18. Registered mortgagee defeats caveat based on alleged trust – Whether repeat caveat

National Australia Bank Limited v Nilsen & Anor [2018] VSC 368
(2 July 2018) Kennedy J.

The chronology was –

  • The plaintiff had a registered mortgage over land of which the registered proprietor was Petrina Pavlic. 
  • She died, her son William was her sole beneficiary, he obtained letters of administration and a new loan from the plaintiff with the mortgage as security.  He defaulted and became bankrupt.
  • The first defendant, who was William’s current or former de facto partner,caveated claiming an implied, resulting or constructive trust.
  • In 2017 a consent order of the Family Court was made between her, William and his trustee in bankruptcy providing for the transfer of the property to her contemporaneously with payment of $550,000 by her by 5 October 2017, with liberty to the trustee to sell in default of such payment.  No payment was made.
  • The plaintiff initiated a sale of the land to a third party with settlement due in May 2018 but subsequently extended to 4 July 2018
  • On 4 June 2018 a judge ordered that caveat be removed.
  • On 8 June 2018 the defendant again caveated on the same grounds as the first caveat. 
  • The plaintiff commenced further removal proceedings under the Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3).  The defendant argued that she had an interest pursuant to the Family Court Order which was different from, and arose subsequent to, the interest relied upon for the first caveat (which had been based on alleged contributions).  Shealleged, without evidence, that the trustee in bankruptcy had agreed to extend the time for her to pay the money to obtain the land and that this ongoing indulgence gave rise to a trust.

Kennedy J ordered removal of the caveat, holding –

  1. There was no serious question to be tried.  The Family Court order did not create any interest in the land in circumstances where no money had been paid.  In any event the bank’s interest as registered mortgagee defeated any unregistered interest. [27]-[28]
  2. The following balance of convenience factors also favoured removal –
    • The interests of the innocent purchaser;
    • Delay in disposing of the property;
    • The caveator had not commenced proceedings to substantiate her claim;
    • If she had a cause of action the caveator could sue the bank for damages;
    • The caveator had not paid the money ordered by the Family Court and there was no evidence of her capacity to do so;
    • Sale was the best chance of reducing the amount of approximately $2.7 m. owed. [31]-[40]
  3. The plaintiff also argued that s. 91(4), which provided that a lapsed or removed caveat shall not be renewed by or on behalf of the same person in respect of the ‘same interest’, was breached. Her Honour did not deal finally with this argument but stated that the better view appeared to be that this section did not apply because the source of the second caveat was the Family Court Order which postdated the first caveat.

Comment:

  1. As to her Honour’s statement that “The Family Court order did not create any interest in the land in circumstances where no money had been paid as provided for in that order” –

There is authority that a Family Court order can create an interest in land: Bell v Graham [2000] VSC 142 at [19]. However her Honour’s statement is authority for a different view if no money has been paid pursuant to the order. Presumably, however, if it had been paid the payor would have a lien giving rise to a caveatable interest: see eg SixBruce Pty Ltd v Milatos [2017] VSC 784 (See my earlier blog here)

  1. The fact that the sources of the two caveats was different did not mean that they were not in respect of the same interest: Layrill Pty Ltd v Furlap Constructions Pty Ltd[2002] VSC 51 at [9].

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

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

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

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

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

 McMillan J held –

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.