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.

 

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]