Welcome to the new SeyLII website. Enjoy an improved search engine and new collections. If you are used to accessing SeyLII via Google, note Google will take some time to re-index the site.

We are still busy migrating some of the old content. If you need anything in particular from the old website, it will be available for a while longer at https://old.seylii.org/

Court name
Supreme Court
Case number
Civil Side 40 of 2017
Counsel for plantiff
Mr. Oliver Chang-Leng

Hollanda v The Estate of the Late Norson Robert Hollanda (Civil Side 40 of 2017) [2018] SCSC 8026 (30 November 2018);

Media neutral citation
[2018] SCSC 8026
Counsel for defendant
Ms. Karin Dick
Mr. Bernard Georges
Coram
André, J

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF SEYCHELLES

 

Civil Side No: 40 of 2017

[2018] SCSC 1096

                                                                                                                                                           

 

Marie Therese Augustina Hilday Hollanda

Plaintiff

Versus

The Estate of the Late Norson Robert Hollanda

Represented by the Executors:

 

Richard Marcus Nigel Hollanda

1st Defendant

and

Nadine Richardson Hencel Hollanda

2nd Defendant

                                                                                                                                                           

 

Heard:             11th January and 12th June 2018.

 

Counsel:          Mr. Oliver Chang-Leng for the Plaintiff

                        Ms. Karin Dick standing in for Mr. Bernard Georges for the 1st Defendant

                        Second Defendant: Present and unrepresented.

 

Delivered:       30th November 2018

                                                                                                                                                           

 

JUDGMENT

                                                                                                                                                           

 

ANDRE J

 

[1]        This Judgment arises out of a Plaint filed before the Supreme Court on the 21st April 2017 by Marie-Therese Augustina Hilda Hollanda Bernadette represented by Robert Vidot acting as per power of attorney (“Plaintiff”), against the Estate of the late Norbert Robert Hollanda (“the deceased”) represented by the executors namely Richard Marcus Hollanda (“1st Defendant”) and Nadine Richardson Hencel Hollanda (“2nd Defendant”) cumulatively referred to as (“Defendants”) and in which plaint, the Plaintiff prays for an Order causing the Defendants to transfer land parcel C 9168 (“the Property”) to her and in the event of their continuing refusal to do so within a period of 30 days from the date of the Judgment, that the Judgment will stand in lieu of an instrument of transfer and constitute valid authority for the Land Registrar to cause the Property to be recorded in her name; to grant to the Plaintiff the sum of Seychelles Rupees Fifty Thousand (S.R.50,000/-)in damages together with interest at legal rate form the 19th January 2017 being the date of the last letter of demand; costs and to any other Order that the Court deems fit. The above claims arise out of an alleged breach of an oral agreement (“the Agreement”) before the deceased passed away to sub-divide his Estate giving rise extraction of the Plaintiff’s house from the Estate hence the Property and transfer same to the Plaintiff.

 

[2]        The 1st Defendant filed statement of defence of the 4th September 2017 denying the plaintand further proposing to sell his share of the Property to the Plaintiff provided she was willing to pay half the value of the Property.

 

[3]        The 2nd Defendant entered into a Judgment by consent with the Plaintiff of the 19th September 2017 wherein, in a gist he agreed that, “pursuant to an oral agreement between the deceased and the Plaintiff to which he was privy of for he was informed by the deceased before his death of same, to transfer his undivided share in the property to the Plaintiff”.

 

[4]        The hearing took place on the above-mentioned dates with respect to the 1stDefendant and upon completion of the hearing, both parties filed written submissions of the 3rd and the 25th July 2018 respectively of which contents have been duly considered for the purpose of this Judgment.

 

[5]        The following is in a gist is the relevant factual background as per Pleadings filed on record.

