Kevin O'Higgins Solicitors

Long battle for possession of Greystones cottage halted

Tuesday, 27 October, 2015
The Irish Times
Mary Carolan

Court makes orders preventing Eileen Gunning bringing fresh litigation without leave

A woman’s lengthy legal battle for possession of a cottage near Greystones, Co Wicklow, has been halted by the Supreme Court.

The court also made orders preventing her bringing any fresh litigation about the property without court permission. It was “impossible to disagree” with the High Court’s conclusion that further litigation “can only add to the misery which this tragic dispute over home ownership has caused”, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said.

By making various unsuccessful claims in various courts in the manner she had, Eileen Gunning had dissipated her entitlement to a share in the estate of her late father, and may also have affected the entitlements of other beneficiaries of his will, including her own daughter, the judge said.

The fact Ms Gunning is restrained from continuing to litigate “could well be seen as being in her interest”.

Ms Justice Laffoy was giving the three-judge court’s judgment dismissing an appeal by Ms Gunning, formerly of Chrysanthemum Cottage, Blacklion, Greystones, against High Court orders dismissing her case as an abuse of process and restraining her bringing further litigation over the cottage without High Court permission. Costs issues will be decided later.

‘Lost everything’

After the judgment, Ms Gunning told the court she had “lost everything”. The cottage was held by Ms Gunning’s grandfather under a 50-year lease dated 1935 made with two women with addresses in the UK at annual rent of £5. Her father Patrick, who succeeded her grandfather as lessee, died in 1984.

He had appointed Ms Gunning as executrix of his will, in which he left a half interest in his property to his widow Sarah and the other half to his two daughters, Eileen and Mary. The lease expired in 1985 with the effect Patrick Gunning’s title to the cottage thereafter was “anything but satisfactory”, the judge said.

Before his death, he unsuccessfully sought to acquire the fee simple under the Ground Rents Act, and his widow and daughter Eileen also later failed in efforts to be registered as owners of the cottage. Eileen Gunning moved into the cottage with her daughter in 1991.

Ten years later, her mother Sarah took legal proceedings to have her ejected, but lost that case in 2002. Her mother then took High Court proceedings which led to a 2003 order removing Eileen as executrix of her father’s estate due to not observing her duties as a trustee.

Unknown to her mother and undisclosed to the Circuit Court, Eileen had begun inquiries aimed at being registered as the cottage’s sole owner, Ms Justice Laffoy noted. Estate divided Sarah Gunning died in 2005 and, in her will, left her share of the cottage to her daughter Mary. The remainder of her estate was divided between Mary, a grandson and granddaughter (Eileen Gunning’s daughter).

In 2007, Brian Sherry, a solicitor appointed by the High Court in 2003 as administrator of the estate, took proceedings against Eileen Gunning for possession of the cottage and got a final possession order in 2009. He went in autumn 2010 with the county sheriff to execute that order, and Ms Gunning and her daughter left the cottage soon afterwards. Ms Gunning later broke into the cottage and was committed to prison for a time for contempt

In all the proceedings brought against her and taken by her, Ms Gunning represented herself, Ms Justice Laffoy noted. She would “undoubtedly have benefitted” from professional legal advice from the 1990s, given the complex legal issues involved. This appeal arose from proceedings taken by Ms Gunning in 2010 against Mr Sherry, apparently in his capacity as personal representative of her father’s estate, the judge said.

Mr Sherry ultimately won orders from the High Court dismissing her claim as an abuse of process and restraining her from taking further proceedings against him. Dismissing her appeal against those High Court orders, Ms Justice Laffoy said the High Court conclusion that Ms Gunning had made out no claim for possession of the cottage was “unquestionable”. She had also shown nothing to suggest the decision to dismiss the proceedings as an abuse of process was incorrect.