You are here

Wife cannot sue solicitors after husband forged signature

9 March 2011

The wife of a man who sold their home by forging her signature cannot sue the solicitors who acted for him, the High Court has ruled.

The court heard that Rose Edehomo bought a property in East London with her husband Jerome in 1989. The property was registered in joint names.

Three years later Jerome instructed Bowling & Co to act for him in the sale of the property to a third party.

Giving judgment in Bowling & Co v Edehomo [2011] EWHC 393(Ch), Mr Justice Roth said Rose was unaware of the sale and played no part in the transaction.

“Her signature was forged, it would appear by Mr Edehomo, on both the contract and the TR1 form of transfer,” Roth J said.

“It is also suggested, although the claimant is not sure of this, that Mr Edehomo may have procured someone to impersonate her and attend a meeting at Bowling when the original instructions were given.”

Roth J said there was no suggestion that the purchasers were aware of the fraud and the claimant never received any of the money.

The claimant issued a claim on 1 December 2008 against Bowling alleging that they were in breach of their duty of care to her.

Roth J said this was claim in tort because there was no contract between Rose and the firm, based on the duty of Bowling to take reasonable steps to establish identities and to carry out the conveyancing transaction with skill and competence.

“The extensive delay in the commencement of these proceedings appears to be due, at least in part, to the conduct of the claimant’s previous firm of solicitors, which has since been dissolved,” he said.

“In any event, on her own case, the claim form was issued just one day within the six-year limitation period.

“But Bowling contend that if they were in breach of duty (which they deny) then the claimant suffered damage as a result on 21 November 2002 when contracts for the sale of the property were exchanged and therefore more than six years before this action was started.”

Roth J said that since the trial judge’s ruling that Rose did not suffer damage until the date of completion, the Court of Appeal had issued an important judgment in Nouri v Marvi [2010] EWCA Civ 1107. The dispute in this case was whether the date of completion or date of registration applied for limitation purposes.

In this case, the appeal judges said the “correct hypothesis” was to ask whether an action for damages could have been launched following completion and that any reduction in the value of the property must be assessed on the basis that the claimant was aware of the forged transfer.

Applying the same logic, Roth J said “it seems to me clear beyond argument that no potential purchaser would choose to enter a binding obligation to buy an interest in property at its open market value when he or she was told that it had already been sold to someone else, simply on the basis of being informed that the vendor’s signature on the earlier contract had been forged so that it could be disregarded.

“The potential purchaser could not know whether that was correct, and no one wishes to buy themselves into a lawsuit.”

Roth J held that the claimant suffered loss on exchange and could have started proceedings at that time, more than six years before the issue of proceedings. As a result her claim failed.

It is understood that Rose Edehomo has since been given permission to lodge a further claim at the High Court.

Categorised in:

Risk & Compliance Conveyancing