Lineth Webster v Carolyn Gumbs (as Lawful Attorney for Bernice Stapleton, Executrix of the Estate of Percy Sylvester, deceased)

JurisdictionCaribbean States
CourtEastern Caribbean Supreme Court
JudgeBLENMAN, J
Judgment Date30 Dec 2010
Judgment citation (vLex)[2010] ECSC J1230-1
Docket NumberCLAIM NO.AXAHCV 0100/2008
[2010] ECSC J1230-1

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

Before:

The Hon. Madame Justice Louise Blenman

CLAIM NO.AXAHCV 0100/2008

Between:
Lineth Webster
Claimant
and
Carolyn Gumbs (as Lawful Attorney for Bernice Stapleton, Executrix of the Estate of Percy Sylvester, deceased)
Defendant
Appearances:

Mr. Gerhard Wallbank and Ms. Merlanih Lim for the Claimant

Ms. Tara Ruan for the Defendant

BLENMAN, J
1

Ms. Lineth Webster seeks to have the court declare her interest in property that was left by Mr. Percy Sylvester, deceased by Will, to Carolyn Gumbs. Alternatively she seeks to have the court assess the value of her contribution to the property. Ms. Carolyn Gumbs in the above capacity counterclaims and seeks a declaration that Ms. Webster has no beneficial interest in the property. She also seeks vacant possession of the property. Ms. Gumbs also seeks to have the caution that was placed against the property removed.

Background
2

Ms. Webster and Mr. Sylvester (deceased) had a relationship for several years which produced three children. The relationship appeared to have commenced around 1987 and lasted for several years, until his death. They lived in several rented properties. He also had a relationship with Ms. Carolyn Gumbs' mother Beatrice Gumbs and lived periodically with her.

3

In 1990, he acquired property described as Registration Section Cauls Pond Block 68915 B Parcel B upon which he constructed the home. From 1992, he and Ms. Webster lived together with their children in the property for various periods of time. For the most part, Ms. Webster and her children lived with him in the property, until his death in 2006. The property is registered in Mr. Percy Sylvester's name.

4

There are disputes as to whether Ms. Webster lived in the home with Mr. Sylvester continuously until his passing in 2006. It is not in dispute that at the date of his death to the date of trial Ms. Webster and her children continue to occupy the property.

5

Mr. Sylvester left the property by Will to Carolyn Gumbs and that Will was challenged by Ms. Webster's son, Mr. Allyndel Webster and the learned trial judge, as she then was, the Hon. Justice Madam George Creque, found in favour of the validity of the Will. This was in Claim No. AXAHCV2007/0060 Bernice Stapleton as Executrix of the Estate of Percy Sylvester.

6

Ms. Webster thereafter caused a caution to be placed on the property.

7

She has now filed this claim in which she says that she is entitled to a beneficial interest in the property and she seeks to have the court award her a minimum of 50% share in the property.

8

Ms. Carolyn Gumbs who is apparently entitled to benefit under the Will dated 30th October, 1995 and who is the Lawful Attorney of the Executrix of the Will denies that Ms. Webster is entitled to any share in the property.

9

Also, Ms. Gumbs in her capacity as the lawful attorney had counter claimed against Ms. Webster for damages on the alleged basis that Ms. Webster had unlawfully and improperly caused a caution to be placed on the property. During the closing arguments, Ms. Gumbs indicated that she was no longer pursuing this aspect of her counterclaim.

10

Further, Ms. Gumbs seeks an order that Ms. Webster vacates the property.

Issues
11

The issues that arise for the court to resolve are as follows:

  • (a) Whether Ms. Webster is entitled to any share in the property

  • (b) If so, to what share is she entitled?

  • (c) Alternatively, whether Ms. Carolyn Gumbs in her capacity as the Lawful Attorney for Bernice Stapleton, Executrix for the Estate of Percy Sylvester, deceased is entitled to possession of the property.

Evidence
12

Ms. Webster, her son Mr. Allyndel Sylvester and Mr. Calvin Freeman gave evidence on behalf of Ms. Webster. Ms. Gumbs and Mr. Keithroy Williams provided evidence on behalf of Ms. Carolyn Gumbs.

Claimant's Submissions
13

Learned Counsel Mr. Wallbank asked the court to conclude that while the legal title to the property is in Mr. Sylvester's name, Ms. Webster is entitled to share in the beneficial interest in the property. Learned Counsel Mr. Wallbank said that a beneficial interest in property arises from a resulting orconstructive trust being created in favour of a person(s), under the law of equity. A beneficial interest arising from a resulting trust is created by virtue of a parties direct contribution towards the acquisition of the property. Such contributions include whole or partial payment of the purchase price, and making repayments on the loan which was procured in order to purchase the property. In such a case, the parties beneficial share of the property will be proportionate to his or her contribution towards its acquisition. See Grant v Edwards [1986] 1 Ch 638.

