The New Today
Local News

Land dispute settlement in Carriacou

Justice Mario Michel – delivered the ruling on behalf of the Court of Appeal judges

A land dispute on the sister isle of Carriacou has apparently been settled by the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

The case was brought by Eliza Thompson against another family member Catherine Thompson and stemmed from a decision handed down in the matter by a high court judge.

Eliza Thompson was not satisfied that the judge had ruled against her in the case which involves the estate of one of their parents.

The Court of Appeal Justices who heard the matter were Mario Michel, Mde. Gertel Thom, and Paul Webster while the lawyers involved were Celia Edwards, QC and her daughter, attorney Celine Edwards for the Appellant and Carriacou-born Alban John and Vern Ashby for the Respondent.

As a public service, THE NEW TODAY reproduces in the public interest the judgment from the Justices of the Court of Appeal:-

Civil appeal – Land Law – Intestacy – Intestate Estates Act – Real Estate Devolution Act – Duty of administrator of estate – Deed of gift by administrator of estate – Interpretation of deed of gift – Whether administrator can gift property of unadministered estate – Whether the learned judge erred in awarding share of estate – Costs – Discretion of judge to award costs – General principle in awarding costs

Mrs. Petty Thompson (hereafter “Mrs. Thompson”) was the legal owner of a portion of land on the island of Carriacou, which comprised 5 acres 2 roods and 27.287 poles. Mrs. Thompson died intestate in September 1931 and was survived by six of her eight children, including Joseph Thompson (hereafter “Joseph”), Robert Thompson (hereafter “Robert”) and John Thompson (hereafter “John”).

On 29th November 1995, Joseph, the last of Mrs. Thompson’s surviving children, was granted letters of administration of her estate. Joseph, in his capacity as administrator of the estate, and with the mistaken belief that he was entitled to the entire estate of his mother, purported to convey Mrs. Thompson’s entire estate to the appellant, Eliza Thompson, by deed of gift dated 23rd July 1996 (hereafter “the deed of gift”). The appellant was the widow of Joseph’s brother, Robert. The property which Joseph purported to convey to the appellant was described in the deed of gift as measuring one quarter acre (10,292.18 square feet). On 9th February 1998, Joseph executed a will purporting to convey his share of Mrs. Thompson’s estate to the respondent, Catherine Thompson, who was John’s daughter.

The appellant filed a fixed date claim on 12th February 2015 claiming ownership of the land as described in the deed of gift. The respondent pleaded in her defence that the land was undivided, that Joseph was only one of Mrs. Thompson’s surviving children entitled to a share in her estate, that he only held the land in a representative capacity, and that he could not therefore have gifted it to the appellant. In his order dated 17th November 2020, the learned judge found that each of the six children of Mrs. Thompson’s who survived her was entitled to a one-sixth share (comprising 41,168.17 square feet) of the land in her estate. The learned judge also found that the appellant is entitled to 10,292.18 square feet, being one quarter acre out of Joseph’s one-sixth share in Mrs. Thompson’s estate.

The appellant, being dissatisfied with the decision of the learned judge, appealed and the respondent cross-appealed. The main issues which arose for consideration were: i.) whether the learned judge erred in finding that the appellant was entitled to 10,292.18 square feet of Joseph’s one-sixth share in Mrs. Thompson’s estate; ii.) whether the learned judge erred in holding that the 10,292.18 square feet should come out of Joseph’s share of the estate as opposed to his brother Robert’s share and iii.) whether the learned judge erred in ordering that the parties bear their own costs.

Held: dismissing the appeal, allowing the cross-appeal in part and making the orders as set out at paragraph 42 (2) of this judgment, that:

  1. A grant of letters of administration only empowers the administrator to administer the estate of the deceased in accordance with the laws of intestacy of the country. In Grenada, the laws of intestacy are contained in the Intestate Estates Act and the Real Estate Devolution Act. These Acts provide for the manner in which the estate of a person dying intestate devolves to his heirs and codify the common law principle that a personal representative of the estate of a deceased acts as a trustee for the persons beneficially entitled by law to any property of the deceased. Furthermore, where the estate of the deceased remains unadministered, no beneficiary has an interest in the estate’s property.

