Archive for the ‘guarantee’ Category

Barclays Bank plc v O’Brien: the risk of failing to take steps to ensure informed consent

October 1, 2013

In Barclays Bank plc v O’Brien ([1994] 1 AC 180, HL) a married couple granted the bank a second charge over the family home as security for the overdraft facility of a company in which the husband had an interest. The wife signed the document without reading it; she did so because of her husband’s misrepresentation to the effect that the liability to the bank was limited to GBP60,000 and that the exposure under the arrangement would only last for three weeks. In fact, it was an unlimited guarantee. The bank took no steps to have the documents explained to the wife nor did it suggest that the wife should take independent legal advice.

When the company failed to meet its obligations, the bank sought an order for possession of the home. W sought to set the charge aside on the grounds that it was the result of H’s misrepresentation and undue influence.

Only the misrepresentation defence was relied upon in the House of Lords. Nevertheless, Lord Wilberforce (giving the only full judgment) spoke about undue influence and considered the steps that a lender must take to protect itself from a claim that its agreement with a surety might be set aside in the event that it is entered into as a result of misrepresentation or undue influence.

Lord Wilberforce prefaced his analysis with a reminder that there are policy considerations to be borne in mind in shaping the law. The law needs to strike a balance between the need to protect wives from an abuse of the trust and confidence that they place in their husbands, on the one hand, and the need to avoid the creation of a draconian regime that would render family homes unacceptable as security for loans (at p. 188).

Lord Wilberforce considered the proposition that wives enjoy some special equity and are the object of special tenderness on the part of equity. He accepted that there was a greater risk of undue influence ‘than in the ordinary run of cases where no sexual or emotional ties affect the free exercise of the individual’s will’ (at p. 191). At the same time, with an eye no doubt to the future rational and orderly development of the law, he rejected the broad proposition that wives should be accorded special rights in relation to surety transactions. He rejected then the idea of ‘a special equity applicable only to such persons engaged in such transactions.’ (at p. 195).

The judgment seeks to create a legal environment that properly balances the interests of wives and lenders (described below). It is not only applicable to wives. Towards the end of the judgment, Lord Wilberforce emphasises that the same principles apply ‘to all other cases where there is an emotional relationship between cohabitees.’ (at p. 198). Thus, the principles and procedures set out in the judgment are to be followed ‘if, but only if, the creditor is aware that the surety is cohabiting with the principal debtor’. (at p. 198). Marriage is only one instance of a broader category.

The core of the judgment is its consideration of the circumstances in which lenders will take subject to the prior rights of the person whose consent was procured by undue influence or misrepresentation.

In a case like this, it may sometimes be possible for W to argue that H was the bank’s agent. This would provide a basis upon which H’s undue influence or misrepresentation could be attributed to the bank. An agency analysis of this situation, however, would usually be highly artificial (at p. 194).

Rather, the doctrine of notice provides the key: did the lender have actual or constructive notice of the misrepresentation or undue influence (at pp. 194 – 5)? The question is whether the lender is aware of facts or circumstances that put him on enquiry as to the possibility that the surety might have a right to rescind on the grounds of undue influence or misrepresentation. If the lender is put on enquiry and does not take reasonable steps to satisfy himself that W’s agreement to stand surety has been properly obtained then it will have constructive notice of W’s rights (at p. 196).

When is a lender on enquiry (so that it needs to take further steps)?

‘[A] creditor is put on enquiry when a wife offers to stand surety for her husband’s debts by the combination of two factors: (a) the transaction is on its face not to the financial advantage of the wife; and (b) there is a substantial risk in transactions of that kind that, in procuring the wife to act as surety, the husband has committed a legal or equitable wrong that entitles the wife to set aside the transaction.’ (at p. 196).

When the lender is on enquiry it must ‘take steps to bring home to the wife the risk she is running by standing as surety and to advise her to take independent advice.’ (at p. 196).

