Palo Seco Agricultural Enterprises Ltd v Isaac Knutt

JurisdictionTrinidad & Tobago
JudgeMr. Justice Westmin R.A. James
Judgment Date22 January 2024
Neutral CitationTT 2024 HC 24
Docket NumberClaim No: CV 2019-04887
CourtHigh Court (Trinidad and Tobago)
Between
Palo Seco Agricultural Enterprises Limited
Claimant
and
Isaac Knutt
Darryl Knutt
Santa Flora Farms Ltd
Defendants
Before:

The Hon. Mr. Justice Westmin R.A. James

Claim No: CV 2019-04887

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

Appearances:

Mr. Rennie K. Gosine, Attorney-at-Law for the Claimant

Mr. Earle Martin James instructed by Mr. Tyril Boudeth, Attorneys-at-Law for the Defendants.

1

This case concerns the question of whether Palo Seco Agricultural Enterprises Limited (‘the Claimant’) is entitled to possession of land and trespass.

Background
2

The Claimant is a limited liability Company with its registered office situated at Pointe-a- Pierre in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and is a Special Purpose State Enterprise which provides estate maintenance and land management services for the predecessor companies of Petrotrin.

3

By Amended Claim Form and Amended Statement of Case filed on 21 st June 2020, the Claimant sought the following reliefs against the Defendants:

  • i) A Declaration that by virtue of Memorandum of Transfer No. 68 dated 28 th November 1956, the Claimant is the lawful owner and is entitled to possession of ALL THAT parcel of land situate at Dalley Village, Santa Flora, in the Ward of Erin comprising of 50 acres (reduced by approximately 7 acres by various transfers as endorsed on the Certificate of Title) more particularly described in Certificate of Title Volume 645 Folio 457 (the said lands);

  • ii) A Declaration that the Defendants do not have any share and/or interest in the said lands or the area of trespass;

  • iii) An Order that the Defendants do break and remove any structures built on the area of trespass within 28 days of an order being made;

  • iv) An Order that the Defendants do remove all of their animals and/or crops on the area of trespass within 28 days of an order being made;

  • v) An injunction restraining the Defendants whether by themselves, their agents and/or servants from thereafter entering, occupying and/or erecting any structure on the area of trespass or on the said lands;

  • vi) Damages for trespass;

  • vii) Costs;

  • viii) Any further and/or other relief as the Court may deem just in the circumstances.

4

By Amended Defence of the First and Second Defendants filed 15 th July 2020; and by Defence of the Third Defendant filed 7 th December 2020, the Defendants denied the Claimant's claim. The Defendants alleged that based on representations and assurances made by agents of the Claimant, they made investments in land development and livestock purchases with respect to the said lands and therefore had an interest in the lands. It is to be noted that there was no claim for adverse possession.

5

By Reply to Defence of the 1 st and 2 nd Defendants and Reply to Defence of the 3 rd Defendant filed 28 th April 2020, the Claimant emphasised that no representations were made by agents of the Claimant to the Defendants.

6

The main issue for this Court is whether the Claimant is entitled to possession and damages for trespass.

Possession
7

The owner of land with the paper title is deemed to be in possession of the land, as being the person with the prima facie right to possession. As it is often quoted, the law will thus, without reluctance, ascribe possession either to the paper owner or to persons who can establish a title as claiming through the paper owner: Powell v McFarlane [1977] 38 P&CR 452 at pages 471-472.

8

Since the Claimant has paper title to the area of land which the Defendant has not denied and the Defendants are in possession without the Claimant's consent, the burden of proof then shifts to the Defendants to prove their claim of a right to equitable relief and possession.

EQUITABLE INTEREST
Whether the claim to equitable interest was established
9

There was no dispute about the law relating to proprietary estoppel. In Esther Mills v Lloyd Roberts TT 2016 CA 53, Jamadar JA reviewed the principles of proprietary estoppel as follows:

20. The seventh edition (2008) of The Law of Real Property adequately summarises “the essential elements of proprietary estoppel” as follows:

(i) An equity arises where:

(a) the owner of land (O) induces, encourages or allows the claimant (C) to believe that he has or will enjoy some right or benefit over O's property;

(b) in reliance upon this belief, C acts to his detriment to the knowledge of O; and (c) O then seeks to take unconscionable advantage of C by denying him the right or benefit which he expected to receive.

(ii) This equity gives C the right to go to court to seek relief. C's claim is an equitable one and subject to the normal principles governing equitable remedies.

(iii) The court has a wide discretion as to the manner in which it will satisfy the equity in order to avoid an unconscionable result, having regard to all the circumstances of the case and in particular to both the expectations and conduct of the parties.

22. In proprietary estoppel therefore, the focus shifts somewhat from the search for a clear and unequivocal promise and for intentionality, to whether the party claiming the benefit of the estoppel had a reasonable expectation induced, created or encouraged by another, and in those circumstances acted detrimentally to the knowledge of the other. For proprietary estoppel to operate the inducement, encouragement and detriment must be both real and substantial and ultimately the court must act to avoid objectively unconscionable outcomes.”

10

The Defendants therefore will have to prove that there was either a promise or an assurance that the Defendants would obtain an interest in the said land. The Defendants will also have to prove that they relied upon the promise or assurance in expending monies or other payments to their detriment; or, alternatively, that there was silent encouragement or inducement by the Deceased or acquiescence in such detrimental reliance.

11

Madam Justice Eleanor Joye Donaldson-Honeywell in Herman Alfonso v Yoland Ross- Alfonzo TT 2022 HC 204 para 15-19 so helpfully set out the relevant components as stated by Jamadar JA. In terms of assurances, [t]he assurance may be given orally, arise from conduct such as encouraging the claimant to believe that he will have the property for life, or by encouraging the claimant's belief passively by remaining silent, it may be expressed or implied. It may also be done actively or by passively looking on while the person spends money on one's land.” See: CV2013-05040 Lilowatee Ramnarace v Lystra Boodram-Ramnarace, per R Mohammed J para 60.

12

Madam Justice Honeywell also indicated that if based on the foregoing considerations, the Court concludes that the estoppel is proven, the next issue to be determined is how the resulting equity can be satisfied and relied on paragraphs 53 and 54 of CV2013-05040 Lilowatee Ramnarace v Lystra Boodram-Ramnarace.

13

I would rely on the dicta on the law as expressed by Madam Justice Honeywell as I believe it is an accurate representation on the current state of the law on proprietary estoppel in this jurisdiction.

Assurance
14

It was the Claimant's pleaded case that persons acting for and representing the interests of the Claimant gave undertakings to the First and Second Defendants that gave them a legitimate and reasonable expectation that they would be granted a lease. The Defendant deny any such representation were made to the Defendants.

15

The Defendants' pleaded case is that during the period 1997-2012 the First Defendant and Second Defendant was engaged in agriculture, sheep and chicken rearing, and fruit production etc on certain vacant lands owned by the Claimant and since 1997 the First Defendant generally declared and expressed an interest in acquiring a lease for agricultural purposes from the Claimant. The First Defendant said consequent upon this submitted an application letter of intent dated 12 th July 2011 to lease 10...

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