Sumoi Paramesvaeri v Fleury, Jeffrey Gerard

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeAedit Abdullah JC
Judgment Date02 September 2016
Docket NumberSuit No 858 of 2014 (Registrar's Appeal No 1 of 2011)
Date02 September 2016

[2016] SGHC 181

High Court

Aedit Abdullah JC

Suit No 858 of 2014 (Registrar's Appeal No 1 of 2011)

Sumoi Paramesvaeri
and
Fleury, Jeffrey Gerard and another

Rajan Sanjiv Kumar, Ramesh KumarandLee May Ling (Allen & Gledhill LLP) for the plaintiff;

Joseph Ignatius, Suja Susan ThomasandChong Xin Yi (Ignatius J & Associates) for the first and second defendants.

Case(s) referred to

Alwie Handoyo v Tjong Very Sumito [2013] 4 SLR 308 (folld)

Basham, deceased, ReWLR [1986] 1 WLR 1498 (distd)

Bradshaw v McEwans Pty LtdUNK (1951) 217 ALR 1 (folld)

Cattley v PollardELR [2007] Ch 353 (folld)

Chan Yuen Lan v See Fong Mun [2014] 3 SLR 1048 (folld)

Gillett v HoltELR [2001] Ch 210 (distd)

Grant v EdwardsELR [1986] Ch 638; [1986] 3 WLR 114 (distd)

Grundt v The Great Boulder Pty Gold MinesUNK (1937) 59 CLR 641 (folld)

HSBC Bank plc v DycheUNK [2009] EWHC 2954 (Ch) (folld)

Jennings v Rice [2003] 1 P & CR 100 (distd)

Jones v KernottELR [2012] 1 AC 776 (refd)

Lloyds Bank plc v CarrickUNK [1996] 4 All ER 630 (folld)

Lloyds Bank plc v RossetELR [1991] 1 AC 107 (folld)

Pauling's Settlement Trusts, ReELR [1964] Ch 303 (folld)

Robins v National Trust CoELR [1927] AC 515 (folld)

Springette v DefoeUNK [1992] 2 FCR 561 (folld)

Sundara Moorthy Lankatharan v PP [1997] 2 SLR(R) 253; [1997] 3 SLR 464 (folld)

Supperstone v HurstUNK [2005] EWHC 1309 (Ch) (folld)

Tan Bee Hoon v Quek Hung Heong [2015] SGHC 229 (refd)

Tan Thiam Loke v Woon Swee Kheng Christina [1991] 2 SLR(R) 595; [1992] 1 SLR 232 (folld)

Thorner v MajorWLR [2009] 1 WLR 776 (folld)

Watts v Storey (1983) 134 NLJ 631 (folld)

Wayling v Jones (1993) 69 P & CR 170 (folld)

Westdeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale v Islington London Borough CouncilELR [1996] AC 669 (folld)

Legislation referred to

Evidence Act (Cap 97, 1997 Rev Ed) s 116

Maintenance of Parents Act (Cap 167B, 1996 Rev Ed)

Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 2007 Rev Ed) s 18(2), First Schedule para 19

Equity — Defences — Acquiescence — Co-owner bringing proceedings 15 years after purchase of property — Whether delay was unconscionable

Equity — Defences — Laches — Co-owner bringing proceedings 15 years after purchase of property — Whether plaintiff was aware of her rights

Equity — Estoppel — Proprietary estoppel — Mother promising or representing that she would leave her share in property to person who looked after her until her death — Whether detrimental reliance present

Restitution — Unjust enrichment — Daughter and son-in-law incurring expenses maintaining mother — Whether unjust factor present

Trusts — Constructive trusts — Common intention constructive trusts — Mother promising or representing that she would leave her share in property to daughter upon her death — Whether common intention present

Trusts — Resulting trusts — Automatic resulting trusts — Co-owners disputing source of funds used to purchase property — Whether burden of proof discharged by either party

Facts

The plaintiff, a widow, moved in with her daughter (the second defendant) and son-in-law (the first defendant) after her husband passed away. Initially, the three of them lived in a flat owned by the defendants. Subsequently, the defendants purchased a private property in Eden Grove (the ‘Eden Grove Property’). The plaintiff contributed some money from her Central Provident Fund account to the purchase price and was registered as a joint tenant together with the defendants. A few years later, the defendants sold the Eden Grove Property and purchased a property at Jansen Road (the ‘Jansen Road Property’) in part using the proceeds of the sale of the Eden Grove Property. The plaintiff was registered as having a 10% legal interest in the Jansen Road Property.

Subsequently, the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendants deteriorated. The plaintiff eventually commenced proceedings to seek a declaration of her interest in the Jansen Road Property as well as an order for sale in lieu of partition of her share in the Jansen Road Property. She argued that she was entitled to either a 10% share or a share proportional to her financial contributions to the purchase price, which she said exceeded 10%. The defendants argued that they were entitled to all or part of the plaintiff's share as well under a constructive trust, a proprietary estoppel, or a resulting trust. They also advanced a counterclaim in unjust enrichment for the expenses they had incurred maintaining and caring for the plaintiff.

