Category Archives: Litigation

Trust litigation – Who can institute a claim and which court has jurisdiction?

This article deals with the questions of who can institute litigation on behalf of a trust, as well as with the question of how jurisdiction is determined with regards to trusts.

Who can institute a claim?

A trust is not a legal person and cannot litigate in its own name. The trustees play a vital role in any litigation in which a trust might be involved. There are three overriding principles regarding trust administration:

  1. The trustees are obliged to give effect to the provisions of the trust deed.
  2. The trustees must perform their duties with the necessary “care, diligence and skill which can be expected of a person who manages the affairs of another”.
  3. Any person acting as a trustee must exercise discretion, where allowed, with the necessary objectivity and independence.

Section 6(1) of the Trust Property Control Act (the Act) determines the following: “any person whose appointment as trustee in terms of a trust instrument, section 7 or a court order comes into force after the commencement of the Act, shall act in that capacity only if authorised in writing by the Master”. In Watt v Sea Plant Products Bpk, Judge Conradie interpreted this section to mean that a trustee may not, prior to authorisation, acquire rights for, or contractually incur liabilities on behalf of the trust”. Thus, a trustee can only contract and institute legal proceedings in his/her capacity as trustee once a letter of authority has been issued by the Master of the High Court.

In Nieuwoudt v Vrystaat Mielies (Edms) Bpk), an agreement was held to be invalid and unenforceable because the trustees had not acted jointly nor reached a unanimous decision. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that trustees must act jointly when entering into contracts or when instituting litigation.

A trustee has a duty to vindicate trust property and to collect due debts. This duty goes hand in hand with the duty to conserve trust property and ensures that the trustee is in control of the property which forms part of the trust fund. A trustee further has locus standi to defend actions instituted against the trustee to ensure that the trust property is conserved.

Should all the trustees be joined in an action to enforce a right of the trust?

Judge Cameron held in the Goolam Ally Family Trust case that all the trustees must be joined in suing and all must be sued. Therefore, all the trustees will be joined in their official capacity when instituting legal proceedings.

In Khabola NO v Ralithabo NO, the court quoted the general rule regarding locus standi as follows: Any person who has a direct or substantial interest in the matter has the required locus standi to institute legal proceedings. The learned judge found that the underlying contractual relationship between trustees could be equated to a partnership.

Jurisdiction:

For jurisdictional purposes, a partnership “resides” at the place where its principal place of business is situated, and if the principle set out in abovementioned case is followed – a trust also “resides” where its principal place of business is situated.

In Bonugli v The Standard Bank of South Africa Limited, the court referred to section 5 of the Act which determines that a person whose appointment as trustee comes into effect after the commencement of this act, shall furnish the Master with an address for the service upon him of notices and process and shall, in case of change of address, within 14 days notify the Master by registered post of the new address. The cause of action arose in Johannesburg, and one of the defendants (a trustee in his representative capacity) was resident in Australia. The address which was used in the summons was the address given to the Master in terms of section 5 of the Act. A special plea with regards to lack of jurisdiction was raised, but the Cape Town High Court found that it had the necessary jurisdiction to hear the matter.

There are considerable differences between a partnership and a trust, but with regards to jurisdiction the general principles applicable to a partnership can also be applied to a trust – namely considerations of convenience and common sense for its conclusion to entertain a claim. The Cape Town High Court had jurisdiction to hear the Bonugli matter because the first defendant was resident within its jurisdiction, and because the address listed in terms of section 5 of the Act was within the jurisdiction. Considerations of common sense and convenience also required that the court should adjudicate the issue between the plaintiff and all the defendants. It would have been impractical to institute a claim based on the same set of facts in two different courts, because the trustees were resident in different courts’ jurisdictions.

There remains some uncertainty regarding which court should have jurisdiction to hear a claim instituted by a trust or a claim against a trust. There appears to be three possibilities in this regard: Firstly, if the Bonugli judgment was followed, the residency of one trustee should be sufficient to establish jurisdiction. Secondly, the address provided in terms of Section 5 of the Act could be used to establish jurisdiction. Thirdly, the court where the trust’s principle place of business is situated could have jurisdiction. Hopefully the position regarding which court has jurisdiction to hear claims instituted by a trust or against a trust will be properly aired in the courts soon, to provide more certainty regarding this aspect.

