misleading ‘oral agreement’ grounds of claim were unsuitable for determination in an interlocutory proceeding. [13]

2.      Where a caveator establishes a serious question to be tried, the balance of convenience tilts in favour of that caveator. [14]

3.      However notwithstanding the substantial debt intended by the first plaintiff to be secured over the property the balance of convenience favoured the registered proprietors because of delay in lodging the caveat until after the contract of sale and the fact that the registered mortgage rendered the caveat worthless.  To allow the caveat to remain in place would frustrate the sale without benefit to the caveator. [14]-[15]

Comment: The statement by his Honour that the balance of convenience tilted in favour of the caveator was supported by him with citation of interstate authority.  This is more commonly expressed in Victoria in other authority cited by his Honour, namely that the caveator must establish that the balance of convenience favours maintenance of the caveat until trial and the stronger the case is in the evaluation of the serious question issue, the more readily the balance of convenience might be satisfied.  

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

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

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

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

 The chronology was –

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

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

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

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

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

15 September 2017   Registration of plan of subdivision creating both lots.

Caveat remains registered over both. 

2 October 2017       Settlement of sale of southern lot. 

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

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

Daly AsJ removed the caveat, holding –

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

5. Caveatable Interests

  • Charges giving rise to caveatable interests.

  • The indirect ability of the Court of Appeal to remove a caveat.

  • A competition between cash in a solicitor’s bank account and a caveat supporting a charge for potentially a greater amount.

Sim Development Pty Ltd v Greenvale Property Group Pty Ltd [2017] VSC 335 (16 June 2017) Sifris J.

Sim Development Pty Ltd v Greenvale Property Group Pty Ltd [2017] VSCA 345 (17 November 2017) Tate and McLeish JJA.

The plaintiff/appellant (“Sim”) provided services under a consultancy and management agreement for a proposed development on land of which the defendant/respondent (“Greenvale”) was registered proprietor.  Greenvale notified Sim of its intention to terminate the agreement at a specified date.  Sim caveated to secure moneys allegedly owed under the agreement and sued to recover $380,280 and for other relief.  Greenvale counterclaimed and commenced a separate proceeding under the TLA s. 90(3) seeking removal of the caveat.

Sifris J held Sim to be entitled to payment of $152,600.03 and Greenvale to be entitled to some payment on the counterclaim.  His Honour dismissed the caveat proceeding on the ground of a clause providing that on termination of the agreement before completion of the project Greenvale gave Sim “the right to register a charge over the property … and any other property owned by [Greenvale] and such charge is to be applied to the payment in full of any money owed to [Sim Development]”.  Sifris J held that the contractual right to register a charge, in the event of termination, supported the existence of a caveatable interest; and while the clause did not specifically adopt the language of lodging a caveat, its reference to the concept of registration, and lack of sufficient indication to the contrary, supported the conclusion that it gave rise to a caveatable interest.

Sim applied for leave to appeal, seeking orders in substance as sought at first instance. Greenvale did not seek leave to appeal against the caveat proceeding order.  However, desiring to be rid of the caveat, it made an interlocutory application in the application by Sim for leave to appeal, seeking an order directing Sim to withdraw its caveat on Greenvale paying $152,600.03 into an interest-bearing account of Greenvale’s solicitors and undertaking not to sell the land pending determination of the application for leave to appeal and any appeal.

Tate and McLeish JJA held:

  1. The application by Greenvale was competent, being permitted by s. 10(3) of the Supreme Court Act 1986.
  2. Sim would not be ordered to withdraw its caveat, because:
  • the caveat was supported by its right under the agreement to a charge over the land. The withdrawal of the caveat would in effect remove the protection of the security interest the parties provided for in the agreement;
  • if Sim succeeded in any appeal Greenvale may be ordered to pay $380,280. In those circumstances, the amount offered, $152,600.03, would be inadequate and Sim would have lost the protection of the caveat supporting its entitlement to monies owed.  This could render any appeal effectively nugatory;
  • Greenvale had not adequately specified how the caveat would impede the development’s progress. Accordingly, applying a test of balance of convenience, Sim had discharged its onus of establishing that the prejudice that would flow to it from an order directing it to withdraw the caveat outweighed any demonstrable prejudice to Greenvale.

Commentary: A novel case of a creative attempt to get rid of a caveat pending an appeal.  As to caveats supporting charges see also: Evans v Advertising Department Pty Ltd [2009] VSC 587; West Coast Developments Pty Ltd v Lehmann [2013] VSC 617, also [2014] VSC 293.

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.