Doyle v White

JurisdictionIreland
CourtHigh Court
JudgeMr. Justice Richard Humphreys
Judgment Date01 Feb 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] IEHC 44
Docket Number[2012 No. 1172P.]

[2017] IEHC 44

THE HIGH COURT

Humphreys J.

[2012 No. 1172P.]

BETWEEN
AIDEEN DOYLE (OTHERWISE CLODAGH WHITE)
APPLICANT
AND
NIAMH WHITE

AND

DERVAL WHITE
RESPONDENT

Estate – S. 50 of the Succession Act 1965 – Administration of estate – Negligence – Duty towards beneficiaries – Lack of proof

Facts: The applicant, being one of the beneficiaries of the estate of the deceased, had filed the present proceedings against the respondents/personal representatives for their failure to obtain best price on the sale of the deceased's home. The respondents claimed that as they had taken the appropriate decision by majority and in view of s. 50 of the Succession Act 1965, their decision could not be challenged.

Mr. Justice Richard Humphreys dismissed the applicant's action. The Court found that there was no basis or evidence to support the applicant's claim. The Court observed that the majority of the beneficiaries could not act in an unreasonable manner even if they took a decision to dilute the size of the estate. The Court found that there was no gross negligence of lack of good faith that could be attributed to the respondents/personal representatives.

JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Richard Humphreys delivered on the 1st day of February, 2017
1

The plaintiff, who is one of seven beneficiaries in the estate of the late Mrs. Emily White, complains that the defendant's personal representatives have failed in their duty to the beneficiaries by not obtaining the best price on the sale of the deceased's home. The primary legal issue presented is whether the personal representatives are bound by the view of the majority of the beneficiaries in relation to how the estate is to be realised or whether they may be liable in negligence despite following the views of the majority.

2

As well as the oral and documentary evidence I had the benefit of submissions from Mr. Desmond Murphy S.C. Q.C. for the plaintiff and Mr. George Brady S.C. and Mr. Ciaran Foley S.C. (with Mr. Conor Cahill B.L.) for the defendants.

Procedural issues arising during the hearing
Admission of documentary material
3

In response to a request on behalf of the plaintiff, Mr. Brady agreed that a booklet of discovery documents relating to discussions regarding the possible sale of the property to Mr. Niall Mellon could be admitted in evidence as prima facie proof of their contents, although reserving the right to call evidence to correct certain points. In that regard it is worth mentioning that at least some of the documents have dates or figures that are either not completely accurate or are slightly ambiguous, but the thrust of the admitted documentation largely speaks for itself. Furthermore, the oral evidence on behalf of the defendants paints a broader and on occasion different picture than might be thought to emerge from some of the documents taken in isolation. In addition, on 14th October, 2016, Mr. Brady extended the concession so that two further documents which the plaintiff sought to rely on could be admitted on the same basis, as prima facie evidence of their contents, namely a minute of a meeting on 14th March, 2007, by Mr. Maurice Kelly and a memorandum of Mr. Stephen Maher of 9th March, 2007.

Amendment of pleadings
4

An unusual issue arose in relation to the relationship of the plaintiff to the White family. The plaintiff is one of seven children of the late Mrs. Emily G. White, but at some point developed the clearly delusional belief that she was not their biological child. Hence she appears to have adopted the alias of ‘ Aideen Doyle’ rather than her given name of Clodagh White.

5

Paragraph 1 of the statement of claim as originally delivered pleaded only that she was treated as a daughter of the deceased, rather than that she actually was a daughter.

6

It seems questionable whether this could be said to comply with O. 19 r. 3 of the Rules of the Superior Courts which requires pleadings to ‘ contain…a statement in a summary form of the material facts on which the party pleading relies for his claim’. A statement that one had been treated as a child of the deceased and that the defendants were estopped from denying that status does not seem to me to be a sufficient basis to ground a claim such as this in the absence of any legal submission that there is a legal doctrine whereby such past treatment gives rise to an entitlement to similar continuing future treatment irrespective of the true biological status of the plaintiff; or in other words that the defendants are obliged to keep giving the plaintiff money just because they made the mistake of wrongly giving her money before. Mr. Murphy made clear he was making no submission that merely having been treated as a daughter in the past would suffice to ground the action. It seemed to me therefore that in order to pursue the claim properly, the plaintiff would have to seek to amend para. 1 of the statement of claim to positively plead her status as a daughter of the deceased. Unless she is such a daughter, her claim must be dismissed.

