Arnaldo Brown given lifeline in church lawsuit
The defence for former Foreign Affairs State Minister Arnaldo Brown says Pastor Boswell Raymond of Harvest Tabernacle is to be held accountable for a land deal that went sour as he had reportedly tendered a ‘bad cheque” and was delinquent in his payments.
The church and the former St Catherine East Central member of parliament have been embroiled in a court battle since 2018 after National Commercial Bank foreclosed on two properties that the church had agreed to purchase from property owner Collin Jackson.
Harvest had sued Jackson and his then attorney, Brown, for damages for breach of contract and for unjust enrichment.
The church had also sued Brown for damages for negligence and for an accounting of all monies paid to him towards the purchase of the property.
The church, which had accused Brown of not getting the sale agreement stamped despite collecting $3,040,000 for transfer taxes, duties, and registration fees, subsequently succeeded in getting a default judgment, which was unsuccessfully challenged in the Supreme Court by Brown, who claimed that it had been entered irregularly.
But the Court of Appeal, in a ruling on Thursday, set aside the default judgment and has permitted Brown 14 days in which to file and serve his defence and counterclaim, thereby paving the way for a trial in the matter.
“There is, in fact, a trial pending, and we are going to have the matter tried because Pastor Raymond is claiming that Mr Brown is responsible for the loss suffered when in fact, the real problem is that he had issued a bounced cheque initially and was delinquent in his payments,” said Brown’s lawyer, Leonard Green, when contacted by The Gleaner.
Jackson and Harvest Tabernacle entered into a sale agreement in March 2012 for the purchase of two parcels of land in St Catherine for $36 million.
According to Raymond, in his affidavit, the deal was for a 20 per cent ($7.2 million) deposit to be paid in instalments and the balance payable via a vendor’s mortgage at $458,000 monthly.
But while the transaction was in effect, the property fell into arrears on mortgage payments and was sold.
Harvest, in its subsequent claim, alleged that it had paid $14,510,000 towards the purchase of the properties. Sums of $8,800,000, $3,040,000, and $2,670,000 were said to have been paid directly to Jackson, Brown, and NCB, respectively.
However, it said that at the time when the agreement was being made, the church had not been informed that there was a mortgage on the property.
Brown, however, failed to acknowledge receipt of the claim within 14 days after he had been served, which resulted in a default judgment being entered in April 2018.
In March the following year, Brown was served with the default judgment but a month before had filed an amended acknowledgment of service.
However, in April 2019, he challenged the default judgment after filing an application in which he sought the Supreme Court’s intervention in getting orders, including a cancellation of the default judgment.
Brown, in his draft defence, denied collecting $3,040,000 from Harvest and stated that any monies paid to him by the church was transferred to Jackson in accordance with the terms of the agreement. The attorney also contended that in the circumstances, he had no duty to account to Harvest.
Further, the attorney, by way of a counterclaim, stated that he had collected a replacement cheque for $700,00 payable to Jackson’s company, Caribbean Consumers Limited, after Harvest had given him a cheque for $1,800,000, which had bounced. That money was reportedly to go towards the initial first deposit of $2.5 million.
But Justice David Batts, in refusing the application, ruled that the judgment had not been irregularly entered. The judge also found that Brown’s defence had no chance of success and that there was no good reason for him not to have acknowledged receipt of the claim within the stipulated time.
Brown, as a result, appealed the ruling on a number of grounds, including that Justice Batts had erroneously embarked upon a mini-trial when he identified and dealt with issues and matters that were not relevant or necessary for him to consider whether or not the judgment had been irregularly entered.
Also, he charged that the judge had wrongly made findings of fact concerning issues in dispute that ought properly to be dealt with at trial and deprived the appellant of an opportunity to defend himself from the allegation made against him for negligence and breach of contract.
Among the grounds listed was that Justice Batts had wrongly and unfairly concluded that the dishonoured cheque had, or could have, no bearing on the issue as to whether it was the church’s conduct that had caused the foreclosure proceedings.
The Court of Appeal found that the judge had erred when he refused the appellant’s application for the default judgment to be set aside and for an extension of time to file his defence.
The appellate court judges also found that the judge was wrong to have made findings of fact and arrived at conclusions that were determinative of the claim in its entirety.
Consequently, the appellate court set aside Justice Batts’ order as well as the default judgment. It also ruled that Brown’s amended acknowledgment of service should stand and gave him permission to file his defence.
Costs were also awarded to Brown and are to be agreed or taxed.
The Court of Appeal, however, affirmed the order awarding costs to Harvest in the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, Green said he is pleased with the Court of Appeal’s ruling.
“We think that it’s the absolute correct decision in circumstances where we sincerely believe that Mr Brown has a good defence in the charge against him,” he said.
The Gleaner made attempts to get comments from Harvest’s attorney, Jalil Dabdoub, but calls, emails, and a WhatsApp message went unanswered.