Category: Restitution

Did Christmas come early for NJ commuters who were showered with money last week?

Flying dollarsAccording to Wikipedia, Betteridge’s law of headlines is an adage that states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no”. That is true of the question in the title to this post: no, Christmas did not come early for NJ commuters who were showered with money last week. The CBS headline tells the story: Armored truck spills cash on N.J. highway, drivers rush to grab dollars and crashes ensue. Of the more than $500,000 that spilled on to the highway, nearly $300,000 remains missing, and the bank and the police want it back. As with overactive ATMs, these flying dollars are not so many early Christmas presents, the bank is entitled to recover them, and retaining them may very well amount to theft.

Fore! Wayward golf winnings, restitution of mistaken payments, and interceptive subtraction

Dinosaur golfer; via PixabayLast month, English golfer Tommy Fleetwood came twelfth in The Open golf championship. Earlier this month, Thomas Fleetwood had the St£120,000 (US$154,480, €133,000) winnings deposited in his bank account. There doesn’t seem anything exceptional in that story, so let’s try again. Last month, British golfer Tommy Fleetwood came twelfth in The Open golf championship. Earlier this month, Florida golfer Thomas Fleetwood had the St£120,000 winnings deposited in his bank account. That’s right – golf’s authorities lodged the winnings to the bank account of the wrong golfer. One of Thomas’s golf friends posted a picture of the lodgement record on twitter. And Thomas duly repaid the wayward deposit. But he would not have been able to keep it anyway, had he been minded to. As I have said before on this site, you can’t keep the proceeds of a bank error in your favour; and, if you do, you probably won’t be able to get out of jail free (see also here, here, here, here, and here). So, Thomas would have had to give back the winnings to golf’s authorities; and they in turn will no doubt pay them on to Tommy, if they have not already done so.

We are so used to wayward golf shots that there is a convention that the golfer hitting the wayward shot shouts “fore!” to alert those in its path. Wayward winnings are less common. So, purely as a hypothetical for the purposes of this post, let us assume that Thomas hadn’t repaid them. It is clear that the golf authorities could sue him to recover their mistaken payment (more…)

Tory Island and Unjust Enrichment – a sad story ends not with a bang but a whimper

BaidinWhen I was in school, I learned a song in Irish called Báidin Fheilimí. It’s about Phelim’s boat, sailing to islands off Donegal, in the north-west of Ireland. In the first verse, it sails to Gola Island; in the second, it sails to Tory Island; and, in the third, the lively little boat is wrecked on the rocks off Tory. The song left a romantic image of Tory in my mind. Neville Presho probably had a similar image; but, like Phelim’s boat, it has been wrecked on Tory rocks. He had a holiday home on the island. Until, one day, he returned to the island, and found that the house was gone, replaced by car park for an adjacent hotel. I have, on this blog, been following his action against the hotel (see here, here, here, here). In Presho v Doohan [2009] IEHC 619 (17 July 2009), Murphy J held that the appropriate remedy lay not in reinstatement of the demolished house “but in the provision of a comparable dwelling on Tory Island or the open market value of a comparable dwelling on the island”. He later held that this amounted to €46,000. The story has resulted in a book and tv documentary. Now, from the Irish Independent, I learn both that the matter was appealed by both parties, and that the various appeals have been discontinued:

Filmmaker’s Supreme Court appeal over home that ‘disappeared’ is dismissed

The Supreme Court has struck out an appeal over a €46,000 valuation placed on a man’s Tory Island holiday home that “disappeared” while he was abroad over a number of years. … After he won in the High Court in 2009, both defendants brought appeals against that court’s ruling.

When the matter came before the Supreme Court yesterday, it heard Mr Doohan, who was not in court, had stated he was not proceeding with his appeal. The appeal by Ostán Thoraigh Comhlacht Teoranta had been withdrawn last November. In those circumstances, the court struck out Mr Doohan’s appeal and affirmed the High Court orders. …

The Irish Times has a similar report. An earlier stage of the appeal was dismissed last November (see here, here, and here). And so ends a very sad tale, not with a bang but with hardly a whimper.

