Supreme Court Affirms Lower Court Decision In Favor Of Oniyama
The Supreme Court of Liberia sitting in its October, A.D. 2014 Term on January 8, 2014 rendered judgment in favor of Defendant/Appellee, Dr. Nelson Oniyama against the Plaintiff/Appellant, SubahBelleh& Associates in a land dispute which has been contested since 2010.
The Supreme Court delivered on behalf of the Court by Associate Justice, Philip A. Z. Banks, lll said in its judgment affirmed the verdict of the jury in favour of the Defendant/Appellee being in accord with the facts and law, the said verdict and judgment of the trial court. Two of the Justices-Chief Justice Korkpor and Associate Justice JamesettaWolokolie dissented to the ruling.
The Supreme Court observed that its opinion was reached after considered the reviewed the facts and circumstances presented in the case, the oral arguments advanced by the parties and the contentions set forth in their respective briefs; having carefully examined the law governing and applicable to ejectment matters; being satisfied that the Plaintiff/Appellant did not meet the evidentiary burden of proof standard required under the laws and applicable to ejectment cases.
The Plaintiff, SubahBelleh& Associates filed a complaint against the Defendant, Dr. C. Nelson Oniyama in May, 2011 before the Sixth Judicial Circuit/Civil Law Court, Montserrado County that the Defendant has encroached on its property situated Bushrod Island, Monrovia, Liberia and refused to vacate from the subject property despite and that Plaintiff is entitled to damage in the amount of US$100,000.00 for depriving plaintiff of the peaceful enjoyment of its property.
Plaintiiff in its complaint amongst other things alleged in its Complaint that the Defendant, Dr. C. Nelson Oniyama had encroached on its property its owned by virtue of a deed issued in its favor by Mr. John G. T. Nagbe Administrator of the Intestate Estate of the late G. KofffaNagbe which it purchased in 1985.
The Defendant in disputing the Plaintiff’s claim stated that the land in question was purchased after carefully adhering to the procedures and requirements applicable to the purchase of land in the Republic of Liberia. Defendant further stated in his Complaint that he carried the survey of the subject in accordance with the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy requirements.
According to Defendant’s Answer, after the purchase of the said property was resisted by one Isaac WlehTugbeh and other squatters on the land, thus compelling him to institute an Ejectment action against Mr. Tugbeh and the Squatters and after hearing at the Civil Law Court, the Court entered against Mr. Tugbeh and the squatters, which decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court.
Defendant Oniyama noted that while this matter was pending the Honorable Court, the Residents of the Borough of New Kru Town petitioned the Government o Liberia to construct a market building on the said property but unfortunately during the ground breaking ceremony for the construction of the market building, the President of Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was informed that the property recommended to the Government for the market building belongs to Dr. C. Nelson Oniyama and predicated upon that information the government of Liberia abandoned the project.
Defendant Oniyama said his Answer to the Court that all of these activities were reported the local dailies, and on radio and television stations throughout the country to the knowledge of the Plaintiff and that the offices and residences one of Plaintiff’s manager is located in the vicinity of the subject property of litigation.
Further, the Defendant also asserted in his Answer that the Plaintiff’s title deed is defective in that it failed to meet the requirement of the transfer of title as laid down under the Decedent Estate Law of Liberia which required the presentation of a Letters of Administration, Decree of Sale and duly executed title deed and that the Plaintiff’s title of superior to the said property cannot lie for many defects in Plaintiff’s title deed.
During trial and after the close of the evidence, both oral and written the trial Judge, on written request, charged the jury, in summarizing the facts and setting out the law governing such matter. The jury, having deliberated in their room of deliberation for a period, returned a verdict of not liable in favour of the Defendant mainly concluding that the Defendant had title and the right of possession to the property in dispute, that the Plaintiff had no right to the said property and therefore the Plaintiff was not entitled to possession of the property or to damages.
After the jury verdict, and the Trial Judge seemingly equally convinced that the Plaintiff had failed to meet the requisite burden of proof standard governing such ejectment case, denied the Plaintiff’s Motion for a new trial and refused to reverse the jury’s verdict and enter final judgment in favor of the Defendant. The three (3) issues addressed by the Judge in his ruling were as follows:
- a) Whether or not evidence adduced by plaintiff during trial is sufficient to hold the defendant liable?
- b) Whether or not, plaintiff’s failure to have acted when it should have acted in the circumstances under consideration relative to the property in dispute makes the defendant the proper owner of the property in light of the litigation against TugbehWreh and others that was determined finally by the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia?
- c) Whether or not the unanimous verdict returned by the Jury in favor of defendant should be set aside?
In addressing these issues, the Trial Court observed that the Deed annexed to Plaintiff’s Complaint “raises eyebrows a: to its validity. For in this jurisdiction there is no instrument that conveys title to the ownership of real property referred to as “letter of authority”. More besides further critical analysis of said deed reveals that the document is a fudged instrument in which the word administration is replaced by the world authority. It is also the practice hoary with age in this jurisdiction that mandates the issuance of letters of administration before any administration deed can be issued by anyone claiming authority as administrator of an estate.”
The Court also observed that in addition to these defects in the deed; it is also the law in this jurisdiction that any person who fails to have any instrument relating to real property probated and registered within four months after its execution, the title to such real property shall be null and void against any party holding a subsequent deed for property which was probated and registered within four months.
The court noted the plaintiff’s deed was executed on the 14th day of November, A.D. 1986, probated and registered on the 11th day, that is, about a year from the time of its conduct of plaintiff is violative of the law herein above quoted. Therefore the said deed in keeping with law and practice is defective and does not convey title to plaintiff in registered within statutory time.
The trial court also observed that prior to the purchase of the land, the defendant in pursuit of clear business transaction requested for a resurvey of the land which was conducted after several publications were made in the Inquirer Newspaper thereby giving notice to the public including the plaintiff. But (it), (plaintiff), failed to react.
In view of this, the court said the verdict of not liable being harmony with the testimonies of the witnesses, and documentary evidence produced during trial of this case, and the law controlling, the unanimous verdict of the trial Jury holding the defendant not liable is hereby confirmed and affirmed. And the court by virtue of this motion having been filed by the plaintiff, hereby adjudge the defendant not liable as a final judgment in this case.
Accordingly, the clerk of this court by virtue of this motion having been filed by the plaintiff, hereby adjudge the defendant not liable as a final judgment in this case.
It was from this ruling and final judgment that the plaintiff/appellant believing the judge to be in error in confirming and affirming the verdict of the trial jury, coupled with other errors attributed to the court in the course of the trial, noted exceptions to the ruling and judgment and announced an appeal to the Honorable Supreme court.
The Supreme Court having reviewed the facts and circumstances presented in the case, the oral arguments advanced by the parties and the contentions set forth in their respective briefs; having carefully examined the laws governing and applicable to ejectment matters; being satisfied that the plaintiff/appellant did not meet the evidentiary burden of proof standard required under the said laws and applicable to ejectment cases, by the establishment, through the preponderance of the evidence, of clear, convincing and unblemished title; and cognizant that the defendant/appellee, has been in possession and shown clear ownership and title to the property in dispute, it is hereby adjudged that the verdict of the jury in favor of the defendant/appellee, being in accord with the facts and the law, the said verdict and judgment are hereby affirmed.
The court maintained that the jury did not err in confirming the said verdict and entering judgment thereon.