In this case, as evidenced by the operative clause of the deed of gift, Joseph purported to convey the land to the appellant in his representative capacity. As there was no evidence that the one-sixth share of his mother’s estate which he was entitled to on her intestacy was vested in him, Joseph could not convey it to the appellant either as grantor or as administrator of his mother’s estate in furtherance of his love and affection for the appellant. The appeal is therefore dismissed on this issue.

The Intestate Estates Act, Cap. 154 of the Laws of Grenada applied; Section 4 of the Real Estate Devolution Act, Cap. 274 of the Laws of Grenada applied; Section 32 of the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act considered; Halsbury Laws of England 4th edn, vol. 17(2) applied; Daphne Gumbs v Administrator of the Estate of James Fahie [2020] ECSCJ No. 86 (delivered 6th March 2020) applied.

  1. On the same basis that Joseph could not convey any part of his one-sixth share of the estate to the appellant, either as administrator or as grantor, he could not convey to the appellant all or any part of Robert’s share in the land. The appellant’s entitlement to any part of her deceased husband’s share in the land must be determined by his will, if he died testate, or by the laws of intestacy, if he died intestate. The learned judge could not therefore have allocated a quarter acre of Robert’s share in his mother’s estate to the appellant, nor can this Court do so. The cross-appeal is accordingly dismissed on this issue.
  2. It is a general principle that costs follow the event and a successful party to an action may only be deprived of his costs in very limited circumstances. Where a judge is minded to depart from this general rule, he ought to provide reasons for so doing. Upon a consideration of the appellant’s claim in the court below and the fact that she was unsuccessful in that claim, there does not appear to be any basis for the learned judge to have departed from the general rule. The judge also failed to give reasons for his departure from the general rule. In the circumstances, the judge exceeded the generous ambit within which reasonable disagreement is possible and was clearly or blatantly wrong and the order in the court below that the parties bear their own costs must accordingly be set aside.

The cross-appeal on costs is therefore allowed.

JUDGMENT
[1] MICHEL JA:
This is an appeal against paragraph 2 of the order of a High Court judge dated 17th November 2020, by which the learned judge ordered that the appellant is entitled to 10,292.18 square feet of land, being one quarter acre from the one-sixth share of Joseph Thompson in the estate of his mother, Petty Thompson. There is also a cross-appeal by the respondent against paragraph 2 of the order and against the costs order made by the learned judge in paragraph 3.

Background
[2] Mrs. Petty Thompson (hereafter “Mrs. Thompson”) was, at the date of her death, the owner of a portion of land in L’Esterre on the island of Carriacou in the state of Grenada comprising 5 acres 2 roods and 27.287 poles. On 11th September 1931, Mrs. Thompson died intestate and was survived by six of her eight children.

[3] On 29th November 1995, the last of her surviving children, Joseph Thompson (hereafter “Joseph”) was granted letters of administration of her estate. By deed of gift dated 23rd July 1996, Joseph, in his capacity as administrator, and in the mistaken belief that he was entitled to the entire estate of his mother, purported to convey the entire estate to the appellant, Eliza Thompson, who was the widow of Joseph’s brother, Robert Thompson (hereafter “Robert”) – one of the children of Mrs. Thompson who survived her. The property which Joseph purported to convey to the appellant was described in the deed of gift as measuring one quarter acre (which is less than 5% of the actual size of the land comprising the estate of Mrs. Thompson).

[4] On 9th February 1998, Joseph (who had less than 2 years before purported to convey the entire estate of his mother to the appellant) executed a will devising his interest in the estate to the respondent, Catherine Thompson, who was the daughter of Joseph’s brother, John Thompson, another of the children of Mrs. Thompson who had survived her.

[5] By a fixed date claim filed on 12th February 2015, the appellant claimed that she owned the land as described in the deed of gift to her by Joseph and that the respondent was trespassing on the land. In her defence, the respondent pleaded that the land was undivided, that Joseph was only one of the children who survived Mrs. Thompson and who was entitled to a share in her estate, and that he held the land only in his representative capacity as the administrator of his mother’s estate and could not therefore have gifted it to the appellant. The respondent also pleaded in her defence that the deed of gift executed by Joseph on 23rd July 1996 was null and void.

TO BE CONTINUED

If you are satisfied with the information provided by The New Today to our many readers, followers and supporters around the world, then you can show your appreciation by making a financial contribution to the effort of our team of dedicated workers.

Giving back is a way of saying thank you for our efforts

Support The New Today