The parties agreed in principle for the sale of land with potential development value. Considerable sums were spent, and permission achieved, but the owner then sought to renegotiate the deal.
Held: The appeal succeeded in part. The finding that Mrs Lisle-Mainwaring’s behaviour in repudiating, and seeking an improvement on, the core financial terms of the second agreement was unconscionable and sufficient to justify the creation of a ‘proprietary estoppel equity’. . But to leap from there to a conclusion that a proprietary estoppel case was made out was not justified.
Even without attempting to vary the terms of the agreement, the company could not have been obliged to go ahead: ‘Proprietary estoppel requires, in my opinion, clarity as to what it is that the object of the estoppel is to be estopped from denying, or asserting, and clarity as to the interest in the property in question that that denial, or assertion, would otherwise defeat. If these requirements are not recognised, proprietary estoppel will lose contact with its roots and risk becoming unprincipled and therefore unpredictable, if it has not already become so. ‘ The claimant was entitled to a quantum meruit payment for his services, and te value of that should represent the extent of the unjust enrichment obtained by the plaintiff.
Lord Hoffmann, Lord Scott of Foscote, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, Lord Mance
 UKHL 55,  35 EG 142,  31 EG 88,  WTLR 1461,  1 WLR 1752
Bailii, Times, HL
Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 19892
England and Wales
Appeal from – Yeoman’s Row Management Ltd and Another v Cobbe CA 31-Jul-2006
The defendants orally agreed to sell the claimant a block of flats for andpound;12 million if he first obtained planning permission for it on terms as to a sharing of subsequent development profits. The claimant spent over andpound;100,000 and . .
At First Instance – Yeoman’s Row Management Ltd v London Rent Assessment Committee Chairman QBD 25-Feb-2005
The parties agreed in principle that there would be an application for planning permission, and that if granted the land would be bought and the profits shared. Considerable work was undertaken and permission achieved, but the seller then sought to . .
Cited – Laird v Birkenhead Railway Co 22-Nov-1859
The plaintiff applied to the defendant railway company for permission to construct and use a private branch line connecting with the railway company’s main line. Agreement was reached for the plaintiff to do so ‘on reasonable terms, which were to be . .
Cited – Attorney General of Hong Kong v Humphreys Estate (Queen’s Gardens) Ltd PC 1987
An agreement in principle was marked ‘subject to contract’. The Government would acquire some flats owned the plaintiff Group of companies in return for the Government granting, inter alia, a lease to the Group of some Crown lands. The Government . .
Cited – Muschinski v Dodds 1985
(High Court of Australia) The idea of conscience is too vague a notion to found the principles of equity, it would open the door to ‘idiosyncratic notions of fairness and justice’ and ‘That property was acquired, in pursuance of the consensual . .
Cited – Taylors Fashions Ltd v Liverpool Victoria Trustees Co Ltd ChD 1981
The fundamental principle that equity is concerned to prevent unconscionable conduct permeates all the elements of the doctrine of estoppel. In the light of the more recent cases, the principle ‘requires a very much broader approach which is . .
Cited – Ramsden v Dyson HL 1866
The Vice-Chancellor had held that two tenants of Sir John Ramsden, the owner of a large estate near Huddersfield, were entitled to long leases of plots on the estate. They ostensibly held the plots as tenants at will only, but they had spent their . .
Cited – Plimmer v Mayor, Councillors and Citizens of the City of Wellington PC 1884
(New Zealand) Mr Plimmer had occupied land under a revocable licence from the Corporation’s predecessor-in-title and at their request had made extensive improvements to it. He sought compensation when the land was to be vested in the defendant. The . .
Cited – Inwards v Baker CA 13-Jan-1965
An indulgent father had encouraged his son to build a bungalow on his, the father’s, land. The son had done so in the expectation, encouraged by the father, that he would be permitted to remain in occupation.
Held: The court formulated the . .
Cited – Holiday Inns Inc v Broadhead 1974
The parties negotiated for a lease, but never signed a contract. The plaintiff expended considerable sums to try to get planning, and once acquired it sought to buy the land, and claimed that Mr Broadhead had taken an unconscionable advantage, . .
