⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Alhaji Nahmood I. Atta v. Miss Chinye A. M. Ezeanah (2000) – CA
by PipAr Chima
⦿ LITE HOLDING
When the conditions to own a property fails, as in a promise for marriage, the party whose name was used to register the property, but did not purchase or sponsor the buying of the property, will hold such property as a trustee. When the conditions fail, the property will revert to the one who purchased the property with his money, despite the fact that one’s name is not in the property document.
⦿AREA OF LAW
ALHAJI NAHMOOD I. ATTA
MISS CHINYE A. M. EZEANAH
(2000) JELR 52274 (CA)
Court of Appeal
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
* FOR THE APPELLANT
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
The claims of the plaintiff were as follows:- “1. A declaration that the plaintiff is the bona fide owner of all A that plot No. 999 Cadastal Zone B6, Mabushi District, Abuja. A mandatory order directing the defendant to hand over the Federal Republic of Nigeria Certificate of Occupancy No. FCT/ ABU/DT. 291, covering the said plot to the plaintiff forthwith. A perpetual injunction restraining the defendant either by himself, his agents or privies howsoever called from further trespassing on the land. Two million naira (N2,000,000.00) as general damages for trespass.”
The defendant counter-claimed the following reliefs against the defendant “A declaration that the defendant is the owner of the property lying and situate and being plot at 999 Cadastal Zone B6, Mabushi District, Abuja notwithstanding the fact the plaintiff’s name is on the certificate of occupancy. A declaration that the conditions of gift of the said property to the plaintiff having failed, the plaintiff has no legal or equitable right to the property.”
The finding of fact is that it was the appellant who initiated and concluded the whole scheme for the procurement of the allocation of the land in the name of the respondent and in furtherance of marriage agreement between the parties.
1. Whether the finding that the appellant filed the application for land for the respondent in 1992 in furtherance to a promise or an agreement of marriage is supported by evidence in the record.
2. Whether the learned trial Judge was right to dismiss the claim for trespass.
1. Whether the learned trial Judge was right to hold that the respondent is the bona fide owner of the land in dispute merely because the respondent’s name is on the certificate of occupancy.
2. Whether, in spite of the surrounding circumstances, the learned trial Judge was right in granting the respondent’s claim that the appellant return the certificate of occupancy to the respondent.
3. Whether the respondent has made out a case for perpetual injunction restraining the appellant from further trespassing on the land in dispute.
4. Whether the learned trial Judge was right in dismissing the appellant’s counter-claim.
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE CROSS-APPELLANT.
i. Having regard to the pleadings and that the evidence led, especially the contradictory evidence of the respondent in relation to the application of the plot and the involvement of the appellant, the finding of fact by the learned trial Judge that the appellant procured the land in the name of the respondent in furtherance of their marriage cannot be faulted. In my view, there is no error apparent on the record, no miscarriage of justice or violation of some law or procedure in this issue and there is no ground to interfere with the decisions arrived at by the lower court in this appeal. I resolve the first issue of the cross-appeal against the respondent/cross-appellant.
2. ISSUE 2 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE CROSS-APPELLANT.
i. In his judgment, the trial Judge held – “However, the plaintiff, by reason of non-possession of the land in dispute and the consent given to the defendant to build there, on stripped herself of her right to claim for trespass against the defendant. Evidence led has disclosed that the defendant holds onto the land and is developing same at his expense for the benefit and use of the plaintiff. The testimony of DW1 and DW2, that is not disputed nor contradicted show that the wall fencing and the building being erected on the land financed by the defendant had been with the consent of the plaintiff. In fact, she partook to supervising the work and even ordering alternatives as the work progressed, …”
These are findings of fact based on the evidence accepted by the learned trial Judge. And clearly, her ‘connivance’ estopped her from suing for trespass.
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED IN FAVOUR OF THE APPELLANT BUT AGAINST THE RESPONDENT.
i. Now, the question may be asked, does the issuance of a certificate of occupancy in the name of a person absolutely vest the land in that person? It has been held by a plethora of cases that the mere fact that a certificate is issued by the governor does not automatically vest the leasehold thereby created in favour of the person named. Certificate of occupancy is only a prima facie evidence of the right of occupancy in favour of the person named as allottee. The grant of a certificate of occupancy raises the presumption of the right of occupancy and does no more; the presumption can always be rebutted.
ii. From the facts of this case as found by the learned trial Judge, the appellant pleaded and led evidence of his equitable right to the plot. It is the law in such a situation, the legal estate cannot override the equitable estate coupled with possession.
iii. The fundamental question is, was the respondent entitled to declaration of title to the plot in question under the accepted facts of this case favouring the appellant? The answer is clearly no, had the learned trial Judge applied the law to the facts, he would surely have arrived at the inevitable decision that the appellant is the beneficial owner of the leasehold created by the grant of the right of occupancy. He had the equitable estate and was in possession of the land and the certificate of occupancy. The respondent was merely a trustee.
