Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 301

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeKannan Ramesh J
Subject MatterTrespass,Malicious prosecution,Land,Abuse of process,Malicious falsehood,Issue estoppel,Res judicata,Tort
Docket NumberSuit No 1087 of 2012
Plaintiff CounselChelva R Rajah SC, Tham Lijing and Stephanie Tan (instructed counsel) (Tan Rajah & Cheah) and Balasubramaniam Ernest Yogarajah (Unilegal LLC)
Defendant CounselTan Chee Meng SC, Sngeeta Rai and Ngiam Heng Hui Jocelyn (WongPartnership LLP)
Date26 May 2017
Published date24 August 2018
Hearing Date25 May 2016,21 April 2016,19 April 2016,03 August 2016,28 September 2016,14 April 2016,03 June 2016,29 April 2016,09 September 2016,13 April 2016,23 September 2016,27 May 2016,12 April 2016,15 April 2016
Kannan Ramesh J: Introduction

Suit No 1087 of 2012 (“the Suit”) is the latest spar in a long-running legal saga between Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd (“Lee Tat”) and the management corporation of a condominium development known as Grange Heights (“the MCST”), regarding the use by the subsidiary proprietors of Grange Heights of a narrow strip of land which both the MCST and Lee Tat claimed they were entitled to use. Lee Tat in particular sought to exclude the use of the strip of land by the subsidiary proprietors. The dispute went on for over 30 years, the parties jousting with each other over five sets of proceedings (all of which were appealed to the Court of Appeal), and was eventually decided in Lee Tat’s favour by the Court of Appeal in 2008 (and affirmed in 2010). In its judgment in Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 301 [2009] 1 SLR(R) 875 (“Grange Heights (No 3) (CA)”), the Court of Appeal expressed the hope (at [16]) that that would be the final chapter in the fractious and fractured relationship between the parties. Unfortunately, those words were in vain, falling on deaf ears. Lee Tat has now ironically brought the Suit on the back of the Court of Appeal’s judgment in the fifth set of proceedings, suing the MCST in four causes of action: abuse of process, malicious prosecution, malicious falsehood and trespass.

Lee Tat essentially asserted that the MCST’s commencement of the earlier proceedings had been done for an improper or collateral purpose and without reasonable and probable cause. It also alleged that two statements previously made by the MCST’s Chairman and its property agent in 1997 and 2007 respectively, to the effect that the MCST enjoyed a right of way over the strip of land in question, constituted malicious falsehoods. Finally Lee Tat alleged that the residents of Grange Heights (“the Grange Heights residents”) had committed trespass by regularly traversing the strip of land before the Court of Appeal decided in 2008 that they had no right of way over it.

Background to the dispute

To appreciate the legal issues arising in the Suit, it is necessary to set out in some detail both the factual history of the parties’ dispute as well as the litigation that preceded the Suit.

The dispute concerns a cluster of five lots in Town Sub-Division 21, nestled between Grange Road and St Thomas Walk: Lot 111-30, Lot 111-31, Lot 111-32, Lot 111-33 and Lot 687 (itself an amalgamation of what were previously two lots, viz, Lot 111-34 and Lot 561). Lot 111-31, which is at the centre of the dispute, is a long, narrow and irregular strip of land with an area of around 883.4m2. A diagram of these lots is included at Annex 1, from which it will be seen that only Lots 111-30, 111-31 and 111-32 sit along Grange Road. Lot 111-31 snakes away from Grange Road and meets Lot 687, which is bordered on the far side by St Thomas Walk and River Valley Grove.

The key changes in the ownership of these lots over time are summarised in a diagram at Annex 2. Lots 111-30, 111-31, 111-32, 111-33 and 111-34 were originally owned by a company, Mutual Trading Ltd. In 1919, Mutual Trading Ltd (which was then in liquidation) sold four of the five lots, Lots 111-30, 111-32, 111-33 and 111-34 (“the Dominant Tenements”), and granted a right of way over Lot 111-31 (“the Servient Tenement”) to the purchasers of the four lots on the following terms:

And together with full and free right and liberty for the Purchaser his executors administrators and assigns being the owner or owners for the time being of the land hereby conveyed or any part thereof and their tenants and servants and all other persons authorised by him or them in common with others having a similar right from time to time and at all times hereafter at his and their will and pleasure to pass and repass with or without animals and vehicles, in along and over the Reserve for Road coloured yellow in the said plan [ie, Lot 111–31].

Consequently, Lot 111-34 enjoyed a right of way over the Servient Tenement. This allowed the owners of Lot 111-34 access to Grange Road. This is significant for reasons which will later become apparent.

In 1970, Hong Leong Holdings Ltd (“HLH”), the predecessor in title of the MCST, became the owner of Lot 111-34 as well as the adjacent Lot 561. HLH amalgamated the two into one lot, which was titled Lot 687, in order to develop a condominium (ie, Grange Heights). For ease of discussion, the two plots of land which were amalgamated will continue to be referred to as Lots 111-34 and 561 in this judgment even though they have been merged to form Lot 687. As it turned out, the act of amalgamating Lot 111-34 with Lot 561 was a matter of significance to the continued existence of the easement over the Servient Tenement.

