Healy v Ulster Bank: Supreme Court overturns trial judge’s decision for failure to engage with material evidence

In an unapproved judgment by the recently deceased Justice Hardiman (here), Clarke J and Laffoy J concurring, the Supreme Court overturned a High Court judgment for failure by the trial judge to engage with material and significant evidence which support the appellant’s case. The Court returned the case to the High Court for retrial.

Background

Healy, a medical doctor, was involved with a partner in a medical practice and in a building development company, Coole Property Holdings Ltd. Ulster Bank financed Coole’s development project. Healy signed a personal guarantee for €3.4 million of Coole’s borrowing from Ulster. In 2007, Healy’s partner paid him €2.2 million to buy him out of the practice and the development. Healy lodged the proceeds with Ulster Bank. In 2008, Ulster used a balance of US$1 million belonging to Healy to offset against a debt owed by Coole. Healy issued High Court proceedings against Ulster for unlawful conversion, breach of contract, negligence and deceit.

High Court

Healy gave evidence that he and his mother attended a meeting with Ulster prior to his deposit of the proceeds. Both Healy and Mrs Healy gave evidence that the Ulster manager, Leech, gave an assurance that Healy was “in the clear” with Ulster. Leech gave evidence that he did not recall Mrs Healy being present at the meeting, that he did not recall what was said, but that he would not have given such an assurance and that he did not have authority to do so. Dismissing Healy’s action, the trial judge accepted Leech’s evidence over Healy’s. However, the trialjudge accepted that Mrs Healy was at the meeting but did not address her evidence that Leech gave the assurance.

Healy appealed that decision.

Supreme Court

Relying on Hay v O’Grady [1992] 210, Ulster argued that the Supreme Court could not overturn the trial judge’s determination, where there was “a clear statement… by the trial judge as to his findings of primary fact, the inferences to be drawn and the conclusion that follows” [215].

However, Hardiman J reviewed the case law applying Hay v O’Grady, such as Clarke J’s statements that a trial judge’s decision could be overturned where there is a “a failure to engage with a significant element of the evidence put forward” Wright and Anor v AIB Finance and Leasing, Gearys Garage and John Deere [2013] IESC 55 [7.10]; or where”there may have been significant and material error(s) in the way in which the trial judge reached a conclusion as to the facts” Doyle v Banville [2012] IESC 25 [2.7].

Finding that the trial judge failed to engage with Mrs Healy’s evidence, and that her evidence was material and significant, the Court allowed Healy’s appeal and ordered a retrial before the High Court.

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