The steps that a lender is expected to take are set out in this passage:

‘in my judgment a creditor will have satisfied these requirements if it insists that the wife attend a private meeting (in the absence of the husband) with a representative of the creditor at which she is told of the extent of her liability as surety, warned of the risk she is running and urged to take independent legal advice.’ (at . 196)

In exceptional circumstances, where the lender knows of circumstances that make the exercise of undue influence probable rather than merely possible, the lender will need to ensure that the wife is separately advised (at p. 197).

This procedure seeks a fair balance between the wife and the lender, even though it does not guarantee that the wife fully understands the transaction (at p. 197).

As the bank had not taken steps to ensure that Mrs O’Brien had been properly informed of the nature of the transaction, it was fixed with constructive notice of Mr O’Brien’s misrepresentation.

Michael Lower

Undue influence: bank not put on inquiry merely by disadvantageous transaction

September 26, 2013

In Bank of China (Hong Kong) Ltd v Leung Ngai Hang ([2006] HKCU 78, CA) Miss C and Miss L had been friends and business partners. They bought an investment property together. They borrowed money to fund the purchase into their names as joint tenants, the loan being secured by a legal charge. They subsequently remortgaged with the Bank of China replacing the fixed term loan with more general banking facilities. By this time, Miss C no longer had any business relationship with Miss L. One element of the loan package was the provision of open-ended banking facilities to Miss L’s business.

The loans were not repaid. The bank sold the property but there was an outstanding balance. Miss C relied on undue influence and misrepresentation as her defence.

This failed since there was nothing to implicate the bank in any wrongdoing (assuming there had been some impropriety). Was there anything to put the bank on inquiry ([14])? A disadvantageous transaction on its own was not sufficient to achieve this. There was nothing about the relationship between Miss C and Miss L to suggest that there was a risk that consent had been procured by some improper means ([17]).

In any event, it was not clear that the present transaction was manifestly to Miss C’s disadvantage. The money had been used to redeem an earlier charge. There were benefits in replacing a fixed term loan with general banking faclities ([18]).

Michael Lower

Misrepresentation and undue influence: where the wife benefits from the arrangement

September 24, 2013

In Bank of China (Hong Kong) Ltd v Leung Wai Man ([2011] 4 HKLRD 707) a husband and wife guaranteed the indebtedness of S Ltd to the bank. They also gave the bank a charge over their home. The husband did so because he hoped to become an employee or part owner of S Ltd. The wife joined in because she trusted her husband’s judgment in these matters and thought that she should defer to him. Things went badly and the bank sought to enforce its rights under the guarantee and charge.

The couple first sought to rely on misrepresentation as against the bank. They claimed to have told the bank’s employee responsible for the arrangement that they could not meet any liability exceeding HK$1 million. The charge was an all-monies charge and their eventual liability was higher than HK$ 1 million. The husband claimed that the employee had smiled and nodded at the suggestion that the liability was capped at HK$1 million and that this was an implied representation that the liability was so limited. This failed on the facts. In any event, silence and inaction do not amount to a representation unless there is a duty of disclosure or an important part of a representation is withheld ([44]).

The wife’s defence based on undue influence failed. The sources of the relevant legal principles were identified ([53]) as were the points to be considered when a wife seeks to set aside a guarantee in circumstances such as these ([54]).

There was no evidence of undue influence here ([56]). Here there was evidence pointing to the relationship between the husband and wife being one of trust and confidence ([56]). Even on this point, however, the court had to recall that in any healthy marriage there was a normal level of mutual trust that would not suffice for the purposes of undue influence ([57]). There was nothing about the transaction that called for an explanation since it was for the joint advantage of the husband and the wife: the couple secured an immediate benefit in that the original charge over their home had been paid off as part of the arrangement and they had hopes that the husband would secure an attractive business opportunity as a result of the arrangement ([58]).