[6]        The 1st Defendant is one of the sons of the deceased who passed away in the year 2014. Thereafter, his two sons, the Defendants are his only heirs and were subsequently appointed as the executors of his Estate. The Plaintiff, the sister of the deceased at all  relevant times was domiciled in Italy. Prior to moving to Italy she lived on the Property forming part of the deceased Estate during the deceased lifetime in a house that she built  in the early 1980s. The deceased at the time lived in a separate house built on the Estate.

[7]        The Estate formerly constituted of one large parcel and sub-divided into different parcels. But before the deceased passed away he started the process to sub-divide his Estate. Mr Robert Vidot (“Mr Vidot”), the Plaintiff’s son and representative in these  proceedings, was the one who initiated the application process by approaching Sinon Surveys. The deceased signed the application forms and was present when the process of beaconing took place and same was confirmed by surveyor Mr. Joelane Rodney Sinon. Sadly, the deceased passed away when the sub-division process was not yet finalised.

[8]        After the deceased death the sub-division was effected and the sub-divided parcels are C1966, C1967 and C1968 (later the Property). The Plaintiff’s house is on the Property, which is also the largest of the three parcels. This parcel is the subject of this dispute. The house of the deceased is on C1967. The 2nd Defendant is currently living in this house and parcel C1966 remains vacant.

[9]        Since the deceased died intestate, the three parcels were inherited by the Defendants in half shares. The Plaintiff claims that she is entitled to the Property because the deceased had orally agreed to give it to her. She claims that the deceased made this undertaking before he passed away in 2014 and also agreed to sub-divide the land for this purpose. The 2nd Defendant subsequently gave up his half share in the Property to the Plaintiff at no cost by virtue of the Judgment by consent (supra) and according to him confirming the plaint of the Plaintiff, the deceased orally agreed to give the Plaintiff the Property which is why the deceased sanctioned the sub-division of the Estate. The 1st Defendant refused to do so hence raison d'être of the current Judgment.

[10]      At the hearing, the testimonies that were adduced in evidence, in support of Plaint and the Defence reveal briefly as follows.

[11]      The Plaintiff called three witnesses namely her son Mr Vidot, the 2nd Defendant and the surveyor Mr. Joelane Sinon.

[12]      Mr Vidot testified primarily in a gist, on the history of the Property and the relationship between the Plaintiff being his mother and the deceased and the alleged oral agreement and the subsequent sub-division. He testified that the property had belonged to his family before the deceased owned it. That the Plaintiff had lived in the house on the Property since 1984, when she built it. According to him, the Plaintiff and the deceased had a good relationship and before the deceased passed away suddenly in 2014. That he was present when the oral Agreement was made between the Plaintiff and the deceased about the transfer of the sub-divided portion being the property to her. He further testified that they were the only three persons present.

[13]      That the reason why the Agreement was not reduced into writing was because they had a good relationship. He also testified that the Defendants were both aware of the Agreement because the deceased told them about it afterwards. He was not present when this information was conveyed but the deceased informed him that he had told his sons about the Agreement. That he could not recall when the Agreement was made but he could only recall that the Plaintiff was on holiday in the Seychelles when it happened. According to him, the deceased action to commence the sub-division later is confirmation  as to the follow-up to this Agreement.

[14]      Mr. Vidot further testified in support of the plaint that the deceased started the sub-division application process before he passed way and that he paid for the sub-division when the deceased was unable to pay. He testified that after the passing away of the  deceased, the surveyor informed that the consent of the executor was required if the sub-division was to proceed. Initially, all were agreed about the sub-division and transfer, but later, the 1st Defendant refused to sign the transfer papers. He thus testified that he  was taken aback by his refusal.

[15]      With regards to the occupation of the house on the Property, Mr. Vidot testified that  he had always lived at the house and that he made improvements thereto after the  deceased passed away. He also stated that whenever the Plaintiff came to visit Seychelles, she would live in that house and she left him in charge of the house. He  testified that he firmly believed that the deceased his late uncle’s, his intention was to sub-divide the land and transfer it to his mother.

