A more recent version of these Proprietary Estoppel notes – written by Oxford students – is available here.
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PROPRIETARY ESTOPPEL A encourages B to believe he has a right over A's land or that A will confer such a right on him, and B then, in reliance on that belief, acts to his detriment, B may be entitled to relief (a right in rem). Requirements (1) Licensee firmly believed that either licensor has given him the right over his land or that he will do so
? Belief must be definite (not mere possibility) (Yeoman's Row Management v Cobbe)
= Wills - belief sufficiently definite if D promises to leave property to C
&announcesto his family on important family occasions (Gillett v Holt)
? Notmuch specificity: enough to say 'we'll sort something out' if it implies C would have a right
? Right doesn't have to be identified w/great degree of precision o Thorner v Major - C believed he would inherit D's farm, debate as to what it comprised; court took it to cover buildings, live & dead stock, other assets of farming business & money in D's business acc.
? Right doesn't have to be in rem - enough C believes in a right over land/ property, not that D will do something for him
? No representation but C relied = no equity o Crabb v Arun - C promised right of way to access his land by council sold his property w/out reserving a right of way, council repudiated, built a wall, then offered to reopen PS3K cost. C successfully claimed prop. estoppel. (2) Licensee has acted to his detriment in reasonable reliance on that belief
? Any act sufficient, as long as it's detrimental
* i.e. reliance left C worse off than he was before acting on D's assurance
? Mostly uncontroversial but seems to be flexible: o Gillett v Holt- C suffered a detriment when, believing he'd inherit D's land, remained in D's employment, continued living rent-free in D's house & and paid for son's boarding school. Possible C was worse off but to conclude so involved speculation about how C would have fared otherwise o Greasley v Cooke- unconscionability& detriment run together. D worked as a maid and lived with P's family for 30 years, was assured she could remain after P's death; had looked after the house and an ill member of P's family hence it was unjust and inequitable to resile. (3) Belief was a reasonable product of assurance (i.e. encouragement or acquiescence) by the licensor
? Spectrum of 2 extremes: i. C developed the belief b/c of what D said - straightforward ii. C conceived it himself/b/c of something he picked up elsewhere & D didn't correct him ? must prove D's awareness that C held that belief, otherwise failure to correct is irrelevant
? Belief was at least a but for cause of the detriment
= Wayling v Jones - trustworthiness may also be factor
? Onus of proof on D -must show absence of reasonable reliance by C
? If D said something that C has put an interpretation on that a reasonable person wouldn't have, D isn't liable (hasn't been always followed) (4) Unconscionability - a stand-alone 4th requirement or underlying consideration for the court?
? D must have some resp.: no knowledge of specific sale but awareness of general intent (Crabb v Arun)
= Cooke (connected to detrimental reliance) - word 'unconscionable' does 2 jobs: a) points to equity tradition & discretionary nature of court's jurisdiction b) indicates issues relevant in decision. Used as description of whole process of inquiry/one of items on checklist, summing up other factors. Decisions involving it aren't mere value judgments - court examines detrimental reliance
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