March 28, 2013

Agreement must be honoured, CCJ rules

Thurs Mar 28, 2013

by Joan Lewis, Norman Manley Law School

Everyone dreams of purchasing a house or land and most persons agree that this is an important investment decision. But how many of us exercise care when doing so? There is a legal process that must be followed and failure to do so could turn “the dream” into a nightmare. The Guyanese case of Jassoda Ramkishun and Conrad Ashford Fung-Kee-Fung illustrates this.{{more}}

In this case, the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that the heirs of the estate of Solomon Fung-Kee-Fung were bound by an agreement, to the heirs of the estate of Miss Sukhree. Solomon had agreed to sell Miss Sukhree a plot of land for $35,000. Miss Sukhree paid Solomon $10,000 and was given possession of the land. However, Solomon died before he could receive the rest of the money. Miss Sukhree contacted Solomon’s son, Ashford, and his widow, Letitia and offered to pay the outstanding $25,000 to have the property transferred to her. Letitia agreed to do so, but instead she ended up transferring the property to herself and her children. Miss Sukhree brought an action in the High Court of Guyana, but it was dismissed because she had mistakenly sued Solomon instead of his heirs.

Miss Sukhree was evicted from the property and she subsequently brought an action against Letitia and her children. Miss Sukhree asked the Court to order the conclusion of the sale and the transfer of the property to her. The High Court ruled in her favour. The Chief Justice of Guyana found that Letitia and her children had obtained title to the property by fraud and Miss Sukhree’s delay in bringing the action did not hurt her claim to the land. Letitia and Ashford appealed the decision.

The Court of Appeal, by a majority verdict, reversed the High Court’s ruling, stating that:

1. Letitia and her children had obtained the property by inheritance and not by fraud.

2. Under Guyanese law, the agreement for the sale of the land had not given Miss Sukhree any legal or equitable right to the land. Furthermore, she was only entitled to recover her deposit, because of her delay in bringing the claim.

Miss Sukhree then passed away and the executrix of her estate, Jassoda Ramkishun, appealed to the CCJ. The Court ruled that the transfer of the property was not fraudulent, because Letitia’s and Ashford’s knowledge of the agreement for the sale of the property could not be ascribed to Letitia’s other children. However, the Court held that as heirs to the estate they were duty bound to honour all agreements entered into by the deceased. The Court ordered them to transfer the property to Sukhree’s estate upon payment of the outstanding purchase price of $25,000. They were given eight weeks to comply with the order, failing which the Registrar of Deeds was authorized to make the transfer, once the outstanding purchase price was paid.

This summary is intended to assist the Caribbean public in learning more about the work of the CCJ. It is not a formal document of the Court. The judgment of the Court is the only authoritative document and may be found at http://chooseavirb.com/ccj/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Final-Judgment-Consolidation-CV-14-of-2007.pdf