Royal Bank of Scotland Plc v James O’Donnell and Ian McDonald – Guarantee reduced and damages granted as a result of negligent misrepresentations on behalf of bank
Inner House case in which RBS sought payment of sums due under a personal guarantee granted by Mr O’Donnell and Mr MacDonald the directors of Whinhill Developments Ltd which had been formed to purchase a potential development site at Stone Farm in Greenock. The directors argued that the guarantee had been induced by negligent misrepresentations made on behalf of RBS.
RBS and Whinhill entered a one year loan agreement in September 2007 whereby RBS would provide a loan of £1.65m to fund the purchase. Whinhill bought the site for about £1.5m and planned to obtain planning permission then sell the site to a builder or developer. Whinhill granted a standard security and floating charge in favour of RBS (the site being Whinhill’s only asset). Whinhill were unable to repay the loan at its expiry in September 2008. The parties then agreed to refinance the loan facility with a new loan of £1.695m to be repaid by March 2011; the Whinhill directors providing a personal guarantee for the company’s liabilities to a maximum aggregate value of £300k.
Whinhill failed to repay the sums due after a default event occurred and RBS sought payment of the sums due under the guarantee in February 2011. Central to the case was the property crash in 2008 and the falling value of the property. The loan was originally advanced in mid-2007 on the strength of a market valuation of £3m. When the facility was refinanced in 2008, property values had “fallen off a cliff” and the credit division of RBS was enforcing a 70% loan to value ratio. However, Whinhill’s relationship director in RBS’s commercial banking division was keen to avoid the crystallisation of, what may have been by then, a worthless security. He received word from Ryden that the property could be valued at £2m which, with a personal guarantee from Whinhill’s directors, would allow the 70% loan to value ratio to be met.
On three separate occasions RBS told the directors that Ryden would or had re-valued the subjects at £2m. The directors had understood the revaluation could be relied on for lending and guarantee purposes and, in the Outer House, Lord Malcolm took the view that it was reasonable for them to do so. Shortly after the first occasion (but before the second), RBS’s relationship director received the updated valuation from Ryden by letter. However, the letter made it clear that the report was not suitable, nor to be relied on by the bank, for lending purposes (it was also based on an assumption of increased development density which had not been discussed with the Whinhill directors). The directors were not informed of this and there was no evidence that the report had been received by the directors who then granted the personal guarantee in favour of the bank.
In the Outer House Lord Malcolm found that the RBS statements were material factors in the directors’ decision to grant the guarantee and that the guarantee would not have been granted if they had been aware of the true position. As a result, a reduction of the guarantee was granted.
Whether the Whinhill directors were also entitled to damages for their losses depended on whether the misrepresentations amounted to a breach of a duty of care owed to them. Lord Malcolm found that, in using the assurance given by Ryden before receipt of the report to help persuade the Whinhill directors to agree to the guarantee, the relationship director had to be taken as having assumed responsibility for its accuracy. He then came under an obligation of enquiry or disclosure if he subsequently received material which cast doubt on the information given to the directors. And thereafter, he had a duty not to repeat the misrepresentation. The relationship director had breached that duty and the Whinhill directors were entitled to damages for loss sustained as a consequence.
The Inner House were in agreement with Lord Malcom’s findings and refused an appeal.
The full judgement is available here.