Low Heng Leon Andy v Low Kian Beng Lawrence

JurisdictionSingapore
Judgment Date10 May 2013
Date10 May 2013
Docket NumberSuit No 252 of 2011 (Registrar's Appeal No 227 of 2011)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Low Heng Leon Andy
Plaintiff
and
Low Kian Beng Lawrence (administrator of the estate of Tan Ah Kng, deceased)
Defendant

Quentin Loh J

Suit No 252 of 2011 (Registrar's Appeal No 227 of 2011)

High Court

Civil Procedure—Striking out—Whether claim in proprietary estoppel should be allowed—Order 18 r 19 Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed)

Equity—Estoppel—Proprietary estoppel—Plaintiff bringing claim in proprietary estoppel based on deceased's representations to plaintiff that plaintiff would have deceased's flat after deceased's death—Plaintiff ineligible to own HDB flat under HDB rules—Whether s 51 (10) Housing and Development Act (Cap 129, 2004 Rev Ed) precluding claim by ineligible person in proprietary estoppel—Section 51 (10) Housing and Development Act (Cap 129, 2004 Rev Ed)

Probate and Administration—Intestate succession—Whether claim in proprietary estoppel overriding Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Rev Ed)—Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Rev Ed)

Res Judicata—Issue estoppel—Abuse of process—Defendant and plaintiff entering into consent order in relation to proceedings brought under O 81 Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed)—Whether plaintiff should have brought up issue of proprietary estoppel in those proceedings—Whether present claim in proprietary estoppel res judicata under issue estoppel or abuse of process—Order 81 Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed)

The plaintiff lived in a flat situated at Block 306 Hougang Avenue 5, #02-355 Singapore 530306 (‘the Flat’) solely owned by his grandmother Tan Ah Kng (‘the Deceased’) who passed away in November 2008. The Deceased passed away intestate, and pursuant to the Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Rev Ed) (‘ISA’), the plaintiff was not a beneficiary of the estate. The defendant was a cousin of the plaintiff and the administrator of the Deceased's estate.

The plaintiff alleged that the Deceased during her lifetime had represented to the plaintiff that the Flat was not to be sold and was meant to be a home for herself and the plaintiff, and that she wanted the plaintiff to have the Flat and everything in the Flat in the event of her death. The plaintiff further alleged that he relied on these representations and spent moneys in payment of items for and on behalf of the Deceased.

Sometime in or about early January 2009, the defendant gave notice to the plaintiff to vacate the Flat, asserting that the plaintiff had no legal right to stay in the Flat. The defendant subsequently commenced Originating Summons No 213 of 2009 in the District Court (‘the O 81 Application’), for immediate possession of the Flat. On or about 24 July 2009, the plaintiff and the defendant entered into a consent order (‘the Consent Order’) where the defendant would abandon any claims against the plaintiff arising from the plaintiff's occupation of the Flat if the plaintiff delivered vacant possession of the Flat to the defendant.

On 9 February 2010, the plaintiff commenced the action against the defendant. After subsequent clarification, it was confirmed that the claim was based on proprietary estoppel and the remedy sought by the plaintiff was limited to monetary compensation. The defendant applied to strike out the claim pursuant to O 18 r 19 of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) (‘Rules of Court’) on grounds that the plaintiff was an ineligible person under the conditions set by the Housing and Development Board (‘HDB’) for the purposes of owning a HDB flat and was therefore precluded by s 51 (10) of the Housing and Development Act (Cap 129, 2004 Rev Ed) (‘HDA’) to any claims under proprietary estoppel, that the plaintiff's claim in proprietary estoppel overrode the ISA and should not be allowed, and that the plaintiff's claim in proprietary estoppel was res judicata. For the purposes of the appeal, the defendant was prepared to accept that the plaintiff could prove the requisite elements of the proprietary estoppel claim.

The assistant registrar who heard the striking out application at first instance dismissed the application. The defendant appealed against the assistant registrar's decision.

Held, dismissing the appeal:

(1) The objective of s 51 (10) of the HDA was to prevent ineligible persons, under the conditions set by the HDB for the purposes of owning HDB flats, from taking an interest in HDB flats: at [19].

(2) To achieve this objective, s 51 (10) of the HDA did not operate to render any transaction or transfer which might lead to ineligible persons taking an interest in HDB flats void, but merely prevented ineligible persons from taking an interest in HDB flats as a result of any transaction or transfer which purported to do so: at [20].

(3) A claim in proprietary estoppel operated such that where the elements of the claim were satisfied, a mere inchoate equity arose in favour of the claimant. The court would then determine the remedial relief in order to satisfy the equity based on the minimum interest necessary to do justice between parties. A proprietary interest was not a necessary remedy, and monetary compensation for the detriment suffered was a possible remedy: at [24] to [27].

(4) Since s 51 (10) of the HDA did not void transactions which might lead to ineligible persons taking an interest in HDB flats, as long as the proprietary estoppel claim did not give rise to an interest in the flat, it was not precluded by s 51 (10) of the HDA. The proprietary estoppel claim in this case was limited to monetary compensation and was not precluded by s 51 (10) of the HDA: at [30] to [32] and [35].

