The Privy Council has restored a Supreme Court judgment handed down four years ago in favour of Sagicor Bank Jamaica Limited over a disputed multimillion-dollar loan.
The bank's customer, Marvalyn Taylor-Wright, an attorney, alleges that the lawsuit, originally filed against her by RBTT/RBC Royal Bank in March 2011, was based on a forged promissory note.
Sagicor Group acquired RBC Royal Bank Jamaica in 2014 and eventually merged it with its existing banking unit, Sagicor Bank Jamaica.
In an April 2014 summary judgment, then Supreme Court Justice Brian Sykes - now chief justice - ordered that Taylor-Wright pay the bank just under $40 million, plus interest dating from February 18, 2013.
In July 2016, the Court of Appeal set aside Justice Sykes' ruling on the basis that issues surrounding the disputed promissory note and whether it was forged require investi-gation, and cannot be a basis for summary judgment.
A summary judgment refers to a ruling without a full trial where one of the parties appears to have little prospect of success.
The court had also refused Sagicor's motion for leave to appeal to the Privy Council on the grounds that the bank had not shown that the question proposed to be submitted is one that arose from the decision of the Court of Appeal and is of great general or public importance.
As a result, Sagicor applied directly to the Privy Council, which in July 2017 granted the bank permission for the appeal to be heard.
The issue, Sagicor told the Financial Gleaner in response to queries when it decided to pursue that appeal, was one that relates to "a commercial bank's ability to effectively engage in banking business, namely, that commercial banks must be allowed to utilise the legal procedure of summary judgment to recover from delinquent debtors overdue, acknowledged and undisputed borrowings".
According to court documents, the claim has its genesis in an agreement whereby Taylor-Wright borrowed $21.76 million from RBTT Bank Jamaica Limited on July 27, 2007. RBTT was subsequently acquired by Royal Bank of Canada as part of a regional takeover and rebranded RBC Royal Bank (Jamaica) Limited.
The loan was secured by a promissory note dated July 20, 2007 as well as residential property in Stony Hill, St Andrew, and commercial property at Duke Street, Kingston.
However, the bank holds a note dated July 27. Taylor-Wright contends that the signature on that document is forged.
The bank sued Taylor-Wright in March 2011 to recover $31.66 million in loan and credit card debt. It claimed that she last made a payment on the loan in December 2009.
Taylor-Wright subsequently paid off the credit card debt but disputed the demand loan, contending that under the July 20 promissory note, she owed no liability to the bank as the document was incomplete, since it did not contain any agreed interest rate and the loan had been disbursed on July 27, 2007.
Lord Briggs, in the judgment on behalf of the five-member board delivered on May 14, noted that Justice Sykes concluded that since the bank's entitlement to the amount claimed did not depend upon the promissory note, the question whether it was or was not a forgery did not affect the bank's entitlement. He added that this was sufficiently demonstrated by Taylor-Wright's admission that she had borrowed the money.
The Privy Council said the judge was thus entitled to conclude, as he did, that there was no triable issue about that and other matters raised.
The board said it is fanciful to suppose that a substantial, largely unpaid, borrowing could be rendered irrecoverable merely because a document in identical terms to the second promissory was, for some reason which remains inexplicable, later forged and relied upon by the bank.
The Privy Council said it was a case in which a trial would have amounted to no more than a serious waste of time and expense for the parties, where Taylor-Wright's case disclosed no real prospect of her successfully resisting the bank's claim, and where the grant of summary judgment was the appropriate relief for the judge to grant the bank on the hearing of the parties' cross-applications.
Taylor-Wright was unavailable for comment, but her office has promised a response.
Sagicor was represented at the Privy Council by Sandra Minott-Phillips, QC, and Litrow Hickson. Taylor-Wright was represented by David Alexander, QC, Anwar Wright and Owen Roach.
Article Published: The Jamaica Gleaner
Date: May 18, 2018