Sat | Dec 3, 2022

Church, couple in legal fight over land fraud claim

Published:Thursday | November 24, 2022 | 12:11 AMTanesha Mundle/Staff Reporter

A couple who purchased land in St Catherine on which the Bethel Chapel Apostolic Church is sited is now locked in a legal tussle with the religious organisation over claims that it fraudulently obtained ownership of half-acre of the property by...

A couple who purchased land in St Catherine on which the Bethel Chapel Apostolic Church is sited is now locked in a legal tussle with the religious organisation over claims that it fraudulently obtained ownership of half-acre of the property by adverse possession.

The land, which was reportedly being utilised as the church’s playground, is needed to facilitate expansion as the congregation is growing.

But the claimants, Andrew and Sarah Buddan, who acquired the property in December 2017, are contending that the sale agreement was for the church to be given title for only an acre but that the church had asked to be gifted an additional half-acre.

The defendant, the Bethel Chapel Apostolic Foundation Limited, however, maintains that it purchased the one and a half-acre plot for $30,000 in 1973.

The church further claims that it was forced to take measures to acquire the titles for the land after the couple failed to transfer them.

But the claimants, in contrast, are purporting that the church made false and/or fraudulent statements to obtain the title in its name.

The Supreme Court earlier this month granted the Buddans an injunction barring the church, its servants, or agents from disposing of, transferring, charging, or pledging or making any permanent change to, or construction on, the land until the matter is determined by the court.

The Registrar of Titles was also instructed to provide the Buddans’ lawyer with copies of the documents that were submitted in support of the church’s application for the title.

In the recently published judgment, Sarah, in her affidavit, deposed that the sale agreement was for the church to be given one acre of the property while insisting that the church had occupied only one acre, which was enclosed by a concrete wall that separated it from the rest of the land.

However, she said that they discovered, in February this year, that the church had successfully made an application to the Registrar of Titles by way of adverse possession with respect to two sections of the land and obtained separate certificates of title.

UNABLE TO FIND RECEIPT

This was after they raised questions about a fenced portion of the property separate from the church section and were shown the church’s title for one and a half acres of the land.

Millicent Thomas-Clarke, who is representing the church, said in her affidavit that the land was bought by a former pastor but the church was unable to find the receipt.

Thomas-Clarke, while denying the allegation that the church had asked to be gifted half-acre, said the only request that was made was for the religious organisation to be given the title for its portion.

The church sister claimed that she made several attempts on behalf of the defendant to secure the transfer of the land but that the couple failed and/or neglected to effect the transfer.

As a result, Thomas-Clarke said steps were taken to have the property registered in order to protect the defendant’s interest but that no false or misleading statements were advanced in the application for registration.

Meanwhile, the claimants’ lawyer, Simone Mayhew, KC, argued during the injunction hearing that there was sufficient evidence before the court to establish a serious issue for trial as to whether the church obtained the titles by fraud and whether the defendant was beneficially entitled to one and a half acres of land comprised in the original title.

Additionally, she said there can be no adverse possession as the church never occupied the half-acre.

But the church’s lawyer, Stephanie Williams, in opposing the injunction, submitted that there was no serious issue to be tried.

Counsel argued that the defendant has an indefeasible title that it acquired by reason of adverse possession.

Williams also submitted that although the claimants are alleging fraud, they have not presented any evidence on that score.

Attorney-at-law Ashley Mair is also representing the couple while Charah Malcolm also appears for the church.

tanesha.mundle@gleanerjm.com