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The Court of Appeal upholds a proprietary estoppel claim

The Court of Appeal recently gave judgment in Bradbury & Ors v Taylor & Anor [2012] EWCA 1208 upholding a first instance decision in which the Defendants successfully established a claim for proprietary estoppel. The appeal did not involve any issue of law as regards proprietary estoppel, but challenged the application of the principles of the doctrine to the facts of the case.

Rather unusually, the first instance proceedings were brought by Mr Taylor, seeking a declaration that the Defendants had no beneficial interest in his property and that they were no more than licensees or tenants. The Defendants counterclaimed for a declaration that the property was held on trust for them. As Mr Taylor died before the case was heard his executors took over the claim on behalf of his estate. A witness statement made by Mr Taylor before he died was adduced in evidence at the hearing.

In August 2001 Mr Taylor's nephew Roger and his wife Denise moved from their Sheffield home to Mr Taylor's Cornish property where he had lived alone since his wife died in 1997. It was not disputed that Mr Taylor proposed that Roger and Denise should move from Sheffield to Cornwall and share the house with him and that they agreed to do so. The issue in the proceedings was the basis upon which Roger and Denise made that move and whether they were entitled to the property by virtue of the principles of proprietary estoppel.

The Judge found that there were representations (albeit not express) by Mr Taylor to Denise and to Roger (through Denise) that the property would be left to them if they moved into one half of the property with him occupying the other half. The Judge was satisfied that Mr Taylor was keen to have Roger and his family living in the house and that he knew that they realised that if they accepted his offer of living there it was on the basis that he would in due course leave the property to them on his death.

The move amounted to detrimental reliance even though it resulted in substantial benefits for Roger and his family. The contribution made by Roger and Denise to Mr Taylor's care was an aspect of detrimental reliance as was the work done and expenditure incurred by Roger on the property (even though Roger and his family were beneficiaries of much of that work in terms of immediate use of the property).

The Judge was satisfied that there was a non-contractual bargain, or family arrangement, involving give and take on both sides and that evaluating the various benefits and detriments suffered would be artificial. The arrangement was acted on by both sides for a number of years and both sides derived significant benefits from it. This was the type of case where the expected benefit and detriment were in an imprecise way equivalent (or not obviously disproportionate) and therefore Roger and Denise were entitled to receive the property absolutely subject to bearing the inheritance tax attributable to its value.

Mr Taylor's executors appealed. In dismissing the appeal Lord Justice Lloyd said it was clear that Mr Taylor knew that Roger favoured the idea of moving and that Denise did not so Mr Taylor knew it was she who needed to be persuaded. Equally he must have realised that what he said to her would be discussed with Roger so the allegation that there had been no promise to Roger was without substance. Since the family would move (or not) as a whole, any representation to either of the adults would amount to a representation to both of them. Despite the appeal's discussed, it is perhaps noteworthy that requiring Roger and Denise to bear the inheritance tax reduced the value of the award to them and might be said to reduce it below what they might reasonably have expected.

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