Chan v Zacharia

Australian Equity & Trusts

Chan v Zacharia
Image: ‘Doctor’s Office’ by Norman Rockwell

Matters of contract and the fiduciary elements of a working partnership, become at odds in a case involving opportunism with little regard to the details of the agreement signed when two former business partners acrimoniously part ways.

In 1979, two doctors agreed to set up a joint practice in an enviable part of Adelaide, and upon doing so, drafted a partnership agreement that established express terms around honourable working practices, and an ethical approach to the future of the enterprise. Sadly, as often happens in commercial relationships, the two men found working together intolerable, and so agreed to dissolve the practice.

One of the attractive features of the property was that of its location and the option to renew the lease for another two years, on the proviso that both partners were complicit in its execution. However, at the point of litigation, the appellant had shown clear reluctance to renew the lease, thus leaving the respondent no choice but to circumnavigate the matter as best as possible.

While the two parties had terminated the business, there was still a portion of the existing lease remaining, of which an equal share was held by both men, and yet in a strange turn of events, the landlord agreed to extend the lease to the appellant, and accordingly wrote to confirm this to the respondent. This prompted action by the respondent on grounds that the appellant had breached his fiduciary duty in accepting the new lease while inheriting the value of the interest of the existing lease, and that by doing so, he held the new lease as a constructive trustee on the equitable principle that the lease was an asset of the former partnership and therefore under a right of claim.

This contention was duly supported by the Supreme Court, at which point the appellant sought the wisdom of the High Court. Here, s.38 of the Partnership Act 1891 (SA) noted that:

“After the dissolution of a partnership the authority of each partner to bind the firm, and the other rights and obligations of the partners, continue, notwithstanding the dissolution, so far as may be necessary to wind up the affairs of the partnership, and to complete transactions begun but unfinished at the time of the dissolution, but not otherwise.”

While s.39 also stated how:

“On the dissolution of a partnership every partner is entitled, as against the other partners in the firm, and all persons claiming through them in respect of their interests as partners, to have the property of the partnership applied in payment of the debts and liabilities of the firm, and to have the surplus assets after such payment applied in payment of what may be due to the partners respectively after deducting what may be due from them as partners to the firm; and for that purpose any partner or his or her representatives may on the termination of the partnership apply to the Court to wind up the business and affairs of the firm.”

However, clause 26 of the partnership agreement clearly expressed that any surplus assets remaining after payment of debts, liabilities, expenses and amounts due to the partners, was to be divided equally through the execution of observation of all legal instruments and Acts, and the provisions contained therein.

This was the position adopted in Hugh Stevenson & Sons Ltd v Aktiengesellschaft Fur Cartonnagen-Industrie, where Romer LJ remarked:

“[W]herever the legal estate may be, whether it is in the partners jointly or in one partner or in a stranger it does not matter, the beneficial interest…belongs to the partnership, with an implied trust for sale for the purpose of realising the assets and for the purpose of giving to the two partners their interests when the partnership is wound up and an account taken…”

A fact that was equally present in clause 19 of the partnership agreement, which required each partner to:

“[D]evote his whole time (subject to annual leave) to the medical practice, to act in all things according to the highest standards of professional conduct and be just and faithful to the other partner in all transactions relating to the partnership…”

And so it was for these undeniable reasons, that the Court held (by majority) that when agreeing to and pursuing the opportunity to secure an extension of the lease after refusing to cooperate with his former partner, the appellant did, by virtue of his selfishness, breach what remained of his fiduciary capacity, and in doing so, became a constructive trustee for the value of the lease, and thus owed account to the respondent in kind.

Charrington v Simons & Co Ltd

English Contract Law

Charrington v Simons & Co Ltd
Image: ‘In the Orchard’ by James Guthrie

The conveyance of land with restrictive covenants is not uncommon within property law, however when the safeguard designed to protect the needs of the vendor becomes central to his anguish, it becomes clear that the attached principles have become somewhat misused.