14

A beneficial interest arising from a constructive trust arises pursuant to a common intention between the parties, that such an interest should be accorded to a party(ies) notwithstanding that the party does not have legal ownership of the property. A constructive trust is often found in cases involving matrimonial or quasi-matrimonial property, in which the court has found that the wife or female partner to the relationship, has a beneficial interest in the property shared with the husband or male partner, despite the latter having sole legal ownership thereof. English common law has established that the general rule is to find both parties as having an equal beneficial interest.This rule may however be departed from depending upon the particular circumstances of each case. SeeAbbott v. Abott (Privy Council Appeal No. 142 of 2005); White v White [2001] 1 AC 96 [2001] 1 AC 96). This rule has been applied in the Eastern Caribbean jurisdiction, as seen in the recent case of Norman Jarvis v. Carmella Williams ANUHCV 2008/0238.

15

Ms. Webster's evidence is that Mr. Sylvester was registered as the sole legal owner of the property and was the sole signatory on the loan agreement. Mr. Wallbank asked the court to accept Ms. Webster's evidence that she made both direct and indirect contributions to the acquisition of the property.

16

During cross-examination, Ms. Webster informed the court that she did not insist upon being a joint legal owner of the property, as she "trust[ed]" Mr. Sylvester and that his intention was to "buy the land for a home for [their] family." She was subsequently informed by a representative from the bank that she could not be a co-signatory on the loan agreement, as she and the deceased were not married. Ms. Webster also told the court that she could not recall the amount of the loan, or what the monthly repayments were. However, she was aware that these repayments were attached to the deceased's monthly salary. In her evidence, Ms. Webster said that both she andthe deceased had agreed that the latter's salary would be utilized towards repaying the loan, and her earnings would be used to pay the remaining household expenses and to maintain the children.

17

She was employed throughout the duration of her relationship with the deceased, and certainly since the acquisition of the property by the deceased. Ms. Webster worked two (2) jobs, and also took it upon herself to seek additional sources of income by selling cooked foods, vegetables and clothes. This enabled the deceased to focus on meeting the monthly loan repayments, as Ms. Webster's earnings were sufficient to maintain the entire household.

18

Ms. Webster also stated that the Mr. Sylvester had control of household income and that she would hand over her monthly earnings to him to be applied towards the expenses as necessary. This was confirmed by Ms. Webster's first witness, Mr. Allyndel Sylvester, who told the court during cross-examination that he had witnessed this on various occasions when Ms. Webster handed over her earnings to the deceased in his presence.

19

Further, when the deceased received half-pay from the year 2005 onwards until his death, she paid the shortfall of around US$300.00 each month to ensure that the loan repayments were satisfied because the deceased's monthly income was now insufficient to meet these repayments.

20

Mr. Wallbank also referred the court to the fact that Ms. Webster also said that she had contributed towards the construction of the dwelling house. She contributed several palettes of blocks, utilized her brother's pickup truck to transport sand to the work site, physically assisted with the loading and unloading of the sand, and provided beverages and cooked food to the workers on the site. Ms. Webster's second witness, Mr. Calvin Freeman, confirmed during examination in chief that these contributions were made by her and in particular that he recalled Ms. Webster supplying between 10 and 15 pallets of blocks, the total number of pallets being required to build the house being about 30 pallets. In other words, Ms. Webster supplied in Mr. Freeman's recollection up to about the amount of building blocks for the house.

21

Learned Counsel Mr. Wallbank argued that Ms. Gumbs has failed to provide any evidence to challenge the assertions made by Ms. Webster in relation to her contributions above, it is sufficiently clear that Ms. Webster did make such contributions as she alleges, and that Ms. Webster does have a beneficial interest in the property arising out of a resulting trust by virtue of her direct and indirect contributions towards the purchase, acquisition and development of the property.

22

Mr. Wallbank urged the court to accept the evidence when Ms. Webster said that it had been the joint intention of herself and Mr. Sylvester deceased from the very outset, that the property would be acquired for the sole purpose of being the family home for them and their children, in order that they would not need to reside at rental accommodation any longer. Mr. Wallbank said that it was on this basis that Ms. Webster made the above contributions towards the construction of the...

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