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Lunchtime Briefing: Guest v Guest (2022) UKSC 27

October 19, 2022 | Cases
Lunchtime Briefing: Guest v Guest (2022) UKSC 27

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Lunchtime Briefing: Guest v Guest [2022] UKSC 27

Reference: Supreme Court

Date: 19 October 2022

Court: Supreme Court

Facts: No more guessing on the principles governing the identification of appropriate relief to satisfy the equity of proprietary estoppel once established because the judgment of Guest v Guest [2022] UKSC 27 has today (19 October 2022) been published

Practice Area: Trusts, Wills & Estates

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Appeal from [2020] EWCA Civ 387

Appellants David George Guest and Josephine Guest (the parents)

Respondents Andrew Charles Guest (the son)

The Appeal is allowed to a limited extent

108 pages

282 paragraphs

I’ve read it so you don’t have to

Conclusions

Lord Briggs, with whom Lady Rose and Lady Arden agreed, gave the lead judgment rejecting the parents’ argument that the trial judge was wrong to adopt an approach based on Andrew’s expected inheritance but allowing the appeal in part and substituting alternative remedies of either (i) putting the farm into trust for the children with a life interest to the parents or (ii) paying equitable compensation but with a deduction for accelerated receipt. The choice being for the parents and in default to be remitted to the Chancery Division for determination.

Lord Leggatt, with whom Lord Stephens agrees, allowed the appeal but disagrees with Lord Briggs and considers that the core principle underpinning relief for proprietary estoppel is to prevent a party going back on a promise without ensuring that the party who relied on that promise will not suffer a detriment as a result of that reliance. The court should either: (1) compel the performance of the promise (or order equivalent payment to put the promisee in the position they would have been if the promise had been performed); or (2) award compensation to put the promisee into as good a position as if they had not relied on the promise. It should adopt whichever method results in the minimum award necessary to meet the aim. He agreed the appeal should be allowed, but on substantially different grounds, and would have substituted the remedy, by way of quantification of Andrew’s reliance loss,  as a payment  of £610,000.

Background

“One day my son, all this will be yours”. Spoken by a farmer to his son when in his teens and repeated for many years thereafter. Relying on that promise of inheritance from his father, the son spends the best part of his working life on the farm, working at very low wages, accommodated in a farm cottage, in the expectation that he will succeed his father as owner of the farm, to be able to continue farming there, and in due course to pass on the farm to his own children.

Andrew had not been expressly promised any interest in the farm by his parents, but the judge found that what had been said had encouraged an expectation in Andrew, equivalent to a promise, that he would inherit a substantial but unspecified share of the farm, sufficient to enable him to continue a viable farming business after David’s death.

However, from around 2008, the relationship between Andrew and his parents began to deteriorate. In May 2014 David and Josephine made new wills removing Andrew’s inheritance. In April 2015, after Andrew had refused to enter negotiations for a tenancy of the farm at a discounted rent, they dissolved their farming partnership with Andrew and gave him notice to quit the property on the farm in which he and his family lived and resolved not to leave him any interest in the farm.

Andrew issued proceedings alleging that he was entitled to a share in the farm or its monetary equivalent on the grounds of proprietary estoppel.

The trial judge ordered the parents make an immediate payment of £1.3 million (subject to certain adjustments) to Andrew to satisfy his expectation as to what he would have inherited. This was calculated as 50 percent of the value of the dairy farming business plus 40 percent of the value of the freehold land and buildings at the farm.

Before the Court of Appeal, having been refused permission to argue that the representations were too uncertain to found a claim by way of proprietary estoppel, the parents argued that the trial judge had been wrong to fashion the remedy based on Andrew’s expected inheritance. They argued that the award should instead have been calculated by reference to Andrew’s contribution to the value of the farm or his loss of opportunity to work elsewhere. They also argued that the remedy wrongly accelerated Andrew’s expectation, as he had not expected to receive an interest in the farm until his parents’ death. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal holding that it was appropriate to order a remedy by reference to Andrew’s expectation and that the trial judge was entitled to make the order he did. The parents appealed to the Supreme Court.

Interesting points

Neither of the House of Lords judgments in Cobbe v Yeoman’s Row [2008] 1 WLR 1752 or Thorner v Major [2009] 1 WLR 776 yield rich pickings for a reasoned understanding of the principles governing the appropriate relief to satisfy the equity.

While similar issues to the present case arose in Thorner v Major the promisor had died and proprietary estoppel claim was brought against his estate such that the issue in Guest of accelerated receipt and/or continuing needs of surviving promisors simply did not arise. Moreover, in Thorner v Major the David had worked for no pay and there had not been any deterioration in their relationship; making the expectation and detriment very similar. The appropriate relief points were not seriously argued as a result.

Lord Briggs discusses whether there is a spectrum between expectation and detriment as the basis for relief based upon the length of the period of detrimental reliance. And declares that if there is then the length of that period in Guest must surely lie at the expectation end of the spectrum.

Pascoe v Turner [1979] 1 WLR 431 is the first of the cases cited in which Scarman LJ’s “minimum equity to do justice” dictum appears to have been elevated into a guiding principle. And provides a clear demonstration that, even using the “minimum equity to do justice” dictum as a principle, (which in Lord Briggs’ view it was not intended to be) “minimum” plainly does not mean cheapest.

However, in none of the reported cases until the last 25 years did there appear to be a perception that the aim of the whole exercise was to protect from or compensate for detriment, or that there needed always to be a relationship of proportionality between the detriment and the remedy.

Lord Briggs rejects the idea that the aim of a remedy for proprietary estoppel ever has been (or should be) based on compensating for the detriment suffered by the promise as it is to remedy unconscionability mainly by satisfying expectation. The remedy should not be out of all proportion to the detriment suffered without good reason, but this only serves as a useful cross-check for potential injustice.

Seven stage test

Lord Briggs sets out the test for proprietary estoppel [para 71 – 80]:

(i)                  The court should start by determining whether going back on the promise is unconscionable at all in the circumstances.

(ii)                If it is, then the court should then proceed on the assumption that the simplest way to remedy that unconscionability is to enforce the promise to transfer the property in question.

(iii)               Or provide monetary equivalent where the promisor had sold the promised property or required it for personal occupation, or where specific enforcement would cause injustice to a third party with an interest in it, or with a dependency upon its continued use.

(iv)               But if that would be out of all proportion to the detriment to the promisee, then the court may need to limit the remedy.

(v)                However, this does not mean it should seek precisely to compensate for the detriment to the promisee.

(vi)               If the remedy involves the acceleration of a future promised benefit, it will generally require a discount for accelerated receipt.

(vii)             Finally, the court should consider in the round whether a particular remedy would do justice in the circumstances, by considering whether the promisor would be acting unconscionably if they were to confer the proposed benefit on the promisee.

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Practice areas: Trusts, Wills & Estates
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