36. Arguable case of constructive trust but caveat removed on balance of convenience due to conflict with pre-existing orders of Family Court – Undertaking as to damages should have been offered – Harvey v Emery & Ors [2020] VSC 153 (2 April 2020), John Dixon J.

 

CommentThis case is a good example of an arguable, but not strongly so, interest in the land being trumped by the balance of convenience – John Dixon J. engages in a careful balancing exercise against the background of existing Family Court orders.  Several further general principles emerge –

1.     Non-parties to a marriage claiming an interest in land the subject of Family Court proceedings should expeditiously intervene in those proceedings.

2.    An undertaking as to damages is not commonly required as the price of maintenance of a caveat.  Boensch v Pascoe [2019] HCA 49 at [113] (Blog 29) explains how caveats differ from interlocutory injunctions in this respect.  However, John Dixon J. states an exception, being that such an undertaking is invariably required when a caveat was not removed in circumstances where third party rights would be detrimentally affected. 

3.   The case illustrates that a registered proprietor taking the s. 89A procedure can subsequently take the s. 90(3) procedure.

In Harvey v Emery & Ors [2020] VSC 153 the facts were – 

•  The plaintiff was married to Daniel Emery who was the son of the defendants. In about early 2018 the plaintiff and Daniel entered a contract to acquire a property as their family home for $950,000. They agreed that it would be acquired solely in her name to protect it from his creditors. The price comprised: her contribution of $200,000; an advance by the defendants to her of $200,000; the balance by bank finance secured by first mortgage. The plaintiff became sole registered proprietor.

•  As noted by the judge, it could only be determined at a subsequent trial whether this advance (and any subsequent claimed expenditure) by the defendants was: a loan, and whether to the plaintiff or Daniel or both, and for what purpose, or; an equity contribution in the context of a broader joint enterprise to which the defendants were parties, with the ultimate purpose of providing accommodation to the plaintiff, Daniel, their children and the defendants.  Related to this, were the defendants either chargees or beneficiaries of a resulting or constructive trust?

•  After settlement of the sale the plaintiff briefly resided at the property, vacating due to conflict in the relationship with Daniel that led to its breakdown.  Daniel remained in possession of the property for a period before being placed in custody for undisclosed reasons.

•  In proceedings between the plaintiff and Daniel the Family Court made consent orders in March 2019 including to the effect that – 

•  the plaintiff would transfer the title to the property to him on him refinancing the bank loan to discharge her mortgage and release her from the debt obligation, and on payment by him of $200,000 into her solicitors’ trust account;  

•  if Daniel was unable to refinance the property was to be sold with net proceeds broadly being disbursed in varying proportions between the plaintiff and Daniel after payment of costs and discharge of the mortgage;

•  The parties held their respective interests in the property on trust, with Daniel having the sole right of occupancy and sole liability for mortgage payments and outgoings.  

•  Daniel was unable to refinance and so could not comply with this order, leading to further Family Court orders in October 2019 including – 

•  that plaintiff recover possession of the property to effect its sale, in accordance with the March orders, and Daniel was restrained from caveating or from encumbering the land;  

•  directions for the conduct of the sale and for the distribution of the proceeds. The direction in respect of the priority of distribution of the proceeds was in substance: (a) – (d) payment of the costs and expenses of sale and for discharge of the mortgage; (e) payment to the plaintiff in reduction of the amounts due to her pursuant to the March orders with interest; (f) payment of any remainder to Daniel in reduction of the amounts due to him pursuant to the March orders; a further order relating to the balance owing in respect of a truck and other minor orders.   

•  The defendants were not party to the Family Court proceedings and did not seek to intervene. The settlement of the Family Court proceedings assumed that the whole of the beneficial interest in the property was matrimonial property.

•  In November 2019 the defendants caveated claiming a freehold estate absolutely prohibiting all dealings on the grounds of an implied, resulting or constructive trust.

•  The plaintiff applied under s. 89A of the Transfer of Land Act for removal of the caveat.  In response the defendants commenced a Supreme Court proceeding against her seeking a declaration that the property was held on trust for them as to an amount equivalent both to the above advance of $200,000 and to $120,000 expended on renovations (“the trust proceeding”).

The plaintiff applied pursuant to s. 90(3) to remove the caveat.  Daniel was not a party to either proceeding although he appeared to be a necessary party to the trust proceeding.  He apparently expressed a strong interest in retaining ownership of the property.  The defendants alleged that after the plaintiff had vacated the property, but with her acquiescence, they invested labour and expended approximately $120,000 in renovations and improvements and to enhance its value, in furtherance of a joint endeavour to acquire and improve an extended family home.  The plaintiff disputed this.

