28. Contracts of sale – No caveatable interest.

Gold Road No. 3 Pty Ltd v Platt [2019] VSC 714 concerned a completed contract of sale as to which the erstwhile vendor caveated on the ground of no consideration, repudiation, and misleading or deceptive conduct.  Jovanovski & Anor v T Square Investments Pty Ltd & Anor [2019] VSC 641 concerned a caveat lodged by a purchaser who had nominated a substitute purchaser.  The caveats were removed.

Gold Road No. 3 Pty Ltd v Platt [2019] VSC 714, Ginnane J (17 October 2019)

The facts were:

·        In March 2017 Mr and Mrs Platt entered a contract of sale of their bayside property to Evergrande Properties Pty Ltd, controlled by Michael Elliott.  The contract did not proceed, Evergrande sued for specific performance and the Platts counterclaimed. 

·     The proceeding was settled.  The settlement documents included a deed which inter alia: substituted the plaintiff, being another company controlled by Elliott, as purchaser, and affirmed the 2017 contract; and contained mutual releases.  The Platts had legal advice.  The proceeding was subsequently dismissed without any right of reinstatement.

·      On 27 September 2018 the sale settled including by Gold Road paying approximately $2 m. to a bank to discharge its mortgage, Gold Road having borrowed this from AusFinance Group Pty Ltd, who it must now repay.  Evergrande also advanced the Platts approximately $100,000 to repay money owing to another company.  Gold Road became registered proprietor.

·   The parties also entered into a Development Rights Agreement (‘DRA’).  Its recitals included that the Development Manager (Gold Road) and the Platts had agreed that the Development Manager would develop the land and that the Platts would have the right to purchase a lot in the development. 

·   On the ground, disputed by the Platts, that the development was commercially unviable and that a condition precedent was not met, Gold Road terminated the DRA and asserted the right to deal with the land at its discretion. 

·    The Platts caveated claiming a freehold estate and an absolute prohibition on Gold Road dealing with the land.  The Platts contended that the consideration for the transfer had been illusory, that Gold Road had repudiated the DRA, and that Elliott and his company may have engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct.  As to the consideration argument the Platts argued inter alia that: the DRA effectively enabled the Development Manager to acquire land for an undervalue; the DRA did not require the Development Manager to attempt to develop the land; that the settlement was a ‘hoodwink’ of Mrs Platt’s rights;

·        Gold Road applied under s. 90(3) for removal of the caveat.

Ginnane J. held –

1.    The settlement deed was supported by consideration in the form of mutual releases and the payment by Gold Road on behalf of the Platts. [14], [31]

2.    The Platts’ case, if proved, would probably provide a remedy in damages for breach of the DRA or other agreements based on their repudiation by Gold Road or for damages caused by misleading or deceptive conduct.  This did not create a prima facie case of a caveatable interest: the possibility of a remedy under the Australian Consumer Law, particularly under s 243, did not create an estate or interest in land. [28], [29], [32]

3.   The balance of convenience also favoured removal of the caveat, in particular Gold Road needed to repay the loan to AusFinance and the fact that it was registered proprietor normally carried the right to sell the property. [34]-[35]

 

Jovanovski & Anor v T Square Investments Pty Ltd & Anor [2019] VSC 641,
Cameron J (20 September 2019).

The plaintiffs and first defendant entered into a contract of sale under which the price was payable in four instalments.  The first defendant caveated.  It failed to pay the third instalment and did not comply with a rescission notice.  About a year before the third instalment was due it nominated a nominee purchaser and her Honour stated that from that date the nominee “became exclusively liable for the due performance of all the obligations of the First Defendant pursuant to the Contract”.  Her Honour held that as the first defendant had nominated another purchaser there was no serious issue to be tried that the first defendant had a caveatable interest. 

