McCormack v Our Lady Queen of Peace Achill House of Prayer Ltd

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMs. Justice Faherty
Judgment Date23 January 2018
Neutral Citation[2018] IEHC 26
Docket Number[2016 No. 5869 P.]
CourtHigh Court
Date23 January 2018
BETWEEN
PATRICK MCCORMACK
(AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE IN THE ESTATE OF JAMES MCCORMACK DECEASED)
PLAINTIFF/RESPONDENT
AND
OUR LADY QUEEN OF PEACE ACHILL HOUSE OF PRAYER LIMITED
DEFENDANT/APPLICANT

[2018] IEHC 26

[2016 No. 5869 P.]

THE HIGH COURT

Practice & Procedure - The Statute of Limitations 1957, as amended ('the Statute') - Undue influence - S. 11 and 12 of The Statute of Limitations 1957 - Delay in proceedings - Unfairness in equity

Facts: The defendant/applicant filed an application for an order dismissing the within proceedings on grounds that the claim was barred by virtue of the Statute of Limitations 1957, as amended ('the Statute') and/or the equitable doctrine of laches. The key issue in the application was whether the circumstances of the case were such that they had been covered solely by the statute; and if not, whether there had been a delay of such a nature that the proceedings should be struck out. The defendant/applicant objected to the claim on the ground that it was statute-barred pursuant to s. 11 and s. 12 of the Statute and on the ground that the plaintiff/respondent had been guilty of inordinate and inexcusable delay. The plaintiff/respondent contended that the core issues in the case were unfairness or unconscionability in equity and that the delay in itself should not be sufficient to prevent a claimant from obtaining relief.

Ms. Justice Faherty denied the reliefs sought by the defendant. The Court held that there were no circumstances that rendered it unjust for the trial of the action to advance. The Court further held that the death of a witness and the issues pertaining to undue influence were a matter for the Trial Court and the Court would not make any determination in that respect.

JUDGMENT of Ms. Justice Faherty delivered on the 23rd day of January, 2018
1

This matter comes before the Court by way of application on behalf of the defendant for an order dismissing the within proceedings on grounds that the claim is barred by virtue of the Statute of Limitations 1957, as amended ('the Statute') and/or the equitable doctrine of laches.

Background
2

The within proceedings were commenced on 1st July, 2016, in the name of the James McCormack. Pursuant to the general indorsement of claim on the plenary summons, the plaintiff's claim is that 'an agent acting behalf of the defendant exacted undue influence on the Plaintiff and His Wife Mary McCormack which caused the plaintiff to hand over 200,000 euro to defendant through an agent of the defendant. The agent who contacted the plaintiff is a Roman Catholic priest named Father Gerard McGinnity. It is claimed that Fr. Gerard McGinnity acting on behalf of the defendant caused Spiritual Injury to the plaintiff by undue influence when he requested the plaintiff to give him 200,000 euro in the name of devotion to Our Lady in Heaven.' Mr. James McCormack died on 5th July, 2016.

3

An appearance was entered for the defendant on 11th July, 2016. A statement of claim was delivered on 17th December, 2016, under the title 'James McComack Plaintiff (Deceased) Patrick McCormack Personal Representative of the Estate of the Plaintiff And Our Lady Queen of Peace House of Prayer Achill Limited Defendant'. It pleads, inter alia, as follows:

'(a) The Plaintiff will prove undue influence and negligence occurred leading to a request to the plaintiff to give over 200,000 euro to a priest acting on behalf of the defendant.

(b) The plaintiff will say that undue influence was the cause of action of the plaintiff to hand over 200,000 euro in August 2005 to a priest named Father Gerard McGinnity, a Parish Priest of Knock Bridge Parish, Co. Louth, Ireland.

(c) The Plaintiff will say the 200,000 euro transaction was imposed upon old, weak and vulnerable persons, namely the plaintiff James and his wife Mary McCormack a housewife of Antonia House, Main Street, Moate, Co. Westmeath. The plaintiff was unduly influenced by Father Gerard McGinnity and the plaintiff's judgment was impaired during the three phone calls to the plaintiff's home from Fr. Gerard McGinnity as he Father Gerard McGinnity appeared to be crying on the phone and begging for 200,000 euro to be given to him by the plaintiff and his wife. The phone calls from Father Gerard McGinnity to the plaintiff's home happened on dates in 2005 and left the plaintiff susceptible to overreaching.

