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HUNTER v MOSS

General Principle:


When the trust property consists of shares, the identification of them only requires the quantification of the interest on its own.


Name:


Hunter v Moss [1994] 1 WLR 452

Facts:


A company, called Moss electronics, owned by Mr Moss director. Mr Hunter worked for the company. Mr Moss gave Mr Hunter 50 of the shares to be on trust for his employee. The shares were never segregated but Mr Moss gave Mr Hunter a proportion of dividends to reflect equitable ownership of 50 shares. The company got sold to a bigger company for a large profit. The shares were sold and Mr Hunter went to court to try and get his part.


Ratio:


When any 50 shares out of a total of 950 could satisfy a trust, an oral declaration was not void for uncertainty if the shares were indistinguishable from each other. Application: Dillon J held that there was a valid trust that there was no uncertainty of the subject matter. His main reason for this was that if the transfer of shares had been done by will when Moss had died then it would have been valid, so it must also be valid here by declaring himself trustee of the shares.



Hunter v Moss

Analysis:


There was a legal trust that consisted of fifty shares. The Deputy Judge, Colin Rimer QC, gave London Wine an honourable mention. He reasoned that since each tangible object is unique, its physical attributes may be different from those of other goods that seemed to be similar at first glance. According to his argument, this is one of the reasons why it is essential to choose in advance which physical assets are to be placed in trust. However, Rimer QC ruled that this line of reasoning does not apply to intangible assets of the same sort (such ordinary shares in the same firm) since such assets are in fact the same as each other. He said:


"The defendant did not identify any particular 50 shares for the plaintiff because to do so was unnecessary and irrelevant. All 950 of his shares carried identical rights….The shares were … of such a nature that each of them could satisfy the trust just as well as any other of them. Why therefore should equity be concerned that 50 particular shares were not identified? … Any suggested uncertainty as to subject matter appears … to be theoretical and conceptual rather than real or practical."


Rimer QC’s decision in Hunter was affirmed by the Court of Appeal: [1994] 1 WLR 452. Like Rimer QC, Dillon LJ emphasized that all the shares were of the same type in the same company and thus identical.


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