Circuit Court

Claim for works carried out on holiday home struck out

Plaintiff was badly advised, said Judge

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Claim for works carried out on holiday home struck out

A claim for €22,600 by a Ballinaglera man for works carried out on a holiday home and its gardens was dismissed at Carrick-on-Shannon Circuit Court.

John McGourty, Cleighranmore, Ballinaglera, issued proceedings against John Battell on April 6, 2017 for payment for work he carried out on the five and a half acre property at Cleighranmore, Ballinaglera.

Mr McGourty told the court that in June 2009 he was approached by an agent for Mr Battell, Peter Cryan, who asked him if he was interested in farming a piece of land owned by John Battell which had come available.

Mr McGourty met with Mr Battell the next day who said he wanted it kept in nice shape. Mr McGourty said the land was in poor condition and needed to be grazed.

He was told that whatever he took from it (grass/fodder) was his to keep.

Mr McGourty said he cleaned the drains, fertilised the land, sprayed the rushes and did whatever necessary works were needed.

He said a couple of years later Mr Cryan told him that Mr Battell had his affairs in order and there was €180,000 set aside for the maintenance of the property and its grounds and would he be interested in it. He said yes.

Mr McGourty said he started to immediately take care of the property, cutting the grass, shrubs and trees, making necessary repairs and checking the security. He was given a key to the house and the alarm system.

He said there was no discussion with Mr Battell on the matter, Mr Cryan handled all correspondence.

He said when Mr Battell used to come on his holidays from England, he would tell him he had the place looking lovely.

He had no conversation with Mr Battell regarding the conversation he had with Mr Cryan.

Mr McGourty said he invited Mr Battell to his house in 2016 and told him he could not continue to do the work for no money and he would like to come to an agreement.

He sent Mr Battell an itemised bill and wrote to him but no money was forthcoming so he had to issue proceedings.

He said Mr Cryan told him that Mr Battell didn't like parting with money.

Mr McGourty said he tried to be as fair as possible. He spent a lot of time at it to keep it in the condition he had.

He said that he and his accountant Michael Grogan met with Mr Cryan in Rathmines before the proceedings issued to talk it over. He said that Mr Cryan fully agreed there was money left to one side for the maintenance of the garden and upkeep of the house.

In cross examination, Mr McGourty denied that the second year he took the land he had asked Mr Battell to allow him to run cattle on it and Mr Battell said he would have to do something in return for that such as keeping an eye on the land and doing a bit around the place.

Mr McGourty said that was incorrect and the maintenance of the house and gardens was a completely separate issue to the use of the land.

It was put to him that James Brogan cut the grass at the house every Saturday for five years and Mr McGourty said he had no recollection of that.

Asked what changed in 2016, Mr McGourty said he was getting no money and he expected a normal and reasonable fee.

He said that he worked for 20 hours per week, seven evenings a week and “was sick of it.” He said it was Mr Battell's place to come to him and he made up his mind to issue proceedings in 2016.

Mr Battell's barrister accused Mr McGourty of an opportunistic effort to “shake some money” from Mr Battell.

Michael Grogan told the court he attended the meeting with Peter Cryan in Dublin on May 19, 2016.

He said Mr McGourty was seeking clarification of the original agreement in 2009. He said an amicable open discussion took place. He said Mr Cryan agreed that John McGourty was approached to perform the maintenance of the gardens and that some money was set aside by the owner for the upkeep.

He said that Mr Cryan indicated there was no payment to be made to Mr McGourty while Mr Battell was alive.

Peter Cryan, who lives in Dublin but is a native of Leitrim Village, said Mr McGourty asked him what was happening with Mr Battell's meadows after the previous user of the land, Tommy Heeran, retired.

He said that for the first two years he got the grass for free and in the third year he asked if he could put cattle on the land.

He spoke with Mr Battell who said he could, provided he put up a second row of wire and stock-proofed it. Mr Cryan told him there was no money involved.

He told him he would have to do a little bit of work and Mr McGourty told him that anything that needed doing, he would do it.

Mr Cryan said Mr McGourty never mentioned money to him, it was the understanding that he would do the jobs for the use of the meadows.

Mr Cryan said that he would be at the property for ten months each year and his own son-in-law, James Brogan, cut the hedges.

John Battell, in his evidence, said the previous user of the land, Tommy Heeran, was told he could have the land for nothing if he cleaned the odd drain and cut the odd hedge. He expected a similar agreement with Mr McGourty when he took the land.

He said he didn't see a great deal of Mr McGourty. He said money was never mentioned and if it had been, he was an honourable man and would have paid it.

He said if Mr McGourty did any work, Mr Battell's wife would ask him if they owed him anything and he would say no.

Mr Battell said James Brogan did jobs for him, cut the lawn, etc and he would pay him and other workmen who attended the property.

Mr McGourty asked Mr Battell in court if he was happy with the way he took care of the place and he replied yes.

“I looked after it 100%,”said Mr McGourty.

“I think that's a matter of opinion,” replied Mr Battell.

Judge John Aylmer said Mr McGourty had been very badly advised, from a legal point of view, to bring the proceedings.

Mr McGourty accepted there was no agreement as such for the amounts claimed.

He said no one disputed Mr McGourty carried out good work on Mr Battell's property but he was satisfied there was no agreement.

He said Mr Heeran had previously maintained the property in exchange for him getting the right to take hay and silage off the land.

He said Mr Cryan, as agent, allowed Mr McGourty to graze cattle but indicated that he would have to do a little bit more by way of maintenance around the house.

Judge Aylmer said Mr McGourty did that and may well have exceeded it.

He said it was clear Mr McGourty was not the only one maintaining the property.

“The only agreement for remuneration was the grass, that was the contract,” the Judge said.

“I think Mr McGourty was advised other than by lawyers that he had a claim to bring,” the Judge added and said on that basis Mr McGourty's claim must fail.

He struck out the plaintiff's claim with an order for the defendant's costs to be taxed in the event of non agreement.