(d) The Plaintiff will say Fr. Gerard McGinnity acting on behalf of Our Lady Queen of Peace House Prayer Achill had a confidential relationship with the plaintiff and his wife. This relationship was a relationship between a priest ...and the plaintiff's wife Mary McCormack a solemn devoted practising Catholic whom in her lifetime has devoted much prayer to Our Lady. Arising out of this relationship between Father McGinnity as spiritual advisor of the plaintiff and his wife, Father Gerard McGinnity used this opportunity to unduly influence the plaintiff and his wife.'

4

A defence was delivered on 31st January, 2017. In the defence, the defendant objects to the claim on the ground that it is statute-barred pursuant to s. 11 and s. 12 of the Statute and/or on the ground that the plaintiff has been guilty of inordinate and/or inexcusable delay and/or laches. Without prejudice to the question of the Statute, the defendant also pleads that it is a stranger to the allegations set forth in the statement of claim. Each and every factual matter is denied. It is denied that the defendant exerted any improper or undue influence as alleged or that the defendant was a party to an unnatural or suspicious transaction or that there was misrepresentation on its part.

5

The application to dismiss the proceedings is grounded on the affidavit of Josephine Butler, a Director of the defendant, sworn on 27th February, 2017. She avers, inter alia, as follows:

...

3. s is apparent or implicit from the facts pleaded in the statement of claim, the plaintiff asserts that the defendant exerted undue influence in relation to a transaction that took place in 2005. Although not expressly stated, the import of the claim is to set aside such transaction.

4. Although the plaintiff accepts at paragraph (f) of the statement of claim that there is no evidence in relation to this transaction, it is apparent that his claim relates to factual circumstances that took place in excess of six years prior to the institution of proceedings in 2016.

5. I am advised that in any event, the position of the defendant will be that any donation given by the deceased in 2005 to or for the benefit of the defendant, whether directly or indirectly, was freely given.

6. I am advised that as a consequence, any such claim is now out of time, although that is more properly a matter for legal submission at the hearing of this application.'

6

In his replying affidavit sworn 29th March, 2015, including in the appendices contained within the affidavit, Mr. Patrick McCormack, son of the late James McCormack, advances twelve reasons as to why the proceedings should not be dismissed by reason of the Statute or on the grounds of laches. Specifically, Mr. James McCormack avers:

- His late father, James McCormack 'remained under the continuous undue influence of the Catholic priest Fr. McGinnity, who retained some form of spiritual dominance over him even up to the date of his death';

- The late James McCormack was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 2009 and he suffered from dementia, something which occurred before any limitation period could have expired;

- '[T]he real truth of the lies surrounding the House of Prayer only came to light considerably after 2009. The whole matter amounted to a fraudulent extortion of money from [the late James McCormack]';

- People involved in the House of Prayer 'were arguably involved in a cult'. The Court will have to consider to what extent Fr. McGinnity was so influenced and to what extent the late James McCormack was in turn influenced by Fr. McGinnity;

- Contrary to his denial, Fr. McGinnity has asked other people for money;

- The payment of €200,000 was made payable to Dunwall Construction Limited at Fr. McGinnity's request which 'raises further suspicions';

- Payments made by people to the defendant were at a later date found to be fundamentally suspect as the charitable status and standing of the defendant was withdrawn by the Revenue;

- Some people more capable than the late James McCormack were able to seek recovery of their money;

- 'Christina Gallagher seems to have benefitted personally from the many donations obtained for the House of Prayer';

- The loss to the McCormack family resulting from the payment of the €200,000 of the defendant 'was only ascertainable or fully appreciated by considering the shortfall that would occur to the estate of James McCormack Snr. as the monies had been paid by James McCormack junior at the request of James McCormack senior.' The circumstances in which it came to pass that James McCormack Jnr. in fact paid the money to the defendant was that he did so at the behest of James McCormack Snr. on the basis that James McCormack Jnr. would be reimbursed from the estate of James McCormack Snr.;

- The defendants are not under any prejudice in the case because they must have known that people would make claims to be reimbursed as a result of the adverse publicity that engulfed the House of Prayer; and

- The issues in the proceedings 'are matters of grave public import which require to be tried with proper consideration and care'.

7

Mr. Patrick McCormack's affidavit includes twelve appendices, said by Mr. McCormack to support the factual matters to which he avers, and which contain, inter alia, Mr. McCormack's legal submissions on the Statute, undue influence and the doctrine of laches.

8

On 22nd May, 2017, Mr. James Lynn, swore an affidavit on behalf of the defendant in reply to Mr....

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