The recent case of Davies v. Davies, in which Eirian Davies (the so-called "Cowshed Cinderella") was awarded £1.3 million in a successful estoppel claim over her parents' prize-winning dairy farm, received national media coverage. Now a family dispute over another Welsh farm, involving a different family of the same name, has resulted in another estoppel case in the High Court.
Evan Lloyd Davies had worked on his parents' farm since 1974 (when he was 16). His father - with his mother's knowledge and assent - promised Evan that if he worked on the family farm, it would eventually go to him. In reliance on this promise (which was repeated over the years), Evan did not pursue other career opportunities, but continued to work long hours for his father at a low wage. In 1984, Evan's parents moved out of the farmhouse into a bungalow on the farm, handing him the keys and saying, "There we are then, it's all yours now. You've done a good job." From then on, Evan took all of the major farming decisions - his parents retired from the farming partnership in 1988 - and he invested heavily in improving the farm.
In 1996 and again in 1999, unknown to Evan, his parents made wills in which the farm was to be left in trust for Evan until his 60th birthday, after which it was to be sold with the proceeds divided between Evan and his four siblings (none of whom worked on the farm). Evan's father died in 1999, but probate was never obtained, because Evan's mother did not want to cause a family row, and so Evan did not learn of the trust arrangement until 2012.
Evan brought a claim, against his father's estate and his mother, based on proprietary estoppel. He argued successfully that he had relied on his parents' promises and assurances to his detriment. The High Court decided that the detriment was such that it would be unconscionable for the trust arrangement in his parents' wills to take effect. Evan was awarded the whole of the beneficial interest in the farm (with the exception of the retirement bungalow, which remained in his mother's ownership).
This new Davies v. Davies case has not produced any new law. Nevertheless, it serves as a reminder of the elements of an estoppel claim and is a useful illustration of how the courts will quantify such a claim. The High Court emphasised that it was necessary to look at all the circumstances in the round, and that the substantial balance of detriment suffered by Evan was a key factor in deciding to award him the farm.
A full copy of the decision can be found here.
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