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The feud over property of Joe Pitt

Brian Pitt – lost the battle in court

Over 40-years following the death of one of Grenada’s pioneers in the television broadcast industry, the children of Joe Pitt have been squabbling over his property.

High Court judge Raulston Glasgow has been called upon to give a ruling in a civil matter brought before the high court by two of Pitt’s children, Richard and Selwyn Pitt against their elder brother, Brian Pitt on the ownership of a property on Scott Street in St George.

Richard and Selwyn Pitt approached the court to block a bid made by Brian Pitt to get Possessory title of ownership on the grounds that he had occupied the property in keeping with the 12-year requirement of the law.

Justice Glasgow ruled against Brian Pitt and issued the following orders in the case:-

(1). Mr. Brian Pitt is (to) hand over all keys and materials belonging to the property to a representative appointed by the company to receive same;

(2). Mr. Brian Pitt is to hand over all keys and other materials belonging to the company within 30 days of the date of this order;

(3). The defendant (Brian Pitt) is to provide a detailed statement of his dealings with the company from 1st May 2021 to the date of the delivery of the keys and other materials belonging to the company;

As a public service, THE NEW TODAY reproduce the Justice Raulston Glasgow judgment in the case:-

[1] GLASGOW, J.: This judgment concerns the opposition to an application filed by the defendant (Brian Pitt) on 18th November 2016 in which he sought an order of the court that he is owner of property situate at St. George’s, Grenada. Brian Pitt asserts that he became the owner by reason of his exclusive and undisturbed possession of the same for over a period of twelve years. Brian Pitt pursued that application pursuant to the Possessory Titles Act. No. 22 of 2016 (the Act). The claimants are his brothers. This judgment identifies them as “the claimants” or as “Richard Pitt” or “Selwyn Pitt”. On 12th April 2017, the claimants filed this claim in opposition to Brian Pitt’s application for possessory title on the grounds that the property belongs to a family company. They contend that their brother never acquired title to the property by adverse possession or at all.

[2] Some of the uncontroverted facts provide a helpful background to the present familial rancour. The parties are all the children of Joseph and Edlyn Pitt. They have a sister, Jean Pitt, who is not a party to this claim but she is engaged in it. Jean Pitt is named as one of the executors of her mother, Edlyn Pitt’s estate. Brian Pitt is the other named executor, but Jean Pitt obtained probate of their mother’s will on 21st August 2015. A document signed by Brian Pitt and dated 16th July 2014 indicates that he thereby renounced his right to obtain probate of the will of Edlyn Pitt.

[3] Joseph Pitt was the fee simple owner of the property that is the subject of this suit. In 1974, he formed a company called Grenada Television Company Limited (the company). He along with then wife, Edlyn Pitt, the parties and their sister Jean Pitt were registered as shareholders of the company. The Government of Grenada was also listed as a shareholder. Indeed, the Government was listed as the largest shareholder.

[4] On the 28th May 1974 Joseph Pitt conveyed all of his interest in the property to the company. However, 6 years later in 1980, the People’s Revolutionary Government (the PRG) took physical possession of the property. There was no official acquisition process as required by the law and no compensation was ever paid to the company for the acquisition of its sole asset.

[5] Joseph Pitt and Edlyn Pitt eventually got divorced. The ancillary relief aspect of the divorce exercise included a property adjustment order dated 7th December 1992. Further to that order and by deed of release dated 7th December 1997 Joseph relinquished his share interest in the company to Edlyn Pitt. The shareholding in the company was thereafter adjusted to reflect the following –

(1) Edlyn Pitt – 700 shares;

(2) Brian Pitt, the defendant – 300 shares;

(3) Jean Pitt – 300 shares;

(4) Selwyn Pitt – 300 shares;

(5) Richard Pitt – 300 shares;

(6) Government of Grenada – 700 shares;

(7) Glyn Evans – 72 shares.

[6] The company was struck off the register of companies (the register) in 1980. The parties and Edlyn Pitt served as directors of the company at the time that it was struck off the register.

