The Magill Appeal Judgement (17 March 2005)
Supreme Court of Victoria - Court of Appeal
Magill v Magill  VSCA 51 (17 March 2005)
SUPREME COURT OF VICTORIA
COURT OF APPEAL
No. 3777 of 2002
MEREDITH JANE MAGILL, Appellant
LIAM NEAL MAGILL, Respondent
JUDGES: ORMISTON, CALLAWAY and EAMES, JJ.A.
WHERE HELD: MELBOURNE
DATES OF HEARING: 29 & 30 November and 1 December 2004
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 17 March 2005
MEDIUM NEUTRAL CITATION:  VSCA 51
Deceit - Paternity - False representation by wife in notification of birth forms that husband the father of two children - Whether tort of deceit applies within matrimonial situation - Claim confined during hearing to misrepresentations in birth forms - Whether honest belief by representor as to truth of assertions of paternity - Whether representations of fact or opinion - Whether representor wife intended husband to rely on the representations - Whether husband induced to act on the representations.
Damages for Deceit - Causation - Remoteness - Measure of damages.
Reasons for Decision - Adequacy - Whether absence of required findings of fact.
For the Appellant Ms H.M. Symon, S.C. with Clayton Utz
Mr R.J. Allen
For the Respondent Mr N. Lucarelli, Q.C. with Vivien Mavropoulos & Assoc.
Mr C. Salpic
Deceit – Paternity – False representation by wife
in notification of birth forms that husband the father of two children –
Whether tort of deceit applies within matrimonial situation – Claim confined
during hearing to misrepresentations in birth forms – Whether honest belief
by representor as to truth of assertions of paternity – Whether
representations of fact or opinion – Whether representor wife intended
husband to rely on the representations – Whether husband induced to act on
Damages for Deceit – Causation – Remoteness – Measure of damages.
Reasons for Decision – Adequacy – Whether absence of required findings of fact.
APPEARANCES: Counsel Solicitors
For the Appellant:
Ms H.M. Symon, S.C. with Mr R.J. Allen, Clayton Utz
For the Respondent
Mr N. Lucarelli, Q.C. with Mr C. Salpic, Vivien Mavropoulos & Assoc.
1 In this appeal I have had the benefit of reading the judgment which Eames, J.A. proposes to give and I agree with him that the appeal should be allowed and that the respondent’s claim should be dismissed, substantially for the reasons he has stated for reaching that conclusion. As Callaway, J.A. has pointed out, this was an unusual case in that it appears to have been fought ultimately on very narrow lines. It therefore ought not to be seen as a precedent which is likely to control the outcome of any similar proceedings. The conclusion may be seen to be technical and dependent on fine matters of procedure, but fraud is a serious matter to allege and prove and courts should be cautious in reaching adverse conclusions on such claims where a finding of deceit may have serious repercussions on a party’s reputation.
2 The reasons for judgment prepared by Eames, J.A. show that this was an unusual case, ultimately turning on representations that were conceded to have been made to the respondent by the appellant’s completion and presentation to him of two notification of birth forms naming him as the father of Heath and Bonnie. A worse vehicle could not be imagined for deciding the scope of the tort of deceit. I would allow the appeal and enter judgment for the appellant on the ground that there was no evidence on which the learned judge could find that she intended the respondent to rely on the forms, except for the purpose of signing them and agreeing that the children should be registered with the family name of Magill, or that he did rely on them for any other purpose.
3 Neither the particulars of the alleged representations nor the statement of claim was confined to the appellant’s completion and presentation to the respondent of the notification of birth forms, but they are the only representations that the judge found and tested against the elements of the cause of action. It is true that, in making his findings in relation to the representations made by completion and presentation of the notification of birth forms, his Honour began by saying that they were “[t]he most direct evidence” of the making of the allegation of paternity, but thereafter he treated the representations in the forms as the first element in deceit and continued to concentrate on the forms when he turned to the other elements.
4 At the beginning of her argument Ms Symon pointed out that no notice of contention had been served pursuant to Rule 64.17(5) and, accordingly, that it was not open to the respondent to support the judgment “on a ground, whether of fact or law, which was not decided … below”. Mr Lucarelli endeavoured to overcome that difficulty by arguing that the judge had intended to find a representation of paternity of which the forms were merely the best evidence. I do not accept that his Honour’s reasons are to be read that way but, even if they could be, his findings in relation to the other elements of the cause of action relate only to the representations made by completion and presentation of the forms. The respondent would still need to contend that the judgment should be affirmed on the basis of findings that were not made below.
5 Counsel took us to the evidence that the appellant intended the respondent to rely
on the representations in the forms. The following two passages, in the
cross-examination of the appellant, were conceded to be the high watermark
of that evidence. The first was in response to questions by counsel about
the form relating to Heath:
“You gave him to understand that he was the father, didn’t you?---Yes, by filling out the form, I believe I did.
You knew he believed it was his child?---Yes.”
The second passage was in response to questions by the judge about the form relating to Bonnie:
“Did it occur to you at the time that you supplied that information that your husband would take that as an assertion of the truth of what you’re putting in there?---I don’t think I really thought too hard about it at all, it was a birth registration.
What would the consequence be of you putting that in that form and then handing it in to him for signature? What do you think the consequence would be? Do you think he would think that you’re saying that he was the father?---Well, that would be correct.
I beg your pardon?---That would be correct.
That would be right?---Yes.”
6 Some of those answers are no more than the appellant’s appreciation now of the position then. Like the rest of her evidence, so far as can be gauged from the transcript, they are redolent of candour. The answer “I don’t think I really thought too hard about it at all, it was a birth registration” is entirely credible. There was no evidence on which the judge could find that the appellant intended the respondent to rely on the forms for any purpose other than signing them and agreeing that the children should be registered with the family name of Magill and his Honour did not do so. It is quite unrealistic to suppose that the respondent relied on them later. If he relied on anything, it was the matrimonial context or other representations in relation to which no findings were made.
7 In Smith v. Chadwick, Lord
“I conceive that in an action of deceit it is the duty of the plaintiff to establish two things: first, actual fraud, which is to be judged of by the nature and character of the representations made, considered with reference to the object for which they were made, the knowledge or means of knowledge of the person making them, and the intention which the law justly imputes to every man to produce those consequences which are the natural result of his acts; and secondly, he must establish that this fraud was an inducing cause to the contract.” (Emphasis added.)
When the representations made by completion and presentation of the forms are considered with reference to the object for which they were made, the intention which the law would justly impute would not go beyond causing the forms to be signed and the children named Magill.
8 This is an appeal against a judgment of a County Court judge who awarded $70,000 damages against the appellant in favour of her former husband. The cause of action was in deceit, the allegation of the respondent being that he suffered loss and damage in consequence of false representations made by the appellant during the course of their marriage as to the paternity of two of their three children.
9 The appellant and respondent had married on 9
April 1988 and they separated in November 1992. During the period in which
they cohabited the appellant gave birth to three children. The first child,
a son, Arlon, was born on 7 April 1989 and thereafter the appellant
commenced an affair with a man with whom she had unprotected sexual
intercourse on many occasions over the period from September 1989 to early
1995. On 30 July 1990 the appellant gave birth to a son named Heath and on
27 November 1991 to a daughter Bonnie.
1 After the parties separated, the appellant, on 24 November 1992, lodged an application for child support with the Department of Social Security, under the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989. She named all three children as being those for whom support was sought, and named the respondent as the person who would be “the paying parent”. Payments were duly made by the respondent, and the appellant continued to accept them, with respect to all three children, although by 1993 she had a real suspicion that Heath may not have been the respondent’s child. It was not until 1995 that the appellant told her husband of her suspicion concerning Heath. When she made this announcement the appellant was ill, having suffered a nervous breakdown, for which she had been hospitalised. The respondent cared for the three children during her illness, and notwithstanding the doubts about Heath’s paternity expressed by the appellant, the respondent continued to make payments of child support in favour of all three children. Child support payments were paid from early 1993 until 1999, save for a period of approximately 12 to 14 months between 1996 to late 1997.
2 On 2 August 1999 the appellant consented to DNA testing being conducted with respect to herself and each of her children and the results of those tests were obtained in April 2000, and proved that the respondent was not the father of either Heath or Bonnie. Upon receiving the test results future child support payments were adjusted, and all arrears which had otherwise been owing by the respondent to the appellant were extinguished.
3 On 31 January 2001 the respondent brought proceedings in the County Court claiming damages for loss of earnings and use of moneys and also for personal injuries, comprising severe anxiety and depression. The claim was based on the tort of deceit.
4 In his statement of claim the
respondent pleaded two representations, in near identical terms, concerning,
in turn, the paternity of Heath and Bonnie. The first representation,
concerning her pregnancy with Heath, was said to have been made in late 1989
when the appellant/defendant “stated” to the plaintiff that;
(a) “she had become pregnant;
(b) the plaintiff was the father of the child to be born”.
5 The second representation, concerning Bonnie, was said to have been made in early 1991, whereby “the defendant represented and stated to the plaintiff that:
(a) she had become pregnant;
(b) the plaintiff was the father of the child to be born”.
6 By paragraph 6 of his statement of claim the respondent pleaded that, at all material times, the appellant “was aware, and the fact was, that the plaintiff was not the father of either Heath William Magill or Bonnie Joyce Magill”. The respondent pleaded that acting on the faith of the first and second representations, and induced thereby, he did not challenge his liability to pay child support and believed himself to be the father of the two children. It was pleaded that the representations were made fraudulently, either well knowing that they were false and untrue, or recklessly, not caring if they were true or false. It was pleaded that the appellant, when making the first representation (i.e. as to Heath) and the second representation (as to Bonnie), intended at the time, and well knew, or ought to have known, that the respondent would rely on them in deciding whether or not to provide financial support for the children.
7 In response to a request for further and better particulars
of the representations, they were identified in terms somewhat different to
those which had been pleaded in the statement of claim. The further and
better particulars specified the representations to be as follows (the
emphases by way of italics are mine):
“1. As to paragraph 2 of the Statement of Claim:
The First Representation was partly written, partly oral and partly to be implied. In so far as it was written, it was constituted by the completion and presentation by the Defendant to the Plaintiff of a birth registration application in respect of Heath William Magill naming the Plaintiff as the father and by a claim by the Defendant for child support from the Plaintiff in respect of Heath William Magill made 4 December 1992. In so far as it was oral, it was constituted by a conversation between the Plaintiff and the Defendant at the marital home on a date the Plaintiff cannot precisely recall in approximately November or December 1989, to the effect that it was great that the Plaintiff would be a father again. In so far as it was to be implied, it was to be implied from the facts that:
(a) the Defendant failed to disclose to the Plaintiff that she had had sexual intercourse with a man other than the Plaintiff in approximately October or November 1989 whilst married to the Plaintiff;
(b) the Defendant witnessed the Plaintiff acting as a father towards Heath William Magill and failed to:
(1) disclose to him the possibility that he was not the father;
(2) correct his misapprehension that he was the father;
(c) the Defendant accepted child support benefits in respect of Heath William Magill.
2. As to paragraph 4 of the Statement of Claim
The Second Representation was partly written, partly oral and partly to be implied. In so far as it was written, it was constituted by the completion and presentation by the Defendant to the Plaintiff of a birth registration application in respect of Bonnie Joyce Magill naming the Plaintiff as the father and by a claim by the Defendant for child support from the Plaintiff in respect of Bonnie Joyce Magill made 4 December 1992. In so far as it was oral, it was constituted by a conversation between the Plaintiff and the Defendant at the marital home on a date the Plaintiff cannot precisely recall in approximately March or April 1991, to the effect that as the Plaintiff and the Defendant had two boys, they could try for a girl this time.
In so far as it was to be implied, it was to be implied from the facts that:
(a) the Defendant failed to disclose to the Plaintiff that she had had sexual intercourse with a man other than the Plaintiff in approximately February or March 1991 whilst married to the Plaintiff;
(b) the Defendant witnessed the Plaintiff acting as a father towards Bonnie Joyce Magill and failed to:
(1) disclose to him the possibility that he was not the father;
(2) correct his misapprehension that he was the father;
(c) the Defendant accepted child support benefits in respect of Bonnie Joyce Magill.”
8 Considerable uncertainty now pertains as to precisely what was the representation as to each child on which the respondent finally sought a favourable judgment. Notwithstanding the terms of the “amended” further and better particulars of the statement of claim - which identified the two representations as being constituted by written, oral and implied statements, and also by conduct - his Honour appears to have focused attention in his reasons for decision solely on the written form of the representation in each case, as constituted by the appellant’s completion and presentation of notifications of birth forms with respect to each child.
9 The circumstances in which the two registration of birth forms were completed were similar. Whilst they were together in hospital soon after each birth the appellant and respondent were presented with birth registration forms by a member of hospital staff. In both cases the form was completed by the appellant and in them she named the respondent as the father. The appellant then signed each declaration form, certifying thereby that the information in the form was correct for the purpose of insertion in the register of births, and that she was aware of the consequences by way of perjury for false statements. In both cases, having signed her own declaration the appellant then handed the form to the respondent, who himself then signed.
10 Attached to the birth forms was an information
sheet. There was no finding by the judge as to whether the information sheet
was read by either party, but within its terms it provided that if both
parents agreed then the family name of the child might be registered under
the family name of the father. Note 4 on the form provided, as to the
“Where the parents are not married to each other, do not enter particulars of the father unless the form is being signed by both parents (see Note 7), or by the father with the consent in writing of the mother, or by the mother only where she is able to produce a declaration of paternity.”
11 The uncertainty which now exists as to the precise basis upon which the claim for deceit was finally left for decision by the judge derives in part from the terms of a concession made at trial by counsel for the appellant.
12 On the second day of the hearing an exchange occurred between counsel
then appearing for the appellant and the trial judge. It is agreed on both
sides that what was said by counsel amounted to a concession, but precisely
what was entailed in the concession is a matter of dispute. The exchange
commenced with the judge referring to the two notification of birth forms,
which had become Exhibits A and B, and the exchange continued as follows:
“HIS HONOUR: There could be no doubt that in Exhibits A and B there are plain assertions made by your client that the plaintiff was the father of each of the children which is the subject of these documents.
MR GILLIES: Yes, Your Honour, because she - - -
HIS HONOUR: The issue as to whether or not she ever asserted his paternity is over because here is the evidence in plain handwriting that she did say that.
MR GILLIES: That is correct, Your Honour, but - - -
HIS HONOUR: And she provided this to him to sign, so the representation was made to others and to him.
MR GILLIES: But the
point that I’m making, Your Honour, is this, and it comes under the question
of reliance, that’s what I’ll deal with shortly.
HIS HONOUR: Lets take it one step at a time. The first step is, did she ever represent to the plaintiff that he was the parent of both of the children? Answer, yes.
MR GILLIES: The birth registration forms yes, I agree.
HIS HONOUR: Contained in those forms. Then the next question is, what was her state of mind at the time?
MR GILLIES: Yes, and I deal with that, Your Honour.
HIS HONOUR: Could we get to that.”
13 Counsel for the appellant clearly conceded that the appellant had represented to her husband by the forms that he was the father of the two children. The more difficult question is whether counsel must be taken to have conceded only that the statements made by the appellant in the birth forms constituted representations of paternity, and had made no broader concession. In particular, had counsel conceded, as it is now contended by the respondent that he did, that those were merely instances of what constituted continuing or repeated representations of paternity, both by statements and by conduct (and as spelt out in the further and better particulars)?
14 As may be seen, his Honour, in the above exchange with counsel, saw the first issue as being whether the appellant did “ever represent” that the respondent was the father, and concluded that that issue was unarguable because the forms proved that she had made that representation as to both children. Counsel responded that, as to what was stated in the birth forms, he agreed. His Honour then identified the next question as being “what was her state of mind at the time”. That suggests that if deceit was to be established it was at the time the forms were completed that the relevant intention had to exist, and, consistent with that understanding, the reasons for decision later focussed attention on the occasions of the form signing.
15 The question of the scope of the concession made by counsel, and the basis on which the case was thereafter contested between the parties and decided by the judge, is fundamental to the outcome of this appeal. Whether the concession thereafter confined consideration of the elements of deceit to an examination of the circumstances surrounding the completion and presentation of the two forms is a matter which I found difficult to determine. If it was so confined then, as I shall discuss, the respondent failed to make out his case, but I entertained some doubt as to whether the parties at trial understood the case to be confined in the way the appellant now contends. Unfortunately the trial judge’s reasons do not remove the uncertainty, but I have concluded, with some hesitation, that he did not make a finding of any representation broader than that contained in the birth forms. Having regard to the impact it has on the outcome of the appeal, it is appropriate that I set out the factors which caused me to hesitate before drawing that conclusion.
his reasons for decision the judge commenced by describing the action as
being one in which it was “asserted” by the appellant that the respondent
was the father of all three children. I take the word “asserted” to mean
“represented”. His Honour directed himself that the respondent had to prove
that the appellant made a false statement either knowing that it was false,
or recklessly, intending that the respondent would rely on it, thereby
causing damage. His Honour continued (the emphases are mine throughout):
“The most direct evidence of the making of the allegation [sic] is contained in Exhibits A and B which are documents, being copies of the Notification of Birth to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in respect of these two children. These application forms are, it is agreed, filled in by the defendant and presented to the plaintiff for signature.
In each of them the assertion is contained in the form that the father was William Neale Justin Magill. In each of them there is the request that the child be registered with the family name of Magill, and certifies that the above information is correct for the purposes of being inserted in the Register of Births, and the declarant was aware that persons wilfully making or causing to be made a false statement concerning the particulars required to be registered, shall on conviction be liable to the penalties of perjury. This is signed by the defendant.
Further, in each of them there is a declaration by the father agreeing that he be registered as the father of the child and that the family name would be Magill. In each case that was signed by the plaintiff, Mr Magill.
There is therefore evidence that she asserted paternity of Mr Magill of the two children to the registrar, and also by presenting the documents to him and having him sign and consent to the children being called Magill, that the representation was made to him. That is evidence which in my view leaves no inference open other than that Mrs Magill did make the representation of paternity.
It is not now in dispute that those assertions were false. The children were submitted to testing, as a result of which the father of the two children was identified as not being Mr Magill, but being another person, someone with whom Mrs Magill does not now argue she was having sexual intercourse over a period of years.”
17 Where, in the first paragraph of the above extract, the judge refers to “the most direct evidence”, and in the penultimate paragraph, to “evidence”, his Honour must mean that the forms are evidence that the appellant asserted her husband’s paternity of the two children. That suggests that his Honour did understand that as to both children the representation (there being one for each of the two children) which was the basis of the action for deceit was, in effect, simply, that the respondent was the father of each child. Thus, proof of the making of that representation may have been provided by various pieces of evidence - both by direct statements and by conduct – but his Honour concluded that one piece of evidence was sufficient, in itself, to prove the representation, namely, that contained in the forms.
18 Ms Symon, senior counsel for the appellant, submitted that the concession at trial, at highest, was merely that the appellant had made a representation of paternity in the forms. No other instance of such a representation was conceded. Thus, she submitted, as the dialogue between counsel and the judge suggested, the critical issues relating to intention, fraud, inducement and reliance fell to be assessed solely by reference to the appellant’s conduct and state of mind at the time when the forms were completed.
19 Senior counsel for the respondent, Mr Lucarelli, rejected the suggestion that the respondent’s case at trial became confined to consideration of the representations contained in the two birth forms. Nor did he accept that once the concession was made the judge dealt with the case only within such restricted parameters. Counsel referred us to the final written and oral submissions presented to the judge by counsel then appearing for the respondent at trial. The extracts from the written and oral submissions to which we were referred do, indeed, provide support for Mr Lucarelli’s contentions as to the scope of the trial, as the case was presented on behalf of the respondent.
20 In the respondent’s written final submissions at trial it was submitted that “the representations are proven” by eight separate pieces of evidence, the first of which was “the evidence of completion and presentation by the defendant to the plaintiff of exhibits A and B . . . naming the Plaintiff as the father”. The others were the natural effect of pregnancy being announced in circumstances where they were living together as man and wife; the appellant’s concealment of her adultery; the concealment of her uncertainty and suspicions as to paternity; her describing them as “our” children; her silence when the respondent acted in the manner of the father of the children; the claim for child support, naming him as the father; the continued concealment of her increasing doubts about paternity.
21 On the
appeal, Mr Lucarelli contended that those written submissions demonstrated
that the respondent had not relied solely on the forms in proof of his case
in deceit. Furthermore, counsel submitted, the oral final submissions at
trial had expressly resisted confining the respondent’s case in that way. In
that regard, counsel for the respondent referred us to passages in the
transcript of final submissions at trial. At the start of those passages
“Your Honour, in relation to the question of whether the representation was made, your Honour has made the comment that that part of the case is closed. So could I just, Your Honour, rebut what my learned friend said, and that is he essentially says that the representation only consists and can only consist of what is positively asserted. In my submission, representation can and does consist of more than a simple assertion of the paternity of the children”.
22 As the following passages of transcript show, counsel at trial then addressed whether, apart from what was stated in the forms, there had also been representation by conduct. Counsel identified “the fact that . . . the parties were married and living together and a pregnancy was announced in that context, the natural import of that is that it’s that couple’s child within the marriage situation”. Counsel also referred to the appellant’s application for child support, her statements to the respondent that they were “our children”, the appellant’s silence when observing her husband treating the children as his own, and her failure to tell him that she had a lover. All of those matters constituted instances of representation by conduct, counsel submitted. Having made those submissions, counsel then addressed the question whether his client had proved his case in fraud against the appellant/defendant.
23 The submissions discussed above suggest that although the judge took the concession to mean that the fact of a representation of paternity had been sufficiently proved by virtue of the forms - being one instance where the representation had been made – the respondent had not abandoned any reliance on evidence of other instances of repetition of or continuance of the same representation. Nonetheless, following his Honour’s “ruling” that the representation had been proved by the birth forms the evidence relating to the additional instances in which the representation had been made (as listed in the preceding paragraph) was not explicitly advanced in proof of separate and discrete instances of the making of the pleaded representation, but rather as constituting supporting evidence for the conclusion that when the representations were made in the birth forms they were made fraudulently, and with the intention of inducing the respondent to act to his detriment. Counsel for the respondent did not seek a ruling from the judge as to what the concession of his opponent meant, and in my view the respondent must be bound by counsel’s failure to challenge or to seek clarification from the judge as to what was meant by him in closing debate about whether “the representation” was made, by virtue of what was stated in the forms. Although the written submissions had not confined the case to the representations contained in the birth forms, the remark by counsel in oral submissions, quoted above, may well have confirmed for the judge his apparent understanding that it was only as at the time of the making of the representations contained in the birth forms that the remaining elements of deceit fell to be determined.
24 Before us, counsel for the respondent contended that the judge could not have gained that understanding because the basis of the claim at trial was that there was a “continuing” representation of paternity, of which the forms were just two instances. However, although the judge held those to provide “the best evidence” of there having been representations of paternity, he made no express findings of fact with respect to any other instances of the making of the representation. In his short judgment the judge focussed attention on the circumstances surrounding the completion of the forms, and did so without stating (save, possibly, very obliquely), what, if any, continuing weight and relevance was to be attached to the other alleged instances of the representation as identified in the statement of claim and/or in the further and better particulars.
25 Counsel for the respondent contends that notwithstanding the focus of his reasons on the birth forms the judge must have regarded the representation (although proved by the forms) as having been more widely constituted than merely in the forms and some support for that contention is provided by the judge’s treatment of the psychiatric evidence. The psychiatrists all wrote their reports on the basis of an apparent assumption that there had been what amounted to a continuing or repeated representation. Indeed, they wrote their reports at a time before the further and better particulars had been delivered which, for the first time, identified the representation having been made, in one instance, by the completion of the forms. His Honour quoted Dr Chong, for example, referring to the appellant having “consistently lied to him about being the father of the children”. If the case had been limited to consideration of the representations contained in the birth forms then much of the evidence of the psychiatrists might have been objected to on behalf of the appellant on the basis that it was irrelevant, and, thus, inadmissible. We were not told of any such objection having being taken.
26 It is a rather unsatisfactory situation that the judge in his reasons neither clarified how he saw the parameters of the claim – following the concession – nor made findings of fact as to most if not all of the other pleaded instances of the representation. As I shall later discuss, one contingent ground of appeal asserts that the reasons were so deficient as to manifest error, and there is no doubt that the task of this Court has been made more difficult by the limited scope of the reasons.
27 Whatever his Honour understood to be the scope of the concession by counsel for the appellant, he focussed attention in his reasons on the circumstances surrounding the birth forms. It was as at the time of the making of the forms that he assessed whether the elements of deceit had been established. That, however, did not mean that in making his assessment of the evidence for deceit the judge could not, or did not, have regard to events which occurred both before and after the completion of the forms. Even if the representation was intended, by the concession, to be confined to the statements in the birth forms I would not accept the further submission of Ms Symon that the terms of the concession meant that the elements of deceit must be assessed solely by reference to what then occurred.
28 His Honour held that for liability to be established it must be proved that the appellant knew that the statement was false, or that she made it recklessly, and also that she intended that the respondent should rely upon it. His Honour briefly set out the evidence of the appellant as to her belief in the childrens’ paternity, “at the time that the assertions were made” (with respect to Heath) and “at the time that she made the representations” (with respect to Bonnie). The use of the plural, “representations”, as regards each child, provides some limited support for the view that his Honour was not confining attention solely to the occasions of the signing of the form for each child.
29 His Honour noted that the
appellant gave evidence that at the time of the two births she believed the
respondent was probably the father of Heath, and that she was sure that her
lover was not the father of Bonnie. Her belief as to the paternity of Heath
was shaken years later, she said, when she saw photographs of her lover as a
child and noticed the strong resemblance to Heath. Remarkably, she said she
still remained unshaken in her view that the respondent was the father of
Bonnie, notwithstanding the DNA result. His Honour said as to these
“I find her protestations as to her state of mind as to this to be unconvincing. I am of the view that the evidence points very strongly in favour of the conclusion that she did know that her husband was not the father of either of the children. Certainly at the very least, in my view, it pointed to the conclusion that when she filled in these forms, if she did not know for a positive fact that Mr Magill was not the father, she at least was being reckless as to the truth of her assertion, that he was and had no genuine belief in it. She intended Mr Magill to rely upon it, as indeed he did, in consenting to the naming of the children Magill.
The explanation which she gave for a greater degree of certainty attaching to her claimed belief as to the paternity of Bonnie was that sexual intercourse between her and her lover had fallen away to only two or three times after the birth of Heath, and that she was having sexual intercourse with her husband on a much more frequent basis. This induced the belief in her mind that he was indeed the father she said.
That assertion is of course belied by virtue of the fact that the child was born, and it is now not in dispute that Mr Magill was not the father. It is also a fact that Mrs Magill has admitted to intercourse with her lover unprotected by contraception. This must have happened at a time which she was able to identify, at the birth of her child as the time of the conception.
It seems to me to be impossible to conclude that she could have had any real belief in the assertion that she made, and in my view she must have known that Magill was not the father, and her lover was. At the very least, she has just been so reckless as to not have any genuine belief in the truth of the assertion at all, but nevertheless made it, intending it to be relied upon.
The evidence I
have already referred to compels me in that view, that in addition to that
Mr Magill says, and I accept, that the sexual relationship between his wife
and himself had by the time Bonnie came to be conceived, fallen away to
almost nothing. I am inclined to think that the frequency relied upon by Mrs
Magill was not in fact taking place, and the preponderance of the evidence
would indicate to me that the greater likelihood is that she was having more
frequent sex with her lover than she was with her husband.
That, it seems to me, is the evidence which indicates that this tort has been committed in respect of the assertions in relation to both children and in addition to all of that, there is further the evidence that she did make an apology in 1995 when the marriage was already on the rocks to the effect that she was sorry about Heath, which I take it must mean that she was apologising for her misconduct in having sexual intercourse, and asserting that the parent of Heath was her husband when indeed he was not, and she knew it.” [My emphasis.]
30 In context, the reference to “when she filled in those forms” in the first paragraph in the above extract does not mean that it was only at that time that the question of honest belief and intention were relevant, but nonetheless the actual finding is only that the position was clear as at that time. Thus, yet again, the only finding made by the judge concerns the representations in the forms.
31 For the appellant it was contended by her many grounds of appeal that the tort of deceit has no application to the facts of this case, at all, but that even if it was capable of applying then the elements of the tort were not made out on the evidence as at the time when the two birth forms were completed. Further, the trial judge, it was said, made findings of fact that were not open on the evidence, and, in any event, misunderstood the elements which had to be proved to make out deceit. Even if the elements were made out then, so it was submitted, the respondent did not suffer the damage he claims to have suffered as a consequence of the alleged misrepresentation. Finally, it was submitted that damages were excessive.
Can the tort of deceit apply to this case?
32 The leading authority as to an action in deceit is Derry
v. Peek. Lord Herschell held:
“First, in order to sustain an action of deceit, there must be proof of fraud, and nothing short of that will suffice. Secondly, fraud is proved when it is shown that a false representation has been made (1) knowingly, or (2) without belief in its truth, or (3) recklessly, careless whether it be true or false. Although I have treated the second and third as distinct cases, I think the third is but an instance of the second, for one who makes a statement under such circumstances can have no real belief in the truth of what he states. To prevent a false statement being fraudulent, there must, I think always be an honest belief in its truth. And this probably covers the whole ground, for one who knowingly alleges that which is false, has obviously no such honest belief. Thirdly, if fraud be proved, the motive of the person guilty of it is immaterial. It matters not that there was no intention to cheat or injure the person to whom the statement was made.”
33 Lord Herschell cited with
approval a passage in the judgment of Lord Selbourne in Smith v. Chadwick as
“I conceive that in an action of deceit it is the duty of the plaintiff to establish two things: first, actual fraud, which is to be judged of by the nature and character of the representations made, considered with reference to the object for which they were made, the knowledge or means of knowledge of the person making them, and the intention which the law justly imputes to every man to produce those consequences which are the natural result of his acts; and secondly, he must establish that this fraud was an inducing cause to the contract”.
34 Ms Symon, first, submitted that it was required for deceit that the intention be to induce the other party to enter into some contractual arrangement, yet there was no such circumstance here. That, however, is too restricted a view of the application of deceit. As Professor Fleming has observed, deceit, in its origins, was linked to the inducement of contractual relations by what were later to be dealt with in contract law as false warranties. The link with contractual relations, as an essential element, was eventually severed, so that all that was required in deceit was that by a false representations someone was induced to act to his detriment. Thus, while the most common application of deceit continued to be with respect to conduct which produced contractual and other economic detriment in reliance on the inducements, that was not the only situation to which the tort could be applied. In particular, an action in deceit could be brought where the fraudulent inducement caused personal injuries rather than commercial loss.
35 Ms Symon submitted, next, that the tort of deceit does not encompass a representation of the kind and in the circumstances with which this case is concerned. Counsel referred to section 119 and 120 of the Family Law Act 1975. Section 119 provides: “Either party to a marriage may bring proceedings in contract or tort against the other.” Section 120 provides: “After the commencement of this Act, no action lies for criminal conversation, damages for adultery, or for enticement to marriage.” Although Ms Symon initially submitted that the federal legislation covered the field, and that these proceedings in deceit amounted to a claim for damages for adultery, that argument was not pressed. Instead, Ms Symon contended that the Court ought narrowly confine the ambit of the tort of deceit; it had never previously been held to cover a representation as to paternity in a marriage and as a matter of policy it should not now be extended to that area. The fact that the tort of deceit was not mentioned in s.120 reflected, counsel submitted, the presumption of the draftsperson that such an action as here proposed could not be brought by a husband against his wife. Ms Symon submitted that the court should be slow to extend an action in deceit to relationships between married partners. Such a proceeding would be contrary to the “no fault” philosophy which had long been adopted for matrimonial relationships, counsel submitted. It would be highly inappropriate to attempt to identify, and render actionable, misrepresentations which occurred within a marriage, and which were relied upon only when the relationship broke down, so counsel submitted. Ms Symon submitted that there is ample power under the Family Law Act 1975 and by resort to the Child Support (Assessment)Act 1989 to acknowledge and address the situation of children with paternity issues such as arose here. Were the appellant to be held liable in deceit by virtue of her completion of the birth forms then, in effect, a duty of disclosure of adultery would be imposed upon a spouse in any instance where doubt existed in the mind of the spouse as to the paternity of a child. The Court ought be slow to conclude that such a duty arose, Ms Symon submitted.
36 Although no case directly on point was cited to us counsel for the respondent sought support from the decision P v. B, in which Stanley Burnton, J., sitting in Queen’s Bench Division, ruled on a preliminary question whether the tort of deceit applied as between a cohabiting couple – in that instance, unmarried. In that case the misrepresentation was, as here, about the paternity of a child, and the damages sought were expenses incurred in supporting both child and mother and also general damages for the emotional distress caused by exposure of the deception. Stanley Burnton, J. rejected the contention that deceit could not apply to cohabitating couples. He also rejected an argument that if deceit applied in matrimonial cases it would cut across the no-fault approach to family law and would open the floodgates for discrete proceedings being issued in tort to accompany or compete with family law proceedings. In rejecting the floodgates argument his Lordship observed, obiter, that a married man who wished to contest liability to make payments for a child would be obliged to do so solely in the family law proceedings because it would be an abuse of process to attempt to re-litigate the question by means of an action for deceit.
37 Stanley Burnton, J. accepted that in many American States proceedings for fraud could be brought between husband and wife, although he said he did not derive much assistance from that authority. His Lordship concluded that there was no authority which denied the application of the tort of deceit to such a case as was before him, and held that it was a tort which was not confined to commercial contexts, but rather, had general and flexible application. He held that to accede to the arguments for confining the tort would be to deny a remedy in cases where it was needed.
38 Whilst there may be good reason to discourage traumatic litigation such as has arisen in this case it is not the function of this Court to apply social considerations so as to deny a party a remedy which is otherwise open to him or her. The respondent’s motive for bringing this proceeding is irrelevant. A remedy in damages for a wrong done may provide not merely recompense for financial loss, but also, in the eyes of the claimant, an element of punishment for the wrong done, and vindication of the rights of the party wronged. There is, therefore, nothing unique to the tort of deceit if it was being applied by the representee with motives of personal vindication and of punishment of the alleged wrongdoer.
39 Although it was suggested by Ms Symon that an action in deceit has no place in a marriage context, and that its application would be out of step with the norms of contemporary society, it is not difficult to postulate situations where its application might attract broader community support. By way of illustration, Callaway, J.A. queried of counsel, in the course of argument, why a spouse should be denied a right to claim damages for deceit if damage has been suffered by the spouse acting to his or her cost upon a misrepresentation from the other spouse that he or she did not have a sexually transmitted disease?
40 In the United States a duty to inform a partner about an AIDS infection has been recognised, the cause of action being based on negligence or fraud. In Canada a right of action in deceit has been accepted where a plaintiff was induced to enter a marriage ceremony by a false representation that her partner was unmarried, and the court allowed damages which included damages for the adverse health results flowing from pregnancy and miscarriage.
41 Having regard to the conclusion I otherwise reach in this appeal it is unnecessary for me to express a concluded view as to the application of the tort in this case, but as presently advised I can see no legal impediment to the bringing of a claim in deceit in circumstances such as are claimed to arise here. Assuming then that the claim has appropriately been brought in deceit I turn to the question whether the elements of the cause of action had been established in this case.
42 The first element is that the representation be false.
That is not in dispute, having regard to the concession made by counsel at
trial and to the DNA results. I turn, then, to the other elements which the
respondent had to establish to succeed in deceit.
Did the appellant hold an honest belief that the respondent was the father of the children?
Ms Symon submitted that there was no basis in the evidence for the judge to
have made the findings he did as to the appellant’s belief concerning the
paternity of the two children when she made the representations. This
argument, in effect, was that since the appellant was the only person who
could know what was in her mind at the time when the forms were completed,
then the judge was bound to accept her assertion that she then believed the
respondent to be the father of both children. As to such a proposition, Lord
Herschell held in Derry v. Peek :
“A consideration of the grounds of belief is no doubt an important aid in ascertaining whether the belief was really entertained. A man’s mere assertion that he believed the statement he made to be true is not accepted as conclusive proof that he did so. There may be such an absence of reasonable ground for his belief as, in spite of his assertion, to carry conviction to the mind that he had not really the belief which he alleges.”
44 Counsel submitted that in this case his Honour had moved from a finding that the appellant was unreasonable in asserting that her husband was the father to a finding that she did not, therefore, honestly hold that belief. Ms Symon submitted that his Honour confused two propositions. As was made clear in Derry v. Peek, unreasonableness of a professed belief may support a conclusion that it was not honestly held, but on the other hand, if the appellant held her belief honestly then her statement could not amount to fraud, no matter how unreasonable it was to hold that belief. His Honour jumped from a finding that the appellant was unreasonable to a positive finding that she had not honestly held her belief, Ms Symon submitted. His Honour failed to address the possibility that she was unreasonable but honest, she submitted. Ms Symon pointed to many passages in the appellant’s evidence as demonstrating the honesty of her belief, especially her evidence that her menstrual cycle was irregular and made it impossible to determine with any certainty when conception might have occurred for either child.
45 Ms Symon submitted that his Honour also leapt from a finding that the appellant was wrong in her evidence as to the frequency of intercourse, respectively, with her lover and her husband to a conclusion that she held no honest belief as to paternity when she completed the forms. As to that argument, I observe that it is not surprising that his Honour gave the appellant’s evidence concerning the frequency of intercourse close attention, because it was advanced on behalf of the appellant as the primary reason why the judge should find that she held her belief as to paternity honestly. Having rejected her evidence on that question, the appellant’s credit was seriously damaged, and whilst rejection of her stated basis for belief did not provide positive evidence, of itself, that she did not hold an honest belief as to paternity, it renders it now more difficult for her to challenge his Honour’s adverse conclusion on that issue. Ms Symon submitted that since the lover did not give evidence then the only evidence on the topic as to the frequency of her sexual intercourse with her lover, was that of the appellant, and, thus his Honour was bound to accept her evidence as to that. In my view, the judge was not so bound. He rejected her evidence as to the frequency of intercourse with her husband, which was in opposition to her husband’s evidence, and he was also entitled to reject her evidence concerning sexual intercourse with her lover.
46 Whilst I agree with the observation of Callaway, J.A. (whose judgment I have read in draft) that a reading of the transcript of the appellant’s evidence does not suggest that she was an untruthful witness, that impression can be deceptive. The judge had to decide what was the state of mind of the appellant at the time when she made the representations of paternity. She might have been entirely honest in stating at trial that her honest belief at the relevant time was that her husband was probably the father of Heath and was certainly the father of Bonnie. That, however, might not be the conclusion that an objective observer would reach as to her probable belief at the time the forms were signed, having regard to the information that was available to her and also to the factors which, as she acknowledged, provided compelling motivation for her to put to one side, or to downplay, any doubts she held.
47 In assessing whether the appellant held an honest belief as to the paternity of the children, the judge was entitled to have regard to the totality of the evidence, including events both before and after the forms were signed. Thus, in reaching his conclusion he had regard not only to what he found to be the false evidence of the appellant as to the frequency of sexual intercourse with the two men, but also to the terms of her apology to the respondent in 1995. His Honour concluded that the apology in 1995, about Heath, amounted to an apology for “asserting that the parent of Heath was her husband when indeed he was not, and she knew it”. (Were it not so vague, that could amount to a finding of fact as to one other instance of the making of the representation, namely that, as alleged, the appellant had announced to her husband her pregnancy on each occasion with “our” child).
48 His Honour must have rejected the appellant’s evidence about the
uncertainties created by virtue of her having an irregular menstrual cycle,
because he held that she must have been able to determine when Bonnie was
conceived. Whilst Ms Symon argued that it was not open to his Honour to
reject that evidence, given that it was not expressly challenged in
cross-examination, its acceptance did depend on the acceptance of her
credit, which was a matter for the judge to assess, but if the evidence was
rejected as false then it is unfortunate that his Honour did not discuss it,
at all, in his reasons.
49 In his reasons for decision the judge did not cite Derry v. Peek, expressly, but the case had been referred to him and he obviously had regard to the principles there stated. In analysing the conduct of the appellant it seems to me that his Honour was not blurring the difference between an unreasonable but honestly held belief, on the one hand, with a fraudulent belief, on the other, but was in fact applying the principle stated in the following qualifying statement of Lord Herschell:
“… I desire to say distinctly that when a false statement has been made the questions whether there were reasonable grounds for believing it, and what were the means of knowledge in the possession of the person making it, are most weighty matters for consideration. The ground upon which an alleged belief was founded is a most important test of its reality. I can conceive many cases where the fact that an alleged belief was destitute of all reasonable foundation would suffice of itself to convince the court that it was not really entertained, and that the representation was a fraudulent one. So, too, although means of knowledge are, as was pointed out by Lord Blackburn in Brownlie v. Campbell, a very different thing from knowledge, if I thought that a person making a false statement had shut his eyes to the facts, or purposely abstained from inquiring into them, I should hold that honest belief was absent and that he was just as fraudulent as if he had knowingly stated that which was false.”
50 The appellant’s evidence in cross-examination might have been taken as demonstrating that at the time of the representation she displayed a recklessness consistent with her lacking the requisite honest belief in the truth of her assertions as to paternity. We were referred by counsel for the respondent to many extracts from the appellant’s evidence. She said that from 1993 she had a “real suspicion” that Heath was not the respondent’s son but that she did not tell the respondent of her suspicion until 1995 (when she then held a “strong belief”), and she had continued to accept child support payments despite her uncertainty. She acknowledged that when she became pregnant with Heath, “It was a stressful situation . . .[A]s I said, I had an uncertainty but still thought it was going to be my husband’s child and the easiest way for me to deal with it was to simply block it out”.
51 His Honour’s findings were
precisely stated. He found, first, “I am of the view that the evidence
points very strongly in favour of the conclusion that she did know that her
husband was not the father of either of the children”, but he added that
even if that were not so then the evidence pointed to the conclusion that
when she filled in the forms “if she did not know for a positive fact that
Mr McGill was not the father, she at least was being reckless as to the
truth of her assertion, that he was, and had no genuine belief in it”.
52 His Honour further found that it was “impossible to conclude that she could have had any real belief in her assertion to her husband as to Bonnie’s paternity”, and held that “she must have known” that the respondent was not the father, and concluded that, “At the very least she has been so reckless as to not have any genuine belief in the truth of the assertion at all”.
53 I have carefully considered the arguments of Ms Symon. This was a case in which the assessment of the credibility of the witnesses was critical. A finding of fraud ought not lightly be made, but whilst strong persuasion is required the standard of proof remains the balance of probabilities. In the end, whilst acknowledging that the appellant’s evidence, on transcript, suggests that she was honest in her account at trial, in 2002, as to what she believed and intended at the time of these events, I am not persuaded that his Honour’s reasoning was flawed or that his finding as to the state of belief held by the appellant was unreasonable or not supported by the evidence. His Honour plainly based his conclusion on findings of credit, and in my opinion, this is very much a case where full weight has to be given to the advantage that a trial judge has over an appellate court when assessing questions of fact. In the absence of demonstrated error his Honour’s findings as to the state of the appellant’s belief when she made the representation ought not be overturned.
55 A discrete complaint made by
Ms Symon was that his Honour did not consider separately the evidence as to
the appellant’s state of belief with respect to each child. Ms Symon
submitted that the evidence disclosed that there were far fewer occasions of
intercourse with the appellant’s lover at the time of the conception of
Bonnie, and the uncertainty produced by her irregular menstrual cycle made
her belief even more understandable as to that child. As to that complaint,
it seems to me that even though the appellant said she was more confident –
indeed, sure - about Bonnie’s paternity, the case was conducted on both
sides on the basis that the outcome would not differ as between the two
children. Although the judge did not deal separately with the evidence, to
any significant extent, it is clear that he rejected the appellant’s account
as to her belief concerning the paternity of both children.
Was it a representation of fact?
56 Although pleaded as a statement of fact in this case - to the effect, “you are the father” - it was submitted that such an assertion could be no more than an opinion. However, even if it was to be regarded as a statement of opinion it would still constitute a material misrepresentation, since the fact that the appellant was also having unprotected sexual intercourse with another man, at or about the time of conception in each case, was known only to her, and her statement of opinion implied that she knew facts that justified her opinion. A statement of belief as to paternity would be capable of constituting deceit in circumstances where what is withheld, namely, the fact that regular unprotected sexual intercourse had been conducted with another man, rendered the statement at best a half-truth, and amounted to a misstatement of belief or opinion.
57 In any event, the concession made by counsel, in my
opinion, was that a representation of fact had been made, and the appellant
ought be bound by that concession.
Did the appellant intend the respondent to rely on the representations?
58 In O’Doherty v. Birrell the Court of Appeal held that the trial judge had correctly identified the elements of an action in deceit as being:
“[T]hat the plaintiff made the representations knowing that they were false (that is, knowing that they were false or making them recklessly in the absence of any genuine belief that they were true) and with the intention that they should be acted upon in the manner which resulted in damage”. [My emphasis]
59 The Court cited Krakowski v. Eurolynx Properties Ltd. as the source of that proposition, but nowhere in that judgment can the italicised statement be found, and no page reference is given to a passage in the judgments in Krakowski. In the joint judgment in Krakowski Brennan, Deane, Gaudron and McHugh, JJ. held that it was not necessary to establish that the representor set out deliberately to induce the representee to act on the representation: his motive being irrelevant once fraud was proved. One issue in Krakowski was whether the representor (through its agents) intended to make, or was conscious of making, the false representation. The Court held that such a finding was open on the evidence.
60 Ms Symon submitted that there was no evidence that the appellant intended anything more than that she comply with the legal requirements to complete the statutory forms. It was said that the appellant’s only intention was to complete a bureaucratic procedure, and if there was an intention to make a representation then it was made to the Registrar, not the respondent. It was submitted that the respondent had failed to prove that the appellant held any additional intention, in particular, an intention that the respondent rely on anything stated in the forms. If she did hold any intention other than merely compliance with a bureaucratic procedure, then it had not been proved that she intended that the respondent would suffer a detriment, so Ms Symon submitted.
61 Although Krakowski does not seem to provide support for the statement in the italicised passage from O’Doherty v. Birrell, cited above, that statement does gain support from other sources. The learned authors of Spencer Bower’s “Actionable Misrepresentation” state that “the representor must intend to induce the particular representee, or a class to which he belongs, to act on the representation in the way he did”. Further support for the statement in O’Doherty v. Birrell is provided by Professor Fleming, who opined that a fraudulent misrepresentation is not actionable “unless made with the intent that the plaintiff should act upon it as he in fact did”. Additionally, Fleming stated that to be actionable the representation need not have been made directly to the plaintiff, provided that he was intended to rely upon it, or he was of a class intended to rely on it.
62 My tentative opinion
is that the only intention that must be established is that it be intended
that the representee should rely upon the representation: see Peek v.
Gurney. If he did so rely, to his detriment, then damage suffered as a
result of his reliance on the representation would be recoverable. The
object or motive for making the representation was irrelevant. In Derry v.
Peek Lord Herschell held that :
“if fraud be proved, the motive of the person guilty of it is immaterial. It matters not that there was no intention to cheat or injure the person to whom the statement was made”.
63 The requirement as to intention was identified in wide terms by Lord Herschell in Derry v. Peek. His Lordship held that what was required was that the falsehood be told “intending that another shall be led to act upon it as if it were the truth”, even if it was not intended that he thereby suffer any injury. His Lordship also cited with approval a statement from Lord Tenterden in Polhill v. Walter who held that it was enough that the untrue statement was intended or was calculated “to induce another to act on the faith of it in such a way as that he may incur damage, and that damage is actually incurred”. In Henville v. Walker McHugh, J. stated the requirement thus: “If the defendant intended the person suffering a detriment to act in the general way that he or she did, the common law will invariably hold that a causal connection existed between the conduct and the detriment”.
64 In this case the way the respondent acted was to continue
to conduct himself as the father of all three children. In his evidence the
respondent said that had he been told the truth as to paternity he would
have ceased to provide financial and emotional support for the two children.
65 Ms Symon submitted that, whatever be the formulation of the required intention, the respondent in this case had to prove that the appellant intended, specifically, that the respondent rely, at all, upon the representations contained in the two forms. She submitted that it had not been shown that that was the intention at the time the forms were completed.
66 It might have been presumed that in most, if not all, of the many other pleaded instances whereby the representation of paternity was said to have been made one intention of the appellant must have been that the respondent rely on the representation that he was the father, but the judge made no findings that other instances of the making of that representation did occur, at all.
67 However, if, as the appellant contends, the only
relevant intention was that accompanying the moment when the forms were
completed and presented, in my opinion it was open to the judge, when having
regard to the totality of the evidence, to reject the appellant’s evidence
that she did not really turn her mind to the significance of the forms but
merely treated it as a bureaucratic procedure. The judge found that when the
appellant signed and presented the forms to the respondent, and thereby made
what is, at least, the conceded representation, she did so “intending that
the plaintiff should rely upon it”. That finding was open to the judge, in
my opinion, and although he apparently later confined the extent of reliance
by his statement in his reasons that by her representation in the forms “She
intended Mr Magill to rely on it, as indeed he did, in consenting to the
naming of the children Magill”, it seems to me that his Honour must have
concluded that the appellant’s intention went further, and extended to the
respondent incurring expenses as the father of the children. If his Honour
did not so conclude then the claim for damages could not have succeeded.