As for the bank’s involvement, even if there had been undue influence there was nothing to put the bank on inquiry:

‘There is no evidence in the present case to show that the bank had suspected that the first defendant had exerted undue influence on the second defendant. In such circumstances, the bank did not have any responsibility to make inquiry.’ (Carlye Chu J at [59]).

Michael Lower

Undue influence: whether the lender is on notice has to be considered from its perspective

September 19, 2013

In Li Sau Ying v Bank of China (Hong Kong) Ltd ((2004) 7 HKCFAR 579, CFA)  a businesswoman (L) supplied goods on credit to X. X ran up an indebtedness to her of HK$1m. When pressed to pay, X suggested that L should, instead, act as surety for a loan to his business. She agreed and also gave a mortgage over her apartment as collateral. There were several re-mortgages culminating in the re-mortgage in favour of a lender later acquired by the Bank of China. When the principal borrower defaulted and the Bank exercised its rights under the surety agreement with L, she sought to have the agreement and documents set aside on the basis that they had been entered into as a result of X’s undue influence and that the bank was implicated in this.

Lord Scott echoed the view that the class 2B category is not a useful forensic tool:

‘I do not wish to leave this issue without expressing the hope that in future cases, where undue influence has to be proved but where the relationship between the parties is not a relationship that falls within Slade LJ’s Class 2A category, the parties will concentrate on whether the evidence justifies the inference that, on a balance of probabilities, the impugned transaction was procured by undue influence, that is to say, by an abuse by the allegedly dominant party of the trust and confidence reposed in him by the allegedly subservient party. References in such cases to, and attempts to invoke the assistance of, an alleged evidential presumption of undue influence are, in my opinion, likely to be, as they have been in this case, a source of confusion and an impediment to the evaluation of the available evidence.’ ([34])

Lord Scott explained that whether the bank is on notice depends on whether or not there are any circumstances that meant that knowledge of the initial impropriety could be attributed to the bank ([35]).

Where it is on notice, its duty is to take reasonable steps to ensure that the surety has had brought home to her, in a meaningful way, the potential implications for her of the proposed transaction (see Lord Nicholls in Etridge at [54]). What steps are reasonable is a question of fact in each case ([39]).

It is important to understand what these steps are trying to achieve and the limits of what is expected of the bank. The bank must take the reasonable steps needed to allow the surety to understand the transaction. It does not need to actually succeed in making the surety understand the transaction ([38]).

Lord Scott also commented on the category of ‘non-commercial’ surety arrangements established by Lord Nicholls, making the point that whether a case belonged to one category or another might not always be apparent to a bank unless it made unwarranted enquiries as to the nature of the relationship between the principal borrower and the surety. The lender is not expected to make any such enquiries and nothing that Lord Nicholls had said implied that such enquiries were necessary ([41]).

Lord Scott thought that the original surety agreement and mortgage may well have been the result of some undue influence ([30]).  So far as the Bank of China was concerned, however, this appeared to be a simple case of a borrower who wanted to re-mortgage on better terms. There was nothing in this to put the bank on inquiry. In any event, the solicitor acting for the bank had actually explained the documents to her and so the reasonable steps had been taken.

Michael Lower

Effect of disclaimer on surety covenant

February 14, 2013

In RVB Investments Ltd v Bibby ([2013] EWHC 65) RVB granted two leases to CT. B, as surety, covenanted, among other things, to take a new lease for the residue of the lease terms if the leases were disclaimed. One lease was disclaimed by the liquidator and the other, after CT’s dissolution, by the Treasury Solicitors. RVB sought specific performance of B’s covenant to take new leases. RVB was successful.

As regards the lease disclaimed by the liquidator, the effect of section 178 of the Insolvency Act 1986 was that the guarantee remained alive even after disclaimer of the lease ([22] – [23]). The same was true of the lease that was disclaimed by the Treasury Solicitor after CT’s dissolution. The company’s own liability was brought to an end but not of the guarantor ([27] – [29]).

