Treston v Mayo County Council

 
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1998 WJSC-CC 12877

CIRCUIT COURT

Record No. 291/97
TRESTON v. MAYO COUNTY COUNCIL
APPEAL
WESTERN CIRCUIT
COUNTY OF MAYO

BETWEEN

ROSEMARY TRESTON
Plaintiff/Respondent

AND

MAYO COUNTY COUNCIL
Defendant/Appellant

Citations:

PAT O'DONNELL & CO LTD V TRUCK & MACHINERY SALES LTD UNREP SUPREME 1.4.1998

HEDLEY BYRNE & CO LTD V HELLER & PARTNERS LTD 1964 AC 465

SECURITIES TRUST LTD V HUGH MOORE & ALEXANDER LTD 1964 IR 417

ESSO PETROLEUM CO LTD V MARDON 1976 2 AER 5

Abstract:

Contract — Liability for breach of collateral contract — Negligent misrepresentation — Whether contractual relationship existed between plaintiff and defendant housing authority — Whether representation made by defendant to plaintiff — Whether relationship between plaintiff and defendant such that defendant under duty to ensure accuracy of representation — Whether local housing authority has a general duty to an incoming purchaser in respect of housing unruly tenants in their proximity — Quantum — Whether plaintiff entitled to damages for negligent misrepresentation — Whether plaintiff contributed to damage by failing to testify in ejectment proceedings at an earlier stage.

1

Judgment of the High Court delivered the 6thday of July 1998 by Moriarty J.

2

The facts emerging in evidence upon the hearing of this appeal at Castlebar were not substantially in controversy, and may be summarised with relative brevity.

3

The Plaintiff, an English national, had for many years lived and reared her family with her Mayo born husband in Islington, Greater London. In or about 1992, his long term employment with another London Local Authority was determined by reason of redundancy, and the couple resolved to fulfil Mr. Treston's wish to retire to Mayo, an area the Plaintiff had also found congenial on various visits. In the course of a 1993 summer holiday, various properties were shown to the couple in the Ballyhaunis area by a Mr Campbell, a local auctioneer, including the premises at No. 14 Station Rise, Ballyhaunis. This transpired, as photographs produced in evidence confirm, to be part of a reasonably spacious and pleasant local authority estate, some other houses of which had already been privately purchased from the Defendant, on foot of one of the tenant purchase schemes that by then had already become prevalent. Both the Plaintiff and her husband were impressed and interested in possible purchase, and in August or September of 1993 she made further inquiries of the Defendant by telephone from Islington. There is some controversy about the identity of the person with whom she spoke and the content of the conversation, insofar as the Plaintiff believes she then conversed with a Mr Gilbert Groarke, Housing Officer to the Defendant, whereas the Defendant's evidence suggested that neither Mr Groarke nor his deputy had spoken to the Plaintiff, and that it would not have accorded with the Defendant's policy or practice to give representations or assurances to prospective purchasers along the lines of the Plaintiff's recollection. However, having heard and assessed the evidence, I am satisfied as a probability that some servant or agent of the Defendant professing himself competent in housing matters did state to Mrs Treston in regard to the estate that the Defendant would upgrade and sell off houses wherever possible to tenants already in occupation, and that this appreciably influenced the Plaintiff's decision to proceed with purchase. Matters then moved swiftly, the Defendant consented to the proposed transfer, and the sale of the dwelling to the Plaintiff and her husband was closed in October 1993, following which they took up residence in late 1993. Approximately £3,000 was spent on renovations and decor, and the Plaintiff described a virtually idyllic first six months in County Mayo, amongst supportive and kindly neighbours.

4

The first intimation of possible trouble came, she recalled, when word went round the estate that No. 16 Station Rise, the then vacant dwelling two doors away from her, was being given as tenants to a family of travelling persons who were known to be trouble makers from Ballinrobe. In conjunction with her husband and neighbours by the name of McGowan, the Plaintiff drew up a petition, signed by 16 neighbouring families, calling upon the Defendant to ensure that a prospective allocation on this basis did not proceed. She also made strong representations to Mr James Higgins, one of her local T.D.s, and requested that he take up the matter on their behalf. In evidence she was adamant that she had no prejudice against travelling people: the estate already had a number of harmoniously integrated settled families, amongst whose members were persons represented on the tenants association. The family in question, who being unrepresented need not be named, duly arrived to No. 16, and the Plaintiff stated that from the very outset the quality of life in her portion of the estate radically declined. Unruly children of the home constantly provoked her guard dog and flung stones and other missiles at the house, disposable nappies and other debris littered the garden, and nocturnal festivities until the small hours of the morning proceeded very noisily on a couple of occasions each week. When these matters and other sources of complaints such as frequent obscene language were brought to the attention of the parents, the Plaintiff was informed in the strongest possible terms that it was none of her business. Notwithstanding numerous complaints to the Defendant and to the local Gardai, these matters increased and intensified as months and years passed by, grossly disrupting the enjoyment of life of the Plaintiff and her husband, the latter of whom died on the 4 th June 1996. She required medication from her general practitioner Dr Grogan, and stated that the whole matter had "aged her 20 years". When the family was belatedly moved by the Defendant to another location virtually three and one third years after their arrival, she stated that the estate very quickly reverted to its previous happy co-existence. She in any event had little remaining connection with Mayo upon her husband's death, and sought unavailingly to sell the premises to the Defendant, and also put them on the books of a local auctioneer for sale, but found that a number of intending purchasers were deterred by the neighbouring unruly family. Eventually she placed the matter in the hands of another auctioneer, who some months after the other family had moved out succeeded in the early part of this year in negotiating a sale of the premises for £25,000. There was a measure of controversy in argument and evidence of auctioneers on each side as to whether or not she was in the circumstances occasioned a downturn in value because of the matters complained of. Apart from that auctioneering evidence, and Garda evidence confirming various calls to the estate to...

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