[16]      Under cross examination, he denied that the mother’s house was abandoned for some time and confirmed that his mother instructed him to pay the surveyor for the sub- division. His testimony was also to the effect that there had been meetings between him and the Defendants and the deceased concerning the sub-division prior to the latter’s death. It was only after the passing away of the deceased that the 1st Defendant began to withdraw from the transfer. Lastly, he reiterated that the reason why there was no will was because of the close family relationship.

[17]      The 2nd Defendant, Mr Nadine Hollanda, also brother of the 1st Defendant largely corroborated Mr Vidot’s evidence (supra). He testified briefly, that he was aware that the deceased wanted to sub-divide the Estate and transfer the Property to the Plaintiff. That the deceased had various projects planned, which included subdividing the Estate and transferring the three portions to himself, the 1st Defendant and the Property to the Plaintiff. That he personally had the conversation with the deceased about four or five  years before he passed away and that these conversations sometimes took place with the 1st Defendant being present and sometimes only with him. He also confirmed that the  deceased began the process of sub-division, but that he passed away suddenly and therefore did not finish it.

[18]      He further testified that after the passing of the deceased, Mr Vidot approached him and told him about the Agreement and that they needed to sub-divide the Estate. He told Mr Vidot that he had heard about the Agreement through the deceased. Mr Vidot explained the procedure to continue, telling him that they had to be appointed as executors. They went to speak with the 1st Defendant and they all agreed to commence the process. The sub-division was completed, but when they were to sign the transfer forms, the 1st Defendant refused to sign. He did not provide a proper reason for the refusal. He testified that he believed that it was the deceased wish to transfer the Property to the Plaintiff before he died. He further testified that he signed the Judgment by consent in favour of the transfer, and that he believed that the 1st Defendant should transfer his undivided share of the Property also as per wish of their late father.

[19]      Under cross-examination, he further confirmed that he was not present when the oral Agreement was made but he heard about it from his father afterwards. He testified that he spent two or three months with the deceased before his passing away but he was abroad when the deceased fell ill. With regards to the Property and the other two sub-divided parcels of land forming part of the Estate of the deceased, he reiterated that the former was intended for the Plaintiff. He denied that there was a dispute about the other two parcels between himself and the 1st Defendant. According to him, the deceased had wanted to divide the Estate into five portions. He confirmed as Mr Vidot testified that the deceased started the process of sub-division but passed away before it could be completed. He also confirmed that the Plaintiff paid for the process, as per her Agreement with the deceased. As to his father health, he testified that his father was fit and healthy when the application was done and that the Plaintiff and his father were very close hence the reason why his father left no Will and this is how things were done in their family. He also confirmed in cross-examination, that the estate formerly belonged to their family and it was his father’s wish that they would all live communally, with the Plaintiff.

[20]      The last witness called by the Plaintiff was the surveyor, Mr Joelane Rodney Sinon who testified mainly about the application process for the sub-division of the Estate of the deceased. Mr. Sinon testified that he was first approached about the sub-division of the land by Mr Vidot on behalf of deceased and that Mr Vidot paid for the sub-division. That the application for sub-division was completed and signed by the deceased and that was a prerequisite of the application. That he met the deceased on the Property when he went to conduct the survey and to place the beacons marking the sub-division. Mr Vidot was also present. That the deceased informed him that he wanted to sub-divide the land to give to his relatives. He testified further that after the ceased passed away continued with the sub-division without contact with the heirs. He stated that this was permissible, as the deceased had signed all the documents prior to his death and the sub-division was approved on 2nd May 2014.

[21]      The 1st Defendant on his part, testified on his own behalf and dwell mainly on his relationship with the deceased and the 2nd Defendant and the Property. He testified in a gist, that he lived with the deceased until the age of nineteen (19) and that his brother did not grow up with him. That had a close relationship with his father and that he never heard his father speak about subdividing the Property and or transferring any part of his Estate to the Plaintiff. That his father was ill for about three months before he died. That it was only after his death that he was approached by his brother and Mr Vidot and that he did not know about any sub-division prior to this. He thereafter according to him, agreed to the sub-division but was dissatisfied with the intended allocations. He testified that he did not want to remain in co-ownership with his brother and intended to file an application for a sub-division in kind. He also said that he was not opposed to transfer of the Property but he would transfer his share to his aunt upon payment of half the value of Property. He testified that he had an offer letter sent to his aunt, but received no reply.

