Mothew (T/a Stapley and Co) v Bristol and West Building Society: CA 24 Jul 1996

The solicitor, acting in a land purchase transaction for his lay client and the plaintiff, had unwittingly misled the claimant by telling the claimant that the purchasers were providing the balance of the purchase price themselves without recourse to further borrowing when he knew that they were using an overdraft to obtain further funding. The plaintiff claimed in breach of trust.
Held: A claim for damages for a solicitor’s failure to disclose the existence of a 2nd mortgage must show that damage flowed from the failure alleged.
Millett LJ said: ‘A fiduciary is someone who has undertaken to act for or on behalf of another in a particular matter in circumstances which give rise to a relationship of trust and confidence. The distinguishing obligation of a fiduciary is the obligation of loyalty. The principal is entitled to the single-minded loyalty of his fiduciary. This core liability has several facets. A fiduciary must act in good faith; he must not make a profit out of his trust; he must not place himself in a position where his duty and his interest may conflict; he may not act for his own benefit or the benefit of a third person without the informed consent of his principal. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but it is sufficient to indicate the nature of fiduciary obligations. They are the defining characteristics of the fiduciary.’
He is not subject to fiduciary obligations because he is a fiduciary; it is because he is subject to them that he is a fiduciary: ‘A fiduciary who acts for two principals with potentially conflicting interests without the informed consent of both is in breach of the obligation of undivided loyalty; he puts himself in a position where his duty to one principal may conflict with his duty to another . . This is sometimes described as ‘the double employment rule.” and
‘Finally, the fiduciary must take care not to find himself in a position where there is an actual conflict of duty so that he cannot fulfil his obligations to one principal without failing in his obligations to the other . . If he does, he may have no alternative but to cease to act for at least one and preferably both. The fact that he cannot fulfil his obligations to one principal without being in breach of his obligations to the other will not absolve him from liability.’
As to breach of the duty: ‘Breach of fiduciary obligation, therefore, connotes disloyalty or infidelity. Mere incompetence is not enough. A servant who loyally does his incompetent best for his master is not unfaithful and is not guilty of a breach of fiduciary duty.’
If the trustee has benefited from the breach, the court will order him to account for it on the application of the beneficiary. Millett LJ described such relief as ‘primarily restitutionary or restorative rather than compensatory’.
Millett LJ
Times 02-Aug-1996, [1996] EWCA Civ 533, [1998] Ch 1, [1997] 2 WLR 436, [1996] 4 All ER 698
Bailii
England and Wales
Cited by:
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The defendant solicitors had acted for the lenders and borrower in a mortgage transaction. The claimant sought repayment of the entire loan, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, in having preferred the interests of one client over those of another. . .
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CitedDEG-Deutsche Investitions und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH v Koshy and Other (No 3); Gwembe Valley Development Co Ltd (in receivership) v Same (No 3) CA 28-Jul-2003
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The defendant firm of solicitors sought leave to appeal against an injunction requiring them not to act for a client in making a bid to take over the business of the claimant, a former client of the firm.
Held: Leave was refused. The appeal . .
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CitedHilton v Barker Booth and Eastwood HL 3-Feb-2005
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The parties had engaged in a bitter 95 day trial in which allegations of forgery, theft, false accounting, blackmail and arson. A company owning patents and other rights had become insolvent, and the real concern was the destination and ownership of . .
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CitedLloyds TSB Bank Plc v Markandan and Uddin (A Firm) ChD 14-Oct-2010
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barnes_blackQBD11
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CitedCook v The Mortgage Business Plc CA 24-Jan-2012
cook_mbpCA2012
The land owners sought relief from possession orders made under mortgages given in equity release schemes: ‘If the purchaser raises all or part of the purchase price on mortgage, and then defaults, the issue arises whether the mortgagee’s right to . .
CitedPortman Building Society v Hamlyn Taylor Neck (a Firm) CA 22-Apr-1998
The mortgage advance had been against an express requirement that the client use the property as his private residence. After the client defaulted, the appellant lender discovered that the solicitors acting for themselves and the lay client had . .
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CitedLeeds and Holbeck Building Society v Arthur and Cole ChD 2001
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CitedFHR European Ventures Llp and Others v Cedar Capital Partners Llc SC 16-Jul-2014
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CitedAIB Group (UK) Plc v Mark Redler and Co Solicitors SC 5-Nov-2014
Bank not to recover more than its losses
The court was asked as to the remedy available to the appellant bank against the respondent, a firm of solicitors, for breach of the solicitors’ custodial duties in respect of money entrusted to them for the purpose of completing a loan which was to . .
CitedHalton International Inc (Holding) and Another v Guernroy Ltd ChD 9-Sep-2005
Parties had entered into a shareholders’ agreement as to voting arrengemets within a company. Thay disputed whether votes had been used in reach of that agreement, particularly as to the issue of new shares and their allotment, but the court now . .
CitedLehtimaki and Others v Cooper SC 29-Jul-2020
Charitable Company- Directors’ Status and Duties
A married couple set up a charitable foundation to assist children in developing countries. When the marriage failed an attempt was made to establish a second foundation with funds from the first, as part of W leaving the Trust. Court approval was . .

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Updated: 27 December 2020; Ref: scu.140400