V Nithia (co-administratrix of the estate of Ponnusamy Sivapakiam, deceased) v Buthmanaban s/o Vaithilingam and another

CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
JudgeSundaresh Menon CJ
Judgment Date19 October 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] SGCA 56
Citation[2015] SGCA 56
Published date22 October 2015
Plaintiff CounselA Thamilselvan (Subra TT Law LLC)
Subject MatterPleadings,Parties,Civil procedure
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 94 of 2014
Defendant CounselKanagavijayan Nadarajan (Kana & Co),Muralli Rajaram and Lim Min (Straits Law Practice LLC)
Date19 October 2015
Hearing Date18 August 2015
Chan Sek Keong SJ (delivering the grounds of decision of the court): Introduction

The present appeal is brought against the decision of the Judge in Buthmanaban s/o Vaithilingam v Krishnavany d/o Vaithilingam (administratrix of the estate of Ponnusamy Sivapakiam, deceased) and another [2015] SGHC 35 (“GD”). At the conclusion of the hearing this appeal, we allowed the appeal and gave the following brief grounds for our decision:

This is a case where the claim was advanced primarily on one footing, namely, on a purchase money resulting trust, which the Judge rejected, but the Judge then found for the plaintiff (ie, the first respondent) on another ground, namely, on proprietary estoppel, which was not pleaded. The two types of action, for purchase money resulting trust and proprietary estoppel, are quite distinct and rest on different factual premises. In our judgment, the Judge was not entitled to do what he did, and for this reason we allow the appeal and set aside the part of the Judgment holding that the plaintiff was entitled to relief on the ground of proprietary estoppel.

As to the Judge’s rejection of the plea of a purchase money resulting trust, there was no cross-appeal by the plaintiff and accordingly that stands. The end result is that the plaintiff fails in his claim to relief.

These grounds of decision seek to amplify our brief grounds and to restate the basic features of our civil litigation system that is designed to provide a fair and transparent process in the resolution of disputes between parties by our courts. The process, which is well-established, requires a plaintiff to plead his cause or causes of action with sufficient particulars so as to enable the defendant to know the case he has to meet and to plead his defence with sufficient particulars so that the plaintiff may know the nature and substance of the defence. This longstanding and indeed basic principle is enshrined in O 18 r 7(1) and O 18 r 12(1) of the Rules of Court (Cap 332, R 5, 2014 Rev Ed) (“the ROC”). Furthermore, fair and transparent pleadings serve to apprise the court of the issues of fact and law that are in dispute and which it is required to render its decision.

In the instant case, the court below rendered a decision against the appellant (“the Appellant”) and the 2nd respondent (who as the co-administratrices of the estate of Ponnusamy Sivapakiam (“the Deceased”) were the defendants below) based on a cause of action, viz, proprietary estoppel, which was not specifically pleaded by the 1st Respondent (the plaintiff below). The pleaded cause of action was primarily a resulting trust, although the 1st Respondent’s opening statement at trial also referred to an alternative claim based on constructive trust.

At the conclusion of the trial, the Judge indicated to counsel for the parties that he would like them to submit on proprietary estoppel, as it was his view that it was purely a question of law and that all the material allegations of fact had been pleaded by the parties. Counsel for all parties were somewhat surprised by this turn of events as the elements of a resulting trust are quite different from those of proprietary estoppel. Nevertheless, they addressed the issue of proprietary estoppel in their written submissions as directed by the Judge.

It is essential in a claim based on proprietary estoppel that any supporting allegations have to be pleaded with sufficient detail and with sufficient particulars of the substance of the representations, the reliance alleged to have been placed on the representations, and the detriment suffered by the party in relying on the representations. Here, the 1st Respondent had testified to certain unrecorded conversations he allegedly had with his uncle, A Govindasamy (“Govindasamy”), who had helped to finance the acquisition of the property that was the subject of the dispute, as well as the Deceased, but his testimony was directed more towards proving a resulting trust that would have come into being about 50 years ago. As the material events had taken place such a long time ago, this was very much a case where the Judge could, and did, give full range to a subjective reconstruction of the evidence. In so doing, he held that the evidence supported the 1st Respondent’s claim based on proprietary estoppel.

In reversing the Judge on his decision in favour of the 1st Respondent, we were satisfied that the defendants below were prejudiced by the Judge’s findings of fact based on the testimonies of these witnesses (including the evidence of the 1st Respondent) in relation to a pleaded cause of action based on a resulting trust, but which the Judge found to be sufficient to prove the existence of proprietary estoppel. We also found that the prejudice could not be remedied by an award of costs. We thus set aside that part of his judgment.

We now set out below our detailed grounds.

Facts Dramatis Personae

This appeal arose from a dispute between siblings following the death of their mother – the Deceased – in 2008. The defendant administrators are sisters and are children of the Deceased. The 1st Respondent was one of their brothers. He sued the administrators for a 33.3% share of the Deceased’s house at 43 Swan Lake Avenue (“the Property”) in addition to his statutory share of the estate in intestacy under the Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Rev Ed). He claimed to have had repaid an advance extended by Govindasamy for the purchase of the Property.

