Haughan v Rutledge

CourtHigh Court
JudgeMr. Justice Blayney
Judgment Date19 Jan 1988
Neutral Citation1988 WJSC-HC 314
Docket NumberNo. 7061P/1987,[1987 No. 7061P]

1988 WJSC-HC 314


No. 7061P/1987





Judgment of Mr. Justice Blayney delivered the 19th day of January 1988 .


The Plaintiffs are the trustees of the Irish Standard Bred Horse Owners' Association which promotes, governs and encourages harness racing in Ireland. On the 28th July 1987 they caused a plenary summons to be issued against the Defendant claiming specific performance of an alleged agreement by the Defendant to grant the Plaintiffs a lease of certain lands for the purpose of making a racecourse.


On the following day, the Plaintiffs caused a motion to be served claiming an interlocutory injuction requiring the Defendant to grant to the Plaintiffs a lease or alternatively requiring the Defendant to let the Plaintiffs into possession of a portion of the Defendant's lands in Folio 49 of the Register County Dublin to enable the Plaintiffs to use same as a trotting racecourse. It was agreed that the motion would be treated as the trial of the action and would be heard on oral evidence, and it was duly heard by me over seven days. Before counsels closing submissions I made certain findings of fact which effectively disposed of the Plaintiffs' claim for specific performance of the alleged agreement. This judgment is accordingly confined to the Plaintiffs' alternative claim to be allowed into possession of the racecourse, which claim is based on proprietary estoppel. The facts relevant to this claim are as follows.


The Defendant is the owner of a licensed premises called "The White House" which is on the Ashbourne Road, in the Ward, County Dublin. It is situate on a holding of agricultural land of approximately 47 statute acres.


On Monday the 20th February 1984 the Plaintiffs met the Defendant and his brother Patrick Rutledge at the offices of A & L Fuels Limited in Tallaght. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of the Plaintiffs being able to hold trotting races in a large field at the back of The White House. What had led to this meeting was a telephone conversation a few days before between Patrick Rutledge and one of the Plaintiffs, Patrick Hudson, who was then the Chairman of the Association, during which Patrick Rutledge had asked if the Association would be interested in running races at the back of The White House. Following this conversation there had been a discussion between Patrick Rutledge and three of the Plaintiffs, Patrick Hudson, Anthony Haughan and Liam Wallace, and on the day before the 20th February, Patrick Hudson had gone out to look at the field.


There was a considerable conflict as to what was said at the meeting on the 20th February. The evidence of Patrick Hudson was that the Defendant had agreed to give the Association a lease of 20 acres for 20 years at a yearly rent of £125 per acre. Anthony Haughan, who was the Secretary of the Association at the time, and who prepared minutes of the meeting, said that 20 acres at £125 an acre was agreed; that they spoke about a lease; that a term of 20 years was discussed, and there was never any objection to it. The minutes prepared by Mr. Haughan did not, however, contain any reference to a lease for 20 years. They stated that "after a long discussion it was agreed to lease 20 acres from Mr. Simon Rutledge at £125 per acre per year."


The evidence of the Defendant was that he agreed to let to the Association the field of 10 Irish acres which was behind the White House. It was to be for a pilot period for the 1984 season. The Association was to lay a lime dust track around the field. If at the end of the period the Association did not wish to proceed, they would not give him any money; he would have the benefit of certain works they were to do, which included concreting a yard. If they decided to stay on, they would pay him £2,000. The Defendant was in favour of the idea of making the letting as business was not good and he thought it would help to create activity around the bar. The Defendant's brother, Patrick Rutledge, said that the Defendant had said he would be willing to let the Association have the field for a trial period. There was a shed also which they could have for stabling. The Association were to put in a concrete yard. They were to pay £2,000, but if they were to leave at the end of the season they could keep the £2,000 and the Defendant would keep the yard.


In the findings of fact which I made at the end of the evidence, I have already rejected Mr. Hudson's evidence that the Defendant agreed to grant the Association a lease for 20 years. I accepted the evidence of the Defendant and his brother as to what was said at the meeting. I found that the Defendant agreed to let the 10 acre field to the Association for the 1984 season at a rent of £2,000 by way of a trial. The association was to make track of lime dust laid on the grass and also to concrete a yard. If the Association were to leave at the end of the season, they would not have to pay the £2,000; the Defendant would have the benefit of the work they had done. There was no agreement as to what the position would be if the Association did not leave at the end of the season.


Anthony Haughan and Liam Wallace were put in charge of the construction of the track. Two alterations in the agreement were made early on. Firstly, it was discovered that the track would not fit in the 10 acre field. It was necessary to take in portion of an adjoining field. The Defendant agreed to this being included in the letting. Secondly, it was decided that laying a lime dust track direct on the field would not be satisfactory. The sod would have to be removed. The Defendant agreed to this being done. In addition it was discovered that because of a difference in level in one part of the field the surface there would have to be raised about 14 feet. The Defendant was made aware that some raising of the level would be required, but his evidence was that he assumed it was only about four feet. I am satisfied that there was no attempt to deceive the Defendant as to the extent of the levelling required and it seems to me that he may not have understood how much was involved, but I find he was aware that the level would have to be raised in one part of the field and that he indicated an area from which clay for this purpose could be obtained.


Where the track was to be sited was designed by an architect, Mr. Joseph Fitzpatrick, and the work of removing the top soil was begun by Enda McTiernan. He was replaced sometime late in March by Robert Kennedy, a civil engineering contractor, who had built trotting tracks in Canada, Scotland and England. His evidence was that he was told to build the track to United States Trotting Association standards. His estimate was that the cost would be about £140,000, but if the field had been level, it would have been between £70,000 and £80,000.


Mr. Kennedy completed the track in about seven weeks. When it was almost completed, a problem arose which ought to have been anticipated. The Dublin County Council directed that all work be stopped as planning permission had not been obtained. On the 29th May 1984 the County Council issued a motion against the Defendant under section 27 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act 1976claiming an order, inter alia, restraining the Defendant from carrying out any development on the lands in question until planning permission had been obtained, restraining the Defendant from making any unauthorised use of the lands and directing him to remove forthwith a newly constructed harness racing-track made and constructed on the lands. When the matter came on for hearing on the 25th June 1984 the Defendant consented to the orders sought being made except for the order directing the removal of the racing-track.


On the 14th June 1984, the Association, through Mr. Fitzpatrick, applied for retention of the track, permission for the development of the lands for use as a racecourse with ancillary car parking and the erection of a spectator stand and toilet facilities. The application was refused by the County Council but was granted on appeal by An Bord Pleanala on the 21st February 1985, subject to three conditions:


1. The site shall cease to be used as a race-track on or before the expiration of a six year period beginning on the date of this order unless before the end of that period permission for its retention for a further period has been granted either by the planning authority or An Bard Pleanala on appeal.



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