(5) Even where the claim in proprietary estoppel was not limited to monetary compensation, the discretion the court had to remedy the inchoate equity which arose meant that s 51 (10) of the HDA would not prevent monetary compensation from being awarded if that was the minimum necessary to do justice between the parties: at [37] and [38].

(6) A claim in proprietary estoppel was different from a claim on a constructive trust, because the successful claimant on a constructive trust would obtain an equitable interest in the property whereas the successful claimant under proprietary estoppel would obtain such relief as the court in its discretion directed: at [28] and [29].

(7) The duties of the administrator of an estate comprised of settling the lawful debts of the deceased. If the court awarded monetary compensation based on proprietary estoppel to the plaintiff, this constituted a debt provable against the estate. The settlement of such a debt by the administrator of the estate was merely part of the process of intestate succession, and could not have overridden the ISA: at [43] and [44].

(8) Before a plaintiff in O 81 Rules of Court proceedings could recover possession of his land, he had to first satisfy any equity in favour of the defendant which arose by way of estoppel. As such, a claim in proprietary estoppel was a relevant issue for the plaintiff in the present case to have raised in the O 81 Application: at [46] to [48].

(9) The Consent Order was a contractual consent order, and was not final and conclusive on the merits of the issue as to whether any equity in favour of the plaintiff arose by way of proprietary estoppel. Where a consent order made by agreement is breached, parties should enforce the agreement based on principles of contract law in a separate set of proceedings. Even if the terms of the Consent Order did preclude the plaintiff from bringing the present claim, this was not an issue of issue estoppel: at [54] and [55].

(10) In balancing between the need for genuine claims to be brought forward by litigants and the need to ensure defendants were not unduly oppressed by repeated litigation, the court found that the present claim in proprietary estoppel was not an abuse of process: at [61].

Chiam Heng Luan v Chiam Heng Hsien [2007] 4 SLR (R) 305; [2007] 4 SLR 305 (folld)

Cobbe v Yeoman's Row Management Ltd [2008] 1 WLR 1752 (distd)

Gabriel Peter & Partners v Wee Chong Jin [1997] 3 SLR (R) 649; [1998] 1 SLR 374 (folld)

Goh Nellie v Goh Lian Teck [2007] 1 SLR (R) 453; [2007] 1 SLR 453 (folld)

Goh Swee Fang v Tiah Juah Kim [1994] 3 SLR (R) 556; [1994] 3 SLR 881 (folld)

Henderson v Henderson (1843) 3 Hare 100; (1843) 67 ER 313 (folld)

Indian Overseas Bank v Motorcycle Industries (1973) Pte Ltd [1992] 3 SLR (R) 841; [1993] 1 SLR 89 (folld)

Jennings v Rice [2003] 1 P & CR 8 (refd)

Khan v Golechha International Ltd [1980] 1 WLR 1482 (distd)

Khew Ah Bah v Hong Ah Mye [1971-1973] SLR (R) 107; [1969-1971] SLR 494 (refd)

Koh Cheong Heng v Ho Yee Fong [2011] 3 SLR 125 (folld)

Lee Suat Hong v Teo Lye [1987] SLR (R) 70; [1987] SLR 34 (refd)

Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v MSCT Plan No 301 [2005] 3 SLR (R) 157; [2005] 3 SLR 157 (folld)

Ong Beng Chong v Goh Kim Thong [2010] SGHC 195 (folld)

Osprey, The [1999] 3 SLR (R) 1099; [2000] 1 SLR 281 (folld)

Sledmore v Dalby (1996) 72 P & CR 196 (folld)

Tan Chui Lian v Neo Liew Eng [2007] 1 SLR (R) 265; [2007] 1 SLR 265 (folld)

Tan Eng Khiam v Ultra Realty Pte Ltd [1991] 1 SLR (R) 844; [1991] SLR 798 (folld)

Thorner v Major [2009] 1 WLR 776 (refd)

Woo Koon Chee v Scandinavian Boiler Service (Asia) Pte Ltd [2010] 4 SLR 1213 (folld)

Housing and Development Act (Cap 129, 2004 Rev Ed) s 51 (10) (consd)

Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Rev Ed) s 5 (consd)

Probate and Administration Act (Cap251, 2000 Rev Ed) s 57

Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) O 18 r 19, O 81

Gopinath S/O Pillai and Aloysius Tan (Tan Jin Hwee LLC) for the plaintiff

Tan Tian Luh (Chancery Law Corporation) for the defendant.

Judgment reserved.

Quentin Loh J

1 This is an appeal against the decision of the learned assistant registrar below (‘the Assistant Registrar’), dismissing the striking out application made by Low Kian Beng Lawrence, (‘the Defendant’) pursuant to O 18 r 19 of the...

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17 cases
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    • 22 April 2022
    ...below: In the High Court decision of Low Heng Leon Andy v Low Kian Beng Lawrence (administrator of the estate of Tan Ah Kng, deceased) [2013] 3 SLR 710 (“Low Heng Leon Andy”) at [18]–[21], Quentin Loh J (as he then was) held that the objective of s 51(10) was “to prevent ineligible persons ......
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2 books & journal articles
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    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2013, December 2013
    • 1 December 2013
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    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2013, December 2013
    • 1 December 2013
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