A legal dispute between members of a family over the estate of a woman can continue, a High Court judge has ruled.
Ms Justice Nuala Butler said she was satisfied that the case brought by Margaret Campbell, daughter of the late Margaret Ahern, of Greencastle Road, Coolock, Dublin, can proceed after she refused an application to strike it out because of delay.
Mrs Campbell is suing her mother's estate seeking specific performance of an alleged transfer of ownership agreement she had with her mother in relation to the ownership of the family home which is valued at €213,000.
Extension to family home
Mrs Campbell claims that in 2007, she and her late husband David Campbell, reached an oral agreement with Mrs Ahern that in return for the Campbells paying for the construction of an extension to the family home, along with a payment of €170,000.
On that basis, it was claimed, Mrs Ahern would transfer the property to the Campbells, subject to the mother having a right of residence for her lifetime.
Mrs Campbell says she paid €154,000 towards the construction and another €10,000 as a deposit on the additional payment of €170,000.
Mrs Campbell says as alternative to a specific performance order she seeks a declaration she is entitled to a 50 per cent beneficial interest in the property.
The action against her mother was first brought in 2013 and a few days after a formal statement of claim was served in February 2015, Mrs Ahern died.
The proceedings were then reconstituted with Mrs Ahern's son-in-law, Paul Geraghty, as executor of her will, becoming the defendant. Mrs Campbell's husband had also died in 2012.
Mr Geraghty asked the court to strike out Mrs Campbell's claim because of delay in prosecuting it.
Ms Justice Butler, outlining the circumstances of the case, said it seemed that by the time of Mr Campbell's death relations between her (Margaret Campbell) and her mother had become strained.
Margaret's marriage had broken down some time previously – perhaps as early as 2007 – and Margaret and her adult children moved in with her mother to Greencastle Road.
There is a dispute about how long Margaret Campbell stayed but in any event, by May 2013, it was clear the daughter had concerns about the money she had already expended and whether her mother was in fact going to sell the house to her, the judge said.
As a result, she brought proceedings against her mother who then made a new will, appointing Mr Geraghty as executor, and leaving her home to seven of her children, and one grandchild, but nothing for Margaret.
A full defence to the claim was lodged and it was denied, among other things, that the Campbells arranged for the construction of the extension or paid €154,000 for it. An attempt at mediation also failed.
Last year, Mr Geraghty applied to have the case struck out for delay and Mrs Campbell opposed it.
Ms Justice Butler was satisfied the delay was inordinate, but on the spectrum of inordinate delay, it was at the more moderate end.
The balance of justice however weighed in favour of allowing Mrs Campbell continuing her case, she said. If she loses her claim for specific performance of the alleged agreement (to transfer the house) she still has a claim based on the expenditure on the extension, the judge said.
On the other hand, there is undoubtedly prejudice caused to the defendant by reason of the death of Margaret Ahern and her consequent non-availability as a witness in the proceedings, she said.
The judge, while ruling the case could continue, urged the parties to go to mediation given concern expressed by lawyers for both parties that the size of the estate is not sufficient to justify expensive High Court litigation.
"There is a real risk that if this case proceeds and costs are awarded from the estate (and possibly the costs of both parties), then there will be nothing left in the estate either for the plaintiff, if she succeeds, or for the beneficiaries under the will.
"Consequently, I think that this is a case in which mediation is not simply advisable, it is imperative."