Proprietary estoppel

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Proprietary estoppel

Often happens in family relationships. Lack of formalities. 

Comes from old french work estopped- meaning to prevent/stop. Prevented from going back on word/denying his assurances. 

Crabb v Arun DC 1976- 'to prevent a person from insisting on his strict legal rights- whether arising by contract, or on his title deeds, or by statute- when it would be inequitable for him to do so having regard to the dealings which have taken place between the parties.' 

Main cases are Thorner v Major 2009 and Inwards v Baker 1965. 

Proprietary rights normally need formalities. No formalities are needed here. Doesnt enforce gratutious promises however. 

Estoppel doctrine applies to a variety of cases- 

  • Imperfect gifts- Pascoe v Turner
  • common expectation- Thorner v Major 2009
  • unilateral mistake cases-doesnt happen very often.
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Evolution of PE

Initially came from Wilmott v Barber 1880- laid out 5 probanda. These were very hard to prove and no one was sucessful in the 100 years after.

Taylor Fashions v Liverpool Victoria Trustees 1982- 'furthermore the recent cases indicate, in my judgement that the application of the Ramsden v Dyson principle- whether you call it proprietary estoppel, estoppel by acquiescence or estoppel by encouragement is really immaterial- requires a very much broader approach which is directed rather at ascertaining, whether in particular individual circumstances, it would be unconscionable for a party to be permitted to deny that which knowingly or unknowingly he has allowed or encouraged another to assume to his detriment than to inquiring whether the circumstances can be fitted within the confines of some preconcieved formula serving as a universal yard stick for every form of unconscionable behaviour.'

Made it much broader. Thought there may be an influx of estoppel cases but there wasnt. 

Elements of the estoppel- assurance, reliance, and detriment. Unconscionability permeates all three elements. 

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Elements of estoppel

Gillett v Holt 2000- 'it is important to note at the outset that the doctrine of proprietary estoppel cannot be treated as subdivided into three or four watertight compartments... moreover the fundamental principle equity is concerned to prevent unconscionable conduct permeates all the elements of the doctrine. In the end the court must look at the matter in the round.'

Thorner v Major 2009- 'a holistic approach.' 

Assurance- expectation of an interest in the land. 

How can you give assurance? Active assurance- this is via words or conduct. Pascoe v Turner 1979, Gillet v Holt 2000 and Thorner v Major 2009. 

Thorner v Major- no explicit words but mutual understanding. Found estoppel on first instance and the CoA overturned it.- 'it seems to me that there was no material on the basis of which the judge could have found, if he had asked the question, that the implicit statement was intended to be relied on, or in other words, was intended as a promise, rather than, at most a statement of present intention, which might well be maintained in fact (as it was, although not in the event carried through) but as to which there was no committment.' This was overturned by the HoL.

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Elements of estoppel

HoL said- 'there is some authority for the view that the clear and uneqivocal test does not apply to proprietary estoppel.' 'But if all proprietary estoppel cases are to be analysed in terms of assurance, reliance, and detriment, then the land owners conduct in standing by in silence serves as the element of assurance.' 'They (CoA) concentrated too much on the 1990 incident of the bonus notice. That was certainly an important part of the narrative. For David it marked the transition from hope to expectation. But it did not stand alone. The evidence showed a continuing pattern of conduct by Peter for the remaining 15 years of his life and it would not be helpful to try to break down that pattern into discrete elements.' 'To my mind the deputy judge did find that Peters assurances objectively assessed were intended to be taken seriously and to be relied on.' 

Family contexts are different, no one expects to make contracts. Commercial contexts expect lawyers and contracts.

Yeomans Row Management v Cobbe 2006- commercial context, he had access to knowledge and help. Active assurance by words. CoA- 'proprietary estoppel could be established even where the parties anticipated that a legally binding contract would not come into existence until after planning permission had been obtained, further terms discussed and agreed and formal written contracts exchanged.' HoL overturned this. 

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Elements of estoppel

HoL- 'The advantage taken was the benefit of his services, time, and his money in obtaining planning permission for the property. The advantage was unconscionable because immediately following the grant of planning permission she repudiated the financial terms on which Mr Cobbe had been expecting to purchase the property. But to leap from there to a conclusion that proprietary estoppel case was made out was not in my opinion justified.' 'The second agreement was not a complete agreement and for that reason would not have been specifically enforceable so long as it remained incomplete.' Basically even if she had been estopped, there was no contract to rely on. 

Passive assurance- very rarely- Ramsden v Dyson 1866. 'if a stranger builds on my land, supposing it his own, and I, knowing it to be mine, do not interfere but leave him to go on, equity considers it dishonest in me to remain passive and afterwards to interfere and take the profit.' Courts are not very willing to endorse silence. Need to still find assurance. Landowner must be aware and then ignore. 

Certainty of the insurance- to what extent does it have to be explicit? 