Nor was CT a ‘former tenant’ for the purposes of the Landlord and Tenant (Covenants) Act 1995 so there was no need for RVB to serve a notice before recovering any sums owed by CT to RVB ([35] – [36]).

Guarantee procured by misrepresentation can be void because of undue influence

January 6, 2012

In Beardsley Theobalds Retirement Scheme Trustees v Yardley ([2011] EWHC 1380), Y had been a director of B Ltd. M was another director and controlling shareholder and he was trusted by Y. Y left the board at M’s request but continued as an employee. B Ltd was due to take a new lease of a shop but the landlord (L) insisted on a guarantee because of B Ltd’s precarious financial position. M asked Y to join in the lease as guarantor. Y signed as a result of M’s skillful misrepresentation; he made it appear that Y was simply witnessing M’s signature as he often did. B Ltd went into administration and L sought to enforce the guarantee. It failed: the guarantee was void as against Y for an impressive range of reasons.

First, in the circumstances, M’s misrepresentation amounted to undue influence. L was affected by it since it knew of B Ltd’s precarious position and it ought to have realised that Y was not a director of B Ltd. It should have ensured that Y was independently advised as to the nature of the document and the financial risk he was running. Y should have confirmed in writing that he was signing with the benefit of full knowledge of the nature of the document and the risk. A solicitor should have been asked to certify that independent advice had been given. None of this had happened so L had constructive notice of the undue influence. The court would also have found the guarantee to be unenforceable on the grounds of non est factum and that Y had not given authority for the guarantee to be delivered in escrow.

Undue influence when guarantee signed without providing relevant information

March 28, 2011

A lender had not complied with the guidelines laid down by the House of Lords in Royal Bank of Scotland v Etridge (No 2) ([2002] 2 AC 773) where a guarantor had not been provided with adequate information as to the financial standing of the principal debtor nor with adequate time and opportunity to take advice and make up her mind as to whether or not to give the guarantee.

In The Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Chandra ([2010] EWHC 105 (Ch)) the Bank had provided finance for a company set up by Mr and Mrs Chandra to develop and run a hotel in Manchester. The Chandras each guaranteed the company’s debt and later each gave a further guarantee. One of the issues was whether Mrs Chandra was liable under the second guarantee. She alleged that she had signed as the result of her husband’s undue influence and that the Bank was on notice. The Court agreed. She was only told of the need to sign a further guarantee as she and her husband were driving to a meeting at which it was to be signed. She was given neither adequate financial information nor the real ability to take independent legal advice. The further guarantee was set aside as against her.

Does the benefit of a guarantee pass on an assignment of the reversion?

November 17, 2010

This question was considered in P & A Swift Investments v Combined English Stores Group plc ([1989] AC 632, HL). Here a lease contained a surety covenant (or guarantee) that if the tenant failed to perform the lease covenants then the surety would do so. The landlord assigned the reversion but not the benefit of the covenant. The tenant failed to pay the rent and the new landlord wanted to enforce the guarantee. Had the benefit of the guarantee passed to the assignee of the reversion automatically? It would do so if the guarantee covenant could be said to ‘touch and concern’ the land. The House of Lords unanimously decided that the assignee could enforce the guarantee. Lord Templeman described a surety or guarantor as a ‘quasi-tenant’ (at 638).

Lord Oliver of Aylmerton proposed the following criteria to be applied when trying to decide on whether a covenant touches and concerns land:

‘(1) the covenant benefits only the reversioner for time being, and if separated from the reversion ceases to be of benefit to the covenantee; (2) the covenant affects the nature, quality, mode of user or value of the land of the reversioner; (3) the covenant is not expressed to be personal (that is to say neither being given only to a specific reversioner nor in respect of the obligations only of a specific tenant); (4) the fact that a covenant is to pay a sum of money will not prevent it from touching and concerning the land so long as the three foregoing conditions are satisfied and the covenant is connected with something to be done on to or in relation to the land.’ (at 642)