20. No one gets costs

Glenis & Anor v Ikosedikas & Ors (No 2) [2018] VSC 324
(15 June 2018), T. Forrest J.

This is the costs decision (apparently not released online until late January) in the case of this name ([2018] VSC 278) covered in blog post 17.  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 the right to caveat over certain residential land owned by both plaintiffs if the loan was not repaid that year.  By 2018 the debt was unpaid and inflated by interest.

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 currently over $2 m., though apparently another property owned by the second plaintiff was linked to this mortgage.    

In April 2018 the defendants caveated.  The plaintiffs successfully applied to remove the caveat.   His Honour held that the existence of the loan agreement established a serious question to be tried but that, notwithstanding the substantial debt, the balance of convenience favoured the registered proprietors both because of the delay in caveating until after the contract of sale and because the registered mortgage rendered the caveat worthless. 

Both parties now unsuccessfully applied for costs.  His Honour held –

  1. The plaintiffs had engaged in sharp practice in that: they took advantage of the defendants’ dilatory response to restructure their affairs so that the property was mortgaged to its full value and another property (not the subject of the caveat) was now owned virtually outright.
  2. The caveators were not entitled to costs: his Honour knew of no authority that a caveator demonstrating a serious question to be tried but losing on the balance of convenience was entitled to costs.

17. An application for costs by registered proprietors against a caveator, and a consequential application for costs by all against the caveator’s solicitor, and his application for costs against them

 

Sekhon & Anor v Chandyoke and Ors [2018] VSC 327 (19 June 2018) T Forrest J.

The plaintiffs were a married couple.  The first defendant was the wife’s mother who caveated over a property owned by the couple.  The first defendant’s solicitor was separately represented on an application that he personally bear costs.  The judge had previously ordered removal of the caveat.  The first defendant had been advised by previous counsel that she had no caveatable interest and by her solicitor that there were issues with the caveat, including that there was significant doubt about the caveatable interest and her right to impugned funds.  The defendant conceded that there was no proper basis on which she could have defended the application for removal of the caveat but blamed her solicitor.

His Honour held –

1.      The defendant was made aware on numerous occasions, by both counsel and her solicitor, that she probably had no caveatable interest over the property, but refused to instruct her solicitor to remove the caveat.  Her conduct in the litigation was obstructive and sharp – she demonstrated contemptuous disregard for the litigation.  She persisted with a near hopeless case for the collateral purpose of recovering funds she believed to have been stolen from her but which she knew or ought to have known were unrelated to the property.  There were special or unusual circumstances sufficient to warrant an order that she pay the plaintiff’s costs of the litigation on an indemnity basis. [39]-[40], [42]

2.      To justify an order that the solicitor bear the costs it was unnecessary to establish dishonesty, obliquy or similar – misconduct, default or serious or gross negligence sufficed.  Although the solicitor was at times dilatory he acted for a very difficult client, who directly or indirectly obstructed the fair hearing of the caveat withdrawal application.  The solicitor on several occasions advised the client in effect that it was very likely she would lose and warning of the consequences.  It was also doubtful that the defendant would have taken advice no matter how forceful.  The principles applying to the application, whether under r 63.23 of the Supreme Court Rules or s 29 of the Civil Procedure Act showed that a non-party costs order was prima facie unjust, required caution and should only be made in a clear case.  This was not such a case. [41]

 

Sekhon & Anor v Chandyoke and Ors [2018] VSC 435 (7 August 2018) T Forrest J

 

This case was related to the previous application by the plaintiffs and the first defendant that the first defendant’s solicitor pay costs, which failed in the case referred to above.  The solicitor sought indemnity costs based on two offers before the costs hearing: 

(a) An offer to the plaintiffs on 23 March 2018 open for five days that the solicitor pay the plaintiffs’ costs of the proceeding fixed in the sum of $7500 within two business days;

(b) An offer to the plaintiffs and the defendant on 14 May 2018 open for five days that the application for costs against the solicitor be dismissed and the plaintiffs and defendant pay his costs of the application fixed in the sum of $6000 with a stay of 30 days.

His Honour held –

1.      The general rule that costs followed the event applied and so the plaintiffs and the first defendant were liable to pay the solicitor’s costs on a standard basis.  These costs would be awarded against the plaintiffs alone from 28 March, being from when it was reasonable for the solicitor to commence preparations for his defence, to 5 April, and against the plaintiffs as to half and the first defendant as to half from 6 April, being the date the first defendant filed a notice of waiver and intention to participate in the costs proceedings.   Notwithstanding that the solicitor was dilatory at times this did not justify application of any exceptions to the normal costs rule.  His Honour noted – “Solicitors cannot pick and choose their clients and ought not be judged too harshly when the sins of their clients are sought to be visited upon them”. [9]-[11], [16]-[18]

2.     Indemnity costs would not be awarded because rejection of the:

(a)   first offer was not unreasonable because it preceded any affidavit from the solicitor explaining his conduct; [13]

(b)   second offer was not unreasonable because, being an offer to undertake joint liability, neither party could accept the offer alone: they were an unlikely coalition and it would be unfair to penalise one for the unreasonableness of the other. [14]

 

12. RECENT SUPREME COURT CASES DEC 2017 – FEB 2018 (6 of 6)

Costs

Toh & Anor v Wu & Anor [2018] VSC 36 (12 February 2018) Daly AsJ.