7

Mr. Murphy duly applied for this amendment which was made on consent. No amended defence was required because the defence as originally delivered had already admitted that the plaintiff was a daughter of the deceased (a curious formulation given that this had not been originally pleaded).

8

The document produced to me as an amended statement of claim did not however comply with what Delaney and McGrath (in Civil Procedure in the Superior Courts (3rd ed.), pp. 310-311) call ‘ the universal practice’, whereby the new matter be underlined, the old matter struck through and an appropriate heading inserted identifying the pleading as an ‘ Amended’ statement of claim pursuant to an identified order of a particular date. I agree with the view of Delaney and McGrath as to the appropriate form of amended pleadings so I allowed the plaintiff liberty to deliver a further amended statement of claim to comply with this practice.

9

However, despite the unanimity of view on the pleadings that the plaintiff was the daughter of the deceased, the plaintiff's oral evidence did not come up to the mark. In reply to a direct question from her own counsel she only stated that she was the ‘ registered daughter’ of the deceased. I will return to this issue below.

The position of Mr. Mellon
10

By way of replying submissions after the close of evidence Mr. Murphy suggested that I should allow Mr. Mellon to intervene in the proceedings in order to vindicate his rights having regard to In re Haughey [1971] I.R. 217, by reference to the suggestion made on behalf of the defendants that he was lacking in funds and a maverick, and by reference to a stray comment by Mr. Foley in submission that inappropriately characterised Mr. Mellon's work in South Africa as ‘ building mud huts’. While I corrected the latter remark and it was promptly withdrawn, Mr. Murphy drew my attention to the fact that the remark was given some publicity in a newspaper report on Saturday, 26th November, 2016 (after the close of evidence). The allegation regarding his lack of funds arose in the context of the evidence and the appropriate time to deal with that allegation was during the evidence.

11

The newspaper article is headed ‘ Mellon was away “building mudhuts”’ and gives prominence in the second paragraph to the suggestion that Mr. Mellon was a maverick and in the fourth paragraph to a suggestion that he was away building mud huts. The next paragraph refers to my having sought to correct this.

12

But the plaintiff cannot enforce the rights of a third party. In the absence of any application by Mr. Mellon (even assuming arguendo the perhaps questionable proposition that he could intervene in some fashion), In re Haughey does not arise. All I can do is emphasise again that the reference to Mr. Mellon building mud huts was inappropriate but Mr. Foley accepts this and withdrew it. The suggestions that he was a maverick or lacked funds are well within the legitimate arena of points that could be advanced by the defendants and would have had to be dealt with by the plaintiff in the course of the trial.Maverick’ is in any event not much of an insult and could be a compliment depending on your point of view. The mud huts issue is best dealt with by a gentlemanly apology; but my declining to invite Mr. Mellon to appear, as sought, does not infringe any rights of the plaintiff.

Findings of fact
13

In addition to the documentary materials referred to above I have heard oral evidence from the plaintiff and from the first named defendant and Mr. Barry White. I set out under this and subsequent headings of this judgment my findings of fact having heard and seen the witnesses, and having had regard to the documentary evidence and submissions.

Background and run-up to the decision
14

The late Emily G. White married Kevin White on the 11th February, 1942. Between 1943 and 1962, seven children of the marriage were born: Hilary, Barry, Niamh, Aideen, Derval, Clodagh and Cliodhna. The family home was a property known as ‘ Chimes’ on Mount Anville Road. In 1955 a family company, Robins White and Company was established, and became the owner of a property named ‘ Thendara’ adjacent to the family home.

15

The plaintiff was born in 1957 although as noted above she appeared to be of the view that the birth certificate produced for her was not her real birth certificate. She produced a copy of a certificate dated 5th August, 1966, and contended that her birth was not registered until then. Unfortunately there is no rational basis for that belief. The date in 1966 is simply the date on which that particular copy of the birth certificate was generated.

16

The plaintiff exhibited symptoms of epilepsy from around 1974 (aged 17).

17

In 1982 Kevin White had a stroke and in 1984 the plaintiff was looking after his property on his...

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1 cases
  • Y.Y. v Minister for Justice and Equality No.4
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 17 October 2017
    ...to ensure that the correct format for the amendment previously allowed was appropriately reflected (see Doyle v. White & Anor [2017] IEHC 44), and on 17th October, 2017, I heard the applicant's motion to allow a further amendment to take into account the decision on the second s. 3(11)......

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