We list the dramatis personae below: The parents of the parties are as follows: the Deceased – the mother; and A O Vaithilingam (“the Father”) – the Deceased’s late husband and the father of the parties. The children (in order of birth) are as follows: Krishnavanny d/o Vaithilingam (“Krishnavanny”) – the eldest sister, who was a co-administratrix to the Deceased’s estate, as well as the 2nd respondent on appeal and the 1st defendant below; Buthmanaban s/o Vaithilingam – the 1st Respondent, who as mentioned was the plaintiff below; Olagaysbery d/o Vaithilingam (“Olagaysbery”) – a daughter; V Nithia – the Appellant, who was a co-administratrix to the Deceased’s estate as well as the 2nd defendant below; Olagappan Vaithilingam Thirumall (“Thirumall”) – a son; and V Davadass (“Davadass”) – the youngest son. The others are as follows: Nadarajan s/o Punnosamy (“Nadarajan”), the Deceased’s brother; and Govindasamy, the Deceased’s brother-in-law.

Background to the dispute

The relevant events began in 1961 upon the death of the Father on 18 October 1961. He died intestate. The Deceased and Krishnavanny were appointed the administrators of his estate. The principal asset of his estate was money in his Municipal Provident Fund account amounting to $21,195.77. The money was held in the estate account and was not distributed according to the law on intestacy. After the Father’s death, the Deceased and her children had to move out of the Father’s staff quarters and relocated to Nadarajan’s house, where they lived for a few years.

On 19 October 1966, the Property was purchased in the Deceased’s sole name. While the parties disputed how the idea to buy the Property came about, it was not disputed that, earlier in 1966, Govindasamy viewed the Property and paid a sum of money to the broker to secure the Property. Govindasamy also negotiated a purchase price of $28,600.

The total cost of acquiring the Property, including transaction costs, was $30,177.70, of which at least $20,000 came from the Father’s estate. Govindasamy provided the balance sum which was eventually repaid, although it was disputed who made the repayments.

In 2007, more than 40 years later, there was a meeting between all the siblings (except the Appellant) where the 1st Respondent indicated that the Property should be divided into 7 shares, with 1 ½ shares for himself and 1 ½ shares for Davadass. The Deceased was present watching TV although she did not participate in the meeting.

The Deceased died intestate on 14 February 2008. Letters of Administration were granted on 20 July 2011 to Krishnavanny and the Appellant as the administrators of the estate. The Appellant commenced proceedings in February 2012 against the 1st Respondent and Krishnavanny for the sale of the Property, which was sold pursuant to an order of court for $2.65m in October 2012 with completion taking place in January 2013. The net proceeds of sale amounted to $2,609,417.

The 1st Respondent filed the Writ of Summons in the present action on 27 September 2012 against the administrators of the Deceased’s estate, ie, Krishnavanny and the Appellant.

Pleadings The 1st Respondent’s pleaded case

The 1st Respondent claimed a “beneficial interest” in the Property. He alleged that he had asked Govindasamy to make a payment as a loan towards the purchase of the Property and that he undertook to repay Govindasamy. Govindasamy agreed to do so if the Plaintiff “took the responsibility” of repaying him. The Plaintiff promised to do so in instalments without interest. Govindasamy agreed. The loan amount payable was $10,000.

Subsequently, the 1st Respondent told the Deceased about the loan and informed her that, even though he would put the Property in her sole name, he had a beneficial interest in the Property and the Deceased acknowledged that he had such an interest.

The 1st Respondent claimed he repaid Govindasamy the sum of $500 every six months for 10 years from 1966, and he eventually repaid the loan in 1975. The 1st Respondent also referred to other payments he made in relation to the Property.

He also claimed that the Deceased had acknowledged the 1st Respondent as a beneficial owner of the Property and that he should be given at least 33% of the proceeds of the sale of the Property.

The Respondent alleged that he had a 33% beneficial interest in the Property by way of a resulting trust.

The Appellant’s pleaded case


To continue reading

Request your trial
39 cases
  • Multistar Holdings Ltd v Geocon Piling & Engineering Pte Ltd
    • Singapore
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 11 Enero 2016
    ...witnesses on the unpleaded facts or to lead evidence to disprove such facts (see V Nitha v Buthamanaban s/o Vaithilingam and another [2015] 5 SLR 1422 at [37]; Sheagar s/o T M Veloo v Belfield International (Hong Kong) Ltd [2014] 3 SLR 524 at [118]; and Digilandmall at [86]). The significan......
  • Mykytowych, Pamela Jane v V I P Hotel
    • Singapore
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 14 Julio 2016
    ...decision in V Nithia (co-administratrix of the estate of Ponnusamy Sivapakiam, deceased) v Buthmanaban s/o Vaithilingam and another [2015] 5 SLR 1422 at [34]–[41] for a summary of some of the general principles on pleadings). Having said that, we are satisfied that the Respondent has not be......
  • Tembusu Growth Fund Ltd v ACTAtek, Inc and others
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 19 Octubre 2017
    ...a fair trial”: V Nithia (co-administratrix of the estate of Ponnusamy Sivapakiam, deceased) v Buthmanaban s/o Vaithilingam and another [2015] 5 SLR 1422 (“Nithia”) at [39]. Thus, while the general rule is that a party is bound by its pleadings, the law does permit departure from the general......
  • Noor Azlin bte Abdul Rahman and another v Changi General Hospital Pte Ltd
    • Singapore
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 29 Noviembre 2021
    ...this court in V Nithia (co-administratrix of the estate of Ponnusamy Sivapakiam, deceased) v Buthmanaban s/o Vaithilingam and another [2015] 5 SLR 1422 (“V Nithia”) as follows (at [36]−[38]): 36 … [P]leadings delineate the parameters of the case and shape the course of the trial. They defin......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT