Court of Appeal allows case on claimed accidental purchase of $7.3m property
A company that claims its director accidentally agreed to a $7.3 million Auckland property purchase has been allowed to appeal its case.
Golden Garden Ltd lost an earlier case in the High Court at Auckland after claiming its director Meihong Liang did not know she was agreeing to the sale because she did not understand English.
The judge in that case, associate High Court Justice Roger Bell, said that Liang was "much better at English than she has let on" and ordered that Golden Garden pay the previous owners $730,000 plus interest.
But Court of Appeal Justice Murray Gilbert has now allowed an appeal, saying additional evidence Liang cannot speak English "cannot safely be disregarded" and would have to be argued in court.
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Liang, who speaks Mandarin and Cantonese, made the offer to buy the Kumeu property – which had a starting price of $8m – on April 6 last year.
Justice Gilbert's decision said Liang claimed to have told the agent she was not interested in purchasing the property, and did not have enough money to buy it.
"Mrs Liang says that the agent pleaded with her to submit a tender as a favour to her because she had only been in the industry for a couple of years and it would give her an opportunity to meet the vendor and extend her contacts and client base."
The judgment said Liang bid $7.3m, with what she claimed was the understanding that no bid under $7.5m would succeed.
She claimed she made the bid on a number of conditions, including that settlement of the purchase would be deferred for 12 months.
Justice Gilbert's decision said Liang then claimed the agent called her to increase the price and move the settlement date forward.
She claimed she did not agree to the price rise but did agree to move the date forward.
To confirm the details, the agent sent Liang a text message in English which read: "Dear Mrs Liang Please confirm through email on our revised offer: Unconditional $7.3MM 10% deposit payable to Barfoot & Thompson trust account on acceptance Settlement: 2016-06-30."
Liang sent a text with the word "confirmed" in Mandarin, which she alleged was only to confirm the revised date, the only part of the message she claims to have been able to read, the judgment said.
Before sending the text message Liang had already written out a cheque in English for $730,000, signed it and and handed it to her agent.
She claimed she had explained to the agent that the amount was not present in the account, Justice Gilbert said.
The cheque was dishonoured and the property owners, Hongwei Zhao and Zhidong Huang, cancelled the sale agreement and sued Golden Garden.
Liang's lawyer, William McCartney, said Liang had made several errors on the cheque, including writing "Bafoot & Thomsin" or "Bafurt & Thomsin" instead of Barfoot and Thompson, according to the judgment.
McCartney said Liang also wrote "seven hundreen thre thousand dollar only" or "seven hundreen threty thousand dollmr oily" instead of "seven hundred and thirty thousand dollars only".
An affidavit from Liang's bank manager, Xiaoman Cui, claimed Liang "cannot understand spoken English and cannot speak, read or write in English", Justice Gilbert said.
The affidavit went on to say that Liang was only able to communicate with Cui's non-Chinese speaking husband through a translator, Justice Gilbert said.
"She explains that she studied calligraphy in China and is good at copying foreign writing even though she does not understand the words."
Real estate agent Sylvia Williams also submitted an affidavit, saying she believed Liang was "completely illiterate" in English, Justice Gilbert said.
He said the texts between Liang and the agent "can be read in a way that is consistent with Mrs Liang's account".
The ruling comes after another Court of Appeal ruling in November of last year that two Vietnamese siblings would have to follow through with the sale of their Otahuhu property, even though they claimed not to have understood the agreement they signed was enforceable.