Twinsectra v Yardley (2002)

English Equity & Trusts

Twinsectra v Yardley
‘A Country Solicitor’ by Edward Lamson

Interference with the performance of a contract, and assistance in a breach of trust, lie central to a matter involving two solicitors and a property developer, whose triangulated relationship resulted in financial abuses and ethical ignorance by those expected to conduct themselves with nothing less than self-discipline and professionalism.

Having owned and operated a number of business ventures, the respondent had ventured to obtain a business loan for the purposes of acquiring further properties, however at the time of inquiry his bank was unable to commit to lending the money, therefore he made contact with the plaintiffs, so as to borrow the sum of £1m, to which the plaintiffs requested that the loan agreement be underwritten by a qualified solicitor.

Upon consultation with the appellant his request was denied, and so with time against him he approached another law practice, whose second partner had a business history with the defendant, and through which the partner had become liable to the defendant to the sum of £1.5m.

In order to repay the debt owed, the partner then agreed to become principle debtor to the loan by way of its underwriting, while keeping the truth of their arrangement from the plaintiffs, and so when signing the loan agreement, they were now legally subject to its terms, in which sections 1 and 2 read:

“1. The loan moneys will be retained by us until such time as they are applied in the acquisition of property on behalf of our client. 

2. The loan moneys will be utilised solely for the acquisition of property on behalf of our client and for no other purpose.”

While s. 4 further read that:

“We confirm that this undertaking is given by us in the course of our business as solicitors and in the context of an underlying transaction on behalf of our clients which is part of our usual business as solicitors.”

However once the money had been loaned, the partner contacted the appellant, and asked that he retain the funds in a client account until such time that the plaintiff required it. While both solicitors were aware that such a transfer was tantamount to a breach of s.1, the money was nonetheless accepted and then released by the appellant to the respondent with no proof that any of the money was being used for the purchase of properties, as per s. 2 of the agreement.

At the point of initial litigation, the plaintiffs sued for recovery of the funds following non-payment by the now dissolved partner on grounds of breach of trust, and for dishonest assistance on the part of the appellant when holding the money and paying it to the respondent upon his request, despite knowledge of the initial breach prior to his receipt of the funds from the partner.

While in the first instance the Court of the Queen’s Bench dismissed the claim on grounds that the appellant had merely acted recklessly in the course of his duties, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment on grounds that the appellant had knowingly received money destined not for the purchase of property, and thereby in breach of s.2, and that he had wilfully closed his eyes to the facts when agreeing to both hold and transfer the funds to the respondent.

Upon appeal to the House of Lords, the appellant argued that his involvement in the matter was certainly naive and remiss but in no way unlawful, and so the House agreed to examine the details of the case for the purposes of clarity.

Turning first to Royal Brunei Airlines Sdn Bhd v Tan, the House noted that the Court of Appeal had explained how:

“A fraudulent and dishonest design is not confined to personal gain. It is sufficient if the stranger knowingly assists in the use of trust property in a way which is not permitted by the trust.”

And that in its simplest form:

“[A] trust is a relationship which exists when one person holds property on behalf of another. If, for his own purposes, a third party deliberately interferes in that relationship by assisting the trustee in depriving the beneficiary of the property held for him by the trustee, the beneficiary should be able to look for recompense to the third party as well as the trustee.”

Thus in its conclusion, the court had held that:

“[D]ishonesty is a necessary ingredient of accessory liability. It is also a sufficient ingredient. A liability in equity to make good resulting loss attaches to a person who dishonestly procures or assists in a breach of trust or fiduciary obligation.”

And so it was clear that when the appellant acquiesced to the instructions of the partner, he had, whether intentionally or not, become complicit in the misuse of what was held to be trust property of the plaintiffs, while the House also also referred to Gilbert v Gonard in which the Court of Chancery had also held that:

“[I]f one person makes a payment to another for a certain purpose, and that person takes the money knowing that it is for that purpose, he must apply it to the purpose for which it was given. He may decline to take it if he likes; but if he chooses to accept the money tendered for a particular purpose, it is his duty, and there is a legal obligation on him, to apply it for that purpose.”

Although the House drew the distinction that unlike civil courts, equity relies less upon the mens rea of a man and more on his behaviour, and while the appeal was founded upon a breach of trust and dishonest assistance, there was insufficient evidence to suggest certainty as to the mind of the appellant when carrying out his part of the agreement. However, the House did conclusively note that under the circumstances there was ample grounds for a liability under wrongful interference with a contract and for assisting in a breach of trust, therefore the court of appeal judgment was upheld and reversed in part, while the House held that:

“[E]quity looks to a man’s conduct, not to his state of mind.”