ON THE OTHER ISSUES, THE COURT OF APPEAL STATED: “I accordingly refrain to deal with the incidental issues raised in the appeal as they would serve no purpose.”
⦿ CONTRIBUTIONS OF OTHER JUSTICES TO ISSUES
Per Bulkachuwa JCA: The appellant used his money and influence in obtaining the plot and developing same in the name of the respondent based on a marriage agreement with the respondent. The appellant here has offered valuable consideration and the respondent is therefore only a resulting trustee for the appellant even though her name is on the certificate of occupancy. Having breached the marriage agreement, that presumption of ownership of the certificate of occupancy will be rebutted.
Per Oduyemi JCA: The facts show clearly that the legal title to the land was in the plaintiff/respondent by virtue of the certificate of occupancy which was in her name. Nevertheless, in view of the established facts that the defendant paid all monies needed to procure the interest in the land in consideration of an agreement for marriage between both plaintiff and defendant, which agreement did not materialise, the beneficial estate reverted, in equity, to the defendant/appellant. In this connection, the rules of equity prevail over those of the common law. There is a resulting trust in favour of the defendant/appellant. What should have been a gift to the plaintiff had the proposed marriage materialised became a resulting trust. Plaintiff therefore held the legal estate as trustee for the defendant as beneficial owner
⦿ ENDING NOTE BY LEAD JUSTICE – Per
⦿ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
⦿ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ REFERENCED (OTHERS)
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
It must be remembered that under the rules of the court, a cross- appeal must be treated as a distinct appeal having all the tapestry of an appeal. It is akin to a counter-claim before a trial court. – Musdapher, JSC. Atta v. Ezeanah (2000)
It is elementary law that needs no citation of any authority that an appellate court shall not disturb any finding of fact unless the finding is found to be perverse or cannot be justified having regard to the pleadings and the evidence led. – Musdapher, JSC. Atta v. Ezeanah (2000)
The evaluation and ascription of probative value are primary functions of the trial court who saw and watched the demeanour of the witnesses who testified at the trial. It is not proper for an appellate court to interfere where the trial court has properly discharged its functions in relation thereto. This appeal court will not interfere with findings of fact where there is sufficient evidence backed by the pleadings in support of such findings and where no substantial error is apparent on the record such as a miscarriage of justice or violation of some principle of law or procedure. – Musdapher, JSC. Atta v. Ezeanah (2000)
The appellant claimed by his pleadings to have raised the legal issue of resulting trust. The learned trial Judge did not consider the issue of resulting trust and the learned counsel for the respondent claimed that the issue was not properly raised in the pleadings. I have reproduced in this judgment the pleadings of the parties. The appellant clearly pleaded that he obtained the land in question, paid for it and commenced to build on it in the name of the respondent on the understanding that they would marry. Evidence was abundant that the respondent secretly married another person. Thus, there was total failure of consideration on the part of the respondent. – Musdapher, JSC. Atta v. Ezeanah (2000)
The object of pleadings is to state succinctly and accurately the issues for trial and to appraise the other side of the issues which it would meet in court. A defendant cannot rely on a defence which is based upon facts not stated in the statement of claim or defence, unless he pleads such facts specifically e.g. fraud. So, where a party intends to rely on a special defence, such as resulting trust, it is sufficient if he pleads enough facts as pointing to such special defence. Such defence can be inferred from the facts raised in the pleading. – Musdapher, JSC. Atta v. Ezeanah (2000)
Now, what is resulting trust? An implied trust or resulting trust is a trust founded upon the unexpressed intention of the settlor. One example of such a situation is where a purchased property is conveyed into the name of someone other than the purchaser or where, as in this case, a person applies for leasehold of a right of occupancy in the name of another person. The clear result of such cases is that the benefit accrues to the person who advances the money. Further, the same situation would arise even if the advancement of money is indirect, as where one party pays expenses which the other would otherwise have had to pay. – Musdapher, JSC. Atta v. Ezeanah (2000)
Where one person provides the purchase money for land and another obtains a conveyance of the land in his name, there is a resulting trust which arises by operation of law – in favour of the person who provided the purchase money. This besides, the defendant already became a trustee in equity (on the principle of constructive trusts) for the plaintiff. – Musdapher, JSC. Atta v. Ezeanah (2000)
Declaratory relief is an equitable relief and whenever a court is asked to grant declaratory relief, the court is bound to apply equity in granting the same. – Musdapher, JSC. Atta v. Ezeanah (2000)
It is settled law that a certificate of occupancy is only a prima facie evidence of title or right of occupancy in favour of the person whose name is on the certificate of occupancy. Where a rebuttal is raised on that presumption, the trial court is bound to examine all the surrounding circumstances, including the nature of competing claims, why the certificate of occupancy is issued in that person’s name and any other issues of law or fact on why a rebuttal of that presumption is raised. – Bulkachuwa, JSC. Atta v. Ezeanah (2000)