68 Thus, as to the element of intention, I conclude, therefore, that the only findings made as to the intention of the appellant in making the representation of paternity relate to the statements in the birth forms. As to that finding, it was open to the judge to conclude that her intention at that time was, in part at least, to induce the respondent to act on the representation therein made that he was the father of each child.
69 I turn, then to the next element that had to be proved.
Was the respondent induced to act on the representation?
70 Not only must the appellant have intended that the respondent act in reliance on the representation in the forms, he must actually have done so.
71 This is a more difficult question, and its answer ultimately turns on the question of the basis on which the respondent finally sought to make his case against the appellant, having regard to the concession of counsel for the appellant at trial.
72 The trial judge found that the appellant intended that the respondent rely on the representations of paternity contained in the birth forms, and he also found that the respondent did rely on those representations “in consenting to the naming of the children Magill”. That latter finding must have been drawn by the judge as an inference, given that the respondent did not expressly say as much in evidence. Later in his reasons the judge found that the respondent was “reliant on the deceit” when making payments up until late 1995, but that thereafter he was not so reliant. The “deceit” identified by the judge in that instance might have been intended to embrace a broader, continuing, representation of paternity, rather than being confined to the representations contained in the forms, but the finding is not sufficiently precise to be confident as to that.
73 Ms Symon submitted that whether the representation was treated as being confined to the birth forms or as being a continuing one the respondent did not rely on any representation of paternity in supporting the children but, rather, he relied on the absence of any contrary statement. Counsel submitted that the respondent conducted himself and expended monies on an assumption that he already held, namely, that he was their father, that being induced by virtue of the entire matrimonial relationship, and the silence of his wife as to her adultery, not by any representation by his wife. That contention gains some support from the evidence of the respondent, or the lack of evidence, as to the impact upon him of the representations in the forms.
74 The respondent did not give evidence that the completion of the forms induced him to do anything. Rather, his evidence was that it was his belief that he was the father that caused him to provide the financial and emotional support for the children, and that his belief in that respect was based on the whole situation of being in a marriage and his ignorance that his wife was conducting an affair. He said that had he known their paternity he would not have maintained the two children, but that evidence was not related to reliance by him on the contents of the forms.
75 In my view, therefore,
there was no evidence that the respondent acted in reliance on the
representations in the forms, save (by inference) with respect to the naming
of the children. Although the matter is not beyond doubt, I accept that it
was open to conclude that the respondent relied on the representation
contained in the forms for that limited purpose. It was contended before us
that reliance only for the purpose of allowing his surname to be taken by
the children could not have been a cause of any of the loss and damage
suffered by the respondent. That would not necessarily be so. The fact that
he agreed to the children taking his name must have carried with it an
acknowledgment of his obligation to maintain them, but there was no evidence
that the incurring of financial expenditure was induced by the
representation contained in the forms, or that his illness was aggravated by
the representation made in the forms as to each child.
76 As I shall next discuss, however, even if I were to conclude that the respondent’s reliance on the representation in the forms for the purpose of naming the children was sufficient reliance to constitute that element of the tort of deceit, that would not be enough to produce a causal link between the representations in the forms and the losses and damage suffered, and the claim would founder on the rocks of causation, even if it had not first failed as to the element of reliance. The outcome might not have been the same, however, if the claim was based on a broader representation than that contained in the forms and if it was established that the respondent did act to his detriment on that broader representation, but in my view, and given the absence of a notice of contention, even if it was accepted that the respondent had conducted the case on that basis, the absence of any finding as to reliance upon and detriment flowing from a broader representation would be fatal to the respondent’s prospects on the appeal.
77 The respondent, therefore, failed to establish that in incurring any expenses or in otherwise acting to his detriment he was induced by and relied upon the truth of the representations contained in the two birth firms. Having failed to establish that essential element of reliance, the claim failed. Although that conclusion is enough to dispose of this appeal, it is appropriate to address the remaining elements of the respondent’s claim, including the question of damages.
Causation, remoteness and measure of damages
78 The judge assessed damages at $70,000, comprising $30,000 for general damages relating to pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, past, present and future, and for past economic loss, constituted primarily by expenses of the children, he awarded $35,000. For future economic loss he awarded $5000.
79 It is convenient to address causation and damages
80 The appellant contended that the respondent had not proved that he suffered loss and damage by virtue of any representation as to paternity. Rather, it was by virtue of disclosure of his wife’s adultery and discovery of the paternity of the two children that he suffered adverse health consequences. In other words, whether or not any representation had been made (whether in the forms or more broadly) the damage would have been suffered once the truth about adultery and paternity was discovered. Ms Symon cited a statement of Lord Hoffman in Banque Bruxelles Lambert SA v. Eagle Star Insurance Co Ltd, as to the difficulty of quantifying damages and as to causation in deceit, in that:
“The defendant is clearly not liable for losses which the plaintiff would have suffered even if he had not entered into the transaction or for losses attributable to causes which negative the causal effect of the misrepresentation”.
81 Lord Hoffman’s analysis in that case focussed attention on the extent to which the consequences suffered by the representee were occasioned by the fact that the representation was wrong, rather than on the question whether but for the representation the losses would not have been suffered by the plaintiff. However, the issue in Australia is regarded as being, more simply, one of causation. The specific deceit which constitutes this tort, that is, the representation of paternity, need only be a cause of his injury, loss and damage; it does not have to be the sole cause for it to be compensable. Therefore, the appellant would be liable in deceit for all damage that flowed directly from the fraudulent misrepresentation (even if other factors were also direct causes of the loss), but not for losses caused by some other or supervening cause. Put another way, where two or more factors contribute to the damage suffered any one factor is legally causative if it materially contributed to those consequences.
82 Where the fraudulent
misrepresentation can be said to be directly responsible for only some of
the damages suffered, but not all, then the judge must make a reasonable
assessment of the extent to which it was the deceit which caused damage.
83 The judge directed himself, correctly, that he could only award damages for what the respondent had suffered by virtue of the misrepresentation. In particular, he was not to receive damages for his ex-wife’s adultery. The judge rejected a claim for exemplary damages, but concluded that the deceit of the appellant “has caused considerable damage to the life of her former partner”, and awarded $30,000 for that component of damages.
84 The respondent suffered a psychiatric condition of considerable severity caused by a number of factors, primarily the break down of the marriage and the stress associated with Family Court proceedings and what he regarded as the unreasonable attitude of the wife to child support and financial arrangements. Dr Chong said when he first saw the respondent in 1999 he was suffering severe depression, later made worse by the DNA reports in April 2000. Dr Kornan and Dr Cole also confirmed the severity of his psychiatric condition. It is unnecessary to elaborate on their evidence. That his condition was severe was not a matter of dispute.
85 In my opinion, and subject to considering whether it was a confined or continuing representation, the evidence justified his Honour’s finding that a sufficient causal connection between the respondent’s psychiatric illness and the misrepresentation of paternity had been proved, having regard to the psychiatric evidence contained in medical reports and supplemented by the evidence of Dr Kornan, Dr Cole and Dr Chong. Furthermore, although the appellant’s misrepresentations were not the direct cause of all of his mental illness there was evidence from the psychiatrists that a component of the psychiatric condition could be attributed expressly to the misrepresentation about paternity.
86 The evidence disclosed that the discovery of his wife’s adultery and the paternity of the children were more major causes of the respondent's mental illness, rather than the fact that his wife had misrepresented the paternity of the children. That latter matter, however, was not excluded by the expert witnesses as being a contributor to his psychological injury. In his report of 20 August 2002, Dr Kornan, whose evidence the judge accepted, said:
“ . . . the alleged fraudulent misrepresentation as to the paternity of the children would be a noticeable added factor to raising the level of any psychiatric reaction. I think this was an extremely bitter blow to him that he now felt doubly cheated, so to speak, over the break-up of the marriage.
To sum up, I
think that the alleged fraudulent misrepresentation of the paternity of the
children was a noticeable factor in his psychiatric condition, but certainly
the initial marriage break-up has probably always been slightly the major
factor leading to the current situation.”
87 In a subsequent report Dr Kornan opined that 60% of the psychiatric condition could be attributed to the marriage break-up, 20% to having to cope on his own and on the financial pressures relating to maintenance, and, “I do feel that it is an aggravation to his psychiatric condition with the news that the alleged fraudulent misrepresentation, as I understand the situation has occurred, and this then adds to the extra 20% so to speak.”