[7] In 1995 the Government of Grenada relinquished physical possession and control of the property. The exact nature of the Government’s relinquishment of the property forms the core of the family dissension. The claimants plead that the property was properly returned to Edlyn Pitt on the company’s behalf. Their further complaint is that if Brian Pitt had physical possession of the property when it was handed over in 1995, he held it in trust for the company. Brian Pitt vigorously and vociferously resists his siblings’ characterisation of the government’s action in 1995. His rejoinder is that the company was struck off the register and could not hold property. He maintains emphatically that the government turned over the property to him. He held and used it as his own exclusively without acknowledging ownership in anyone and without interference. Hence his request for title by adverse possession. It may serve this discourse well to recite the various claims made by both sides in some detail.

Case for Brian Pitt
[8] Brian Pitt filed an application on 18th November 2016 in which he sought an order for possessory title to the property. The affidavit attached to that application averred, among other things, that –

(1) He was in possession of the property for over 12 years;

(2) There was no other claim affecting the property at the time of making the application;

(3) There are no other persons claiming the property besides the company;

(4) He was put in possession of the property on or about 1st June 1995 by a Minister of Government;

(5) He was given the keys to the property as one of the children of the deceased majority shareholder of the company;

(6) The company was defunct;

(7) He has expended his own resources to fix up the property, conducted routine maintenance and major repairs that were necessitated after the building was damaged by hurricane Ivan in 2004;

(8) He has rented out the property to tenants and collected rents from them without accounting to anyone for the rents;

(9) Has taken all other major decisions in relation to the property without being required to consult with anyone.

[9] The affidavit acknowledges that Joseph Pitt transferred the property to the company in 1974. The affidavit also accepts that the company was struck off the register in 1980. Brian Pitt also pleads that the PRG government took possession of the property, but that the PRG government took the property without formally doing so in accordance with the compulsory acquisition process. Brian Pitt asked the court to find that the company had discontinued possession of the property or was dispossessed of the same by him. As such he is entitled to a declaration of possessory title since he was in exclusive and undisturbed possession for over 12 years.

[10] Brian Pitt’s application is supported by the evidence of 2 witnesses, McDonald Bullen and John Andy Baptiste, a plumber and tradesman respectively. They both carried out maintenance works at the property at the instance of Brian Pitt. They say in their evidence that since 1995 they have known Brian Pitt to be treating the property as his own; repairing it, maintaining it, renting it out and collecting rents. They are not aware that anyone besides Brian Pitt owns the property.

Case for the claimants
[11] After laying out the background regarding the company as stated above, the claimants aver that if Brian Pitt has been in possession of the property from 1995 to 2014 as he asserts or for any period, he did so as the agent of Edlyn Pitt.

[12] Alternatively, they insist that if Brian Pitt had possession for the claimed period or at all, he did so in his capacity as a director of the company and as such he held the property on trust for the company. The claimants say that Brian Pitt’s fiduciary duties to the company precluded him from setting up a claim for possessory title in respect of the property.

[13] The claimants insist that Brian Pitt was well aware that Edlyn Pitt professed ownership of the property from 1995 when it was returned by the Government and maintained her claim to ownership up until her death in 2014. Indeed, they plead, Edlyn Pitt left a will dated 26th June 2008 in which she devised the property to the claimants, Brian Pitt and their sister, Jean Pitt.

[14] The claimants urge the court to find –

(1) Edlyn Pitt was the person put back in possession of the property since 1995;

(2) Selwyn Pitt has been living at the property since 2007 at the behest of his mother, Edlyn Pitt;

(3) The property was at some time maintained with moneys raised by all the parties and Jean Pitt further to a consent order whereby family assets, namely a property at Old Fort, St. George, was used to raise funds from Grenada Development Bank and RBTT;

(4) Brian Pitt had accounted to the executor of the estate, Jean Pitt, for the income and expenses associated with the property;

(5) As late as December 2016, Brian Pitt acknowledged the claimants’ interest in the property;

(6) The company was restored to the register in February 2017.

