High Court strikes out LiP’s “vexatious” fraud claim against solicitor

Pester: No proper claim

The High Court has struck out a “vexatious” and “abusive” fraud claim by a litigant in person, seeking £160,000 in damages from a solicitor over a 17-year-old property dispute.

Master Pester said the claim was “effectively an attempt to relitigate” a property dispute between Christdeena Ellis and her mother that began in 2005 over the ownership of a house.

The master said he did not consider there was “any basis properly to allege any kind of fraud whatsoever” against David Burrin, a solicitor based at that time at the law firm Stephens & Sons.

“That conclusion also justifies the particulars of claim being struck out. They are vexatious. They are abusive. They do not set out a proper cause of action.”

In a ruling from June published this week, the High Court heard that Ms Ellis brought possession proceedings against her mother, Linda King, at Medway County Court in 2005. The property was registered in the name of Ms Ellis.

Mr Recorder Gibson QC ruled in 2008 that Ms Ellis held the property on trust for herself and her mother “in shares to be determined”, commenting that “neither party was a reliable witness”.

The recorder rejected Ms Ellis’s claim for possession and Ms King’s counterclaim that the legal title should be transferred to her. He ordered an enquiry into the contributions of the parties to the acquisition of the property. At this point Ms King instructed Mr Burrin.

Following the enquiry in 2009, District Judge Liston ruled that Ms King was the beneficial owner of the property, although she should account to the claimant for contributions. Ms Ellis was ordered to transfer the legal title to Ms King.

Master Pester said that Ms Ellis, who “disagreed with the order”, began writing letters to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, complaining about the conduct of Mr Burrin.

Ms Ellis’s application to stay the order was dismissed in November 2009. An appeal direct to the Court of Appeal was rejected as totally without merit.

In the absence of a transfer by Ms Ellis, the court executed a transfer of the property without her consent in 2010.

Master Pester said: “Ms Ellis continued making various applications to court, which resulted I understand in a three-year civil restraint order being imposed upon her. I do not have the exact dates for when this occurred.”

Once this expired, Ms Ellis returned to court and brought another action against Mrs King, which was rejected in January 2020by His Honour Judge Venn in Canterbury County Court.

Master Pester said Ms Ellis’s latest claim, in November last year, sought over £160,000 in damages from Mr Burrin for “civil fraud/dishonesty”. The solicitor responded by applying for an order striking out the claim.

The master ruled that most of Ms Ellis’s submissions “proceeds on a number of factual mis-readings and legal misunderstandings of what has gone on”.

He continued: “It is very hard to see what cause of action is asserted against Mr Burrin. It is a usual occurrence in proceedings, where one party is represented and the other is not, that the solicitor or counsel for the represented party will prepare a draft minute of order for a judge to approve. There is nothing improper in that. Nor does it found any claim for fraud.

“If what is really being sought in substance is the setting aside of the earlier orders in the Medway County Court which Ms Ellis does not like, any challenge to those order is grossly out of time.”

Further, there was “no basis” to set aside the earlier judgments from 2008/9 – Ms Ellis “knew broadly the facts that are now set out in Mr Burrin’s witness statement” at that time.

He added: “There is no proper claim. This is effectively an attempt to relitigate proceedings that go back as long ago as 2008 and 2009, where multiple applications for permission to appeal were brought, which were dismissed.”

Master Pester struck out the claim and dismissed Ms Ellis’s application to strike out Mr Burrin’s application.

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