Reference List:

Books:

  • Lexisnexis Trust Law and Practice, P A Olivier, S Strydom, GPJ van den Berg, October 2017
  • Civil Procedure: A Practical Guide, Petè, Hulme, Du Plessis, Palmer, Sibanda, Oxford University Press.

Acts:

  • Trust Property Control Act 57 of 1988

Cases:

  • Watt v Sea Plant Products Bpk (1998) 4 All SA 109 (C)
  • Nieuwoudt v Vrystaat Mielies (Edms) Bpk)
  • Goolam Ally Family Trust t/a Textile, Curtaining and Trimming v Textile, Curtaining and Trimming (Pty) Ltd 1989 (4) SA 985 (C) at 988D-E
  • Khabola NO v Ralithabo NO (5512/2010) (2011) ZAFSHC 62 (24 March 2011)
  • Bonugli v The Standard Bank of South Africa Limited 266/2011) (2012) ZASCA 48 (30 March 2012)

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

Dog bites and the financial risk it poses to owners

A1_bHaving received a number of matters that ended up in costly litigation we have decided to point out certain risks to dog owners regarding how liability arises and how to manage such risks and protect oneself against potential liabilities.

When a person is bitten and injured by a dog the injured person can institute action against the owner of the dog to recover his/her damages suffered. Guilt on the part of the owner is not a requirement for liability to attach. If the requirements discussed below are met, the injured person need not prove any guilt on the part of the owner of the dog. Thus, irrespective of whether the owner of the dog was negligent or not, the owner can still be held liable for harm caused by his animal.

What must be proven for a successful claim?

In order to succeed with a claim for damages, the injured person must show that:

  1. The person being sued must have been the owner of the relevant animal at the time of the incident. The mere fact that a person is in control of an animal is not sufficient;
  2. The animal is a domesticated animal, which by implication excludes wild animals;
  3. Injury was caused by the actions of the animal acting contrary to the nature of its kind. The animal must have acted differently to what could be expected of a proper and well-mannered animal of its kind. A dog that bites is deeded by our courts to act contrary to the nature of its kind. Where the animal does not act spontaneously but acts due to incitement or other external factors such as a dog that is being teased etc., the animal does not act contrary to its nature when it reacts aggressively;
  4. He/she had a right to be present at the place where the damage was caused. Where a person enters the property of another without invitation, the person will not be able to succeed with this action because the injured person was unlawfully present on the property.

Defences available to the owner of the dog

Although guilt on the side of the owner is not a pre-requisite, a number of defences are available to the owner of the animal in the case of a claim for damages. Defences available to the owner include the following:

  1. Guilty conduct on the part of the injured person. For example, where the injured person provoked the animal by hitting, throwing objects at or teasing the animal;
  2. Causing of damage by a guilty third party. For example, where another person provokes the dog or hurts or teases the animal with the result that the injured person is attacked;
  3. Provocation by another animal. For example, where another dog attacks the owner’s dog and the owner’s dog in the attack bites the injured person;
  4. Consent to prejudice. Where the injured person expressly or tacitly through his/her conduct consents to prejudice. For example, where a person is bitten by a dog but was pre-warned against the dog and then indicates that he/she is not afraid of dogs – “the dog won’t bite me” – a court should find that the injured person tacitly consented to the prejudice and would the person not be able to claim damages from the owner.

What damages can be claimed?

Where a dog bites a person, the person usually suffers damage, therefore he/she can claim for a wide range of damages, including for pain and suffering, loss of life enjoyment, disfiguration or disability, medical expenses incurred and to be incurred in future, loss of income, etc. All of these damages are in principle recoverable from the owner of the dog. Even a person who witnesses the attack on another person, may as a result of the emotional trauma suffered (and upon proving it) claim for damages.

It is important for owners of dogs to take note of their potential liability for the actions of their animals. This liability may be extensive and owners are encouraged to be serious about the proper control of their animals and to keep the animals within the confines of their property.

Short Term Insurance

Most short term householder policies will make provision for liability such as this at a minimal cost to the policyholder. Take the time to discuss this with your broker or insurer. Make sure that adequate insurance is in place. A claim such as this can amount to significant proportions. Your insurer can, however, help you cater for such a risk.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)