Judgment was delivered at Tullamore Circuit Court
A BARRISTER involved in a 20-year legal dispute over his father's will was unlawfully profiting from land, a judge said on Friday,
Judge Karen Fergus said Sean Corrigan, a former panel beater and oil rig worker, whose father had died in a road accident in 2000, had misled the court and persisted with a claim which he knew was statute barred.
The dispute concerned 21 acres of land and a house on half an acre at Robinstown, Mullingar which had been owned by Christopher Corrigan, a father of four boys and one girl.
In his will, the late Christopher Corrigan said some of land was zoned for residential or industrial development and the three executors, Sean Corrigan, and his brothers Eamon and Owen, were to hold it until it was sold for development.
In her judgment, Judge Fergus also outlined that the will said Sean Corrigan was to hold the land for his benefit and when sold, the net proceeds were to be divided equally between all the children.
Any farm land unsold was to become the absolute property of Sean Corrigan.
If one of the executors acquired the father's house, they were to sell their own residence and divide the proceeds among the other four siblings.
If the house was not acquired by one of the executors, it was to be sold and the proceeds divided equally among Eamon and Owen Corrigan, and the other two siblings, Thomas and Angela.
Christopher Corrigan died on March 5 2000 and later that month Eamon and Owen Corrigan learned that Sean stated he had a claim against the estate in respect of adverse possession of a plot of land behind the house.
Sean Corrigan had also advertised land to be let, even though he was only one of three executors with the right to do so.
Further, his solicitor told the other two brothers he was claiming beneficial ownership of a workshop and out offices and requested that the family home be vested in him.
Around the same time the family learned the land was outside the area zoned for residential or industrial development.
Legal correspondence continued between the parties and Judge Fergus said it was clear Sean Corrigan had attempted to secure his position on the land by moving fences, parking cars and opposing a land survey.
As the dispute went on, Sean Corrigan was renounced as an executor in November 2001, matters went to the High Court and in January 2006 Owen Corrigan renounced his rights to act as an executor.
Later a grant of unadministered probate was issued to Eamon Corrigan and in November 2007 the High Court ruled that the clause in the will relating to the sale of the land for residential or industrial development was void because of uncertainty.
Sean Corrigan appealed the matter to the Supreme Court in December 2007 and nine years later the appeal was dismissed.
Prior to that solicitors for Sean Corrigan were allowed to come off record.
The Supreme Court also noted that Owen Corrigan had given an undertaking to disclaim the gift given to him in the will.
The dispute continued and the remaining executor, Eamon Corrigan, sought delivery to him of the lands in June 2017 but Sean Corrigan told him he would not deliver the house, workshop or any outbuilding unless the Circuit Court ordered him to do so.
Proceedings alleging trespass were heard by the Circuit Court on October 7 and December 11 last and Judge Fergus said having assessed the evidence she wished to highlight Sean Corrigan's attempts to “mislead” the court by cherrypicking portions of letters and affidavits that suited his arguments but which did not give the full story.
She said within weeks of his father's death he was acting as if the land was his and he was entitled to deal with it.
She rejected a submission from Sean Corrigan that he was lured into altering his legal position to his detriment or that his brother Eamon had misled him.
There was no proof of Sean Corrigan's claim of adverse possession because in his own evidence he had said there were “no unhappy differences” with his father and he had permission to be on the land and use a shed there for a panel beating business.
Judge Fergus said there had been evidence all the brothers had used the land and sheds with their father's permission and Sean Corrigan never made a claim against his father while he was alive.
A married man with no children, he had worked abroad on oil rigs in the late 1970s and 1980s before returning home to start a breakdown business with AA Ireland.
Judge Fergus said she was satisfied Sean Corrigan had taken over his late father's entire holding until the Supreme Court ruling in 2016 and then continued to occupy a portion of the land, while refusing to yield up possession.
She said there was no justification in prolonging the matter and further dissipating the estate other than a stubborn unwillingness to accept the Supreme Court decision.
Sean Corrigan had attempted to find a back door to overturn the effect of that decision through a “hopeless case” on adverse possession, estoppel and “anything else in the kitchen sink”.
Finding in favour of Eamon Corrigan, a retired psychiatric nurse who sought a declaration that he was the legal and beneficial owner of the land, she ordered that Sean Corrigan vacate the property within three months so it could be sold.
She awarded damages for trespass of €24,000 to Eamon Corrigan and all reserved costs and discovery costs are to be taxed in default of agreement.
Judge Fergus said she had been previously asked by Sean Corrigan to state a case to the Court of Appeal but she would not be doing so.
She also refused to put a stay on the order, saying the matter had gone on for long enough.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.