Thorner v Major 2009- 'to establish a proprietary estoppel the relevant assurance must be clear enough. What amounts to sufficient clarity is hugely dependent on the context.' 

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Elements of estoppel

What was the scope of the interest. Identify certain instances in time that assurance is given. Family/business are very different. Needs to relate to specific asset. David knew the scope of the farm in Thorner. 

Irrevocability- many change their wills. In Thorner he revoked his will. In Gillet v Holt 2000- H made a will but revoked it when the relationship broke down. What takes precedence? The fact you can revoke a will or estoppel? There was still estoppel even in these cases involving wills. 

'If there was a relevant unforeseen change of circumstances, the probable reaction of the just bystander would be that the assurance of the testator could be rescinded by him and replaced by a different arrangement, as long as it satisfied the equity that had arisen in favour of the claimant before the change of circumstances.'

Assurances are almost equal to an irrevocable promise. Irrecovability of a will is irrelevant. 

Reliance (change of position)- the connection between assurance and detriment. Gillet v Holt 2000- 'reliance and detriment are often intertwined.' Need to look at the facts, if assurance and detriment you can maybe assume reliance. Thorner- theres a presumption of this. 

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Elements of estoppel

Coombes v Smith 1986- not always as easy. Thorner says can assume, land owner has to prove no reliance. 'In my judgement it would be wholly unreal to put it midly, to find on the evidence adduced before me that the plaintiff allowed herself to become pregnant by the defendant in reliance on a mistaken belief as to her legal rights. She allowed herself to become pregnant because she wished to live with the defendant and to bear his child.' 'The reality is that the plaintiff decided to move to 67 Bulwark Road because she preferred to have a relationship with, and a child by, the defendant rather than her husband. It seems to me to have been as simple as that. There is no evidence she left her husband in reliance on the defendants assurance that he would provide for her if and when their relationship came to an end: the idea of detriment or prejudice is introduced ex post facto.' 

Detriment- substantial and distinct. Always think about financial detriment. Gillett v Holt 2000- 'the detriment need not consist of the expenditure of money or other quantifiable financial detriment so long as it is something substantial.' 

Detrimental conduct- Improving land on the expectation that you have an interest. Inwards v Baker- built a bungalow. 

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Elements of estoppel

Pascoe v Turner 1979- 'the claimant having been told the house is hers set out improving it inside and out. (she put gas in the kitchen, improved plumbing and new sink, new gas fire and decorated 4 rooms.) We would describe the work done in and about the house as substantial in the sense that that adjective is used in the context of estoppel.' She had used almost half her capital money and so it was very detrimental. 

Suffering financial disadvantage- Gillett v Holt 2000- G was paid less than he would be on another farm for decades. Huge financial detriment.

Non financial personal disadvantage- providing care or services to the person who gave assurances. Greasley v Cooke 1980

The equity of estoppel may fluctuate over time- it can disappear completely. 

Misconduct of representee- Brynowen Estates v Bourne 1981- obscene and disrespectful way to treat the representor. 

Exhaustion of the claimants equity- Sledmore v Dalby 1996

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Elements of estoppel

Satisfying the estoppel- the remedy if you have all three components- 

Plimmer v City of Wellington Corp 1884- 'the court must look at the circumstances in each case to decide in which way the equity can be satisfied.' Have to look at the facts. 

Two approaches- expectation based (endorsing the original promise) v compensation based. Based on the facts. Courts look for the minimum remedy to satisfy the equity. 

Proportionality- Jennings v Rice 2002- didnt get house, got £200'000. 'It cannot be doubted that in this as in every other area of law, the court must take a principled approach, and cannot exercise a completely unfettered discretion according to the individual judges notion of what is fair in a particular case.' 

Conveyance of freehold- expectation based remedy- estoppel has huge power- Gillett v Holt 2000 and Pascoe v Turner. 

Grant of lease- Grant v Williams 1977. 

Right to occupy- estoppel licence- Inwards v Baker 1965. 

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Elements of estoppel

Compensation- Dodsworth v Dodsworth 1973

No remedy?- the equity has run out- Appleby v Cowley 1982- 'when the work was being done the rental value of the premises for which some £1500 a year had been paid for some 10 years was about £4300. In those circumstances I think the representor may echo the phrase and say that the plaintiffs have had 'sufficient satisfaction' for their expenditure. 

Priority- what is the legal nature of estoppel? Before the LRA 2002 there was a big dispute over whether it was a proprietary interest. LRA 2002 s116 (a)  needed to make it clearer. Shows it is a proprietary remedy. Need to go to court to get a remedy. 2 moments in time. Think about elements. s116 (a) says that equity by estoppel has effect from the time the equity arises as an interest capable of binding successors. Doesnt automatically get estoppel when elements are generated. Blurred estoppel and contractual licence. 

Overreaching? Law Commission report confrims that it is a property right. Dont have any case law with guidelines on this point, answer should probably be yes. 

Registered land: notice or OI?  Can have problem questions or essays on this topic. 

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