[22]      Under cross-examination, he testified that he and his brother did not have a good relationship and that he did not know why his father commenced the sub-division and reiterated that his father did not speak with him about this. He confirmed that he signed forms regarding the sub-division but that he did not know what his father’s motivation was for the sub-division. He confirmed that he was prepared to sell his share in the Property but was not willing simply to give it up at no cost. He testified that his brother had asked him for half a share in the house where the father lived which is why he required the half share from the aunt.

[23]      Noting the salient evidence relevant to the pleadings, I shall now turn to address the legal standards and its analysis based on the evidence led in this matter.(supra).

 

[24]      The crux of the dispute arising in this case is, “whether the deceased orally undertook to transfer the Property on which the Plaintiff’s house is situated (C1968) to her after the sub-division had taken place. In other words, whether despite the absence of a Will, this Court must find that the intention to transfer to the Plaintiff has been proved”. To arrive at such a determination, the Court is required to analyse the evidence led in this case (supra).

[25]      The relevant provisions of the law to be considered in this matter are Article 718 as read with the provisions of Article 1026 of the Civil Code (“Code”), which Articles provide for the opening of the succession upon the death of a person and in this case the deceased, as well as to the duties of the Heirs/Executors by virtue of Article 1026 of the Code  whereby they are to inter alia, to represent the estate in all legal proceedings.

[26]      Further, Article 1026 of the Code read together with the provisions of Article 1029 of the Code, in turn provides additionally, for the, “executors to represent the Estate in all legal  proceedings”, hence obligating the executors to do any act and all things in legal proceedings that the deceased person could have done had they been alive. It thus follows, that that any rights, debts or obligations of the deceased person as provided under Article 1028 of the Code fall under the responsibility of the deceased estate duly represented by the executors.

[27]      Following the above purposeful interpretation and meaning of the provisions of Article 1028 as read with Article 1029 of the Code, it is evident that albeit distribution of the entirety of the estate of the deceased ‘de cujus’ to the heirs, there can still be found liability on behalf of the Estate for failing to honour obligations of the de cujus and in this case the alleged Agreement between the deceased and the Plaintiff. To rule to the contrary would lead to complete absurdity and breach of natural justice if through bad faith and a way to bypass the legal obligations of the deceased, the executors acted otherwise.

[28]      It is common cause that the Plaintiff did not testify at the trial and the only evidence about the details concerning the existence and contents of the alleged oral Agreement was led by Mr Vidot, her son who testified that he was present when it happened. His evidence about the details of the Agreement, for instance the date on which it was made, was not very clear. He could not state when the agreement was made but testified that it could have been seven (7) or eight (8) years ago when his mother was on holiday in the Seychelles. The 2nd Defendant substantiated the existence of the oral Agreement, stating that his father informed both him and his brother about the Agreement. The 1st Defendant however disputes the Agreement.

[29]      It is to be noted at this juncture that it is a difficult task to reconcile these conflicting versions, which is a difficulty expected where a claim of oral Agreements are made. But Jurisprudence has extended the principle of impossibility to secure written proof to moral impossibility and such moral impossibility may arise from the relationship between the parties inter alia, where close family ties are involved where written proof may not possible. (Reference is made to the matter of (Pamela Coopoosamy v Joe Morel Duboil  SCA 1 of 2011) and (extracts from the book of Justice Ander Sauzier Introduction to the Law of Evidence in Seychelles (Second Edition 1983)).It thus follows, that the Court has a judicial and wide discretion to determine whether such a link exists depending on the facts of the case.

