M.C. and Another v F.C and Others

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMr. Justice John MacMenamin
Judgment Date30 July 2013
Neutral Citation[2013] IESC 36
CourtSupreme Court
Date30 July 2013

[2013] IESC 36

THE SUPREME COURT

Denham C.J.

O'Donnell J.

MacMenamin J.

[Appeal No: 215/2013]
C (M) (a ward of court) & Molony v C (F) & Ors t/a H Brothers
Between/
M.C. (A WARD OF COURT SUING BY HER COMMITTEE MARGARET MOLONY) AND MARGARET MOLONY
Plaintiffs/Respondents

and

F.C. AND J.H. AND J.H. T/A H BROTHERS
Defendants/Appellants

CONSTITUTION ART 34.4.1

HAY v O'GRADY 1992 IR 210

PERNOD RICARD v FII FYFFES PLC UNREP SUPREME 11.11.1988 1988/10/2889

O'CONNOR v DUBLIN BUS 2003 4 IR 459

QUINN (A MINOR) v MID WESTERN HEALTH BOARD & ANOR 2005 4 IR 1

CARROLL v CARROLL 1999 4 IR 241

R (PROCTOR) v HUTTON 1978 NI 139

INCHE NORIAH v SHAIK ALLIE BIN OMAR 1929 AC 127

ALLCARD v SKINNER 1887 36 CH D 145

CONTRACT LAW

Undue influence

Appeal against order setting aside alleged gifts - Supreme Court as court of appeal - Whether findings of fact based on evidence - Whether inferences correctly and factually drawn - Facts as found by High Court - Evidence and findings on capacity of ward - Undue influence - Relationship giving rise to presumption of undue influence - Onus on donee - Findings on financial transactions - Transfers from bank accounts - Absence of credible evidence that legal or financial advice received - Attempt to revisit findings of fact of trial judge - Failure to raise substantial grounds of appeal - Hay v O'Grady [1992] IR 210; Pernod Ricard and Comrie plc v Fyffes plc (Unrep, SC, 11/11/1988); O'Connor v Dublin Bus [2003] 4 IR 459; Quinn (A Minor) v Mid Western Health Board [2005] IESC 19, [2005] 4 IR 1; Reg (Proctor) v Hutton [1978] NI 139; Inche Noriah v Shaik Allie Bin Omar [1929] AC 127; Allcard v Skinner [1887] 36 Ch D 145 and Carroll v Carroll [1999] 4 IR 241 considered - Constitution of Ireland 1937, Article 34 - Appeal dismissed (215/2013 - SC - 30/7/13) [2013] IESC 36

C(M) (a ward) v C(F)

Facts: The appellants sought to appeal against a judgment and order of the High Court that a nephew of MC, FC, a Ward of Court had exercised undue influence over his aunt and that alleged gifts from her to him amounting to in excess of Eur 900,000 should be set aside. The defence of the claimed had hinged upon FC”s credibility and the judge found him to be an unreliable witness, who had instigated the transaction as a result of pressure applied by him. FC asserted that MC had full capacity.

Held by the Supreme Court per Mac Menamin J.( Denham CJ, O”Donnell J concurring), that the appellants had failed to raise any substantial grounds of appeal. The appeal would be dismissed. The appellant had not discharged the evidential onus showing that the gift was the independent and well-understood act of a person in a position to exercise free judgment. The Court was entirely satisfied that the High Court judgment was correct in fact and in law.

1

1. This is an appeal against a judgment and order of the High Court (Feeney J.) delivered on the 17th May, 2013. In that judgment, the High Court declared that F.C., a nephew of M.C., a Ward of Court, exercised undue influence over his aunt, and that alleged gifts from her to him, amounting to in excess of €900,000 should be set aside.

The Supreme Court as a court of appeal
2

2. In view of the way the appeal proceeded, it is necessary to re-iterate the role of this Court and the effect of the legal authorities which govern this Court in the appeal process.

