Posts Tagged ‘inferred intention’

Can the creation of a common intention constructive trust be inferred from conduct alone?

August 31, 2016

In Morris v Morris ([2008] EWCA Civ 257) Mrs Morris argued that she was beneficially entitled to a share in the assets of the farming partnership business carried on by her husband and his mother. Mrs Morris’ claim was based on common intention constructive trust and proprietary estoppel. There was no express agreement between Mrs Morris, on the one hand, and her husband and mother-in-law on the other. She argued that, after Stack, the common intention constructive trust could be inferred from her conduct. The conduct that she relied upon was the fact that she did substantial unpaid work in her husband’s business. Mrs Morris also carried on her own, separate horse riding school at the farm. She invested money in the improvement of the land to accommodate this business. She relied on her work and the payment for these works as the basis for inferring the common intention constructive trust.

The English Court of Appeal unanimously held that Mrs Morris’ contributions were not evidence of a common intention to share beneficial ownership of the farming business and its assets. The financial contributions were explained by her desire to develop her own horse riding business. The lack of any express assurance was also fatal to the proprietary estoppel claim. The judgments in the Court of Appeal are significant because they stress that the courts are reluctant to infer a common intention from conduct alone ([23] Sir Peter Gibson and [36] May LJ). Sir Peter Gibson suggests (at [26]) that the common intention can only be inferred from conduct where the alleged agreement is the only explanation of the conduct. This must be too stringent a test; the true test must be whether the alleged agreement is the most likely explanation for the conduct.

Michael Lower



Proving the existence of a common intention constructive trust

May 18, 2016

In Ip Man Shan v Ching Hing Construction Co Ltd ([2005] HKEC 188, CA) ICP paid for land but he channeled the payment through his company (Ching Hing). Ching Hing then paid the construction costs for the large family residence constructed on the land. Title to the land went into the name of ICP’s son, Ip Man Shan. At first instance, Johnson Lam J (as he then was) decided that there was sufficient evidence to establish that Ip Man Shan was a mere nominee, holding the title on common intention constructive trust for ICP and Ching Hing. This result could perhaps have been arrived at by applying the presumed resulting trust approach since ICP supplied the purchase price and Ching Hing financed and carried out the construction work. Nevertheless, Johnson Lam J. made it clear that he had looked at other additional evidence to support his conclusion as to the common intention constructive trust. He rejected a narrow approach to Lord Bridge’s statement in Rosset that only contributions to the purchase price or mortgage installments could be relied upon to infer the existence of a common intention constructive trust. He said that an intention to create a trust could also be inferred from other equally ‘concrete and compelling conduct’  (see here for an account of Johnson Lam J’s judgment). Ip Man Shan died. His son continued the proceedings and appealed against the first instance decision.

The Court of Appeal (Le Pichon JA giving the judgment with which the other members of the Court of Appeal agreed) upheld the first instance decision and the reasoning on which it was based. The judgment does not include an analysis of the law, so it seems that there was an implicit acceptance of Johnson Lam J’s approach. The judgment, rather, identifies the aspect of the whole course of conduct (at the time of acquisition and subsequently) that pointed to the intention being to create a trust (rather than make a gift to Ip Man Shan). This included evidence of discussions between the parents (who were also the founders of Ching Hing). The property was acquired subject to a condition as to the construction work that was to be carried our before the Crown Lease would be granted and Ip Man Shan (then recently graduated) was in no position to finance these works ([24]). Ip Man Shan’s parents and six siblings all had shares in Ching Hing so that it was not in a position to make a gift of the construction costs to Ip Man Shan ([25]). Ip Man Shan had no input into the design of the building and it was used as a residence for the whole family for many years ([26]). Ip Man Shan gave his mother a very wide-ranging power of attorney concerning the property and this was further proof that he accepted that he was a mere nominee. Exercising her power, the mother granted a lease of the property to Ching Hing for the full term of the Crown Lease less one day. This was a recognition of Ching Hing’s interest in the property. The Court of Appeal also considered the fact that the property was not shown as an asset in the company’s accounts; it was satisfied that this could be explained on the basis that this was thought to be the proper accounting treatment given that the legal title was vested in Ip Man Shan. So an analysis of the other ‘concrete and compelling conduct’ (in addition to financial contributions) confirmed that there was a trust in favour of ICP and Ching Hing.