Comment: The fact that the first defendant no longer had a caveatable interest appears to hinge on the form of the nomination, ie that the nominee became “exclusively liable”. By contrast in Six Bruce Pty Ltd v Milatos and Ors [2017] VSC 784 (Blog 8) the plaintiff contracted to sell a property to the first defendant Milatos. He nominated a substitute purchaser AM Land. The first defendant eventually rescinded the contract and caveated on the ground of a lien to secure repayment of money paid under the contract. The caveat did not name the substitute purchaser. An argument that the caveat was defective, at least as to part of the monies paid because the nominee was not named was rejected by Keogh J: after nomination A M land did not acquire rights as purchaser against Six Bruce. The rights and obligations as purchaser remained with Mr Milatos. Keogh J. referred to: Tonelli v Komirra Pty Ltd [1972] VR 737 at 739; Commissioner of State Revenue v Politis [2004] VSC 126, [11]; 428 Lt Bourke St Pty Ltd v Lonsdale St Cafe Pty Ltd & Ors [2009] VSC 133, [24]-[25].


Further, General Condition 18 in the REIV/LIV contract of sale provides that despite nomination the name purchaser remains personally liable for the due performance of all the purchaser’s obligations under the contract.

 

 

8. RECENT SUPREME COURT CASES DEC 2017 – FEB 2018 (2 of 6)

A caveat removed on the balance of convenience to permit refinancing.

Six Bruce Pty Ltd v Milatos and Ors [2017] VSC 784, 19 December 2017, Keogh J. 

The chronology was –

19 February 2016      Plaintiff becomes registered proprietor of a property using funds secured by registered first mortgage. It subsequently defaults under the mortgage.

20 May 2016              VCAT orders that a permit issue allowing construction of a four-storey apartment building on the property.

5 February 2017        Plaintiff contracts to sell the entire property to first defendant.  Deposit paid.   

20 March 2017          Purchaser nominates substitute purchaser.

3 July 2017                 Settlement date extended to 4 August 2017 on the basis that purchaser pay an additional deposit which it (not the nominee) does.   

31 July 2017               Purchaser learns of undisclosed drainage easement

affecting the property.

8 August 2017            Vendor serves rescission notice based on non-payment of balance of price.

14 August 2017          Purchaser services rescission notice based on alleged

non-disclosure of the easement in the vendor’s statement.  Vendor retains

deposit.

September 2017        Vendor enters joint venture agreement to develop the property. 

3 October 2017         Purchaser caveats on ground of lien to secure repayment of money paid under the contract.  Caveat does not name the nominee substitute purchaser.  Two registered mortgages and two previous caveats exist.  There is a subsequent caveat.

10 October 2017        Purchaser sues for return of deposit or declaration re caveat.

12 October 2017        Mortgagee sues vendor for repayment under mortgage. 

20 November 2017    Vendor receives refinance offer from other lenders.

27 November 2017    Vendor files Defence to purchaser’s proceeding substantially disputing the claim. 

The vendor commenced a proceeding under s. 90(3) to remove the purchaser’s caveat to permit refinance.  

Keogh J removed the caveat subject to conditions.  His Honour held –  

1.      There was a prima facie case that the caveator had the interest claimed.  The prospects of the vendor being excused under the Sale of Land Act s. 32K(4) for breach of the law in the section 32 statement were entirely uncertain.

2.      The caveat was not required to name the nominee. The effect of the nomination clause was to empower the purchaser to require the vendor to complete the contract by transfer of the property to the name of the nominee.  After nomination the nominee did not acquire rights as purchaser.

3.      However the balance of convenience favoured removal of the caveat because: most of the deposit had been released, presumably by agreement; the trial of the purchaser’s proceeding was distant; without the refinancing a mortgagee’s sale was likely; the vendor undertook not to deal with the property pending determination of the purchaser’s proceeding; the vendor agreed to charge the property to secure the amount of any judgment thus then enabling a further caveat; accordingly the purchaser’s position would probably be improved by the refinancing.