In a matter concerning the part-sale of an orchard by a farmer, the respondent entered into the purchase on the understanding that at no point was the road running between the two plots previously owned, to exceed the height beyond that of the section retained, as to do otherwise would impact upon the farmer’s ability to harvest his remaining plot.

After ignoring the covenant, the respondent began resurfacing the road to a height that did in fact exceed the permissions granted, thus prompting the appellant to protest both orally and by letter. When the work continued and his obvious displeasure went unheard, the appellant issued a writ in pursuit of a mandatory injunction, which would result in the removal of all works undertaken at cost to the respondent.

In the first hearing, the judge adopted the unorthodox position of taking two negatives in order to create a positive. This was executed through an injunction, while explaining that:

(i) The respondent was to modify the road so as to benefit the appellant, rather than to remove it outright, after having spent around £1400 on its construction, before paying the appellant £1062 in special damages for the harm caused to date.

(ii) The mandatory injunction was to remain ineffective for a period of three years, while the respondent set about altering the road’s layout, which itself required agreement by the appellant to trespass onto his land in order to carry out the work.

(iii) That consultation between the two parties would continue throughout this period, and that should the appellant refuse to consent to the needs of the respondent, the respondent would be granted sufficient argument so as to discharge the injunction entirely.

Upon immediate appeal, the appellant argued that the judge had erred in law when creating an injunction that rendered the breach of covenant void, that requirement to consent to the work would result in a trespass and that such an impingement and modification would cause the appellant to suffer both personally and financially, as his own orchard would be compromised during the alterations.

With consideration of the judge’s genuine wish to improve upon an already damaging situation, the Court held that when refusing to enforce the injunction with immediate effect, the court had failed to properly address the purpose of both the covenant and the injunction in favour of an outcome serving only the needs of the breaching party.

 

Bray v Ford

English Equity & Trusts

Bray v Ford
Image: ‘Advocate’ by Honore Daumier

Profiting from a fiduciary position, while not expressly forbidden, is a feature that requires careful consideration by both trustees and beneficiaries, and so in this matter the billing of fees for legal services proved both offensive and damaging for the party accused.

In 1895, the Governor of the Yorkshire College took issue with the vice-chairman after discovering that he had for a period of fourteen years, been providing legal function as a solicitor whilst holding a position based upon a voluntary footing. Incensed at this opportunistic behaviour, the now appellant wrote a lengthy letter to the respondent, accusing him of breaching his fiduciary duty to the institution her served, while stressing that he had:

“[U]sed religious, educational and philanthropic schemes as a hypocritical cover for the purpose of serving his own ends.”

The respondent argued that the terms of the memorandum of association had provided him with rights to both charge and profit from his work, a contention that remained largely unproven at the point of litigation. In the first hearing, the judge underemphasised the importance of the accusation levelled, instead focussing on the libellous tone used in the letter, which at the time, was circulated amongst three hundred other college governors.

Having convinced the jury that the respondent was justified in his collection of payment for legal services, the judge again placed greater weight upon the damaging effects of the written statements, after which the jury returned a verdict in favour of the respondent, and with damages set at a lofty 600l. Upon appeal, the appellant was left facing a similar outcome after the Court agreed that the libel charges remained as effective as they would have should the respondent been proved wrong, thus prompting a final plea before the House of Lords.

Here, the roots of the matter were revisited, along with Order XXXIX r.6 of the Rules of the Supreme Court 1883, which explained how:

“[A] new trial shall not be granted on the ground of misdirection or of the improper admission or rejection of evidence,…unless in the opinion of the Court to which the application is made some substantial wrong or miscarriage has been thereby occasioned in the trial…”

It was thus uniformly agreed by the House that from the outset, the nature of the action had been grossly overlooked in favour of aspersions, and that the trial judge had clearly failed to acknowledge the gravity of a fiduciary breach, which if proven correct, went some way to justifying the claims made by the appellant at the start. It was for this reason that the House held that there had been a clear miscarriage of justice, and that in failing to recognise this, the Court of Appeal had conversely erred in judgment.

In light of these collective mishaps, the House duly reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision, directed a re-trial under the Supreme Court Rules, and ordered repayment of all courts costs and damages to the appellant.

