A divorce settlement between Mr. Vidal Browne and his former wife Glennis Mills in 2003 has negatively impacted at least two businesses located along the tourist belt on mainland St. Vincent.
The court heard that in happier times, the couple jointly acquired assets including shares in multiple corporate entities, but trouble emerged as they sought to divide their matrimonial assets.
Some of these interests in which one or both parties were directors/shareholders included: Young Island Resorts Ltd, St. Vincent Manufacturing Company Ltd, Mariner’s Hotel and French Verandah Inc.
Ms Mills told the court that her ex-husband companies were used in an oppressive way against her to deny her rights. She said:
“the companies’ businesses were being conducted in an oppressive manner towards her and in a way which unfairly disregarded her interest as shareholder and director respectively”.
The latest dispute was in reference to their divorce settlement which included a portion of land in which Mariner’s hotel and French Verandah had been using rent free “as a parking area for their respective adjacent hotel and restaurant businesses; and to place their signage”.
Ms Mills on receiving exclusive right to the Villa land following the settlement asked that rent be paid but both Mariner’s and French Verandah refused to even acknowledge repeated letters sent to them.
“She submitted that they their failure to acknowledge her rights as owner and make suitable arrangements to satisfy her demands for rent and for possession of the disputed land violated her right as owner. She argued that their tenancy at will has thereby been terminated”.
Instead, the court documents revealed that Caribbean Resorts Ltd trading as Mariner’s Hotel and the French Verandah Inc maintained:
“that Ms. Mills does not own the areas of land which they occupy as a parking space and for signage purposes. They contended that they have acquired an interest in the subject land by adverse possession, having occupied it since 2003. They asserted that they carried out significant improvements on the disputed lands and have acted to their detriment in this regard”.
“They insisted that the disputed lands have become a part of their property and that Ms. Mills is estopped from denying this. They deny that they are trespassers or that Ms. Mills has suffered any loss or damage. They contended further that Ms. Mills’ claim is statute-barred”.
However, the High Court was not overly pleased with the position of the companies especially as they had the same director, the ex-husband of Ms. Mills. The Court noted:
“Ms. Mills in the 2010 claim to the effect that the defendant companies were being controlled and managed in a way which was oppressive and unfairly prejudicial to her. It does not escape the Court’s attention that the other director whom she accused is none other than Mr. Vidal Browne or that Mr. Browne as remaining shareholder and director of CRL and TFVI stood to benefit from IHL’s alleged implicit indifference to CRL’s and TFVI’s occupation of the disputed parking area and knoll for a period in excess of 12 years, on which they now seek to rely to found a claim to the land by adverse possession”.
After hearing all the evidence and applying the case law, High Court Judge Esco Henry ruled that:
- Mariner’s Hotel and the French Verandah were to quit using the disputed property at Villa.
- Pay ‘rent’ for unauthorised use of the land from June 2011 – July 2020.
- Pay costs of $7500 to Ms. Mills.