RECENT SUPREME COURT CASES DEC 2017 – FEB 2018 (3 of 6)

A claim for compensation under s. 118

KB Corporate Pty Ltd v Sayfe and Anor [2017] VSC 623, 22 December 2017, Mukhtar AsJ.

A judge had previously ordered the defendant to remove caveats lodged over the plaintiff’s properties.  This was a consequential application for compensation under s. 118 of Transfer of Land Act which created liability in any person lodging a caveat without reasonable cause to pay compensation to any person who sustained damage thereby.  The plaintiff claimed that the caveats delayed a purchase of a NSW property by a company with the same directorship and shareholding, which purchase was allegedly being funded by a loan from a financier to the plaintiff.  His Honour held –

 1.      The relevant principles under s. 118 were in substance:

  • The plaintiff had the onus of proving both lack of caveatable interest and that the defendant lacked an honest belief based on reasonable grounds that the caveatable interest existed. Even this may not suffice if it was established that the caveator was actuated not by the protection of the caveator’s interest but by an ulterior motive;
  • The fact that the caveator obtained legal advice to lodge the caveat may be of considerable significance in determining lack of reasonable cause, but the content and accuracy of the legal advice must be evaluated with all other relevant circumstances. However, his Honour noted NSW authority that, where a solicitor had no reasonable basis for advising the caveators to caveat, the caveators had no reasonable grounds for their belief that they were entitled to lodge a caveat.

      2.      The elements required under s. 118 were established. 

3.     Because of the caveats the lender to the plaintiff temporarily withheld certain funds, causing increased payments by the plaintiff to the lender for interest and re-scheduled and delayed settlement and legal fees.  This claim succeeded. 

4.      A second claim related to a payment to the vendor of the NSW property as a condition of extension of the settlement date (calculated on the basis of the vendor’s alleged lost interest, refinance fees and re-scheduled and delayed legal fees) because the caveat allegedly delayed receipt of the loan.  This claim failed for lack of proof that the inability to obtain the loan disabled or impaired the purchaser from completing the contract.

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. 

RECENT SUPREME COURT CASES Dec 2017 – Feb 2018 (1 of 6)

Today’s blog is the first of six brief entries discussing recent Supreme Court cases.

 Whether a purchaser of a lot in land yet to be subdivided, who caveats over all the land, can, after subdivision and transfer to it of the lot sold, retain the caveat over the rest of the land.

 Bisognin & Anor v Hera Project Pty Ltd & Anor [2017] VSC 783 (15 December 2017) Daly AsJ.

 The chronology was –

13 March 2015          Plaintiffs enter contract to sell the southern portion (“southern lot”) of their soon to be subdivided land to the first defendant, retaining the northern portion (“northern lot”).

4 March 2016            Sloss J holds the vendors contractually required to undertake water supply and sewerage facility works.  Works remain unperformed. 

3 June 2016               Purchaser caveats claiming an estate in fee simple over the whole of the land, the interest claimed being as purchaser. 

16 December 2016    Court of Appeal holds the purchaser contractually required to pay fees (the “bonds”) on the vendors’ behalf to Water Authorities.  Payments subsequently made.

22 May 2017              Riordan J orders specific performance of the contract.  Vendors appeal seeking relief including recovery of southern lot.  Appeal subsequently heard but judgment reserved.

15 September 2017   Registration of plan of subdivision creating both lots.
Caveat remains registered over both. 

2 October 2017       Settlement of sale of southern lot. 

27 October 2017    Application to remove caveat under Transfer of Land Act s. 90(3). 

The purchaser argued that: the caveat was lodged to secure the vendors’ performance of their outstanding contractual obligations; by not undertaking the works the vendors had taken the benefit of the bonds; if the vendors did undertake the works and the bonds were refunded the vendors were required to repay the bonds to the purchaser, and this obligation created a lien or a resulting or constructive trust. 