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Black and Morgan v Wilkinson

English Constitutional Law

Black and Morgan v Wilkinson
Image: ‘Breakfast in Bed’ by Mary Cassatt

Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and the right to manifest one’s religious beliefs lock horns in a case built around progressive lifestyles and the security of dogma.

Having established herself as the owner operator of a bed and breakfast, the appellant consciously took bookings on principles espoused through Christian teachings, one of which precluded the use of double rooms by those outside wedlock. While considered a practical and measured restriction, the appellant was often found letting out such rooms to unmarried couples, largely due to the difficulty in establishing their marital status at the time of agreement.

However, the footing of this matter rested upon a homosexual couple, who having secured the room via email, and duly paying the required deposit, arrived at the property, before finding themselves denied use of the double room on grounds of their sexual relationship and unmarried status (an impossible task at the time of this hearing).

At the point of litigation, the claimants argued that the appellant had unlawfully discriminated against them under the terms of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations Act 2007 (SI 2007/1263), in particular regulations 3 and 4, which read:

“3.(1) For the purposes of these Regulations, a person (“A”) discriminates against another (“B”) if, on grounds of the sexual orientation of B or any other person except A, A treats B less favourably than he treats or would treat others (in cases where there is no material difference in the relevant circumstances).

4. (1) It is unlawful for a person (“A”) concerned with the provision to the public or a section of the public of goods, facilities or services to discriminate against a person (“B”) who seeks to obtain or to use those goods, facilities or services”

While the appellant countered that she had refused the claimants use of the room under regulation 6, which reads:

“6.-(1) Regulation 4 does not apply to anything done by a person as a participant in arrangements under which he (for reward or not) takes into his home, and treats as if they were members of his family, children, elderly persons, or persons requiring a special degree of care and attention.”

Further arguing that her business fell outside the scope of a boarding house, as expressed in regulation 4(2)(b) of the same statutory instrument.

During the first hearing, the court refused to uphold her claim and found her liable for sexual discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, whereupon the defendant argued her case in the Court of Appeal. Here, the facts were given greater consideration, including various articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). With regard to exemption from regulation 4(b), the Court observed that in Otter v Norman the House of Lords had ruled that:

“[T]he provision of breakfast by itself, with the implicit inclusion of the ancillary services involved in preparing it and the provision of crockery and cutlery with which to eat it, amounted to “board” within the meaning of section 7(1) [of the Rent Act 1977].”

However, with careful observation of regulation 6(1), it was noted by the Court that the claimants were anything but members of her family, children, elderly persons of those requiring special degree of care and attention. The appellant also relied upon Preddy v Bull for her contention that her refusal of the respondents occupation was one based upon an objection to sexual behaviour, and not orientation; yet sadly the parties involved were in a civil partnership, which distinguished it from the immediate case.

Turning instead to proportionality for justification, the appellant relied upon arts.8 (Right to respect and private family life) and 9 (Freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the ECHR for her right to exclusion, while the respondents relied upon arts.8 and 14 (Prohibition of discrimination) to uphold their right to occupation.

It was then noted that while art.9(1) provides for religious manifestation, art.9(2) also provides that restrictions apply when preserving the rights of others, which on this occasion worked against the appellant, as she was by all accounts, running a commercial enterprise, and which under a Government paper titled “Getting Equal: Proposals to outlaw sexual orientation discrimination in the provision of goods and services, Government Response to Consultation” it was outlined on page 13 that:

“The Government contends that where businesses are open to the public on a commercial basis, they have to accept the public as it is constituted.”

While it was also stressed in Eweida and others v United Kingdom that:

“Even where the belief in question attains the required level of cogency and importance, it cannot be said that every act which is in some way inspired, motivated or influenced by it constitutes a ‘manifestation’ of the belief.”

All of which amounted to a uniform ruling of direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, despite any freedom to manifest one’s religious beliefs when operating a licensed business to paying customers, coupled with indirect discrimination through the application of a policy denying equal rights to those in homosexual relationships.