Gwenneth Webster v National Bank of Anguilla Ltd

JurisdictionAnguilla
CourtHigh Court (Saint Christopher, Nevis And Anguilla)
JudgeBLENMAN, J
Date22 December 2010
Docket NumberCLAIM NO.AXAHCV 0098/2008
[2010] ECSC J1222-1

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

Before:

The Hon. Madame Justice Louise Blenman

CLAIM NO.AXAHCV 0098/2008

Between:
Gwenneth Webster
claimant
and
National Bank Of Anguilla Limited
defendant
Appearances:

Ms. Tara Ruan for the Claimant

Ms. Merline Barrett for the Defendant

BLENMAN, J
1

Ms. Gwenneth Webster brings this claim against the National Bank of Anguilla Limited (The bank) on the basis of breach of contract. She seeks to recover from the bank her monies which she says that the bank negligently or unlawfully allowed her son, Mr. Akeame Mussington, to withdraw from her US dollars account. The bank denies that it acted negligently or in breach of contract in allowing Mr. Akeame Mussington to withdraw the monies.

Background
2

Ms. Webster opened a bank account with the bank. She says that she intended to be the sole account holder. During the process of opening the account, Ms.Webster states, that she requested the bank to put the names of her two minor children on the account, in the event that "something untoward" happened to her, the children would be named as the beneficiaries of the proceeds of the account.

3

She never intended to open a joint account. She says that she signed the Signature Account Load Sheet for the Authorized Signature Card and she signed in both signature boxes card. As a consequence, she was the only authorized signature for the account. In addition, she alone signed the "Agreement re: Joint Account" and the "Agreement re: Operation of Account". This resulted in the conclusion of a contract in relation to the opening of the US dollars account between herself and the bank, exclusively. The express terms of the agreement, she says stipulated that she alone was entitled to withdraw monies from the account. For four years, 2004–2008, she alone made withdrawals from the account.

4

However, onnthree occasions during, September 2008, the bank wrongfully or negligently permitted her son Mr. Akeame Mussington to withdraw a total of US$8000.00 from her account. This was done without her permission or consent and in breach of contract. She is sure that he did not use her bank book in order to effect the withdrawals.

5

She says, fsrther, that there was an implied term of the contract that she alone would be permitted to withdraw monies from the account.

6

The bank asrerts that Ms. Webster had a joint account in her name and that of her son Mr. Akaeme Mussington and daughter Ms. Deja Webster. The bank deniesthat it acted in breach of contract or that it was negligent when it caused the total sum of US$8000.00 to be paid to Mr. Akeame Mussington.

7

The bank st tes that Ms. Webster opened a joint account in her name and that of her two children, Ms. Deja Webster and Mr. Akeame Mussington and did not indicate that the reason for so doing was in the event of something untoward happening to her.

8

The bank ag ees that Ms. Webster signed the agreement in relation to the joint account and the agreement in relation to the operation of account and Signature Load Sheet. However, since her children were joint account holders, accordingly on attaining the age of maturity each of her children could have properly withdrawn monies from the joint account. In addition, the bank specifically denies that Ms. Webster said that she wanted a beneficiary account. In fact, the bank has offers no such accounts. The bank states, further, that its officer Mr. Richardson told Ms. Webster, on her opening the account, that on each of her children attaining majority they would be entitled to withdraw monies from the account.

9

The monies hat were paid to Mr. Akeame Mussington were lawfully done, since he was an authorized holder of the joint account which Ms. Webster had created.

Issues
10

The issues that arise for the court to resolve are as follows-

  • (a) What is the nature of the account that Ms. Gwenneth Webster opened?

  • (b) Whether Mr. Akeame Mussington was legally entitled to withdraw monies from the account.

Evidence
11

Ms. Webster testified on her own behalf. Ms. Carol Morton and Mr. Glenford Richardson gave evidence on behalf of the bank.

Claimants Submissions
Nature of the Account
12

Learned Counsel Ms. Tara Ruan submitted that the starting position for the court's consideration is to examine the Account Opening Agreements in order to determine the terms upon which the deposit was made. The governing principle as it relates to deposits with minors is that in the case of joint deposit accounts, in the name of an adult and a minor, the contract depends on the terms on which the deposit is made. SeeHalsbury's Laws of England, Volume 3, paragraph 43 (minors).

