Archive for the ‘Guarantor’ Category

Undue influence: not enough to urge surety to take legal advice

October 8, 2013

In Credit Lyonnais Bank Nederland NV v Burch ([1997] CLC 95) Miss B was a junior employee of Mr P’s business. He wanted to extend the limit of the business’ overdraft facility and persuaded Miss B to sign an unlimited guarantee of the business’ liability. Although the bank’s solicitor urged her to take independent legal advice she did not and no effort was made to ensure that she did. It was found as a fact that the relationship between Mr P and Miss B was one of trust and confidence (they were employer – employee on friendly terms, there was no suggestion of a sexual relationship).

The bank attempted to enforce its security but was met with a successful undue influence defence. The bank knew that the transaction was to Miss B’s disadvantage (so much so that the inference that the relationship of trust and confidence was easy to draw). It knew that she was a fairly junior employee. It was on notice (see Millett LJ at pp. 104 – 105).

Simply suggesting to Miss B that she take independent legal advice, far from being sufficient to protect its security, emphasised the fact that it knew that such advice was necessary in the circumstances.

On the relevance of the suggestion that she should take independent legal advice (and the fact that she did not do so), Nourse LJ commented:

‘[I]t was not enough for Miss Burch to be advised to take independent legal advice. It was at the least necessary that she should receive such advice.’ (at p. 101).

Advising Miss B as to the financial background to the transaction was vital:

‘She could not assess the significance [of being informed that her liability under the charge was to be unlimited in time and amount] without being told of the extent of API’s current borrowings and the current limit.’ (Nourse LJ at p. 101).

Millett LJ also expressed the view that if a bank knew that no competent solicitor could advise his client to enter into a given transaction then the fact that some advice was given will not be enough to protect the bank against an undue influence defence:

‘I do not, therefore, accept that a bank, in circumstances where it ought to appreciate the possibility that undue influence has been exercised, can escape the consequences by putting forward an unnecessarily, onerous form of guarantee and relying on the failure of the guarantor’s solicitor to advise her of the possibility of offering a guarantee on less onerous terms and more appropriate to the situation.’ (Millett LJ at p. 106)

Michael Lower

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

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]).