[30]      In performing the above exercise judiciously, it is for this Court to determine which version it prefers taking into account several factors including the credibility of the witnesses subject to the trite principle in civil matters that the burden rests on the Plaintiff to prove their claim on a balance of probabilities “he who avers must prove”(Reference is made to the matter of, (Robert Horwath v Gilles Pinchon & Ors (Civil Appeal SCA 30/2013) [2018] SCCA 8 (11 May 2018)).

[31]      I note at this stage also that the evidence led on behalf of the Plaintiff as above-referred and illustrating the surrounding circumstances of the oral Agreement withstood cross- examination. Similarly, the 2nd Defendant’s corroboration of the existence of the oral Agreement and his knowledge of it and the extent of the 2nd Defendant’s knowledge of it was not seriously challenged. The 1st Defendant, on his part merely challenged that he had knowledge of any intention to sub-divide or transfer the Property.

[32]      It is undisputed that the deceased land started to sub-divide his Estate before his death and of crucial importance, the 1st Defendant has accepted that his father had begun the sub-division process. He accepted Mr Vidot’s version that this was what happened and he did not adduce any evidence to disprove it either. It is thus abundantly clear that he participated with the conclusion of the sub-division after he was advised by Mr Vidot that his father started the process. He has not shown that he did not understand what the process was all about then and did not either challenge the motivations for the sub-division at that stage. He partook in it, it seems, with the knowledge that it would result in the transfer to the Plaintiff for why would he accede to the request of Mr. Vidot and his own brother the 2nd Defendant. He has not led any evidence to the effect that he was misled at that stage.

[33]      The 1st Defendant did not adduce any evidence to the effect that he disputed what Mr Vidot told him, about the sub-division and the intended transfer because he had not heard about this from his father. A reasonable Tribunal would presume that on a balance of probabilities, he would have challenged the sub-division that that very stage. I am therefore in the circumstances inclined to prefer the Plaintiff’s version, namely, that at least at the stage of sub-division when the deceased had passed away, the 1st Defendant accepted the sub-division and the purpose for it.

[34]      It follows, thus and determined that the surrounding circumstances after the death of the deceased and the 1st Defendant’s voluntary participation in the sub-division processes supports the version of the Plaintiff and to the existence and follow-up pf the alleged oral Agreement and hence it is accepted by this Court as the most credible version and is to be preferred and upheld. It thus follows, that the evidence adduced by the Plaintiff as compared to that of the 1st Defendant’s own evidence, shows on balance of probabilities that the intention of the deceased and the first parties was to sub-divide and transfer the  Property to the Plaintiff after the death of the deceased.

[35]      As a direct consequence of the above analysis and finding, the Plaintiff is thus entitled to her prayer for the transfer of the Property in her name as sought in the plaint (supra).

[36]      It is to be noted however, that this Court finds that the Plaintiff is not entitled to her claim for damages as same is not supported factually and or legally given all the circumstances surrounding this case.

[37]      In conclusion, the Plaint is partially granted in the following terms:

            (i)          The Defendants are ordered to transfer the Property namely, Parcel No. C1968 in the name of the Plaintiff within a period of thirty (30) days hereof and failure of which the Registrar of Lands is ordered and directed to effect the indicated transfer without any further delay;

            (ii)        The Plaintiff’s claim for damages is dismissed for reasons given; and

            (iii)       Each party shall bear their own costs.

 

[38]      As obiter, this matter clearly demonstrates the difficulties arising when the deceased dies intestate and no proof of written documentations as to the deceased intention as to the disposition of his estate to unreserved heirs. It is unfortunate that in such instances, the Court is placed in the invidious position of having to consider the intention of a deceased  whose intention is difficult to discern where conflicting versions are presented. The determination of cases like this, based on ordinary rules of evidence is onerous and may in certain instances be viewed unfairly especially in a case like the present one where  family members are concerned. However, in the end it is the Court’s hope that the outcome will seldom resolve the family dispute satisfactorily.

 

 

Dated this…………………………….. day of ………………………………. 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANDRE- J

Judge of the Supreme court