And:

“Where a third party with knowledge of a contract has dealings with the contract breaker which the third party knows will amount to a breach of contract and damage results, he commits an actionable interference with the contract…”

Harris v. Balk (1905)

US Civil Procedure

Harris v Balk
‘Strong Arm’ by Kevin LePrince

Debt priority through attachment is not something familiar to English law, however in America the facts are quite different, and in this instance the indebtedness of a lender became primary to the borrower’s failure to repay, after a third party attached the sum outstanding through applicable State law.

In 1896, two men residing in North Carolina entered into a verbal agreement concerning the lending of $180, during which time the lender and now claimant, had an outstanding debt of $344 with a lender in Maryland. While visiting Baltimore, the now defendant was approached by the Maryland lender, who issued a writ of attachment for $180 under the powers of §§ 8 and 10 of art. IX of the Code of Public General Laws of Maryland, both of which read:

“8. Upon making the affidavit and producing the proofs before the clerk of the court from which such attachment is to issue…he shall issue an attachment against the lands, tenements, goods, chattels and credits of said debtor.

10. Any kind of property or credits belonging to the defendant, in the plaintiff’s own hands, or in the hands of any one else, may be attached; and credits may be attached which shall not then be due.”

Having failed to attend the hearing, the defendant admitted later acquiesced to the attachment and entered payment for the sum owed to the Maryland claimant in accordance with both the statute and decision of the court.

Upon this, the claimant sought remedy on grounds that the Maryland court lacked sufficient jurisdiction to apply such an attachment, whereupon the defendant claimed under art.IV of the U.S. Constitution that:

“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”

Therefore the judgment against the defendant to the claimant’s creditor was equally valid in North Carolina as it was in Maryland. However, the Supreme Court of North Carolina awarded in favour of the claimant on grounds that the defendant was in Maryland for but a brief time, and that the debt was initiated and so grounded in North Carolina.

Heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, it was explained through Chicago, R. I. & P. Co. v. Sturm that:

“All debts are payable everywhere unless there be some special limitation or provision in respect to the payment; the rule being that debts, as such, have no locus or situs, but accompany the creditor everywhere, and authorize a demand upon the debtor everywhere.”

While § 35 of art. IX of the Code of Public General Laws of Maryland provides that:

“Any judgment of condemnation against a garnishee ad execution thereon, or payment by such garnishee, shall be sufficient and pleadable in bar in any action brought against him by the defendant in the attachment for or concerning the property or credits so condemned…”

Which translated that the claimant had equal opportunity to sue the defendant for his debt while in Maryland, but failed to do so, while it was also held that upon litigation, the defendant was under a legal duty to notify the claimant that a third party had issued an attachment for the $180, whereupon the claimant is afforded opportunity to defend the debt, as had been held in Morgan v. Neville.

This caveat left the Court with no option other than to reverse the previous decision for further discussion, so as to avoid duplication of a debt recently paid in full, while further holding that:

“Power over the person of the garnishee confers jurisdiction on the courts of the State where the writ issues…”

Strong v Bird

English Equity & Trusts

Strong v Bird
Image: ‘Debtor Night’ by Seminary Road

While English common law requires the perfecting of a gift through written documentation, the circumstances of that prerequisite can be somewhat altered when the moment calls. On this occasion, a testatrix was ultimately able to complete an oral debt release through the appointment of her debtor as an executor.

In 1866, the deceased was cohabiting with her son in-law when due to her sizeable wealth, she entered into an agreement whereby a significant amount of rent was paid on a quarterly basis, after which the defendant borrowed £1100, on the proviso that she deducted £100 per quarter until the balance owed was clear.

After only two payments, the deceased relinquished the debt, and explained that no further deductions were necessary. This evidence was supported both by his wife and from handwritten notes left on the cheque counterfoils used before her demise.

Upon her passing, the beneficiary to her will contested that the £900 unpaid, was now owed under law, as the cessation of the loan had not been committed to any form of written notice aside from the cheque stubs, which were deemed insubstantial as proof.

Relying upon the essence of equity, the court examined the context in which her wishes had been executed, and knowing the oral and notary testimony were insufficient to stand as perfect, her appointment of the defendant as executor to her will, was evidence enough, and that while:

“The law requires nothing more than this, that in a case where the thing which is the subject of donation is transferable or releasable at law, the legal transfer or release shall take place. The gift is not perfect until what has been generally called a change of the property at law has taken place.”

Thus the court held that the deceased, having made no express acknowledgement of a debt within her will, was proof enough that the gift was perfect, and that its absence created in the defendant, an absolute right to title of the £900, therefore no challenge could be made, equitably or otherwise. The court further noted that her further payments of full rent for a period of four years after the money had been loaned, showed again that she considered the sum paid in full, and so sought no recovery in death, as she might in life.