John Dixon J. held –

1.   If the allegations in the trust proceeding were proved, the defendants’ beneficial interest ought to have been excluded from the matrimonial property available for division in the settlement reached between the plaintiff and Daniel. [15]

2.  If the defendants’ contentions were correct, they had been adversely affected by the Family Court’s orders. They could enliven the Family Court proceedings, either by applying to intervene and seek a rehearing or by appeal. There was potential for conflict between the resolution of the trust proceeding and the execution of the orders of the Family Court. There were compelling reasons to cross-vest the trust proceeding to the Family Court to be dealt with in conjunction with a reopening of the property settlement orders. This application under s. 90(3) was not the appropriate forum for determination of issues between the parties. [25]-[27]

3.  The defendants had demonstrated some probability that they may be found to have an equitable right or interest in the land as asserted in the caveat, ie a freehold estate in the land based on a joint endeavour giving rise to a constructive trust. And if the renovation expenditure was added the defendants’ percentage claim to the beneficial interest would correspondingly increase. However, although there was a serious question for trial of such a constructive trust the claim did not appear to be strong. It was more probable that the defendants would establish an equitable lien or charge limited to the initial $200,000 advanced, this not being the interest claimed in the caveat. [4], [13], [28], [31], [32], [43], [45]

4.  A relationship existed between the strength of the case establishing a serious question to be tried and the extent to which the caveator must establish that the balance of convenience favoured maintenance of the caveat. Because the constructive trust claim was not strong the balance of convenience obligation fell more heavily on the caveators. There were significant negative practical consequences for the plaintiff if the caveat was maintained, being –

(a) Frustration of the sale ordered by the Family Court, in circumstances where none of the material facts affecting that order were, or since had been, placed before that court at the material time;

(b) The plaintiff would breach the contract of sale, affecting the purchaser’s rights in a manner with adverse consequences for the plaintiff, which could culminate in her reopening the Family Court proceedings to adjust the value of the pool of matrimonial assets underlying their resolution;

(c) Other than belatedly, the defendants had not offered any undertaking as to damages, notwithstanding that this undertaking was invariably required when a caveat was not removed in circumstances where third party rights would be detrimentally affected. Having regard to the belatedness of the offer it was not deserving of weight in the absence of evidence of its worth;

    There was insufficient evidence that the plaintiff had sold at an undervalue, and if the property market was falling the sale should proceed. [5], [33], [39], [45]-[52]

5.  The course that carried the lower risk of injustice, if it should turn out that his Honour was wrong, was to order that the caveat be removed on the following conditions –

a) amendment of the trust proceeding and it being transferred to the Family Court;

(b) relief of the plaintiff of the obligation to comply forthwith with the orders of the Family Court, and in lieu order that the proceeds of sale be distributed in accordance with paragraphs 7(a) – 7(f) of the order of October 2019 and that the balance remaining be deposited into an interest bearing account and not be disbursed save by further order of the Family Court. [53]-[59]

 Philip H. Barton

Owen Dixon Chambers West

19 May 2020

 

22. Caveats based on trusts alleged to arise in the domestic context – Muschinski v Dodds trust? Sale of land subject to caveat with requirement of retention of net proceeds to meet caveator’s future claim – Requirement in case of conflict of testimony that caveat be removed unless caveator commenced proceeding to establish interest – Power of courts exercising Family Law jurisdiction to alter property interests rests on legislation not on trusts – Family Law Act does not, of itself, give a party to a ‘marriage’ or a de facto relationship a caveatable interest though court order under that Act could have that effect – Comparison of procedures under TLA s. 90(3) and s. 89A – Indemnity costs against client and reserved against solicitor who lodged caveat.

Karan v Nicholas [2019] VSC 35 (7 February 2019) Daly AsJ.

McRae v Mackrae-Bathory [2019] VSC 298 (7 May 2019) Derham AsJ.  

Hermiz v Yousif [2019] VSC 160 (15 March 2019) Derham AsJ.

 

Karan is a case of a son with a caveatable interest in his parents’ property based on a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust.

McRae is a dispute between real or alleged domestic partners concerning two properties, involving a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust, with analysis by Derham AsJ of: (1) the balance of convenience where despite a caveatable interest it is necessary that a property be sold, and; in the case of a property not being sold, the law that, where a caveator has established a prima facie case but there is a conflict of testimony, the caveat would not be removed outright but may be ordered to be removed unless within a certain time a proceeding is issued to establish the caveator’s title.