Michael Lower

Proving the existence of a common intention constructive trust in sole name cases: is marriage enough? Beneficiaries have a duty to inform purchasers where they are aware that a contract has been signed.

May 27, 2015

In Mo Ying v Brillex Development Ltd ([2015] HKEC 583, CA) H married W in Hangzhou. Shortly afterwards, H returned to Hong Kong and bought a flat in his sole name, using a combination of his own money and a mortgage taken out in his own name. A few months later, W joined him in Hong Kong and asked why her name was not on the title deeds. H told her that this was troublesome and would cause expense. W did not pursue the matter as she thought that the fact of the marriage entitled her to a share in the property. The marriage broke up and W argued that she had an interest under a common intention constructive trust.

On the facts of this case, the husband’s excuse could not be construed as an agreement that W was entitled to an interest. Unlike Grant v Edwards  and Eves v Eves, the words used were equivocal and W did not take them to mean that she was to have an interest in the property ([7.6]  and [7.7] per Cheung JA). There was a suggestion that H had told W that ‘What belongs to me belongs to you’. Had it been proved, this would have been decisive in W’s favour; it had not been proved ([7.2] per Cheung JA).

The whole course of conduct can be referred to when deciding whether or not a common intention constructive trust exists in a sole name case ([6.2] per Cheung JA).  The fact that the parties are married is an important feature of the whole course of conduct but, on its own, it does not give rise to an inference that a common intention constructive trust exists ([7.17] per Cheung JA and [11.4] per Yuen JA). There were no other features of the case that pointed to the existence of a common intention constructive trust. The evidence did not suggest that the parties had pooled their assets and liabilities ([7.19] per Cheung JA). Any payments that W had made towards household expenses were not referable to any common intention that she was to have an interest in the property ([7.20] per Cheung JA). Detrimental reliance remains a necessary element of the common intention constructive trust ([6.12] per Cheung JA).

H sold the property. W was informed of the sale once the provisional sale and purchase agreement had been signed but did nothing to protect her interest or to inform the purchaser of her rights. The sale was later completed. While the purchaser had constructive notice of any interest that W might have (because of her occupation and the purchaser’s failure to inspect) this did not mean that W could not be estopped from enforcing her rights against the purchaser. Her silence, once she knew of the contract, gave rise to an estoppel ([8.7]  and [8.12] per Cheung JA, [11.10] per Yuen JA and [20] per Kwan JA). Even if it were seen as being a proprietary estoppel, it could be relied upon as a defence. It is unhelpful to draw rigid distinctions between types of estoppel ([8.9] and [8.10] per Cheung JA).

This case provide an extremely important review by the Court of Appeal of the framework for the law of the common intention constructive  trust in Hong Kong. It draws on the English developments in Stack v Dowden, Abbott v Abbott and Jones v Kernott. Further, W had commenced divorce proceedings. The comparison between W’s family law rights and her rights as a matter of strict property law is a fascinating thread running through Cheung JA’s judgment. As a wife, W had rights under family law. Should the law of the common intention constructive trust also be especially responsive to the relationship? As explained above, the conclusion reached, ‘with regret’ ([7.23]) was that in the absence of any basis other than marriage for inferring an agreement, W had no claim as a matter of property law.

Michael Lower

Legal joint tenancy: determining beneficial ownership under a common intention constructive trust

March 11, 2015

In Lo Kau Kun v Cheung Yuk Yun ([2015] HKEC 316, CFI) a married couple bought a flat as joint tenants. P claimed that the property was held on common intention constructive trust in equal shares. D claimed that she was the sole beneficial owner. Deputy Judge Sakhrani referred to the statements in Stack v Dowden ([68] in Stack) and Jones v Kernott ( [51] in Jones) to the effect that where the legal title is in joint names and there is a question as to beneficial ownership equity follows the law (so that a legal joint tenancy gives rise to equal shares) but that it may be possible to show a contrary intention (the burden of proof being on the party seeking to establish this). P had paid the down payment. P and D were jointly liable under the terms of the mortgage and each had contributed to the mortgage payments. Crucially, there was a finding that the parties had discussed their intentions concerning the ownership of the property ([63]). The couple had agreed that the property was to be a family asset (to be held equally as a family asset according to P) ([64]). This (not the record of financial contributions) was determinative. The property was held on common intention constructive trust in equal shares ([66]).

D also argued that she had extinguished P’s title by adverse possession. P had left the property in 1993 after a violent argument and never returned ([77]). This argument failed since D was entitled to be in possession as co-owner. There was no evidence of the ouster that would be necessary for this claim to succeed ([81]).

