Judge refuses to award sum to woman’s estate over son’s alleged failure to support her

Mr Justice Anthony Barr said right to maintenance extinguished upon death

The High Court has refused to award a financial sum to a woman’s estate on account of an alleged failure by her son to provide support and maintenance to her before she died.

In a ruling, Mr Justice Anthony Barr said he was satisfied that the proceedings were statute-barred. Further, he said the right to support and maintenance is a personal right belonging to Philomena Murray that was extinguished upon her death.

He noted that farming lands had been transferred to Noel Murray in 1991 by his father, Cornelius Murray, on the condition Noel would provide maintenance and support for his parents suitable to their age and health. Cornelius Murray died seven years later.

Three days prior to her death in 2016, Philomena Murray issued proceedings against Noel and his wife Angeline Murray seeking an order requiring them to provide her with support and maintenance for the rest of her life in accordance with the burden registered on the lands in 1991. She also wanted an order for payment of maintenance costs, together with damages, said the judge.

Following her death, Patrick Murray and Phil Anne Fitzgerald were substituted in as personal representatives of her estate.

Ms Fitzgerald gave evidence that her mother, an independent and proud woman, was not supported during her lifetime by Noel and Angeline Murray, the judge said. Instead, she and her remaining siblings tended to their mother’s needs. They continued their mother’s action to recoup for their mother’s estate the monetary value of the support Noel Murray was supposed to provide.

Monetary claim

They obtained judgment in default of appearance against Noel and Angeline Murray in 2019, the judge said. In pursuing their monetary claim, Ms Fitzgerald estimated the value of this support and maintenance was €460,000, said the judge.

Having found the action became statute-barred in 2003, Mr Justice Barr went on to say that, had damages been recoverable, no specific loss was satisfied in evidence by her estate. Concrete evidence about the level of services provided to their mother would have been required, and it is “neither possible, nor appropriate” for the court to “pluck a figure out of the sky” to award damages, he said. He said any right to damages cannot be “tacked on” to the burden on the lands.

They also sought a court declaration that the burdens registered on the lands for Philomena Murray rank superior and prior to a judgment mortgage registered over the same lands in favour of Allied Irish Banks PLC (AIB) in 2015.

Mr Justice Barr said that, had he found a monetary amount was recoverable by the plaintiffs, their claim on the lands would not rank above the bank’s judgment, the judge said.

In ruling on these proceedings, he simultaneously dealt with a separate but interrelated case brought by AIB asking the court to declare that the conveyance by Noel Murray to his wife Angeline Murray of the same lands under a purported separation agreement was void as a fraudulent conveyance.

Transfer of ownership

A few months after AIB issued a summary summons against him seeking judgment of €1.1 million owed to it, Noel Murray transferred ownership of the three land parcels to be jointly under his and his wife’s names, the judge noted.

Later in 2011, he entered into a separation agreement with Angeline Murray, which provided that she and their two daughters would reside at the family home in West End, Kilkee, Co Clare. It also said he would transfer to her the beneficial ownership of all his estate and interest in the three folios, said the judge.

In 2014, the bank obtained judgment against farmer-turned-property developer Noel Murray in the sum of €1.1 million on account of company and personal loans. This was registered as a judgment mortgage on the Co Clare lands in 2015, the judge said.

Noel Murray accepted in court that he was currently working the farm that comprised the Co Clare land folios, notwithstanding that the lands were in the sole name of his ex-wife. He denied the title transfer had anything to do with the bank summons, according to the judge.

Mr Justice Barr said it is “clear” Noel Murray continues to exercise considerable authority over what happens to the lands at issue. He was satisfied the 2011 transfer of his interest in the lands “constitutes fraudulent conveyances” and the bank is thus entitled to an order declaring the transfer void.