Cited – Crabb v Arun District Council CA 23-Jul-1975
The plaintiff was led to believe that he would acquire a right of access to his land. In reliance on that belief he sold off part of his land, leaving the remainder landlocked.
Held: His claim to have raised an equity was upheld. The plaintiff . .
Cited – British Steel Corporation v Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Co Ltd 1983
An ‘if contract’ is where one party makes an offer capable of acceptance on the basis that ‘if you do this for us, we will do that for you’. Often used in the construction industry.
Goff J said: ‘the question whether . . any contract has come . .
Cited – Pallant v Morgan ChD 1952
The agents of two neighbouring landowners orally agreed in the auction room that the plaintiff’s agent would refrain from bidding at auction and that the defendant, if his agent’s bid was successful, would divide the land according to an agreed . .
Cited – Time Products Ltd v Combined English Stores 2-Dec-1974
The plaintiff and the defendant were each interested in buying a property and had agreed that one of them would make an offer, the other refraining from doing so, and that if the offer were to be accepted the purchaser would deal with the property . .
Cited – Walton Stores (Interstate) Limited v Maher 1988
(High Court of Australia) It would be unconscionable for a party to stand by in silence when it must have known that the other party was proceeding on an assumption that they had a binding agreement. . .
Cited – Pridean Limited v Forest Taverns Limited; Hipwell and Marshall CA 28-Nov-1996
The claimant owned a public house. It set out with the defendant to to acquire the premises or to take a lease of them. The defendant went into occupation, and carried out works. Negotiations continued, but broke down over the form of protection to . .
Cited – London and Regional Investments Ltd v TBI Plc and Others CA 22-Mar-2002
TBI was a property investor and developer with several subsidiaries. It agreed to sell some to London and Regional. The agreement provided for the vendor and the purchaser to use reasonable endeavours to agree the terms of a joint venture agreement . .
Cited – Banner Homes Group Plc v Luff Developments and Another CA 10-Feb-2000
Competing building companies agreed not to bid against each other for the purchase of land. One proceeded and the other asserted that the land was then held on trust for the two parties as a joint venture.
Held: Although there was no formal . .
Cited – Kilcarne Holdings Ltd v Targetfollow (Birmingham) Ltd and Another CA 16-Nov-2005
The defendant had brought in the claimant in order to assist in satisfying its own obligations under a lease. The joint venture was not recorded in a formal agreement. The appellant asserted that a constructive trust had been created. The judge had . .
Cited – Dann v Spurrier 1802
The tenant had carried out improvements to the property. It was uncertain whether the length of the term (7, 14 or 21 years) was at the option of the lessee alone.
Held: The case was decided on construction of the lease. Lord Eldon made it . .
Cited – Rochdale Canal Company v King 1853
Sir John Romilly MR said: ‘The principle on which the Defendants rely is one often recognised by this Court, namely, that if one man stand by and encourage another, though but passively, to lay out money, under an erroneous opinion of title, or . .
Cited – Dillwyn v Llewelyn ChD 12-Jul-1862
The father thought he had given his younger son land in Wales, in signing a memorandum and presenting it to him ‘for the purpose of furnishing himself with a dwelling-house’. The memorandum was not by deed. The son built his home on the land. When . .
Cited – Regina (Reprotech (Pebsham) Ltd) v East Sussex County Council Reprotech (Pebsham) Ltd v Same HL 28-Feb-2002
The respondent company had asserted that the local authority had made a determination of the issue of whether electricity could be generated on a waste treatment site without further planning permission. The council said that without a formal . .
Cited – Willmott v Barber ChD 19-Jun-1880
In 1869 Barber granted a 99-year lease of three acres of land in east London, subject to a covenant against assignment or sub-letting without consent. In 1874, in breach of covenant, he sub-let one acre on an annual tenancy to Willmott (who owned a . .
Cited – Pascoe v Turner CA 1-Dec-1978
The defendant had been assured by the plaintiff that ‘the house is yours and everything in it.’ In reliance on that assurance she carried out improvements to the house. Although the improvements were modest, their cost represented a large part of . .
Cited – Grundy v Ottey CA 31-Jul-2003
The deceased left his estate within a discretionary trust. The claimant sought to assert an interest in it, claiming an estoppel and, under the 1975 Act, as his partner. They had lived together for four years. She had been dependent upon him . .