Michael Lower

Common intention constructive trust: valuation in sole name cases where there is no actual agreement as to how ownership is shared

February 17, 2015

In Graham-York v York ([2015] EWCA Civ 72, CA (Eng)) the English Court of Appeal looked at the approach to be taken to the valuation of an interest under a common intention constructive trust where title was in the sole name of one of the parties and there was no evidence of a common intention as to how the beneficial ownership was to be divided between the parties. Here a couple had co-habited for over forty years and had two children (one of whom was brought up by them and another by a relative). The man had provided nearly all of the family’s financial resources from the various businesses that he ran.

At first instance, the court found that there was evidence of a common intention that his partner (Miss Graham-York) should have an interest in the family home given her financial contribution to the family income before and at the time of the purchase of the property. The court also found that there was no express agreement as to the share that Miss Graham-York should have and that a 25% interest in the property would be a fair reflection of her financial and non-financial contributions over the years.

Miss Graham-York appealed against this finding. She argued that where there was no evidence as to a common intention concerning the size of her share, the court should take fairness as the guide to what they must reasonably be taken to have intended. Her initial and ongoing financial contributions, the length of the co-habitation and her contribution to the bringing-up of her daughter were each, she argued, factors pointing towards equal beneficial ownership ([18]).

Tomlinson LJ gave the principal judgment. He pointed to the joint judgment of Lord Walker and Lady Hale in Jones v Kernott as ‘the most authoritative modern guidance as to the proper approach in cases of this sort’ ([20]). While the search was primarily for the parties’ actual shared intentions, there were two situations in which this was not the case. The first of these was the situation in which the presumed resulting trust operated. The second, relevant here, involved cases, ‘where it is clear that the beneficial interests are to be shared, but it is impossible to divine a common intention as to the proportions in which they are to be shared.’ Here, ‘the court is driven to impute an intention to the parties which they may never have had.’ (Jones v Kernott, [31]).

Tomlinson LJ went on to comment on the scope of the enquiry as to fairness in these circumstances. The court must do what is fair having regard to the whole course of dealing in relation to the property (Jones v Kernott, [51]). The court ‘is not concerned with some form of redistributive justice’; so, here, the abuse that Miss Graham-York had suffered during her long relationship was not a relevant factor (Graham-York v York, [22]).

There is no presumption of equality of interests in sole name cases, even where the other party has made a substantial contribution. (Graham-York v York [25]).The first instance judge had identified the appropriate legal principles and applied them correctly. Miss Graham-York’s appeal was dismissed.

Michael Lower

Common intention constructive trust? Applying Jones v Kernott.

November 26, 2012

Geary v Rankine ([2012] EWCA Civ 555, CA (Eng)) concerned a claim by G to a beneficial interest under a common intention constructive trust of property initially bought as a commercial investment, title to which was in R’s name alone. R had supplied the entire purchase price. The Court of Appeal summarised its understanding of the relevant principles after Jones v Kernott. On the primary question as to whether there is a trust or not, Lewison L.J. said:

‘Mrs Geary has the burden of establishing some sort of implied trust; normally what is now termed a “common intention” constructive trust. The burden is all the more difficult to discharge where, as here, the property was bought as an investment rather than as a home. The search is to ascertain the parties’ actual shared intentions, whether express or to be inferred from their conduct.’ ([18]) (emphasis added)

There are two exceptions to this exclusive focus on actual intention. First, where there is a presumed resulting trust (but R had supplied the entire purchase price so there was no such trust in this case). This seems to suggest that the presumed resulting trust is in some way disconnected from actual intention. Second, the court can impute an intention once the existence of a trust has been proved but where the court cannot discern any actual agreement as to how the beneficial interests are to be shared. The quantification of the beneficial interests can rely on an imputed intention but imputation is not relevant to the question as to whether or not a common intention constructive trust had come into existence ([19]).

Lewison LJ, dealing with the question as to whether or not a common intention constructive trust had come into existence said:

‘actual intention may have been expressly manifested, or may be inferred from conduct; but actual intention it remains.’ (at [21]).

Here there was no evidence of a common intention (either formed at the time of acquisition or subsequently) that G was to have a beneficial interest at all.