Daly AsJ removed the caveat, holding –

  1. A purchaser of land anticipated to be subdivided could caveat over the whole of the land before subdivision, and over the purchased land after subdivision.  But on transfer of a subdivided lot the purchaser retained no interest in the unsold lot.
  2. The purchaser was in effect seeking to use the unsold lot as security for contractual obligations: but, absent a contractual term creating a charge, continuing actual or contingent liabilities of the vendor did not create a caveatable interest in the land retained.  
  3. Referring to authority that a purchaser had a lien over the property to secure repayment of the deposit if the contract ended, even if the vendors’ contingent liability to repay the bonds automatically created a lien there was no serious question to be tried that this created the estate or interest claimed in the caveat.  

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.  

 

Caveatable Interests

  • Charges giving rise to caveatable interests.

  • The indirect ability of the Court of Appeal to remove a caveat.

  • A competition between cash in a solicitor’s bank account and a caveat supporting a charge for potentially a greater amount.

Sim Development Pty Ltd v Greenvale Property Group Pty Ltd [2017] VSC 335 (16 June 2017) Sifris J.

Sim Development Pty Ltd v Greenvale Property Group Pty Ltd [2017] VSCA 345 (17 November 2017) Tate and McLeish JJA.

The plaintiff/appellant (“Sim”) provided services under a consultancy and management agreement for a proposed development on land of which the defendant/respondent (“Greenvale”) was registered proprietor.  Greenvale notified Sim of its intention to terminate the agreement at a specified date.  Sim caveated to secure moneys allegedly owed under the agreement and sued to recover $380,280 and for other relief.  Greenvale counterclaimed and commenced a separate proceeding under the TLA s. 90(3) seeking removal of the caveat.

Sifris J held Sim to be entitled to payment of $152,600.03 and Greenvale to be entitled to some payment on the counterclaim.  His Honour dismissed the caveat proceeding on the ground of a clause providing that on termination of the agreement before completion of the project Greenvale gave Sim “the right to register a charge over the property … and any other property owned by [Greenvale] and such charge is to be applied to the payment in full of any money owed to [Sim Development]”.  Sifris J held that the contractual right to register a charge, in the event of termination, supported the existence of a caveatable interest; and while the clause did not specifically adopt the language of lodging a caveat, its reference to the concept of registration, and lack of sufficient indication to the contrary, supported the conclusion that it gave rise to a caveatable interest.

Sim applied for leave to appeal, seeking orders in substance as sought at first instance. Greenvale did not seek leave to appeal against the caveat proceeding order.  However, desiring to be rid of the caveat, it made an interlocutory application in the application by Sim for leave to appeal, seeking an order directing Sim to withdraw its caveat on Greenvale paying $152,600.03 into an interest-bearing account of Greenvale’s solicitors and undertaking not to sell the land pending determination of the application for leave to appeal and any appeal.

Tate and McLeish JJA held:

  1. The application by Greenvale was competent, being permitted by s. 10(3) of the Supreme Court Act 1986.
  2. Sim would not be ordered to withdraw its caveat, because:
  • the caveat was supported by its right under the agreement to a charge over the land. The withdrawal of the caveat would in effect remove the protection of the security interest the parties provided for in the agreement;
  • if Sim succeeded in any appeal Greenvale may be ordered to pay $380,280. In those circumstances, the amount offered, $152,600.03, would be inadequate and Sim would have lost the protection of the caveat supporting its entitlement to monies owed.  This could render any appeal effectively nugatory;
  • Greenvale had not adequately specified how the caveat would impede the development’s progress. Accordingly, applying a test of balance of convenience, Sim had discharged its onus of establishing that the prejudice that would flow to it from an order directing it to withdraw the caveat outweighed any demonstrable prejudice to Greenvale.

Commentary: A novel case of a creative attempt to get rid of a caveat pending an appeal.  As to caveats supporting charges see also: Evans v Advertising Department Pty Ltd [2009] VSC 587; West Coast Developments Pty Ltd v Lehmann [2013] VSC 617, also [2014] VSC 293.

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).

 

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.