Cited – Lissimore v Downing ChD 31-Mar-2003
The claimant asserted an estoppel in land registered in the name of the defendant.
Held: Unspecific statements made by the defendant that ‘she would never want for anything’, or that ‘he would take care of her’, or that ‘he had looked after . .
Cited – Windeler v Whitehall 1990
The plaintiff and defendant lived together but were not married. The plaintiff spent some of a legacy she received on living expenses and supervised minor building works to the family home. She claimed an interest in it.
Held: Millett J said: . .
Cited – Jennings v Rice, Wilson, Marsh, Norris, Norris, and Reed CA 22-Feb-2002
The claimant asserted a proprietary estoppel against the respondents. He had worked for the deceased over many years, for little payment, and doing more and more for her. Though he still worked full time at first, he came to spend nights at the . .
Cited – Gillett v Holt and Another ChD 18-Jun-1998
To establish a proprietary estoppel against the testator’s promise to leave items in his will, some overt act over and above a promise, and reliance upon that promise, must be shown in order to displace the testator’s right to change his will. . .
Cited – Gillett v Holt and Another CA 23-Mar-2000
Repeated Assurances Created Equitable Estoppel
Repeated assurances, given over years, that the claimant would acquire an interest in property on the death of the person giving the re-assurance, and upon which the claimant relied to his detriment, could found a claim of equitable estoppel. The . .
Cited – JT Developments v Quinn and Another CA 1990
The plaintiff told the defendant it was willing to grant a lease on the same terms as those contained in a new tenancy that the plaintiff had recently granted to the tenant of a nearby shop, also owned by the plaintiff. The defendant carried out . .
Cited – Bank of Credit and Commerce International (Overseas) Ltd and Another v Akindele CA 22-Jun-2000
The test of whether a person who received funds held them on constructive trust, was not whether he himself was dishonest, but rather whether he had knowledge of circumstances which made it unconscionable to hold on to the money received. In respect . .
Cited – Brightlingsea Haven Ltd and Another v Morris and others QBD 30-Oct-2008
The caravan park operated under planning consents requiring the caravans to be occupied only during certain months. The defendants had bought their mobile homes from the claimants to occupy full time, and said that the claimants knew of this. The . .
Cited – St Pancras and Humanist Housing Association Ltd v Leonard CA 17-Dec-2008
The claimant sought possession of a garage. The defendant claimed adverse possession.
Held: The defendant’s appeal against an order for possession failed. The defendant had attended a meeting where his behaviour had allowed other parties to . .
Cited – Brighton and Hove City Council v Audus ChD 26-Feb-2009
The claimant was the proprietor of a fourth legal charge on a title. It sought a declaration that a second charge in favour of the defendant was void as a clog on the proprietor’s equity of redemption. An advance secured by a first charge, also in . .
Cited – Clarke and Another v Corless and Another ChD 8-Jul-2009
The parties disputed whether one could retain for his own benefit land on an estate reserved for an estate road. A trust was claimed under Pallant saying that the parties had made an informal agreement before the property was purchased.
Held: . .
Cited – Thorner v Major and others HL 25-Mar-2009
The deceased had made a will including a gift to the claimant, but had then revoked the will. The claimant asserted that an estoppel had been created in his favour over a farm, and that the defendant administrators of the promisor’s estate held it . .
Cited – Clarke and Another v Corless and Another CA 31-Mar-2010
The claimants appealed against refusal of a declaration that a neighbouring access road and land was held on a constructive trust. They said that an agreement bewteeen the parties should have been effective to impose a trust on the defendants. The . .
Cited – Gill v Woodall and Others ChD 5-Oct-2009
The claimant challenged her late mother’s will which had left the entire estate to a charity. She asserted lack of knowledge and approval and coercion, and also an estoppel. The will included a note explaining that no gift had been made because she . .
Cited – Benedetti v Sawiris and Others SC 17-Jul-2013
The claimant appealed against reduction of the sum awarded on his claim for a quantum meruit after helping to facilitate a very substantial business deal for the defendants.
Held: The correct approach to the amount to be paid by way of a . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Contract, Land, Estoppel
Updated: 31 October 2021; Ref: scu.271281