Stand and deliver, your money or your wife! Of Georgian highwaymen, modern sham marriages, illegal contracts, and abuse of the legal process

James Freney

James Freney (1719–1788)

an Irish contemporary of Everet and Williams; the so-called
Noblest Highwayman in Ireland

Two sole traders form a partnership, and then fall out, so that one sues the other for outstanding monies. It is a common enough story now, and was even in the early 1700s. There is normally little of general interest in such case; but, in 1725, the additional facts in Everet v Williams earned it a notoriety that persists to this day, because the plaintiff had sued the defendant for the proceeds of highway robbery, and there had been a classic falling out amongst thieves. Unsurprisingly, the Court declined to lend its aid to the claim, and dismissed the case with costs (see Everet v Williams (1725) reported (1787) 2 European Magazine 360 (pdf) and (1893) 9 Law Quarterly Review 197 (pdf); see also William David Evans (ed) Pothier on Obligations (Strahan, London, 1802, vol 2) 3 (pdf); Nathaniel Lindley A Treatise on the Law of Partnership (1st ed, Johnson & Co, London, 1860) 161 (pdf); Robert Megarry Miscellany-at-Law (Sweet & Maxwell, London, 1955) 76 (pdf); mentalfloss).

The Court’s approach in this case was replicated by Twomey J in English v O’Driscoll [2016] IEHC 584 (25 October 2016), whilst the case itself was cited by Humphreys J in the High Court in KP v The Minister for Justice and Equality [2017] IEHC 95 (20 February 2017). In this short post, I want to mention the outcome in Everet v Williams, note its subsequent judicial citation, and refer briefly to the recent judgments of Humphreys and Twomey JJ.

In Everet v Williams, the Court referred the matter to the wonderfully-titled Deputy Remembrancer of the Court of Exchequer in Equity. His report that the case was a matter of “scandal and impertinence” was confirmed by the Court; the parties solicitors were attached for contempt and fined £50 each for reflecting so disreputably “upon the honour and dignity” of the Court; and the lawyer who drafted the plaintiff’s proceedings was ordered to bear the costs of the action for causing such “indignity to the Court”. But the parties did not learn their lesson; and they continued – separately – to ply their trade, until their luck eventually ran out: John Everet, the plaintiff, was executed at Tyburn in 1730; and Joseph Williams, the defendant, was executed at Maidstone in 1727 – by not hanging together, they were hanged separately, proving Benjamin Franklin’s aphorism half a century before he uttered it!

Moreover, in 1735, the almost equally colourful William Wreathock, the plaintiff’s solicitor, was convicted of conspiracy and robbery, and sentenced to be hanged. However, his sentence was commuted to transportation, though he eventually obtained a Royal Pardon, returned to England, and resumed his practice; nevertheless, he was struck off the roll of attorneys in 1758 (see Malcolm McKenzie Park “William Wreathcock – Imperfect Attorney” (1993) 87 Victorian Bar News 73 (SSRN)).

The case has had a strong pull on the legal imagination down the ages. (more…)

The Future of the Law of Restitution for Unjust Enrichment in Ireland

Euro notes = Irish flag (notes via Private Law Discussion Group in the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin, is delighted to welcome Dr Niamh Connolly (University College London) next Thursday, 30 March 2017, at 2:00pm, in the Trinity Research in Social Sciences (TRiSS) Seminar Room, 6th floor, Arts Building, TCD (map), to give a paper on

The Future of Restitution in Ireland.

All are welcome, particularly those with a research interest in private law, unjust enrichment and restitution. This event is open to the public and free of charge. If you would like to attend, please register on Eventbrite.

Niamh Connolly (via UCL website)Dr Niamh Connolly (pictured right) is a lecturer at University College London, where she moved from Trinity College Dublin in 2016. Her principal research and teaching interest is in unjust enrichment law. She is interested in how Irish private law compares to that of England and Wales, and in differences in legal culture that affect the substantive law in these jurisdictions. Her paper will seek to interpret the sparse Irish case law on unjust enrichment in light of this wider question about the specificity of Irish law. In particular, Niamh will ask whether Irish legal culture is less formalist than that of England and Wales, and if so, how that affects Irish restitution law. Niamh hopes that the seminar will provide an opportunity to hear the views of other Irish jurists as to the possible distinctiveness of Irish judicial approaches in private law.

The Private Law Discussion Group is a Research Group in the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin, which invites collaboration and engagement nationally and internationally on private law, including property law, tort, contract, restitution, and unjust enrichment.

