Douglas & Angus Estates and Richard John Carmichael v. Thomas Russell McAllister

Background

This is an Inner House case concerning a dispute over property at Rigside in Lanarkshire. Mr McAllister had occupied the land since at least June 2006 (using it for pallet storage and lorry parking). However, Douglas & Angus Estates and Mr Carmichael argued that they were common owners of the property and that Mr McAllister was in occupation of the property without title. Whilst Mr McAllister did not claim to have title to the property himself he argued that the estate and Mr Carmichael did not own the property either (and thus had no title to sue).

The question for the court was whether a party (in this case the estate and Mr Carmichael) requires to establish a title to land where a second party, whom he is trying to remove (in this case Mr McAllister), does not have title but claims that the land may be owned by a third party (in this case, the statutory successors to Lanark County Council).

Arguments

It was accepted that, where the party being removed denies the title of the party seeking removal without arguing that he himself has title, the party seeking removal only requires to show a prima face title . However, Mr McAllister contended that there is an exception to that rule where the party being removed argues that there is a competing title in favour of a third party . In this case, although he did not produce a competing title, he pointed to a reference to the disputed property in his own title (of a neighbouring property) which stated that, at the time of the deed, the disputed property was thought to be owned by Lanark County Council (which, if true, would have precluded the estate and Mr Carmichael from owning the property in terms of their titles).

Decision

However, although the Inner House accepted that, if Mr McAllister had shown a competing title, the estate and Mr Carmichael would have had to establish a title to the disputed property in order to seek Mr McAllister’s removal from it, in this case, the statement in Mr McAllister’s title to the effect that the disputed property was thought to be owned by Lanark County Council was not the equivalent of a competing title. As such, the estate and Mr Carmichael only had to show a prima face title in order to pursue the action.

The court noted that what exactly may be regarded as an ex facie valid title would depend on its particular terms. And, in this case, although the descriptions in the title deeds were vague and unclear, it could not be said that the deed on which both the estate’s and Mr Carmichael’s titles relied did not include the disputed property. Consequently, the estate and Mr Carmichael (or one or other of them) had an ex facie title sufficient to allow them to pursue the action against Mr McAllister.

In those circumstances the Inner House upheld the previous decision of the Sheriff Principal granting decree in favour of the estate and Mr Carmichael and dismissing Mr McAllister’s defences as irrelevant.

The full judgement is available from Scottish Courts here.

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