88 Dr Chong thought that the respondent’s prospects of returning to full time work were poor. Dr Cole thought it unlikely that he could return to work within six months of the completion of the proceedings. Dr Kornan thought he may return to work but would require medication for another three to four years after completion of the case.
89 The judge accepted that the respondent’s condition would
improve but noted that he had been out of work for some years due to his
condition and would remain on medication for years to come. He found that
the respondent had suffered severe depression and a major anxiety disorder.
90 His Honour was entitled to accept the psychiatric evidence, and expressly said that he was awarding damages only for the aggravation of the psychiatric condition caused by the misrepresentation as to paternity. In submissions to the judge counsel for the respondent sought $100,000 under this head of damages, and the appellant’s counsel submitted that no more than $20,000 would be appropriate (whilst maintaining that no damages ought to be awarded).
91 I am not persuaded that there was error in the way in which the judge assessed damages under this heading, and the figure of $30,000 has not been shown to be manifestly excessive, in my opinion.
92 As to the damages awarded for economic losses, the primary complaint was that his Honour did not sufficiently set out how he arrived at the sum, what its component parts were and on what basis the sum was said to be justified. In fact, of the $35,000, $10,000 was related to time taken off work after the births of each of the two children. That sum had been quantified in evidence which had not been challenged below, and it was open to the judge to award it. As to the remaining $25,000, the judge awarded that sum for expenses incurred for the two children over the many years before their paternity was resolved. His Honour stated expressly that he was not, in effect, refunding child support payments or adjusting those payments. The sum he awarded was for additional financial support provided to the children.
93 The judge rejected evidence of an economist who was called
to give evidence on behalf of the respondent but having concluded that there
was, indeed, loss which fell under this heading had to do the best he could
in quantifying it. He cited Victorian Stevedore Pty Ltd v. Farlow for the
approach he was adopting, but that case is not to point. More probably his
Honour was adopting the broad brush approach discussed in such cases as
Enzed Holdings Ltd v. Wynthea Pty Ltd. As was made clear by Brooking J in
JLW (Vic) Pty Ltd v. Tsiloglou the fact that the court can be confident that
some damage was caused would not be sufficient justification for an
assessment to be made when there was so little evidence that the court could
not make a rational assessment of damages. However, and to apply the
dichotomy discussed by Brooking, J., the present case, falls not within the
category of cases involving “guesswork”, but as one permitting rational
assessment, albeit with some uncertainty.
94 There was evidence on which the judge could make an assessment of damages. Although in his reasons his Honour did not elaborate on the way in which he calculated this sum, there had been evidence given on the question and the complaint primarily now made is not that the sum was excessive and could not be supported on the evidence so much as a complaint that more elaborate explanation was not offered. The judge did make it clear that he was conscious of the need to establish causation for any claimed damage. He rejected a claim for damages with respect to expenditure on Heath after 1995, because the respondent by then knew of the doubts about paternity, and he held, therefore, that the respondent’s expenditure on Heath was not thereafter caused by the misrepresentation.
95 One additional argument was that any sums allowed the respondent for expenses incurred ought to be offset by reason of the benefits he gained from the affection and companionship he gained from the children before he discovered their paternity. Such an argument does not seem to have been made to the judge, but in any event, the notion that there ought to be an offsetting of a damages award in a not dissimilar situation did not find favour in the High Court in Cattenach v. Melchior.
allowance for future loss of income was very small, and no complaint was
made as to that sum.
97 I am not, therefore, persuaded that had the appellant’s other grounds of appeal failed the sum awarded for damages was so disproportionate either in total or as to its component parts as to have justified interference by this Court.
98 As to the issue of causation,
we must, once again, consider whether the claim is based on the
misrepresentation contained in the birth forms, or is to be regarded as a
false representation more generally made, both by words and conduct, and
over a longer period than merely the occasions of the completion of the
forms. If the representation is confined to the contents and presentation of
the forms then, in my opinion, the evidence could not have supported a
finding that it was those specific instances of the representation that
produced economic or psychological damage. If however, the case is
considered on the assumption that the claim was based on there having been a
broader continuing representation of paternity then, in my opinion, it would
have been open to the judge - accepting the evidence of the psychiatrists,
referred to above – to conclude that his reliance on the false
representation was a cause of the respondent suffering the loss and damage
which he claimed. As I have said, however, the claim was not clearly
advanced on that broader basis and the judge’s findings were confined to the
causative effect of the representations in the birth forms. Those findings,
so confined, could not be supported on the evidence.
99 Thus, the respondent failed to establish that the representations in the forms were a cause of his loss and damage, and the contrary finding by the judge was not supported by the evidence. If the claim was based on a broader representation then whilst causation might have been capable of being established, the judge did not make any finding which would support his judgment on that basis.
The adequacy of the judge’s reasons
100 In the event that the appellant failed to make out her other grounds of appeal, Ms Symon relied upon a ground asserting that the reasons of the judge were inadequate in that he did not set out, adequately, the evidence on which he based his findings. Having regard to my conclusion that the appellant must succeed in the appeal, this ground would no longer be pursued by the appellant, but in the course of argument, counsel for the respondent themselves submitted that if the appeal were to succeed because the judge failed to make findings relevant to what they contended was the broader basis for the claim advanced on behalf of the respondent, then there ought to be a re-trial, because the deficiencies in the reasons had denied a fair trial to the respondent.
101 A notice of contention raising that
complaint had not been filed by the respondent, and, thus, that issue was
not before the court from his perspective, and was not fully argued on the
appeal. Notwithstanding that the issue is not, therefore, before the Court
on behalf of the respondent, I think it appropriate to make some comment on
102 The reasons in this case were delivered only three days after the judge had reserved his decision. The transcript of evidence was not yet available and the reasons were delivered orally and were not as elaborate and precise as would be expected of a reserved written judgment. Whilst the judge could not be expected to elaborate on all of the evidence he relied on, in the course of resisting the appellant’s other grounds of appeal counsel for the respondent referred us to a body of evidence which was not specifically referred to by the judge but which, if accepted, did lend further support to his conclusion as to the lack of credibility of the appellant’s account as to her belief and intentions. It was not by reference to any defects in the judge’s findings as to credit, however, that the appeal, in my opinion, must succeed. The appeal succeeds because the judge’s findings were related only to the representations contained in the birth forms, and they were insupportable with respect to the elements of reliance and causation in that regard.
103 The appellant’s ground of appeal raised the question whether the reasons were so inadequate as to deny to the appellate court the ability to review the decision. No longer does the appellant wish to so contend, but, ironically, the respondent seeks to now so argue. If the reasons were inadequate in confining the case to the representations contained in the forms in circumstances where the respondent did not intend that the claim be so confined, then, curiously, it is the appellant who was the beneficiary of that defect in the reasons. I am, however, persuaded, that the case was confined in the way the appellant contends, and once so confined the appeal must succeed.
104 As I earlier discussed, the submissions of counsel for the respondent, at trial, failed to clearly articulate or press a claim based on a continuing representation, as is now contended to have been the basis of the respondent’s case, and no findings have been made by the judge that would support judgment for the respondent on any other or broader basis than the basis on which the judge, wrongly, decided the case in favour of the respondent. In my view, unsatisfactory as the situation might be, as to the only basis on which the case was clearly both argued and decided the evidence can not support the respondent’s judgment, and the appeal must be allowed.
105 I have given consideration to the contention of counsel for the respondent that it was only the judge, and not counsel, who understood the case to be confined to the representations in the birth notices, and that if he failed to make appropriate findings which would have established the case on the broader basis (which they contend was never abandoned) then the trial was fundamentally flawed and there ought be a re-trial. As I have said, no notice of contention has been filed to raise such a challenge by the respondent, but there are more substantive reasons why the contention should be rejected. Whilst accepting that the judge did not himself seek to clarify the basis of the claim, following the concession by counsel for the appellant, it was for the respondent/plaintiff, through counsel, to clearly articulate and argue his case in the light of the conduct of the trial and the concession made by opposing counsel during its course. In those circumstances, it can not be said that there has been a fundamental defect in the trial, justifying what would be the extraordinary course of ordering a re-trial where the successful prosecution of the appeal would otherwise not produce that result, but would result in dismissal of the respondent’s claim.
106 I would allow the appeal, set aside the judgment and dismiss the respondent’s claim.