The Court ultimately refused to strike out the claim for the first works after concluding that there was no evidence to confirm that allowing the proceeding to continue was vexatious or prejudicial to a fair hearing. However, the Applicants' claim relating to the second works was stuck out after it was determined that an estoppel prevented submissions being heard that effectively sought to revisit previous enforcement orders made by the Planning and Environment Court.
The Planning and Environment Court made enforcement orders against the Applicants after determining that a development offence had occurred
The Council provided written notice of its intention to perform stormwater drainage maintenance on the Applicants' land at 76 Wharf Street, Bli Bli. The Applicants notified the Council verbally that it would undertake the works personally.
The Applicants proceeded to carry out earthworks on the land, identified as the first works, which included a 455 metre long drainage channel that had no relation to the Council's requirements. The Council compulsorily acquired the affected land for of an easement before bringing proceedings against the Applicants in the Planning and Environment Court.
The Planning and Environment Court determined that the Applicants had committed a development offence by failing to carry out the first works in accordance with a relevant development permit. The Planning and Environment Court subsequently made enforcement orders which required the Applicants to carry out works, identified as the second works.
The Applicants sought compensation for the completed works
The Applicants later filed an originating application in the Land Court which sought compensation for the Council's compulsory acquisition of the land under the ALA.
) of ALA allowed the Court to have regard to the Applicants' “costs attributable to disturbance
”. Section 20(5)(g)
of the ALA defines costs attributable to disturbance to include “other economic losses and costs reasonably incurred by the claimant that are a direct and natural consequence of the taking of the land
The Council brought an application seeking to strike out the Applicant’s compensation claims
The Council brought an application in the Land Court which sought to strike out the Applicants' compensation claims on the following grounds:
- the claims disclosed no reasonable basis for compensation under the ALA; and
- the claim relating to the second works sought to revisit enforcement orders made by the Planning and Environment Court and therefore amounted to an abuse of process.
The Council argued that there was nothing before the Court to support the Applicants' claim while the Applicants relied on precedents established in earlier decisions
The Council submitted that it had not requested the Applicants to carry out the first works or any part of them and that the first works were carried out prior to the acquisition of the land and without formal notice to the Council.
Relying on these facts, the Council contended that there was nothing before the Court to demonstrate that the Applicants had suffered losses or costs reasonably incurred and as a direct and natural consequence of the first works.
The Applicants submitted that all facts upon which their claims were based, including that the first works were undertaken in the knowledge that the Council's acquisition was imminent, were capable of proof. The Applicants argued that for the Council to succeed in striking out the claims it must establish that they were obviously untenable within the meaning of section 20
of the ALA.
The Court found no reasonable basis to strike out the Applicants' claim for compensation for the first works
After considering an agreed statement of facts provided by the parties, the Court determined that the key issue was whether the first works were attributable to disturbance within the meaning of the ALA and whether the Applicants' claim was so futile that it should be struck out.
The Court refused to strike out the Applicants' claim over the first works after concluding that there was no evidence to support the argument that allowing the application to continue would be vexatious or have a tendency to delay or prejudice a fair hearing.
The Council argued that the Applicant's claim over the second works was an abuse of process
The Council argued that the second works were ordered by the Planning and Environment Court and that the Applicants' claim for compensation was an abuse of process as it effectively sought to litigate a matter which had already been determined. The Council submitted that if the claim was permitted it would create an inconsistency with the Planning and Environment Court's decision.
Whilst the Applicants accepted that a party will be estopped from bringing an action which conflicts with an earlier judgment, they submitted that such a scenario was not present as the claim sought compensation only for those works which the Planning and Environment Court had ordered, but which exceeded the extent of work that needed to be done.
The Court found that an estoppel arose against the Applicants' claim for the second works
The purpose of the Planning and Environment Court's enforcement order was found to require the Applicants to, as far as practicable, restore the land to its state prior to the development offence being committed. Upon review, the Land Court found that a reading of the orders led to the inescapable conclusion that the specified works were necessary to fulfil the stated purpose.
The Land Court held that the Applicants were therefore estopped from arguing that the Planning and Environment Court orders exceeded the extent of the works which were required to return the land to its state prior to the development offence. In finding that the Applicants were prevented from arguing this claim the Land Court found that it was unnecessary to consider whether related submissions were an abuse of process.
The Court nevertheless addressed this issue and found that if the claims were allowed for the second works they would effectively revisit the Planning and Environment Court's decision and amount to an abuse of process.