Vishnumangalam Chandrasekharan Renuka v Yeow Jen Ai Susan and another

JudgeWoo Bih Li JAD
Judgment Date23 December 2021
Neutral Citation[2021] SGHC(A) 25
Citation[2021] SGHC(A) 25
Published date06 January 2022
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 50 of 2021
Plaintiff CounselSeenivasan Lalita and Lim Ying Ying (Virginia Quek Lalita & Partners)
Defendant CounselJayagobi s/o Jayaram and Gurcharanjit Singh Hundal (Grays LLC),The second respondent in person.
Subject MatterLand,Interest in land,Trusts,Constructive trusts,Resulting trusts
Hearing Date29 October 2021
CourtHigh Court Appellate Division (Singapore)
Woo Bih Li JAD (delivering the judgment of the court): Introduction

This is a dispute over a property at 32 Jalan Rengkam, Singapore 537585 (“the Property”). It was bought in March 2008 and is registered in the sole name of the second respondent (“H”). He is married to the appellant (“W”). They are undergoing divorce proceedings in FC/D 5697/2018. The first respondent (“Y”) is a female friend of H.

In 2019, Y filed an originating summons in the General Division of the High Court to claim an interest in the Property. H was named as the defendant but he supported the claim of Y. W then intervened in the action in order to resist Y’s claim. W also claimed an interest in the Property on the basis that she had contributed money to its purchase.

Both H and Y were cross-examined on the affidavits they had filed. After considering the evidence and submissions, the judge below (“the Judge”) issued his judgment on 19 April 2021: see Yeow Jen Ai Susan v Ravindaranath Kalyana Ramasamy (Vishnumangalam Chandrasekharan Renuka, intervener) [2021] SGHC 94 (“the Judgment”). The Judge found that Y was entitled to 73% of the beneficial interest in the Property and H was entitled to 27%. He declined to make any order in respect of W’s claim as he was of the view that it was irrelevant to the determination of Y’s claim, and that it should be dealt with during the division of matrimonial assets in the divorce proceedings between H and W. W then filed the present appeal against the Judge’s decision, contesting both the Judge’s determination of Y’s share in the Property and the Judge’s decision not to rule on her claim to the Property.

Background to the present appeal

We set out below some background information from the affidavits of Y and H and from the Judgment.

H and W were married in 1992. In 1993, they purchased a flat in Tampines (the “Tampines Flat”) and held it in their joint names. The Tampines Flat was subsequently sold in March 2008 and W claimed that its sale proceeds were used by H to pay for the Property. According to W, since she was entitled to half of the net sale proceeds of the Tampines Flat as a joint owner, she now has a beneficial interest in the Property which H holds on trust for her.

Based on H’s affidavit, he was previously employed from 1983 to 2006 as a broker in financial institutions, a role in which he traded financial instruments on behalf of customers. He said that from 2007 to 2009, he was self-employed and traded with his own savings using his personal proprietary trading account with Philips Futures Pte Ltd. He also claimed that he was not allowed to trade on behalf of anyone since 2007 and did not do so.

Y described herself as a single career lady. She was last employed by a company from April 2007 to 2009 and her last position there was a Director of Strategy, Planning and Insights for the South East Asia Pacific Management Team. She is currently running her own consultancy business. She coaches and facilitates workshops on “collaboration, strategy and change management”.

Y and H have known each other since February 1993. They met as course mates in their Master of Business Administration programme which was a distance learning programme. The two were assigned to the same study group with three other course mates. Y referred to H as her mentor whom she learned a lot from. As a result of his guidance and tutelage, she received a masterclass in stakeholder management. She graduated in 1996 but H did not graduate with the class. She kept in touch with him and he continued to mentor her.

The Property was purchased in H’s sole name in March 2008 for $1.7m. As regards a loan secured by a mortgage on the Property, Y said that she already had an existing relationship with OCBC Bank, with whom she had a different loan secured by a mortgage. Y explained that since H was unemployed and would not be able to obtain a loan for the Property on his own, she arranged the loan and also stood as its guarantor. Y was also a co-borrower in that Y and H jointly took up the loan of $1,360,000 from OCBC Bank. This was equivalent to 80% of the Property’s purchase price.

Y and H contended that at the time of the Property’s purchase, there was an oral agreement between them (the “Alleged OA”). This Alleged OA supposedly contained the following terms.

