Can parking spaces be the subject of an act of spoliation?

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In a judgement delivered by the Court of Appeal, the Court upheld an appeal which was filed by the Defendant. In this case, the Plaintiff Company alleged that it was despoiled of its possession of a private road abutting onto its property. The Plaintiff Company claimed that this act of spoliation was caused by the Defendant’s demolition of a prior existing wall, which demolition was intended to facilitate the construction of an egress of a carpark.

The facts of this case were as follows: The Plaintiff Company bought a Villa in 1996 for the purpose of demolishing and constructing four blocks of apartments. On the other hand, the Defendant demolished a neighbouring property and developed it into a large complex including residential apartments, a supermarket and a carpark. The focal point of the dispute was the wall demolished by the Defendant and its adjacent space i.e., the parking space opposite to the block of apartments developed by the Plaintiff Company. The Plaintiff Company alleged that the demolition of said wall created a passage to serve as an egress to a carpark, and this constituted an act of spoliation and an invasion of its property. This allegation was substantiated by the fact that said space opposite the Plaintiff Company’s block of apartments was private property.

The Civil Court (First Hall) examined the institute of actio spolii and its constitutive cumulative elements namely: (i) possession; (ii) the act of spoliation and (iii) institution of proceedings within two months from the act of spoliation. It confirmed that these requirements must co-exist for the action to subsist, and that the absence of one of them would result in the action being quashed. In arriving at its decision, the Civil Court (First Hall) held that the Plaintiff Company had substantiated its claim with enough proof to show that it had material possession of said wall and said adjacent space. Moreover, the above-mentioned constitutive elements had also been satisfied. Lastly, the Civil Court (First Hall) considered that by no means should the adjacent enclosed space be perceived as advantageous to the benefit of the Defendant on account of the fact that it is open to the public rather than classified as private property. The Court’s legal considerations were reflected in its decision whereby it decided in favour of the Plaintiff Company, dismissed all pleas and ordered that the expenses are borne in their entirety by the Defendant.

However, at appeal stage, the Court of Appeal held otherwise. The Court gave considerable weight to the testimonies of two witnesses, namely, the Director of the Plaintiff Company and one of the residents of the block of apartments developed by the Plaintiff Company. From said testimonies the Court of Appeal elicited an important distinction i.e., the common wall built by the Plaintiff Company on its own property and the already existent and distinctive wall (due to the pink paint and rods overlying said wall) of the Defendant’s property which was demolished by the Defendant to create a passage and egress from the carpark. The Court proceeded to quote from George Farrugia et v. Fondazzjoni Belt Victoria et which held that the white paint and wire rods which formed part of the common wall provide a clear indication as to the extent of the exertion of possession by the plaintiff on the said façade. With respect to whether the parking slots opposite the Plaintiff Company’s block of apartments were private or public in nature, and the implications thereof, the Court provided a very clear and simplistic explanation. It held that since the general public could park in the said parking spaces freely and without restriction whatsoever, there was no resulting indication that the possession of said spaces pertained exclusively to the Plaintiff Company. Hence, once the general public had easy and unrestricted access to said parking space, the same should apply to the vehicles which pass from the passage provided by the Defendant.  Following due consideration of the facts, the Court considered that since the Plaintiff Company failed to prove that it had possession of the demolished wall and adjacent space on account of the spoliation action, they cannot be considered as spoliative in nature.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal upheld the Defendant’s (appellant) appeal, revoked the appealed sentence and rejected the pleas of the Plaintiff Company. The Court held that all costs were to be borne by the Plaintiff Company.