You can’t keep the proceeds of a bank error in your favour; and, if you do, you probably won’t be able to get out of jail free – updated

Get Out of Jail Free cardIn the board-game Monopoly, one of the cards that you can get by landing on ‘Chance’ is ‘Get out of jail free‘. If you are sent to jail during the game, you can use the card to ‘escape’ immediately, without having to cool your heels for the three turns otherwise mandated by the rules. It is as about a useful guide for life as the its fellow Monopoly ‘Community Chest’ card, which tells you that you can keep the proceeds of a bank error in your favour. Unfortunately, you can’t; and spending it is straightforward theft, as is well illustrated by a story in today’s Irish Independent:

Jail for ‘flabbergasted’ teen who succumbed to temptation after €20k was mistakenly lodged in his account

Karl Smith was due €200

A teenager who had “an incredible temptation presented to him” two days after his 19th birthday when his former employer mistakenly lodged almost €20,000 into account has been jailed for theft. …

Judge Melanie Greally sentenced Smith to four years in prison with the final two years suspended.

There is more on this case here, here, here and here. This is not the only time this kind of thing has happened, though it certainly seems to be the most unlucky defendant. (more…)

The Global Futures of Unjust Enrichment, 21-22 April 2017

Goff&JonesA conference on the theme of the Global Futures of Unjust Enrichment will be held on Friday 21 April 2017 and Saturday 22 April 2017 in the UCL Gustave Tuck Theatre, Wilkins Building, Gower Street, London WC1 (map here).

The Bentham House Conference 2017 celebrates the publication of the 50th anniversary edition of Goff & Jones: The Law of Unjust Enrichment, and honours the memory of the book’s first authors, Lord Goff of Chieveley and Professor Gareth Jones, who both died in 2016. The conference brings together leading scholars from around the world to consider the future of unjust enrichment in overseas jurisdictions, and to discuss current problems and controversies in English law.

The emergence of the law of unjust enrichment as a distinct part of the law of obligations was the most important and radical development in English private law of the last hundred years. Academic writing played a significant role in this development, and most significant of all was Robert Goff and Gareth Jones’s seminal work on the topic in 1966. The speakers paying tribute to Goff and Jones are a veritable who’s-who of contemporary private law. On Friday 21 April 2017, they will discuss the future trajectory of the law of unjust enrichment in overseas jurisdictions; and on Saturday 22 April 2017, they will consider a series of important issues which have been thrown up by the English case law over the past decade, and which will require significant further attention from the courts.

The conference has been convened by Professor Charles Mitchell (UCL), Professor Paul Mitchell (UCL) and Dr Stephen Watterson (Cambridge). More information about the conference, including the draft conference programme, speaker biographies, and booking, is available here.

Overpayments by ATMs and theft from banks

Money from an ATM, via flickrIn June 2012, a massive IT failure affected all of Ulster Bank’s ATMs, and many customers sought to take advantage by making multiple withdrawals of cash which they did not have in their accounts. As I have commented many times on this blog, in the case of overactive ATMs, overpayments, and theft, a bank error in your favour is not a gift from God; an overactive ATM is not santa, and the scrooge bank will have to be repaid; bank errors are not a licence to gamble; and keeping the proceeds of a bank error in your favour can amount to theft.

However, in a recent prosecution of a man who managed to withdraw €13,600 from Ulster Bank ATMs during the IT failure, the judge dismissed the case as the prosecution failed to prove Ulster Bank did not consent to the withdrawals, and the State had failed to prove the bank existed. The defendant was charged with 23 counts of stealing cash, the property of “Ulster Bank Ireland Ltd”, and whilst there was evidence of various entities associated with Ulster Bank, the judge held that there was no documentary proof of a properly incorporated legal entity called “Ulster Bank Ireland Ltd” put before the jury, and he therefore directed the jury to acquit the defendant.

The defendant was not the only person in this boat. The bank investigated 100s of cases around the systems fault, around 30 customers were reported to Gardaí, and there already have been successful prosecutions. This directed acquittal will be an one-off; I expect that the proofs in future prosecutions will be more than sufficient.

Update (25 January 2018): here’s a case where the proofs were sufficient, but the judge was – unusually – lenient:

Soldier withdrew €13k from ATM after bank glitch

A soldier who fraudulently withdrew more than €13,000 when Ulster Bank experienced a software failure more than five years ago will be left without a conviction if he makes a contribution to charity.

Thomas Brannigan (32) made 45 cash withdrawals from an Ulster Bank ATM in Tallaght on one day in June 2012. Due to a glitch in the bank’s computer system, he was able to take a total of €13,250 from his account even though he only had €500 in it. A court heard that Brannigan had since repaid all the money. Judge John Lindsay said he would leave Brannigan without a conviction if he donated €500 to the Irish Handicapped Children’s Pilgrim Trust. …