Elderly widow who sued son and grandson over house sale dies before ruling
Elizabeth Murphy claimed she received none of the €172,158 sale proceeds of her Dublin home
An elderly widow who sued her son, grandson and solicitors over allegedly getting none of the €172,158 net sale proceeds of her Dublin home has died days before the Supreme Court ruled her case alleging negligence against the solicitors could proceed.
Elizabeth Murphy (86), described as “vulnerable” and “functionally illiterate”, died two weeks ago, the Supreme Court was told after delivering judgment this week granting her appeal against a High Court order halting her case against Beauchamps solicitors.
The Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham; Mr Justice John Murray and Mr Justice Liam McKechnie all expressed concern neither the court nor Beauchamps lawyers were told of Ms Murphy’s death earlier.
Counsel for Ms Murphy said his side had not wanted to interfere with the court’s deliberations but Mr Justice Murray said that was for the court to decide. The matter was adjourned for a week for submissions as to what happens next.
Ms Murphy sued Beauchamps solicitors and solicitor Joseph Bowe, care of Beauchamps; her son Anthony Murphy, Larkfield Place, Lucan, Co Dublin, and grandson Anthony, otherwise Tony Murphy, Ballyown Lane, Lucan.
She alleged negligence and breach of contract against the solicitors and negligence, fraud, deceit and unjust enrichment against her son and grandson.
The case arose from transactions between 2002 and 2004 including raising of a €100,000 loan in the joint names of Mrs Murphy and her grandson Tony on her former home at Rathdrum Road, Crumlin, and its later sale for €271,000. Ms Murphy alleged she received none of the net sale proceeds of €172,158 after a cheque in that sum, made out to “Elizabeth Murphy and Anthony Murphy” and sent by Beauchamps to her son’s home, was cashed by him.
It was alleged Beauchamps acted for Ms Murphy and her grandson when an alleged clear conflict of interest existed.
The defendants denied the claims and the solicitors argued Mr Bowe gave Ms Murphy appropriate advice and expressed reservations to her about the proposed transfer of her interest in her home but she confirmed instructions to proceed.
Her son and grandson claimed she gave her half of the net proceeds of sale to her son after coming to live at his home in 2004 where a special extension to meet her disability needs was built. She lived there for up more than two years before she left of her own choosing, it was claimed. She ultimately moved to sheltered housing in the city.
The High Court struck out the case against the solicitors and Mr Bowe but said it could proceed against the son and grandson.
Ms Murphy appealed the ruling on Beauchamps but the case against her son and grandson later settled on terms including her son would pay €50,000 from the net proceeds of sale of a property in Turkey to his mother’s solicitors, Shannon & O’Connor Solicitors, with the rest to divided 40:60 respectively between that firm and Bowman McCabe Solicitors, for the son and grandson.
In striking out her case against Beauchamps and Mr Bowe in 2011, Mr Justice Michael Peart said, while Ms Murphy, then aged 84, was clearly vulnerable and suggestible in her evidence, it could not be presumed she was similarly vulnerable at the time of the disputed transactions and he regarded her recollection of events was confused and unreliable.
While it was beyond doubt she never received any proceeds of the loan taken out on her home, there was no evidence that was due to any breach of duty by the solicitors, he found.
The Chief Justice ruled the High Court erred in not taking Ms Murphy’s case at its highest.
The court failed to have due regard to views of a clinical psychologist Ms Murphy’s level of vulnerability and gullibility relating to legal transactions was quite high and her capabilities in 2011 were probably similar ten years earlier, she said
It also erred in not paying due regard to views of a conveyancing expert Ms Murphy was a vulnerable client open to pressure who should have been treated as such.
The High Court also erred in not having due regard to “prima facie evidence” in the client file that Beauchamps was aware the money produced from sale of the house would be used by Anthony Murphy, her son, for his benfit, she added.
Striking out the solicitors’ own motion arguing they cannot be held liable for negligence on grounds Ms Murphy, having settled her case against her son and grandson, was legally identified with their alleged acts, the Chief Justice said that issue was not appropriate for a court of appeal.