Legal points and principles:
- In this case, the Privy Council held that in determining whether a party has acted to their detriment regarding proprietary estoppel, the courts should have regard to the context of the nature and quality of the conduct adopted by the party in their reliance on the assurances.
- Particularly, the courts need to balance the detriment suffered by the claimant with any advantages he may have had whilst acting in reliance to the assurances given.
Facts of the case:
- C took care of his grandmother for a long time in her home in St Lucia.
- The grandmother made assurances to C that he would inherit her share in the land when she died.
- Shortly before her death, C’s grandmother removed him from her will, and C sought to claim that he was still entitled to the half share that she assured to him, on the basis of proprietary estoppel.
- The trial judge found that he did not suffer any detriment on balance, because he was able to live rent free in his grandmother’s house whilst he cared for her. The Court of Appeal however allowed his appeal.
- The issue was appealed to the Privy Council (PC).
Issues before the PC:
- The PC had to decide whether he was entitled to the half share, and therefore whether there was proprietary estoppel, notwithstanding the benefits accrued to C from living in the property.
The PC held:
- On the facts, and on balance between the detriment he suffered and the benefits he got, C did act to his detriment in reliance on the assurance.
- Therefore, C was granted a half share in the plot of land.
- The PC did however affirm that there needs to be a balance between benefits and detriments in acting on reliance of an assurance. Thus, an investigation of the totality of the context in which C acted is necessary in establishing proprietary estoppel.
Sir Jonathon Parker:
- “In the instant case the judge should have undertaken a similar weighing process to that undertaken by Lord Walker in Campbell v. Griffin; that is to say, he should have weighed any disadvantages which Calixtus Henry had suffered by reason of his reliance on Geraldine Pierre’s promises against any countervailing advantages which he had enjoyed by reason of that reliance.”
- “As to the relationship between reliance and detriment in the context of the doctrine of proprietary estoppel, just as the inquiry as to reliance falls to be made in the context of the nature and quality of the particular assurances which are said to form the basis of the estoppel, so the inquiry as to detriment falls to be made in the context of the nature and quality of the particular conduct or course of conduct adopted by the claimant in reliance on those assurances. Thus, notwithstanding that reliance and detriment may, in the abstract, be regarded as different concepts, in applying the principles of proprietary estoppel they are often intertwined”
- “the existence and extent of any equity arising under the doctrine of proprietary estoppel is nevertheless dependent on all the circumstances of the particular case, including the nature and quality of any detriment suffered by the claimant in reliance on the defendant’s assurances.”