Mon | Oct 3, 2022

Jamaican court rules against law firm that sent US$100,000 cheque to 'wrong' address

Published:Saturday | June 25, 2022 | 2:34 PM
Acting Supreme Court Judge Sheron Barnes, who heard the application,was not convinced by the law firm's arguments. 

Jamaica's Supreme Court has ruled against a Jamaican law firm that sent a cheque of almost US$100,000 in a land sale to the wrong address in the United States. 

The court entered summary judgment on June 22 against Messrs Hamilton  & Hamilton and attorney-at-law Courtney Hamilton. The firm sent the cheque for US$99, 798.33 to an address in Florida instead of one in Georgia.

A summary judgment is a final ruling entered by a court for one party and against another party without a full trial. 

Monica Chambers filed a law suit in March 2021 contending that she did not receive the cheque and wanted damages for breach of contract and specific damages for the money which was her one-third share from the sale of a property. She is seeking interest at two per cent above commercial bank rate on damages.

Three months later she applied to the court for the summary judgment. 

In her claim, Chambers said the defendants, who acted as attorneys-at-law in a sale of land for her and her parents, failed to pay over her share of the proceeds to her. the transaction was completed in 2020. 

In his defence filed in April last year, Courtney Hamilton, the second defendant, said Chamber's cheque was sent to her parents' address which he contended was used by all vendors on the agreement for sale.

But he said after the sale, the firm made efforts “to have the cheque that was made payable to the claimant replaced and rerouted to an address provided that predated the duly executed agreement for sale". 

He said those efforts came to “naught” as the cheque was already negotiated and would have to be endorsed by the claimant for it to have been encashed.

Anything else would be fraud “ to which the defendants played no role", he said. 

Hamilton and his firm denied that there was any breach of contract as there was no failure to give effect to her instructions - the cheque having been sent to the address used in the agreement for sale.

They also put the claimant to strict proof that she did not receive the cheque as well as produced  exhibits which included the cheques sent to the vendors at an address in Lakeland, Florida.

However, acting Supreme Court Judge Sheron Barnes, who heard the application,was not convinced by the law firm's arguments. 

She said the attorneys were contracted to execute a sale of land and got specific instructions as to how the monies were to be distributed including where they should be sent. She said those instructions formed part of their contract.

Attorneys have an obligation to carry out the instructions by all proper means, she said. 

The judge also pointed out that the defendants agreed that the claimant had given another address to which her share of the proceeds should be sent and that they had acknowledged those instructions.

“Additionally, they took steps, through their bank, to place a stop order on the issued cheque and have a replacement issued. If there was no negligence and breach of duty on their part, they would not have gone to those lengths," Justice Barnes said. 

The judge also said the facts not in dispute were that on September 2, 2020, there was an email between the claimant and defendants that her portion would be sent to her address in Georgia and which was later finalised in a letter from the defendant's law firm.

A cheque was issued in the name of the claimant and sent to the address in the agreement for sale which was not the address the claimant gave instructions for her cheque to be directed, the judge pointed out. 

“As attorneys, the defendant's firm not only breached the contract they had with the claimant, but acted negligently by their own admitted 'error' in not having her proceeds of sale sent directly to her.

She continued: "To say that they are putting the claimant to 'strict proof that she did not receive the cheque' is disingenuous in circumstances where they conceded that they did not send the cheque to her as per the acknowledged instructions."

The judge said there was no defence that could be raised that would nullify the fact that there are funds owed to the claimant. “That being so, the defendants have no real prospect of successfully defending the claim and the application for summary judgment,' the judge ruled.

Summary judgment was entered this month in  favour of the claimant. The judge also awarded costs to the claimant.

A hearing to prepare for the assessment of damages has been set for November 15. 

The defendants were granted permission to appeal. They are represented by attorney-law Andrew Graham instructed by the law firm Bishop & Partners.

Attorney-at-law Yualande Christopher instructed by Yualande Christopher & Associates represents the claimant.

- Barbara Gayle

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