The chronology was –

 

2017                            First defendant commences family law proceeding in Federal Magistrates Court

against her husband.  The plaintiffs in the subsequently issued Supreme

Court proceeding are her in-laws and are registered proprietors of a

property.  Application (not yet determined) to join plaintiffs as parties

to the family law proceeding and to restrain sale of property or have proceeds

of sale retained in trust pending determination of

proceeding.   

28 November 2017   Caveat lodged by first defendant over the property, grounds of claim being “court order under the Family Law Act 1975”.

15 January 2018       Plaintiffs notify intention to issue and issue s. 90(3) application. 

16 January 2018       Service of application and material in support.

18 January 2018       Hearing at which caveat ordered to be removed.  Order that net proceeds of sale be held in trust.  Costs reserved.

29 January 2018        Settlement of sale of property due.

Daly AsJ ordered that each party should bear their own costs of the s. 90(3) application.  Her Honour reasoned –

  1. In removing the caveat the court had not considered whether there was a serious question to be tried.  Although the interest claimed in the caveat was not prima facie a recognized proprietary interest the underlying documents tolerably revealed claims pursuant to a resulting or constructive trust, and the suddenness of the application severely compromised the caveator’s ability to respond.  However, the balance of convenience overwhelmingly favoured removal because of settlement and finance difficulties.  The removal was also influenced by the fact that, having regard to the existing Federal Magistrates’ Court proceedings, it was in the parties’ interests for property interests to be determined in one proceeding, not fragmented across jurisdictions.
  2. Special circumstances warranted the plaintiffs not receiving their costs, namely their failure to warn the caveator of the intended application.  While it would often be unnecessary or impractical to warn of an application, the application here was made some 7 weeks after lodgement of the caveat and only 7 business days before settlement of the sale was due.  The caveator was ambushed.
  3. The caveator’s alleged impecuniosity was irrelevant to the costs decision.

6. Three County Court Cases

Today’s blog looks at three County Court cases from 2017, one on whether a contractual right to caveat created a charge/caveatable interest, one on whether a contract of sale existed so giving rise to an equitable and thus caveatable interest, the third on costs.

  • A mere contractual right to caveat, insufficient in this case: Tannous and Anor v Abdo [2017] VCC 304 (31 March 2017) Judge Macnamara.

The plaintiffs alleged that they agreed with Mr Abdo to purchase an interest in a bakery and paid money towards this, which went into the purchase of land by Mrs Abdo. At one point in the litigation to recover the sum paid towards the bakery the parties entered a document which included an undertaking by the Abdos not to sell this land and to permit the plaintiffs to lodge a caveat over it. They caveated claiming “an equitable interest as chargee”. His Honour held that whether, absent an express charging clause, an equitable interest in the nature of a charge was created by a contractual entitlement to lodge a caveat depended on the interpretation of the particular contractual provision: there was no principle establishing what implication must be drawn in all cases from authority to lodge a caveat in connection with an obligation to pay money. No charge was created here: for the plaintiff to succeed here there must be implied not just a charge but also a guarantee by Mrs Abdo of Mr Abdo’s alleged debt. The contractual language did not support creation of a charge. The agreement created at best a negative covenant not the deal with the property, creating no caveatable interest. 

  • No contract, no caveatable interest: Matthews v Knight & Anor [2017] VCC 1537 (27 October 2017) Judge Anderson.

 The facts of this case could be used in a University Exam Paper on whether or not a contract existed. The facts broadly were: delivery by an agent of three contracts (one for each of three properties) to a prospective purchaser; receipt by the agent of $1,000 partial deposit for each contract; the creation of three further contracts, partially reusing the former contracts, signed by the parties, requiring payment of a full 10% deposit by 15 September 2017, if necessary enforceable by reason of part performance; the solicitors acted as though there were enforceable contracts; the purchaser caveated; the balance of deposit was not paid; the vendor’s solicitors rejected a proposal to vary the contract and issued a rescission notice which was not complied with; the erstwhile purchaser engaged in an “opportunistic ploy” to suggest that contracts were still on foot; a further caveat.

The caveats were removed under TLA s. 90(3). The purchaser failed to satisfy the onus of demonstrating a serious issue to be tried that a contract and so an equitable interest in the land existed. There was no contract following the second contracts because: the second contracts were not intended as offers but if they had they were revoked or had lapsed; the purchaser’s purported acceptance of an alleged offer constituted by the delivery of the second contracts (ie the “opportunistic ploy”) did not accept the terms offered but proposed variation which variation the vendor never accepted.