Grange Heights originally comprised 120 residential apartments, a car park for 188 cars, a swimming pool, two tennis courts and changing rooms. The original proposed layout of Grange Heights included the Servient Tenement as part of the development, but this was rejected by the competent authorities on the ground that HLH did not own the Servient Tenement. The layout which was eventually approved excluded the Servient Tenement from the development altogether. All the residential units in Grange Heights, together with the car park and the swimming pool, are situated on Lot 561 while the tennis courts and the changing rooms are situated on Lot 111-34. Again, the fact that the residential units are situated on Lot 561 turned out to be a matter of significance to the Grange Heights residents’ use of the easement. Lot 561 has an area of 9,631.6m2 while Lot 111-34 has an area of 3,066.1m2. Lots 561 and 111-34 have no physical access to Grange Road except via the Servient Tenement. However, Lot 561 has access to River Valley Road (via either St Thomas Walk or River Valley Grove) and Killiney Road (via St Thomas Walk).

In 1973, ownership of two of the Dominant Tenements, namely Lots 111-32 and 111-33, passed to Collin Development Pte Ltd (“Collin”), which renamed itself as Lee Tat in 1986. Grange Heights was completed in 1976 and the MCST was constituted on 12 August 1976. Lee Tat subsequently purchased the Servient Tenement from the Official Receiver on 27 January 1997. Since that date, Lee Tat has owned the Servient Tenement as well as two of the Dominant Tenements. It is thus both the (successor) grantor (vis-à-vis the Servient Tenement) and the (successor) grantee (vis-à-vis Lot 111-32 and Lot 111-33) of the right of way over the Servient Tenement.

Previous proceedings

The five sets of proceedings which preceded the Suit will be referred to by chronological order of commencement as the First Action through to the Fifth Action.

The First Action

Sometime in 1974, when Grange Heights was still under construction, Collin applied for a declaration that HLH, its directors, officers, servants, workmen and any of its agents, as well as the Grange Heights residents, were not entitled to use the Servient Tenement to access Grange Road. It also sought an injunction restraining such use. HLH counterclaimed for a declaration inter alia that it was entitled to use of the right of way and to authorise other persons to do so, as long as such user did not substantially affect Collin’s enjoyment of the right of way. The application was determined at first instance by F A Chua J in Collin Development (Pte) Ltd v Hong Leong Holdings Ltd [1974–1976] SLR(R) 618 (“Grange Heights (No 1) (HC)”). He dismissed Collin’s claim because there had been no substantial interference with its enjoyment of the right of way, and dismissed the counterclaim because the declarations sought by HLH could not be granted against Collin, who was not the owner of the Servient Tenement at that time. The Court of Appeal affirmed his decision in Collin Development (Pte) Ltd v Hong Leong Holdings Ltd [1974–1976] SLR(R) 806 (“Grange Heights (No 1) (CA)”).

The Second Action

By the time of the Second Action, Lots 111-34 and 561 had been amalgamated to form Lot 687. The MC owned Lot 687 and Lee Tat owned Lots 111-32 and 111-33. It is important to note, however, that ownership of the Servient Tenement had not yet passed to Lee Tat. On 25 April 1989, Lee Tat erected an iron gate across the end of the Servient Tenement abutting Grange Road and a fence across the other end abutting Grange Heights, thus closing the right of way. On 27 April 1989, the MCST applied for an injunction to restrain Lee Tat from restricting its access to the Servient Tenement, as well as damages for Lee Tat’s interference. It is important (for reasons that will later become apparent) to note that Lee Tat, despite not having locus standi to raise the issue of the MCST’s entitlement to use the right of way, made two distinct contentions: first, that the amalgamation of Lot 111-34 with Lot 561 had extinguished the MCST’s right of way over the Servient Tenement; and second, that the MCST and the Grange Heights residents were not entitled to use the Servient Tenement to access the Grange Heights apartments, which stood on Lot 561, because the benefit of the right of way did not extend to Lot 561 as it was not a dominant tenement. I will refer to the former contention as “the Amalgamation Issue” and the latter as “the Extension Issue”. I alluded to the significance of these points earlier in this judgment (see [7] and [8] respectively).

The Second Action was heard at first instance by Punch Coomaraswamy J, who found that the amalgamation of Lots 111-34 and 561 had not extinguished the right of way enjoyed by the MCST (see Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 301 v Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd [1990] 2 SLR(R) 634 (“Grange Heights (No 2) (HC)”)). He also found that Lee Tat was not entitled to close the right of way, given that it was not the owner of the Servient Tenement and did not complain of excessive use of the Servient Tenement by...

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2 cases
  • Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 301
    • Singapore
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 17 August 2018
    ...the decision of the High Court judge (“the Judge”) in Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 301 [2017] SGHC 121 (“the Judgment”). As the Judge observed (at [1]), this is yet another legal tussle in a series of bitterly fought litigation between the partie......
  • Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 301
    • Singapore
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 17 August 2018
    ...the decision of the High Court judge (“the Judge”) in Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 301 [2017] SGHC 121 (“the Judgment”). As the Judge observed (at [1]), this is yet another legal tussle in a series of bitterly fought litigation between the partie......

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