13

The terms of the agreement are as set out in the Account Opening Agreements. Ms. Ruan referred the court to the law cited in ThePractice and Law of Banking, H.P. Sheldon (17th Ed) is instructive on page 249 in which it is stated:-

"When a joint account is opened, it is advisable to get all the parties concerned to state in writing what signatures are necessary for operations on the account. Unless this is done the banker is not safe in honouring any cheques unless signed by all the parties and if, for instance, an account is opened by one party in the joint names of himself and another, without the authority of that other, the latter must, nevertheless join in signing before the banker can safely permit any withdrawal. If the parties wish less than all to have access to or be able to withdraw securities or articles left for safe custody in their joint names, and the like, then all such matters should be included in instructions signed by all."

14

Next, Learned Counsel Ms. Ruan referred the court toThe Practice and Law of Banking, H.P Sheldon (17th Ed) and Husband v. Davis (1851) CB 645.

15

Ms. Ruan stated that on the plain and ordinary reading of the Agreement re: Operation of Account and Agreement re: Joint Account, Ms. Webster is the only binding signature to the account. Particular reference is made to the final paragraph of the agreement re: Operation of Account where it states:"The agreement binds only the party by whom it is signed". Additionally, Ms. Webster provided the only signature to the Account Load Sheet and Specimen Signature Card and the only "undersigned" to the agreement re: Joint Account was Ms. Webster and not her son.

16

Further, Ms. Ruan posited that the background facts are important to give context to the interpretation of the agreements in that Ms. Webster made it known repeatedly that she only wanted her children to be beneficiaries if she died and not be able to withdraw monies while she was alive. The court, however, should also look at what was legally provided for under the agreement. It is not in dispute that Ms. Webster was the only binding signature; however the court must consider the plain and ordinary meaning of the terms to determine whether Mr. Akeame Mussington was legally entitled to withdraw the monies.

17

Ms. Ruan referred the court to the case ofGene B. Samuel v. Sheron Whinfield ANUHCV2006/0557, in which there was a review of the law as it relates to interpretation of a commercial contract. The court applied the "reasonable person test." The language of the agreements to a "reasonable man" would confirm Ms. Webster's belief and understanding of the type of account she had opened (see Investors Compensation Scheme Ltd vs West Boomwich Building Society et al [1998] 1 All ER 98 [1998] 1 All ER 98).

18

Learned Counsel Ms. Ruan said that applying those principles to the facts of this case the"reasonable person" having regard to the provisions of the Account Opening Agreements, the language plainly provides that Ms. Webster herself is the only person authorized to operate the account. Ms. Ruan referred the court to the Account Opening Agreement where it provides the following:-

Page 60 agreement re: joint account

"….Each of the undersigned hereby authorizes the bank to accept from time to time as a sufficient discharge for any sum or sums withdrawn from the said account any receipt, cheque or other voucher signed by an (1) one of the undersigned, without any other signature or the consent or any others of the undersigned thereto.

19

Learned Counsel Ms. Ruan submitted that on the plain and ordinary meaning of the words, this would mean that any one of the undersigned signatures could authorize withdrawals. The bank's witnesses agreed that the only undersigned was Ms. Gwenneth Webster since Mr. Akeame Mussington had not signed on to this agreement even after he turned 18 years.

20

Learned Counsel Ms. Ruan said that there are no compelling reasons for the court to imply that Mr. Akeame Mussington would be permitted to authorize withdrawals. There is no cogent evidence before the court to support such an inference. Neither of the Account Opening Agreements makes any reference to minors use and operation of the account. Mr. Glenford Richardson was not able to present the court with any notes he made or any witnesses to confirm that he in fact gave Ms. Webster information which would lead her to believe that Mr. Akeame Mussington could withdraw from the account. Ms. Ruan referred the court to the law as stated inGene B Samuel ibid at paragraph 14 when it states that:

"Where the contract is in writing and signed, the party signing it is usually regarded as bounded by it. Although the primary obligations are contained in express terms, it is quite unusual for the parties to express all of the primary obligations, or to provide for every contingency. The court, in these circumstances, usually implies terms to fill out the gaps in the contract, based on the circumstances of the contractual relationship. See Hughes v Greenwich London Borough Council [1993] 4 All ER 577 [1993] 4 All ER 577. The terms will be implied where there is a compelling reason, or put another way, when it is essential".

21

Ms. Ruan...

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