Affidavit of Kinna Marrast-Victor
[15] The claimants provided evidence from Mrs. Kinna Marrast-Victor, former Government representative to the company. In an affidavit filed on 7th March 2019, Mrs. Victor recounted the history of the property, the company and its interactions with the government as I have recited above. Mrs. Marrast-Victor also stated the following –

(1) She attended a meeting of the company’s shareholders held on 16th April 2018. By the time of the shareholders’ meeting, Brian Pitt had already filed the present proceedings for possessory title and his brothers, the claimants had already filed their claim opposing the same;

(2) The shareholders’ meeting elected a new Board of Directors. The meeting also passed a resolution that ratified the proceedings filed by the claimants to oppose Brian Pitt’s application for possessory title to the property. The meeting also authorised the claimants to continue the action on behalf of the company;

(3) Brian Pitt’s reliance on a letter dated 20th March 2007 from then Minister of Legal Affairs, Elvin Nimrod is misplaced and it is premised on false information presented by Brian Pitt to Mr. Nimrod. In particular, Brian Pitt’s assertion that no title deed existed with respect to the property was false in light of the existence of the deed of transfer dated 28th May 1974 transferring ownership of the property from Joseph Pitt to the company;

(4) Mr. Nimrod’s letter was in response to a letter dated 16th January 2007 in which Brian Pitt indicated to Minister Nimrod that the property was owned by the company. In that January 2007 letter, Brian Pitt also informed the Minister that “there was an agreement to take back the building in lieu of any claim against the Government of Grenada.”

(5) Between 2013 and September 2016, Brian Pitt and the Government were engaged in discussions regarding compensation to the company by the Government;

(6) Government never disposed of its interest in the property by handing it to Brian Pitt. The Government firmly maintains that the property belongs to the company and that it alone ought to determine whether and how it ought to be disposed.

Brian Pitt’s response to the claimants’ case
[16] Unsurprisingly, Brian Pitt strongly objects to the claimants’ characterisation of his claim. He responded thereto and in particular to the affidavit of Mrs. Victor-Marrast. His response came by way of affidavit filed on 10th August 2019 in which his rejoinder states (after again reciting the history of the company, the property and the PRG’s acquisition of the same) –

(1) The PRG abandoned occupation of the property in or around 1993 and he took physical possession of the same. From that time he renovated and occupied the property up until today’s date;

(2) In 1995 the Government formally relinquished possession of the property to him by handing him the keys to the property through his attorneys, Grant and Joseph;

(3) When he filed his application for possessory title on 18th November 2016 and up until its publication on 25th November 2016, the company was not restored to the register;

(4) The company was restored further to an application made by Richard Pitt;

(5) The claimants did not live in Grenada between the years 1980 to 2006. Richard still lives out of Grenada;

(6) Selwyn Pitt returned to Grenada in or about 2006 and in 2008, Brian Pitt renovated an apartment at the property and placed Selwyn Pitt therein as he had no place to live;

(7) The company was restored after 37 years of being struck off in 1980. It has no share or title in the property since the same was extinguished over time by Brian Pitt’s sole undisturbed occupation of the same.

[17] The claim for each side is supported by written submissions and authorities.

Submissions for the claimants
[18] After taking issue with some of Brian Pitt’s evidence given under cross examination, the claimants submit that –

(1) The evidence reveals that Brian Pitt did not form an intention in 1995 to treat the property as his own. The decision to treat with the property as one’s own is a sine qua non for a successful application for possessory title (see section 2 of the Act);

(2) Brian Pitt has not presented evidence of when he formed the intent to treat with the property as his own so as to assist the court to assess whether he held the property as his own for the requisite statutory 12 year period;

(3) Brian Pitt presented the court with documents in which he admitted to providing accounts for the estate to Jean Pitt who is the executor of the will of Edlyn Pitt. The court is reminded that Edlyn Pitt claimed the property as her own in her last will;

(4) Even after filing his application for possessory title, Brian Pitt acknowledged that he was not claiming the property solely as his own but rather that he intended to sell it and share the net proceeds of the sale with his siblings who are also sharing a beneficial title pursuant to their mother’s will;

(5) Brian Pitt admits that his brother, Selwyn Pitt, has been living on the property for over 12 years from the time of his return to Grenada from Canada.