3

3. Article 34.4.1 of the Constitution provides that the Supreme Court is the Court of Final Appeal. This Court exercises an appellate jurisdiction from the High Court. The jurisdiction of this Court on such appeals is addressed in the case of Hay v O'Grady [1992] I.R. 210. This Court does not engage in a complete re-hearing of a case on appeal. It proceeds rather on the facts as found by the trial judge and his inferences based on these facts. As Hay v O'Grady makes clear, if the findings of fact made by a trial judge are supported by credible evidence, then this Court is bound by those findings, even if there is apparently weighty evidence to the contrary. This Court will only interfere with findings of the High Court where findings of primary fact are not supported by evidence, or cannot in all reason be supported by the evidence (see also Pernod Ricard and Comrie plc v Fyffes plc (Unreported, The Supreme Court, 11 th November 1988)). Furthermore, in Hay v O'Grady, McCarthy J. pointed out that an appellate court will be slow to substitute its own inference of fact for that of the trial judge, where such inference depends upon on oral evidence or recollection of fact. In drawing of inferences from circumstantial evidence, an appellate tribunal is, of course, in as good a position as the trial judge (see also O'Connor v Dublin Bus [2003] 4 I.R. 459; Quinn (A Minor) v Mid Western Health Board and Another [2005] 4 I.R. 1).

4

4. It is necessary to re-iterate that these basic principles as the appeal, presented by F.C., the first named defendant in person, appeared to be premised on the assumption that there were some segments of evidence before the High Court judge which should have lead him to a different conclusion. The questions are whether the findings of fact are based on evidence; and whether inferences are correctly and factually drawn. Moreover, the Court would point out that the main evidence in defence of this claim came from F.C. himself. The trial judge rejected this evidence as being entirely unreliable on a range of the fundamental issues in the case.

The facts as found by the High Court
5

5. M.C. is a Ward of Court, so declared by order of the High Court, dated the 4 th November, 2009. She was born on the 18 th May, 1925, and is a widow without child, grandchild or other direct descendant. By order of the 27 th January, 2010, Margaret McGreevy was appointed Committee of the person and of the estate of M.C. By further order, dated the 12 th April, 2010, Margaret Molony, the second named plaintiff, was substituted as Committee of the estate and person of M.C.

6

6. F.C, the first named appellant, is M.C.'s nephew. As a child, he formed a close relationship with M.C. He spent some periods with her. When F.C. became an adult, he visited his aunt on a regular basis.

7

7. The second and third named appellants are brothers who live in the same county as F.C. They own a business hiring out agricultural machinery. F.C. is said to work in that business.

8

8. On the 25 th February, 2006, when M.C. was residing alone in Dublin, she became unwell. She was admitted to hospital. At that time, she had no close relations in Dublin but had a number of relations in her own native county, including F.C. Contemporaneous hospital records show she was admitted to hospital in Dublin with a history of intermittent confusion, amidst neighboursrsquo; concerns about her welfare. She remained in hospital until the 26 th April, 2006.

9

9. Prior to her discharge, M.C. was adamant that she wanted to go home to her house in Dublin. A family meeting took place. There, a plan was devised that M.C. would instead return to her native county and live there with M.K., who was F.C.'s partner. For approximately the next four years, she lived at various different locations either under F.C.'s supervision, or actually living with him under the one roof. On the 11 th March, 2010, she was admitted to a nursing home, where she now continues to reside.

10

10. In circumstances which are described below, M.C.'s house in Dublin was sold yielding a net balance of €2,717,313.05. Some of these monies were used to purchase a house in her native county. On the 2 nd May, 2008, the balance of €1,938,453.40 was transferred into M.C.'s account. The trial judge found that from the 16 th May, 2008, until the 14 th May, 2009, eight withdrawals took place from that account. The largest withdrawal, some €500,000, was made on the 14 th April, 2009. By then, over €400,000 was transferred, either into F.C.'s sole account, or joint accounts in the names of F.C. and M.C. In total, therefore, some €900,000 was transferred to accounts over which F.C. exercised effective control.

11

11. As outlined later, a substantial part of the monies were placed in a machinery hire business where F.C. worked with the second and third named appellants. In order to justify this disposal of the monies, F.C. claimed that in 2006, he had made a "gentleman's agreement" with J.H., the second named appellant, that funds would be provided to purchase machinery for the business, and that F.C. would be given a wage as soon as the business was built up. J.H. and F.C. were to hold joint ownership of the machinery, and if the...

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