Strachan et Al v Camperdown Holdings Ltd

JurisdictionBahamas
CourtCourt of Appeal (Bahamas)
JudgeAllen, P.,Crane-Scott, J.A.
Date22 November 2016
Docket NumberSCCivApp No. 224 of 2012

Court of Appeal

Allen, P.; Isaacs, J.A.; Crane-Scott, J.A.

SCCivApp No. 224 of 2012

Strachan et al
and
Camperdown Holdings Ltd
Appearances:

Mr. Rouschard Martin for the appellants.

Mr. Wayne Munroe, Q.C. with Miss. Jade Fowler for the respondent.

Bannerman Town, Millars and John Millars Eleuthera Association et al v. Eleuthera Properties Ltd SCCiv App Nos. 175,164 and 151 of 2014 mentioned Ocean Estates Limited v. Norman Pinder [1969] 2 AC 19 mentioned Personal Representatives of the Estate of Ruth Ingraham v. Personal Representative of the Estates of Herbert H. Heastie and Wenfred Heastie SCCivApp No. 138 of 2011 mentioned

Property Law - Quieting proceedings — Probate — Adverse possession — Whether the respondent had a better documentary title than the appellants — Whether the Chief Justice erred in his treatment of the 1875 Will — Whether the Chief Justice gave too little weight to the significance of the will — Reliability of the documents presented for investigation — Whether the Chief Justice erred in law and in fact in finding that it was unclear how the half of the disputed land owned by Mark Ambrose was obtained by the Strachan Family — Whether the Will of March Poitier supports the respondent's claim that he acquired March Ambrose's portion of the land — Whether the Chief Justice erred in holding that the land to which the respondent's title relates was a part of the disputed land — Relativity of titles — Quieting Title Act — Personal Representative of the Estate of Ruth Ingraham v. Personal Representative of the Estate of Herbert H. Heastie and Wenfred Heastie SCCivApp No. 138 of 2011.

In 2007 the respondent filed a claim to a 250 acre parcel of land situate in Cat Island, The Bahamas. The appellants subsequently filed an adverse claim asserting that they possessed a better documentary and possessory title. In 2008 a second action was filed by another party claiming ownership of a 500 acre parcel of land which encompasse the 250 acres claimed by the parties to the appeal. In 2012 the learned Chief Justice determined that the respondent had the better title to the 250 acres and subsequently granted to the respondent a certificate of title. s claimed by the parties to the appeal. In 2012 the learned Chief Justice determined that the respondent had the better title to the 250 acres and subsequently granted to the respondent a certificate of title.

Held:

appeal dismissed, decision of Chief Justice affirmed, costs of the appeal are the respondent's to be taxed if not agreed

per Crane-Scott, J.A.

The objective of the Quieting Titles Act, Ch. 393 is to provide a statutory mechanism for title to land in The Bahamas to be quieted through the Supreme Court. To this end, the court's role under the Act is to fully investigate the claim (or claims), receive evidence with respect thereto, determine the truth of the facts intended to be established by the evidence and ultimately, act on and declare the ownership of the land on the basis of the evidence before it. The process is completed with the grant of a certificate of title to the person who, in the view of the court, has established the better title thereto.

At paragraph [14] of his judgment the Chief Justice evidently meant to convey that the documents which both parties presented for investigation in the quieting had revealed gaps in both titles since neither abstract clearly explained on paper how the property in question had devolved either to the respondent or to the appellants as they each claimed.

On the 24th February, 2012 when the finding at paragraph [14] which the appellants seek to impugn was made, the learned Chief Justice's primary focus had been on making a determination as to the relative strengths of the parties' claims set out respectively in the original abstracts of title which they had each filed. Obviously, the 1875 mutual Will of Sarah and Charlotte Ambrose, which the appellants subsequently produced, and which the Chief Justice addressed in the October Judgment, was not yet before him and could not have been evaluated at that stage.

I am therefore satisfied that on the paper documents which were then before him, the learned Chief Justice was correct both in law and in fact in making the finding which he did at paragraph [14] of the February Judgment that both titles were unclear as to exactly how March Ambrose's half share in “Camperdown” had devolved to either family.

