Oh no, not another proprietary estoppel case…
…I hear you cry, but as they regularly haunt the law reports please indulge me as I look at another recent case.
Whereas many recent and leading cases come from the West of England, the case of Thompson-v-Thompson  hails from the North East. The court found in favour of a son’s claim to the family 115 acre farm on the basis that from leaving school he worked, to his detriment, at the family farm into his fifties for an income of no more than £70 per week. This was in reliance upon many assurances he had received from his parents that he would inherit the farm.
The judge found that the case “fell squarely”, in the words of Lord Justice Walker in Jennings-v-Rice, in a “class of case which the assurances and reliance had a consensual character not far short of a contract.”
Simply stated, just like in previous articles on this topic, he had received an unambiguous assurance that was clear enough that an identified property was his reward for labours. He worked on the strength of that assurance to his detriment, or as the court commented, his reward for his “sacrifices.”
One of the features in Thompson was the support the claim had from clear and contemporaneous attendance notes taken by the farm partnership’s solicitors. The solicitor even raised the possibility of an estoppel claim if, as later happened, the claimant son did not get the farm as promised. In response, both parents, including the defendant mother, were recorded as saying that the farm “was always for him.”
The defendant mother changed her position years later when she and one of her daughters (one of the claimant’s sisters) fell out with the claimant and his life partner. The judge noted a systematic and unfair attempt on the part of the defendant to rewrite the narrative of the case, to decry the claimant’s abilities as a farmer and to refer to him not as a partner of the farm but rather as “a shepherd.”
With regard to the assurances given, apart from those intimated by the claimant’s parents in the attendance notes, the judge accepted that “not surprisingly when matters are assumed over time [that the claimant would receive the farm], it was difficult to identify precise words used on precise occasions.” Later, however, the judge said he was “satisfied” that there was a very long standing promise or assurance, repeated within the family and to Gilbert [the claimant] on many many [sic] occasions.” As is always the way, persuasive and consistent witness testimony will assist a case. This was the case for the claimant but not for the defendant’s evidence which flip-flopped and continued to wilt in cross-examination.
Having agreed that the son should inherit the farm, the court also found that his stake in the farm materialised before the ill health and stress he later suffered as a result of the rift between the family members. He was therefore not precluded from having an estoppel claim upon the farm by stopping to work for health reasons. Also, as the claimant was a third-partner in the farm this did not, contrary to what was suggested by the defence, detract from his claim of detriment but instead followed the case of Moore-v-Moore  where it was held that the partnership share “was the beginning of the fulfilment of the promises.”
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