  • Indemnity costs: Hooi & Anor v Lim & Anor [2017] VCC 949 (13 July 2017) Judge Cosgrave.

The first defendant caveated over land of which the plaintiffs were registered proprietors.  He alleged a constructive trust.  He subsequently stated that the basis of the caveat was wrongful diversion of monies and work from a partnership, but also acknowledged that he had no evidence that these monies (or what monies) had been used to purchase the land.  The plaintiffs requested removal of the caveat, asserted that the caveator had no caveatable interest, and foreshadowed indemnity costs.  Subsequently they applied for removal under the TLA s. 90(3).  The first defendant removed the caveat on day before hearing.    

Judge Cosgrave reiterated the legal principles for caveatable removal in conventional terms (roughly as set out in Blog 1) and noted that there was never any serious question to be tried that the defendant had the interest in land claimed.  As to costs his Honour held:

1. Awarding costs involved a discretionary exercise of the court’s powers. The relevant factors to consider in this context included: :

·   whether the caveat was maintained in circumstances where the defendant, properly advised, should have known there was no chance of success;

·    whether the caveat was being used as a bargaining chip;

·    whether the party lodging the caveat was a lawyer.

2.  Indemnity costs would be awarded for several reasons:

·  The first defendant had lodged the caveat without any proper basis, and knew or should have known this;

·  Unjustified allegations of fraud, in this case that land had been purchased with allegedly misappropriated funds, attracted liability for indemnity costs.  One solicitor should not make such an allegation against another without proper basis, exacerbated here because the defendant believed that the plaintiffs had to consent to the lodgment yet had lodged unilaterally.  This increased the likelihood that lodgment was for a collateral or improper purpose; 

·   The first defendant had ignored warnings to remove the caveat; 

·    The interest claimed in the caveat was exaggerated.  

 

4. Antidotes to repeat caveats: enjoining the caveator and Registrar of Titles.

Andrews Family Holdings Pty Ltd v Yellow Tractor Pty Ltd [2017] VSC 682 (8 November 2017); Andrews Family Holdings Pty Ltd v Yellow Tractor Pty Ltd (No 2) [2017] VSC 695 (14 November 2017).  Ginnane J.  

Mr Annesley entered a contract to purchase land from the plaintiff (“Andrews”).  In purported payment of the balance of price he tendered a document entitled ‘Promissory Note’ which was neither a permitted method of payment nor indeed in law a promissory note.  Andrews rescinded the contract.  The defendant (“the company”), of which Annesley was a director and which he had intended to nominate as purchaser, subsequently caveated, the caveatable interest being based on the rescinded contract.  The company was subsequently deregistered.  Andrews applied to remove this caveat under the TLA s. 90(3).  Ginnane J:

  1. Found no serious question to be tried that the company, even if still registered, had a caveatable interest: it was not a party to the contract and had no legal or equitable interest in the property.
  2. Also enjoined Annesley from lodging further caveats in respect of the land without leave. He noted that there was both authority for this course in the caveat context, ie Maryvell Investments Pty Ltd v Velissaris [2008] VSC 19, and the general curial power to grant injunctions given by the Supreme Court Act 1986 s. 37.  This case merited an injunction because Annesley had already lodged two caveats and did not foreswear lodging more.

Undaunted, on the day after this decision Annesley caveated in his own name claiming a purchaser’s lien.   The Titles Office had a copy of the court order but accepted the caveat albeit apparently issuing a requisition requiring Annesley to establish within 14 days that he had the court’s leave.   On an application for removal if this caveat Land Use Victoria argued that it had justifiably given Annesley ‘the benefit of the doubt’, the Registrar having a duty to accept a caveat for lodgment.   Ginnane J:

  1. Held this practice of giving the benefit of the doubt inappropriate for caveators whose previous caveats had been removed or had lapsed or were now subject to injunction. The Registrar’s statutory obligations included giving effect to directions of the Supreme Court (TLA s. 103).
  2. Permanently enjoined Annesley from lodging caveats in respect of the property, with indemnity costs.
  3. Enjoined the Registrar of Titles so that must forthwith reject and not record any caveat by Annesley over the property.

Commentary: This case is a rare case of the Registrar registering a caveat after an injunction was granted.  Otherwise, it succeeds previous cases such as where: the court orders the Registrar not to register any caveat without its leave or further order (Westpac Banking Corporation v Chilver [2008] VSC 587), or any caveat by any person other than a purchaser from the successful plaintiff without its leave for a certain period (Lettieri v Gajic [2008] VSC 378) or enjoins the lodging of further caveats (Marchesi v Vasiliou [2009] VSC 213; Wells v Rouse & Ors [2015] VSC 533).

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]