Hermiz is a groundless claim for a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust by the mother of a registered proprietor’s child, which also: ventilated why the TLA s. 90(3) procedure should be taken rather than that under s. 89A, and; attracted an order for indemnity costs against the caveator and reserved the caveating solicitor’s liability also to pay them.  This case reiterates that the power of courts exercising Family Law jurisdiction to alter property interests rests on legislation not on the principles of constructive trusts; and that the Family Law Act does not, of itself, give a party to a ‘marriage’ or a de facto relationship a caveatable interest, although an order under that Act could have that effect.

Karan v Nicholas [2019] VSC 35 (7 February 2019) Daly AsJ.

The facts were –

  • Mrs Karan was the registered proprietor of a residential property. Her son Theo was registered proprietor of a neighbouring property where his parents and then his mother lived for many years.
  • She died, as administrator of her estate her other son Frank desired to sell the property, but Theo had caveated claiming an equitable estate in fee simple on the ground of an implied or constructive trust.
  • Frank applied under the Transfer of Land Act (TLA) s. 90(3) to remove the caveat. Theo was agreeable provided part of the sale proceeds was held in trust pending determination of his claim.
  • Theo alleged in substance:
    • residence in the property since 1988;
    • that Frank had used both properties to raise funds for business ventures on the basis of being responsible for the mortgage repayments which he subsequently ceased making leaving Theo to make some repayments;
    • payment of rates and outgoings including insurance;
    • expenditure on repairs, renovations and extensions;
    • in summary, total contributions of over $200,000.

Daly AsJ:

  1. Referred to a “Baumgartner constructive trust” (based on the High Court case of Baumgartner v Baumgartner (1987) 164 CLR 137, also known as a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust, based on the High Court case of that name: (1984) 160 CLR 583)). The elements of this trust are that a constructive trust for the holding of a beneficial interest in land in particular shares may arise regardless of agreement or intention where:

(a)   A relationship or joint endeavour has broken down without any blame attributable to any party to it;

(b)   There has been a financial contribution by one or both parties to the relationship or to the joint endeavour;

(c)   In these circumstances, and in all the circumstances, it would be unconscionable for one party to the relationship or joint endeavour to retain a benefit greater than that party’s contribution. [7]

  1. Held that Theo had established a serious question to be tried that such a trust existed from before 2012, on the basis of arguments that:

(a)   he and their parents were involved in a joint endeavour whereby he made contributions to the property, which enabled him and his family to live rent free at the property, and enabled his parents to live rent free at his property;

(b)   they all pooled their resources to facilitate the joint endeavour;

(c)   the joint endeavour ended without blame upon the death of the parents; and

(d)   it would be unconscionable for the estate to retain the benefit of his contributions. [8], [14], [16]

  1. Ordered removal of the caveat on condition that all or part of the net sale proceeds be retained to meet any claim by Theo, who was also required to commence a proceeding to pursue his claim within a specified time. [3(k)], [18]-[20]

McRae v Mackrae-Bathory [2019] VSC 298 (7 May 2019) Derham AsJ.  

The chronology was –

  • The plaintiff (Zachary) was the registered proprietor of a property at Albion acquired in 2004 and of a property at Lara acquired in 2013, each encumbered by the same mortgage.
  • In January 2019 the defendant (Rachel) caveated over each piece of land claiming an interest in the land “as chargee” under an implied, resulting or constructive trust.
  • In March 2019 Zachary entered into a contract to sell the Albion property to be settled in May 2019.
  • He applied for removal of the caveats under the TLA s. 90(3).
  • He alleged that:
    • in 2012 she gave birth to their twins, but he had never lived with her as a couple in a de facto relationship and there was no agreement between them sufficient to give rise to a constructive trust;
    • until recently the children lived with her during the week and with him every weekend;
    • in January 2019 she had attempted to kill him leading to an intervention order.
  • Rachel alleged that:
    • they had resided in a ‘full emotional and sexual’ committed de facto relationship between 2002 and 2019 and were publicly known as such;
    • they pooled their income for joint expenses;
    • the properties were acquired during the course of the relationship;
    • she made financial contributions to their purchase and development;
    • Zachary always ‘indicated’ to her that she had an interest in both properties and was entitled to a half share of them;
    • his evidence as to residence with the children was incorrect and that she had not assaulted him.

