Roger Moore (by his Litigation Friend Pamela Moore) v Stephen Moore (1) and Till Valley Contracting Limited (2) [2016] EWHC 2202 (Ch)

This case concerns a family dispute over a son's entitlement to his father's interest in a farm and farming business by virtue of a proprietary estoppel, since he had been promised that the business would pass to him and had relied upon those promises to his detriment.

Proprietary estoppel is an equitable remedy which will operate to prevent the legal owner of property from asserting their strict legal rights when it would be inequitable to allow him to do so. There are three elements required: (1) a representation or assurance; (2) an act of detrimental reliance; and (3) an unconscionable denial of the claimant's right. Courts have been required to adopt a rigorous analytical approach to the process of establishing the existence of a proprietary estoppel. The remedy must then be proportionate to the detriment suffered

In this case the family's farm was run as a partnership. The son had worked on the farm from an early age and had been promised that the farm and farming assets would be his one day. The son took over the running of the business due to the fathers declining mental health. The relationship between the family members subsequently deteriorated and the plans for the farms future were challenged as being unfair.

The Court found that the son had established his case. It was clear that his father had made promises that the son would inherit the farm and business. The son had relied upon those promises devoting his entire working life to the business, which he believed he would inherit. That commitment had precluded the son from pursuing (perhaps more lucrative) alternatives. Finally, the Court found it would be unconscionable for the son not to receive his father's share of the farm and business.

Key points

  • Proprietary estoppel provides another means by which a person may become entitled to a proprietary right despite the absence of express intention and appropriate formalities. It can provide for the informal creation of interests in land. The principles of proprietary estoppel have been held to operate so as to create rights and interests in land, and possibly other types of property. A case for making it clear in writing the intentions of the parties to avoid such arguments in the future.
  • All proprietary estoppel claims are fact sensitive. The case does not contain new law, but serves as a useful reminder of the ingredients required for a claim based on proprietary estoppel.
  • Courts will take a cautious approach to ensure that the relief is appropriate and proportionate. In this case this was satisfied by the Court "mirroring as closely as possible the arrangements which would have been obtained had the dispute not arisen".