Nelson v Rye and Another: ChD 5 Dec 1995

The claimant, a solo musician appointed the defendant to be his manager collecting the fees and royalties due to him and paying his expenses. Rye was to account to him annually for his net income after deducting his own commission. When the relationship came to an end the plaintiff claimed an account, and the question was whether the account should be limited to the six years before the issue of the writ or whether it should extend over the whole period of the relationship.
Held: Pure breach of trust were not subject to limitation but is so on an allegation of constructive trust. Millett LJ: ‘Accordingly, the defendant’s liability to account for more than six years before the issue of the writ in Nelson v Rye depended on whether he was, not merely a fiduciary (for every agent owes fiduciary duties to his principal), but a trustee, that is to say, on whether he owed fiduciary duties in relation to the money.
Whether he was in fact a trustee of the money may be open to doubt. Unless I have misunderstood the facts or they were very unusual it would appear that the defendant was entitled to pay receipts into his own account, mix them with his own money, use them for his own cash flow, deduct his own commission, and account for the balance to the plaintiff only at the end of the year. It is fundamental to the existence of a trust that the trustee is bound to keep the trust property separate from his own and apply it exclusively for the benefit of his beneficiary. Any right on the part of the defendant to mix the money which he received with his own and use it for his own cash flow would be inconsistent with the existence of a trust. So would a liability to account annually, for a trustee is obliged to account to his beneficiary and pay over the trust property on demand. The fact that the defendant was a fiduciary was irrelevant if he had no fiduciary or trust obligations in regard to the money. If this was the position, then the defendant was a fiduciary and subject to an equitable duty to account, but he was not a constructive trustee. His liability arose from his failure to account, not from his retention and use of the money for his own benefit, for this was something which he was entitled to do.
Unless the defendant was a trustee of the money which he received, however, the claim for an account was barred after six years. The fact that the defendant was a fiduciary did not make his failure to account a breach of fiduciary duty or make him liable to pay equitable compensation. His liability to account arose from his receipt of money in circumstances which made him an accounting party. It did not arise from any breach of duty, fiduciary or otherwise. The defendant was merely an accounting party who had failed to render an account.’


Millett LJ


Times 05-Dec-1995, [1996] 1 WLR 1378


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedUltraframe (UK) Ltd v Fielding and others ChD 27-Jul-2005
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 . .
CitedGreen and others v Gaul and Another; In re Loftus deceased ChD 18-Mar-2005
The claimants began an action in January 2003 to seek to set aside the appointment of an administrator from December 1991, and to have set aside transfers of property made within the estate.
Held: The limitation period against a personal . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 05 June 2022; Ref: scu.84248