Michael Lower

Joint name case: quantifying the beneficial interest by reference to the whole course of conduct

November 1, 2011

Hapeshi v Allnatt ([2010] EWHC 392) concerned a dispute as to the ownership of property bought in the joint names of a mother and her son M. There was an agreement that another son, K, was to have a beneficial interest in the property (para. 42). There had been no express agreement that the mother, M and K would hold as beneficial joint tenants. Although there was an express agreement that the mother and M were to hold as beneficial joint tenants, the judge thought that the mother (who spoke no English) had not understood the idea and that the property was actually held by them as tenants in common (para. 47). The mother and M died and the court had to decide how the beneficial ownership was to be divided between K and the estates of the mother and M. The judge referred to Stack and, based on an assessment of the whole course of conduct, decided that the mother’s estate was entitled to 50% of the equity, and that K and M’s estate were each entitled to 25% of the equity. Megarry & Wade’s explanation of the current law as to when a common intention constructive trust can arise (Megarry & Wade (2008) para. 11-025) was quoted with apparent approval (para. 18). This passage suggests that a common intention constructive trust can be inferred from the parties’ whole course of conduct. The finding at para. 42 seems to mean, however, that (in relation to the primary question as to the existence of a constructive trust) there was no need to rely on the whole course of conduct in the present case.

Michael Lower

The common intention constructive trust in the early 80s

April 30, 2011

Bernard v Josephs ([1982] Ch. 391 CA (Eng)) is interesting because it shows the English Courts reflecting on how to deal with break-ups of co-habitees. An unmarrried man and woman had contributed to the purchase price and mortgage instalments of their home. Title was in joint names but there was no declaration as to their respective beneficial entitlements. The couple quarrelled and the woman moved out. She sought an order for sale.  The English Court of Appeal pointed out the essential nature of the Court’s task in these cases: it is to discover the parties’ intentions as to their entitlements. The focus is usually on intention at the time of acquisition but evidence as to what happened later can shed light on that intention. In some cases, there might be a later agreement (express or implied)  to vary the share intended at the time of acquisition. Griffiths LJ pointed out that the decision not to marry might or might not (depending on the facts of each case) be relevant when determining the parties’ intentions (at 402). The Court of Appeal decided that the parties intended to share the beneficial entitlement equally. The order for sale would be postponed for four months to allow the man to buy out the woman’s share. The man was to pay an occupation rent from the time the woman moved out but was entitled to credit for the mortgage payments since then.

Michael Lower

Quantifying the beneficial interest under a constructive trust focuses on intention

April 29, 2011

When quantifying a beneficial interest under a common intention constructive trust the Court seeks the intention of the parties. When this has not been expressed, the court can take a holistic approach and look at the whole course of conduct between the parties to see what light it sheds on the matter.

In Holman v Howes ([2007] EWCA Civ 877 CA (Eng)) a couple bought property. They had been married and were divorced at the time of the acquisition. They were attempting a reconciliation. Title to the property was in the man’s name (the defendant). They had each contributed and the Court accepted his evidence to the effect that the intention had been that the property was jointly owned. The dispute was as to how the parties’ respective shares should be quantified. The English Court of Appeal applied the approach of Baroness Hale in paragraphs 69 and 70 of Stack v Dowden. It had to determine what the parties’ intentions had been. It could look at the whole course of dealings between them.  The Court decided that their intention had been that they would share equally in the beneficial ownership of the property.

The defendant had assured the claimant that she would be secure in her enjoyment of the property for as long as she wanted. The Court of Appeal held that this gave rise to an estoppel given that she had detrimentally relied on it. There would be no order for sale without her consent.

Michael Lower

Quantifying the beneficial interest: Constructive v resulting trust

April 28, 2011

Once the Court has found that there is a common intention constructive trust, the Court can find that the parties’ intentions as to quantum can best be discovered by looking at the whole course of dealings between them.

In Drake v Whipp ((1996) 28 H.L.R. 53, CA (Eng)) an unmarried couple bought a barn as their family home. Each contributed financially to the purchase price and to the much larger cost of converting the barn into a home. They also devoted substantial amounts of personal time and labour to the work. Each took care of certain household bills. Title to the property was in the male defendant’s name. It had been found at first instance that there was a common intention that each would have a beneficial interest. The Court of Appeal took the view that this meant that the relationship should be thought of in terms of constructive rather than resulting trust. It held that in this case the beneficial interests should be quantified by looking at the entire course of conduct between the parties. The plaintiff was awarded a one third share (which exceeded what she would have received under a resulting trust approach).

Michael Lower