Female high court judge, Justice Margaret Price-Findlay has handed down a landmark decision in a case that can affect persons who inherit property from the sick and persons deemed to be incapable of making decisions on their own.
The judge who sits in High Court Number Two presided over a case involving former Deputy Prime Minister in the former Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) government in the 1970’s and the deceased Joshua Thorne who was also associated with the labour party.
The daughter of Thorne challenged the manner in which Preudhomme inherited a lucrative piece of real estate from her father believed to be worth millions of dollars in the south of the island.
Price-Findlay ordered that Preudhomme and his son, Geoffrey who resides in the United States hand over all documents pertaining to the property back to Joshua Thorne’s daughter.
As a public service, THE NEW TODAY reproduces the judgement that was delivered by the female high court judge on the Joshua Thorne land issue:
Appearances: Mr.I. Sandy with Ms. C. Joseph and Mr. T. St. Louis for Claimant
Dr. F. Alexis, Q.C with Mr. R. Benjamin for Defendants
2012: May 17
PRICE FINDLAY, J.:
On 27th January, 2004, Joshua Thorne, deceased, executed a Deed of Gift in favour of the Defendants. The Deed related to land owned by Thorne comprising 1 Acre 1Rood and 16 poles. The land was situated at Grand Anse, St. George’s.
The Claimant is the daughter of Joshua Thorne and claims that the deed was obtained by undue influence, the influence of the First Defendant over her father.
Alternatively, she claims that her father lacked the mental capacity to make the deed, as he had been diagnosed with dementia some years earlier.
She wants the Deed of Gift set aside and that it be cancelled from the records of the Deeds & Lands Registry.
The Defendants assert that there was no undue influence and that Joshua Thorne was of sufficient mental capacity to make the Deed of Gift. They claim that it was a voluntary act of a man who knew what he was doing and ought not to be expunged from the Record at the Deed & Land Registry.
It is not disputed that the First Defendant and Joshua Thome were long time friends. They were introduced to each other in 1943 or thereabouts, and became business partners and political colleagues. The friendship lasted until Joshua Thorne’s death in June 2010.
The Claimant in her claim asks the Court for the following relief:
*A Declaration that the Deed of Gift dated 27th January 2004 purportedly made from Joshua Thorne to the Defendants is not the Deed of the said Joshua Thorne and is void.
*Alternatively, that the said Deed of Gift ought to be set aside as having been procured by the undue influence of the First Named Defendant over the said Joshua Thorne.
*In any event that the Defendants may be ordered to deliver up the said Deed of Gift to the Claimant to be cancelled.
*That the costs of this action may be provided for.
*Such further or other relief as this Honourable Court deems just.”
The evidence of the Claimant is that she is the daughter of Joshua Thorne. She visited Grenada in late August/early September 2001 from the United States where she ordinarily resides.
At the time her father had stopped driving and was being cared for by a caretaker. She had not seen her father in about two years.
At the time of this visit she observed what she termed as ‘mental decline’. He asked questions repeatedly and did not seem to recognise persons with whom he spoke. He was also forgetful. He complained of chest pains.
She took him to see Dr. Thompson. Dr. Thompson administered a Mini Mental State Examination. Her father was unable to say what date, time it was, did not know who the Prime Minister was. She was heartbroken.
It was around the September 11th attacks in New York but despite widespread television coverage, her father seemed to have no visible response or reaction to the horrible news.
She returned to Grenada in December, 2001 and remained through March, 2002. She saw her father daily. She continued to observe his ‘mental decline’.
While assisting her father she came across cancelled cheques filled in by several different persons. She recognised the First Defendant’s handwriting on several of these cheques.
She did not testify that any of the cheques were payable to the First Defendant, and there is no evidence that he benefited in any way from the cheques.
Dr. Thompson opined that her father was suffering from moderate dementia.
In cross-examination she stated that several persons other than the First Defendant had filled out cheques and had her father sign them. She named her father’s nephew and her adopted sister as two of the persons who did this.
When she saw this happening, she petitioned the Court for guardianship of her father as she testified he did not know what was happening, ‘his mind was gone.’
The cheque writing started in 2001 and she petitioned the Court in 2006 for guardianship.
She came to the knowledge that the First Defendant and her father were good friends sometime in 2001 when she heard her sister calling the First Defendant ‘Uncle P’.
When shown her Statement of Claim – paragraph 13 (d) & (e) which read as follows: Joshua Thorne and the First Named Defendant were members of the same political party for a number of years with the First Named Defendant being his senior within the party hierarchy.
She stated that she did believe that her father and the First Defendant went way back. She testified that her father trusted the First Defendant and vice versa.
She returned to Grenada every year and she continued to observe the decline in her father’s mental health. His memory got progressively worse.
She reviewed her father’s bank accounts. Large sums of money were being withdrawn. The rate of the withdrawals were increasing.