Held, declaring that the plaintiff held a 10% beneficial interest in the Jansen Road Property and ordering a sale in lieu of partition, with right of first refusal to be given to the defendants:

(1) A court determining the equitable ownership shares in a property had to consider matters including the evidence of financial contributions, which would give rise to a presumption of a resulting trust; the existence of an inferred common intention, which would create a constructive trust; and whether a gift of a sum larger than the purchase price was actually paid: at [30] and [31].

(2) The plaintiff bore the burden of proving that she had contributed funds that would entitle her to an interest exceeding her registered legal interest of 10%, and the defendants bore the burden of proving that the plaintiff had contributed less than her registered legal interest of 10%. If neither side discharged their burden, the default rule that the beneficial interest would be proportionate to the legal interest would apply: at [35] and [37].

(3) A common intention for the purposes of a constructive trust had to be a present commitment, concerning the present holding of property. This flowed from the fact that the constructive trust was institutional (not remedial), arising out of the operation of law from the facts: at [60].

(4) A common intention constructive trust would arise when the common intention was formed, not when the detriment was incurred. Although a common intention constructive trust should generally be formed at the point of acquisition, later conduct may be relevant and a sufficient common intention could be formed even after the legal acquisition of property. The common intention between the parties may shift over time but each shift creates a new basis for the constructive trust: at [62] to [64].

(5) The defendants' argument for a common intention constructive trust failed for lack of a proven common intention. The plaintiff's alleged statement that her share in the Jansen Road Property would go to the second defendant upon the plaintiff's death was a statement of future action or disposal and would not demonstrate a common intention as to the present holding of property. In any event, detriment was also not present: at [60], [66] and [67].

(6) Proprietary estoppel required a representation or assurance, reliance, and detriment. It allowed the court to exercise its discretion to better craft a remedy that addressed third party rights or other circumstances of the case. It was therefore a more suitable doctrine in the present case: at [69] to [71].

(7) Reliance would have to be on a statement which a reasonable person would have understood to be meant to be taken seriously and acted upon. The plaintiff's alleged statement that her share in the Jansen Road Property would be left to whoever looked after her was a statement of intention rather than anything that would reasonably attract reliance. Circumstances which made reliance reasonable in previous cases (such as the repetition of a promise on many occasions with the whole family present) were not present on the present facts: at [74] to [76].

(8) Detriment was considered at the time the promisor attempted to resile from his stated position. Failure to receive an expected benefit would not in itself constitute detriment: at [77].

(9) Further, allowing the plaintiff to have a registered legal interest in the house would not be a detriment that would attract equity's intervention because they would retake the plaintiff's share upon her passing anyway and, moreover, there was nothing unconscionable in a person who had contributed funds to a purchase claiming the consequential ownership rights: at [78] to [80].

(10) The amount of uncertainty regarding the sources of the funds used to purchase the Jansen Road Property meant that neither the plaintiff nor the defendants had proven that the proportion of contributions differed from the legal interest. Thus, the plaintiff's beneficial interest followed her registered legal interest of 10% by default: at [88], [95] and [96].

(11) With regard to the sale order in lieu of partition, the defendants were not entitled to deduct the mortgage payments (since it had been found that the plaintiff's share was her legal interest) and acquisition expenses (since those would generally have been expected to have been accounted for at the point of purchase): at [98].

(12) The counterclaim in unjust enrichment for the plaintiff's living expenses failed for lack of a recognised unjust factor. Further, the court would be slow to find that expenses spent maintaining a parent could be the subject of a restitutionary claim since maintenance of one's parents was encouraged and expected in society: at [99].

(13) Although the proceedings were brought 15 years after the purchase of the Jansen Road Property, neither laches nor acquiescence barred the plaintiff's claim since she was an uneducated person who would not have been fully aware of her rights until shortly before the litigation: at [104].

[Observation: The principle of parsimony would seem to lead to the conclusion that, given the recognition of proprietary estoppel, there was no need for the remedial constructive trust to be imported into Singapore law: at [61].

The courts would be slow to conclude that expenditure on the maintenance of a parent or the property in which the parent lived was connected to a representation or promise rather than constituting the general maintenance or...

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2 cases
  • Geok Hong Co Pte Ltd v Koh Ai Gek and others
    • Singapore
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 28 February 2019
    ...presumption the beneficial interest in property would follow the legal interest: Sumoi Paramesvaeri v Fleury, Jeffrey Gerard and another [2016] 5 SLR 302 at [35].49 The Company argues that the respondents have failed to prove that a common intention constructive trust exists, because to do ......
  • Lim Kieuh Huat and another v Lim Teck Leng and another
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 1 September 2020
    ...the exercise of judicial discretion (unlike a remedial constructive trust): see Sumoi Paramesvaeri v Fleury, Jeffrey Gerard and another [2016] 5 SLR 302 at [61]. The nature of a constructive trust was also explained by the Court of Appeal in Cheong ([48] supra) at [17]: … The nature of a co......

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