As to the point about the Chief Justice's reference (found at paragraph [4] of the October Judgment) to the 1875 Will as a copy and not as an original, I am satisfied that the objection has no merit inasmuch as it is incapable of detracting from the decision which the Chief Justice ultimately made about the contents of the Will and its relevance to the appellants' claims.

The detailed reasons why the Chief Justice did not accept that the 1875 Will provided a better title than that produced by the respondent are set out between paragraphs [4] to [10] of the October Judgment. In light of this, the appellants' contention that too little weight was given to the 1875 Will, is unsustainable and fails. The learned Chief Justice investigated the contents of the 1875 Will and found in effect that it had simply not established the claim of the Strachan family that March Ambrose's half of “Camperdown” had devolved to Frances Strachan. investigated the contents of the 1875 Will and found in effect that it had simply not established the claim of the Strachan family that March Ambrose's half of “Camperdown” had devolved to Frances Strachan.

I am satisfied that the reference in paragraph [18] of the February Judgment was an obvious error of fact inasmuch as the Chief Justice had, as clearly appears in paragraphs [15] and [16] of the February Judgment, just observed that the respondent's claim had been premised on Poitier family claims and information of general repute on Cat Island that March Poitier had acquired March Ambrose's half share in “Camperdown” sometime in the late 1880's but had been unable to produce a document evidencing this fact.

The reference to the absence of a claim having been filed refuting this assertion is therefore what the learned Chief Justice intended to say “lent support to” the respondent's claim that March Poitier acquired March Ambrose's half of Ambrose. Read in this manner, the reference in paragraph [18] of the February Judgment to Miller instead of Ambrose is an obvious mistake. In my view, the error of fact in paragraph [18] of the Chief Justice's February Judgment should be corrected on this appeal without affecting the conclusion which the learned Chief Justice subsequently reached at paragraph [80] of his February Judgment and subsequently affirmed at paragraph [10] of his October Judgment.

In the investigation which the Chief Justice conducted to consider the 1875 Will, it was perfectly correct, in my view, for him to rely, as he did at paragraph [10] of his October Judgment, on the evidence which Reginald Poitier gave on behalf of the Poitier family, of occupation and farming and cultivation of coconut groves known as “David's Groves” which members of the Poitier family had carried out on the petitioned land to clarify any doubt which the 1902 Will may have raised about whether March Poitier had in fact acquired March Ambrose's half of “Camperdown”.

Despite Mr. Martin's submissions to the contrary, I have found nothing conflicting or contradictory about the learned Chief Justice's findings at paragraph [10] of his October Judgment and the earlier findings. In my view, close analysis of the February Judgment will reveal that the Chief Justice's findings at paragraph [52] were made after he had first found at paragraph [27] that the respondent had a better documentary title than the appellants to the northern parcel and had further, at paragraph [33] satisfied himself that the Estate of Felix Miller had the better documentary title to the southern portion of “Camperdown”.

In short, the February Judgment shows that it was only after determining who held the better documentary title to the northern and southern portions respectively of “Camperdown” that the learned Chief Justice turned his attention to considering the adverse claims in both actions of those persons (including the appellants) who claimed a title to various sections of “Camperdown” based on possession. His findings at paragraph [52] were therefore made in that specific context.

It will also be appreciated that when his subsequent findings at paragraph [10] of the October Judgment were made, the learned Chief Justice was then investigating once again, the relative strengths of the respective documentary titles of the respondent and the appellants, this time in the light of the 1875 mutual Will of Sarah and Charlotte Ambrose which the appellants had placed before him. As such, there is, in my view, no inconsistency between the learned Chief Justice's findings at paragraph [10] of his October Judgment were made, the learned Chief Justice was then investigating once again, the relative strengths of the respective documentary titles of the respondent and the appellants, this time in the light of the 1875 mutual Will of Sarah and Charlotte Ambrose which the appellants had placed before him. As such, there is, in my view, no inconsistency between the learned Chief Justice's findings at paragraph [10] of his October Judgment and the findings he had earlier made at paragraph [52] of the February Judgment. Accordingly, I am satisfied that his findings at paragraph [18] and [80] of his February Judgment and affirmed at paragraph [10] of the October Judgment, were not unreasonable and further, disclose no error of law or of fact.

Though the respondent's abstract of title was deficient in that it failed to establish on paper how the northern portion of “Camperdown” had devolved from March Ambrose to March Poitier, the Chief Justice ultimately...

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