Posts Tagged ‘laches’

Family home in joint names and wife’s failure to transfer her interest to her husband in accordance with a consent order

November 4, 2017

In Chu Tsan Leung v Leung Mee Ling Amy ([2017] HKEC 2347) H and W were married. Title to the family home was in joint names. W left the family and in the subsequent matrimonial proceedings agreed to transfer her entire interest in the property to H. This agreement was incorporated in a consent order. W did not execute a deed to give effect to the order.

W was subsequently declared bankrupt. The Trustee in Bankruptcy claimed that W’s interest in the property remained an asset of hers. H sought a declaration that W did not have any beneficial interest in the property.

The Trustees in Bankruptcy argued that the consent order was procured through the exercise of undue influence by H and his solicitors. They argued that there was a presumption of undue influence on the facts of the case. This failed.

The evidence pointed away from the idea that the wife reposed trust and confidence in her husband at the time of signing the consent order. Nor was there anything unconscionable or manifestly disadvantageous to W when the context was properly considered: H, a construction worker, had been left to take care of two young children on his own.

It did not help W’s case for her to argue that she did not have full knowledge and understanding of the documents that she had signed. A person who signs a legal document he or she is bound by the act of signature (Bank of China (Hong Kong) Ltd v Fung Chin Kan and Ming Shiu Chung v Ming Shiu Sum).

H became the sole beneficial owner of the property from the moment of the decree absolute.

H argued, in the alternative, that he had always been the sole beneficial owner of the property since he alone had provided all of the purchase money and mortgage payments. This claim failed. Since title was in joint names, it was for H to show that she had no equitable interest. H was unable to do so.

Michael Lower

 

 

Common intention constructive trust and equity’s darling

May 13, 2014

In Mo Ying v Brillex Development Ltd ([2014] HKEC 724, CFI) (partly reversed by the Court of Appeal) title to the flat that was the matrimonial home was in H’s name alone. H entered into an agreement to sell the flat to B and took a lease back. The lease arrangement continued after completion. When H failed to meet the rental payments, B brought proceedings to recover possession. W then claimed that she had a beneficial interest under a common intention constructive trust and that B had imputed or constructive notice of this interest and so took subject to it.

W argued that there was an express common intention in that, after acquisition, H had given an excuse for not putting her name on the title deeds. W invited the court to follow the example given by Grant v Edwards and Eves v Eves but the court refused to do so. The ‘excuse’ was equivocal and, anyway, did not induce W to believe that she had or would have any interest in the property ([59]). Further, this was an alleged post-acquisition agreement and the courts are reluctant to infer a common intention constructive trust in such a case ([60]). There was no express common intention.

W argued that a common intention constructive trust could be inferred from the fact of the marriage. Marriage, alone, however, is not a basis from which to infer a common intention constructive trust ([66] – [68]). W’s sister had made a loan to H. It could not be shown that this was used towards the purchase price of the property. In any event, it was not clear that this could be regarded as a contribution by W ([69] – [70]). While the pooling of family assets could be evidence of a common intention ([71]), there was no evidence of such pooling. In any event, it seems that the court was of the view that there was simply no such common intention ([80]); so even if there had been evidence of pooling, it would only be a factor to be taken into account in determining on the balance of probabilities whether or not there was a common intention. The court was not prepared to infer a common intention from W’s contributions to household expenses (‘the everyday expense of the family’ ([81])) ([81] – [85]).

There was no detrimental reliance; neither her contributions to household expenses nor her decision to give up her job could be so regarded in this case. The necessary causal link was missing ([92]).

Deputy Judge Eugene Fung SC went on to consider whether if, contrary to her view, W had a beneficial interest, B was subject to it. W argued that the estate agent handling the transaction knew of the interest and that this knowledge should be imputed to B. The factual basis of this proposition was doubted. In any event:

‘In cases where an agent’s function is to receive communications on behalf of his principal, one can readily understand why the knowledge of the agent would be imputed to the principal. However, I have some doubt as to whether such a principle applies to an estate agent in Hong Kong. In a typical case, an estate agent’s function is to perform a service by introducing a counter-party to his principal so as to enable his principal to conclude a particular transaction with that counter-party; his function is not to receive communications on behalf of his principal. No cases have been cited to suggest that an estate agent in Hong Kong has the general authority to receive communications for his principal. Accordingly, I am unable to accept Mr Wong’s submission that notice of an estate agent in Hong Kong is imputed to his principal.’ ([117]).

B had, however, failed to inspect the property and so, by virtue of W’s occupation, had constructive notice of any interest that W might have. The fact that this was a sale and leaseback made no difference to this ([131] – [132]).

B’s attempt to avoid this conclusion by invoking estoppel by representation failed since W did not owe B a duty to speak out and inform B of her interest ([148]). The facts did not support B’s defence of waiver ([154]) nor acquiescence ([155] – [157]).

Nor could B rely on laches. Section 20(2) of the Limitation Ordinance provided the limitation period for an action to recover trust property from a third party and this had not expired. In any event, there had been no substantial lapse of time and it was not inequitable for W to enforce her claim against B ([165]).

Michael Lower