Derham AsJ held:

  1. The estate or interest claimed as chargee was likely to be the result of a legal error. [3]
  2. If Rachel’s testimony was accepted there was a sensible basis for, and a sufficient probability of, finding that there was a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust over both properties to the extent of her having an equitable estate in fee simple as a co-tenant with Zachary. This basis was: her direct contributions to the acquisition of the Albion property; her contributions to the maintenance and mortgage payments of both properties. [17]-[19]
  3. Accordingly, while it was neither necessary or appropriate to determine disputed questions of fact, Rachel had a sufficient likelihood of success justifying the practical effect of maintaining the caveat over the Albion property or of requiring deployment of most of the net sale proceeds in reducing the mortgage. [13], [20]
  4. The interaction between the strength of the caveator’s case and the balance of convenience was such that the lowest risk of injustice, whatever the outcome of the disputes, lay in removal of the caveat at settlement on the proviso that the net proceeds of the sale were (after payment of certain credit card debts – see below) applied to reduce the mortgage (Zachary also undertaking not to withdraw loan monies under the mortgage). This outcome preserved most of the benefit of Rachel’s caveatable interest.  To withhold this protection would do her irreparable harm if she succeeded in establishing her claimed interests, while to grant it would not greatly injure Zachary if her claims failed. [4], [21], [22], [24]
  5. However, certain of Zachary’s credit card debts were first to be paid out of the sale proceeds because most were incurred during the relationship alleged by Rachel and some had been incurred in completing the Lara property and so would ultimately benefit Rachel if her constructive trust claim succeeded. [4], [23]
  6. As regards the Lara property, it was clearly established law that where a caveator established a prima facie case but there was a conflict of testimony the court would not order outright removal of the caveat but may order removal unless steps were taken to establish the caveator’s title within a certain time. Accordingly the caveat would be ordered to be removed unless the caveator commenced proceedings to establish her title within a month. [5], [25], [26]
  7. Having regard to offers made by each side before the hearing, which were each to some extent appropriate, the defendant was ordered to pay the plaintiff’s costs fixed at $1,400, being disbursements incurred in issuing the originating process and paying the search fees incurred in putting forward exhibits to his affidavit in support. [27]

 

Hermiz v Yousif [2019] VSC 160 (15 March 2019) Derham AsJ.

The chronology was –

  • In 1998 the plaintiff (Hermiz) and the first defendant (Yousif) were sexually intimate leading to the birth of a child.  They ceased their relationship at about this time and Hermiz had never met the child.
  • Hermiz paid child support.  Yousif never provided him with any financial support.
  • Hermiz married his wife Dina in 2004.  In 2010 they purchased a residential property, became registered proprietors and subsequently cohabited there.
  • Yousif made no contribution to the property, or to any other asset owned by Hermiz, he made no promise about the property or declaration of trust or like arrangement concerning it, and no court order related to it.
  • In December 2018 Hermiz and Dina entered into a contract to sell the land with settlement due in February 2019.
  • In January 2019 Yousif lodged a caveat claiming an interest in the land pursuant to a court order under the Family Law Act.  There was no order giving such an interest.  The caveat was voluntarily removed.
  • On 1 February 2019 Yousif via a firm of solicitors lodged the caveat the subject of this proceeding claiming a freehold estate on the basis of an implied, resulting or constructive trust.  Hermiz’s solicitors wrote to Yousif’s solicitors expounding the absence of basis for the caveat and forshadowing an application for damages and indemnity costs.
  • Hermiz and Dina could not complete the sale, but gave the purchaser possession under a licence and also remained liable to keep up mortgage repayments.
  • Hermiz applied under the TLA s. 90(3) to remove the caveat.
  • Two days before the Supreme Court hearing Yousif filed an application in the Federal Circuit Court for a property order, in particular for an order that the net proceeds of sale of this property be held in trust pending final orders, supported by an affidavit including allegations referred to in 1 below.

Derham AsJ held:

  1. Yousif had not discharged the burden of establishing a serious question to be tried (in the sense of a prima facie case) of the interest in land claimed in the caveat.  There was insufficient evidence of a Muschinski v Dodds constructive trust: her allegation of cooking, cleaning and supporting Hermiz financially whilst he studied for his Australian medical qualification more than a decade before purchase of the land did not reveal that it is or would be unconscionable for him to deny her an interest in the land. [32]-[37], [40], [41]
  2. On the dissolution of marriage or the breakdown of a de facto or domestic relationship, the scope of the Federal Circuit Court’s power to alter property interests was determined by legislation, in this case the Family Law Act s. 90SM, rather than by the principles of constructive trusts.  The Family Law Act did not, of itself, give a party to a ‘marriage’ or a de facto relationship a caveatable interest, although an order under that Act could have that effect. [38], [39]
  3. The balance of convenience was also against Yousif. [42]
  4. Hermiz was justified in applying under the TLA s. 90(3) as opposed to using the administrative procedure in s. 89A. The very reason for the summary procedure under s. 90(3) was to enable an application that avoided the delay involved under s. 89A. [44], [45]
  5. Indemnity costs would be awarded against Yousif because: the nominated basis of resulting, implied or constructive trust for lodging the caveat was without merit, and; she was using the caveat process as a bargaining chip. [52], [53]
  6. Leave would be reserved to Hermiz to claim costs against the solicitors who lodged the caveat. [54]