She learnt from her brother that her father had given away his home and other properties.
She checked with the Deeds & Lands Registry and found that her father had transferred property to several persons including the First Defendant.
The property he had transferred to the Defendants was a property she testified that her father swore he would never part with.
This property, the subject matter of this suit, was transferred to the Defendants by Deed of Gift. She testified to a value of EC$2,000,000.00.
She met the First Defendant in 2001. He told her that he and her father were good friends. The First Defendant visited her father daily, took him to the beach, the bank and the Treasury.
When her father seemed agitated, the caretaker would call the First Defendant who seemed to be able to calm him. She observed the First Defendant preparing cheques for her father to sign.
Again there was no evidence that these cheques were payable to the First Defendant or that he benefitted from them in any way.
Due to her observations, she questioned her father’s mental capacity to transfer the land, which he did, to the Defendant.
She once more took her father to Dr. Thompson in 2005 for the purpose of getting a medical report. Dr. Thompson opined that her father’s short term memory was extremely poor and advised that he needed assistance with his daily activities and business affairs.
She further had Dr. Spencer visit her father at his home in September 2005. She testified that Dr. Spencer’s examination revealed that her father was oriented to persons but not time and place, that his short term memory was poor and he had trouble recalling Dr. Spencer’s name even though he had been repeatedly
told what it was.
She stated that Dr. Spencer was of the view that her father was suffering from senile dementia; a progressive and unrelenting illness.
As a result of these diagnoses, she applied to the High Court in 2006 and was appointed her father’s legal guardian with authority to handle his affairs.
She stated that in view of the opinions of Drs. Spencer and Thompson, she believed that her father could not appreciate what he was doing and had acted under the influence of the First Defendant in executing the Deed of Gift in January 2004, which deed benefitted the Defendants to this claim.
In cross-examination, she admitted that she never lived in a house with her father, only for a brief time in 2009. She admitted that his death certificate did not list senile dementia as a cause of death.
She testified that over the years she would come to Grenada every year and spend time with her father.
She thought that the First Defendant was one of her father’s closest friends, and she listed a few other names she knew her father to be very close friends with.
She also testified that it was the First Defendant who introduced her father to Mr. Cromwell, the Managing Director of Grand Anse Estates Limited.
The land, the subject of this suit, was land from Grand Anse Estates but that this was not the only land that her father acquired from Grand Anse Estates. In fact she did not know how much land her father had received/acquired fro Grand Anse Estates.
She however disagreed that it was hundreds of acres of land. She could not say what the boundaries of the lands her father got from Grand Anse Estates Ltd. were. She could not say where her father’s lands started or where they ended.
She was also not sure if her father had given land to his sister.
Her father gave her a piece of land along the Maurice Bishop Highway around 1989, but she was adamant that her father did not freely give the First Defendant the land in question before the Court.
She agreed that her father was one of three persons who divided up the property owned by Grand Anse Estates Ltd. She also agreed that the property in this suit was where the farm was and that there was the main building situated on the property.
She agreed that the property given to the First Defendant was not the entirety of what he owned but disagreed that it was only a very small part of the lands he got from Grand Anse Estates Ltd.
In 2001, her father was showing symptoms of forgetfulness. She stated that she was of the view that since that time her father could not understand the legal documents he was signing.
She knew her father to use several lawyers to conduct her business in Grenada, but while she knew the name Ovid Gill, she was not aware that her father used his services.
She was aware that her father used Ciboney Chambers after his wife’s death.
She, her dad and the First Defendant attended Ciboney Chambers, but she was not in the meeting. She disagreed that her father did not want her involved in his affairs.
When shown the affidavit her father swore in the estate of his wife, Elma, she testified that she was of the view that her father did not understand the nature of what he was doing.
She in fact looked at several documents sworn by her father dated between 2001-2003 and on each occasion testified that her father did not know what he was swearing to or signing.
She also testified that the persons before whom he swore and signed those various documents were not being untruthful, but that her father did not understand what he was doing.
Her father joined her as a signatory to his bank account in 2004. She stated it could have been between September-November 2004. He took her to his Bank for that specific purpose, but she admitted that she had not exhibited those Bank documents to the Court.
She said that when she went to the Bank with her father in 2004, she was not satisfied that he knew what he was doing. She said officers in the Bank asked her father if he agreed with what he was doing and he answered yes. The First Defendant was not present when this transaction took place.
She did not say to her father that he did not understand what he was doing nor did she tell the Bank officers that she had previously taken her father to the doctor for his memory.
She testified that her father was not a man to be trifled with. He was not a man who could be pushed around. She did not stop her father from transferring his account to her name because money was flowing out of the account.
She believed the only way to stop it was to have her name placed on the account. She also stated that the Bank had informed her that various persons were accompanying her father to the Bank to withdraw funds.
(To be continued)