Firstly, the Property was to be held in H’s sole name to “save costs on stamp duties and higher yearly property tax”. At the time of the purchase of the Property, Y already owned a property whereas H would not own any property after selling the Tampines Flat. Y claimed that, at that time, there was speculation about the imposition of second property stamp duties. She also claimed that if she were to hold the Property jointly with H, an additional property tax of 3% would be levied on the Property as it would be her second property. Since the Property was purchased as an investment, they decided that it was more commercially sound for H to hold the Property in his sole name.

Secondly, when the selling price of the Property rose to $3.5m, the Property was to be sold and the sale proceeds were to be shared between Y and H according to the contributions made by each of them towards the Property’s purchase and its other related expenses.

Thirdly, Y and H were to contribute to the initial payments for the Property’s purchase. Y was to pay for the Property’s mortgage loan repayments and related expenses. Such related expenses included insurance premiums, property tax, and general upkeep costs (eg for pest control, grass cutting, pond maintenance, and gutter cleaning). To this end, Y claimed that she had been transferring approximately $7,000 to $10,000 every month to H and that she was still doing so. H supported this claim. However, as W pointed out, the monthly transfers were at times for $5,000 or less, which was below the average monthly mortgage loan instalment of $5,200 per month.

The Judgment summarised the contributions allegedly made by Y and H as follows:

On her part, W denied the existence of the Alleged OA and the contributions allegedly made by Y pursuant to that agreement.

Ultimately, the Judge found that Y had established the existence of the Alleged OA and his finding of the respective shares of Y and H was in accordance with the above tabulation. The Judge thus held that there was a common intention constructive trust in favour of Y to the extent of 73% of the Property. As for W’s claim that she had an interest in the Property, the Judge declined to deal with the same as he was of the view that it was only relevant to W’s divorce proceedings with H, but not to the determination of Y’s beneficial interest in the Property.

The issues on appeal

The two main issues on appeal are: whether the Judge erred in declining to decide on W’s share in the Property; and whether the Judge erred in his determination of Y’s share in the Property.

First main issue

As mentioned at [5], W claimed an interest in the Property on the basis that she had made a direct financial contribution to its purchase through H’s use of the sale proceeds of the Tampines Flat.

In our view, the Judge did not err in declining to rule on W’s claim to the Property. The present action was an originating summons brought by Y for a declaration as to her share in the Property. W had intervened in the action in order to challenge Y’s claim. Accordingly, Y’s claim was the central issue in the action and Y was not concerned in the dispute between H and W in respect of W’s interest in the Property. Had the Judge heard evidence and submissions on W’s claim, this would have been a distraction from Y’s claim, which was the main issue at hand.

Furthermore, it was evident from the parties’ cases that eventually, W did not intend to claim a share of the Property solely on the basis that she had made a direct financial contribution to its purchase. For example, as her own counsel acknowledged before us, W might also claim a larger share of the Property on the basis of her indirect contributions to her marriage with H, assuming that the Property (or a part thereof) falls within the pool of matrimonial assets.

In the circumstances, it did not make sense for W to insist that the Judge should have ruled on her present claim when both her direct and indirect financial contributions in the marriage would be appropriately considered together in the divorce proceedings as part of the division of matrimonial assets. We accordingly dismiss W’s appeal on the first main issue.

Second main issue

We now come to the second main issue.

It is obvious that any share which Y has in the Property would reduce H’s share. That would in turn reduce the scope of any claim that W might have to H’s share in the Property as her claim can only extend to H’s share, and not Y’s. From W’s point of view, the claim by Y would be an attempt to put as much of the Property as possible out of her reach.

We are mindful that an appellate court should be slow to disturb findings of fact by the court of first instance. However, we are of the view that, with respect, the Judge had placed too much weight on certain evidence, without considering or giving due weight to other relevant evidence when he found that the Alleged OA existed and that a common intention constructive trust arose in favour of Y.

We begin by considering the key components of Y’s and H’s tabulation at [14] above as regards the contributions which they allegedly made pursuant to the Alleged OA. As mentioned earlier, W rejected the existence of the Alleged OA and also generally denied Y’s alleged contributions to the Property’s purchase and its related expenses. In particular, W did not accept that Y had paid the $30,000 cash down payment for the purchase of the Property, the sum of $45,600 for stamp duty or $22,000 for renovation expenses.

In respect of the $30,000 cash down-payment which...

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