Claimants’ submissions in respect of Brian Pitt’s supporting witnesses
[19] The claimants also address the evidence of Brian Pitt’s witnesses, McDonald Bullen and John Andy Baptiste. The claimants ask the court to find that this supporting evidence does not meet the threshold of section 5 of the Act. That section obligates the applicant for possessory title to present “one affidavit each of at least two individuals with knowledge of the applicant’s adverse possession of the piece or parcel of land.” The claimants’ case is that the apotheosis of the supporting witnesses’ assertions is the fact that they worked for Brian Pitt and that they have knowledge of the property. The claimants’ contend that beyond this, the evidence of the supporting witnesses does not assist the court to ascertain whether they knew that Brian Pitt possessed the property as owner, tenant, licensee, agent or otherwise.

Claimants’ submissions in respect of the company’s ownership of the property
[20] The claimants reiterate their argument that the company is the rightful owner of the property. They rely on sections 483 to 485 of the Companies Act, Cap. 58 A of the revised laws of Grenada. I pause here to observe that section 483 of the Companies Act deals mainly with the procedure by which the registrar of companies may strike a company off the register. There is no debate in this case as to whether this procedure was followed. The claimants make special note of section 483 (5) of the Companies Act which I will address later.

[21] The claimants also place emphasis on section 484(1) of the Companies Act which reads –

“(1) Where, after a company has been dissolved, there remains any outstanding property, real or personal, including things in action and whether within or outside Grenada which was vested in the company or to which it was entitled, or over which it had a disposing power at the time it was dissolved, but which has not been realised or otherwise disposed of or dealt with by the company or its liquidator, such property shall, for the purposes of this section and section 485 and notwithstanding any enactment or rule of law to the contrary, by the operation of this section be and become vested in the Official Receiver for all the estate and interest therein legal or equitable of the company or its liquidator at the date the company was dissolved, together with all claims, rights and remedies which the company or its liquidator then had in respect thereof”

[22] The claimants also place emphasis on section 485 (1) and (2) of the Companies Act which sections reads –

“(1) Upon proof to the satisfaction of the Official Receiver that there is vested in the Official Receiver by operation of section 484 or of an enactment of a proclaimed state containing provisions similar to the provisions of section 491, any estate or interest in property, whether solely or together with any other person, of a beneficial nature and not merely held in trust, the Official Receiver may get in, sell or otherwise dispose of or deal with the estate or interest or any part thereof as he or she sees fit.

(2) The Official Receiver may sell or otherwise dispose of or deal with any such property either solely or in concurrence with any other person in such manner for such consideration, by public auction, public tender or private contract upon such terms and conditions as the Official Receiver thinks fit, with power to rescind any contract and resell or otherwise dispose of or deal with any such property as he or she thinks expedient, and may make, execute and give such contracts, instruments and documents as he or she thinks necessary…”

[23] The claimants’ posture regarding these provisions of the Companies Act is that

(1) Any assets that the company owns or that to which it is entitled at the date that is struck off the register and thereby dissolved is vested in the Official Receiver;

(2) The Official Receiver has the power to dispose of the asset(s) of the dissolved company and to pay out any surplus after paying off any expenses attaching to the asset or the process of its disposal;

(3) There is nothing in sections 483 to 485 of the Companies Act and indeed in any other section of the Companies to the effect that the company’s tittle or beneficial interest in the property is extinguished by its dissolution;

(4) While the assets of the company in this case were deemed to be vested in the Official Receiver who could dispose of the same, there is no evidence that the Official Receiver exercised such powers;

(5) By operation of law, the property was deemed to be restored to the company once the company’s name was restored to the register. Re Five Star Properties Ltd1 was cited as the authority for this proposition.

(To be continued)

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