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Appeal Court rules: All clear for UTT lawsuit

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The University of T&T (UTT) has been given the green light to proceed with a lawsuit against its former board in which it is seeking to recover more than $10 million from the controversial lease of a guesthouse in the Heights of Aripo. 



Chief Justice Ivor Archie and two appellate judges yesterday dismissed an appeal by three of the seven former directors — Giselle Marfleet, Scott Hilton-Clarke and Errol Pilgrim — who were seeking to have the lawsuit struck out on the ground that the university had no reasonable prospect of proving its case against them. In their ruling, Archie and judges Nolan Bereaux and Gregory Smith disagreed, instead saying in their view there were triable issues to be decided.



UTT initiated the lawsuit in September 2012, claiming the former board had breached its fiduciary duty and failed to exercise due diligence in the sub-leasing of the guest house in the Heights of Aripo with Consolidated Services Ltd (CSL) for a five-year renewable lease at a monthly rent of $50,000. The other directors listed in the lawsuit are former UTT president Prof Ken Julien, Dr Rene Monteil, Ravindra Nath-Maharaj and Lincoln Warner.


As a secondary issue, UTT is suing Julien for allegedly authorising the temporary accommodation of the Rev Juliana Pena, the former spiritual adviser to former prime minister Patrick Manning, at the facility although she was not a guest of the university. In their appeal, the three contended they were not privy to a report compiled by UTT’s corporate legal adviser, Celeste Mohammed, who had advised against entering into the lease agreement, as CSL did not have the authority to enter into the agreement. 


In response, UTT provided minutes of board meetings on November 14, 2006, at which the directors were present when issues with the problematic lease agreement were raised. In his oral ruling yesterday Archie said the Mohammed report was certainly central to the case ”and on perusal of the minutes it is clear that something in relation to title was discussed.”


Archie said he and his colleagues could not fault the ruling of High Court Judge Vasheist Kokaram, whose decision in April to throw out the bid to strike out the lawsuit led to the appeal. He also said the dismissal of the lawsuit would be premature. The court ordered the three to pay two thirds of the university’s legal costs for defending the appeal. UTT was represented by Vincent Nelson, QC, and Gerald Ramdeen and Varun Debideen. Stuart Young and Anthony Bullock appeared for the three former directors.


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