Fight In The Milking Parlour – The Latest On Proprietary Estoppel

The High Court has adjudicated on quantum in the latest instalment of Davies v Davies, following the Court of Appeal's decision in 2014 that the daughter, who had worked on her parents' farm for long hours at low pay in reliance upon her parents' assurances that it would one day be hers, had a valid claim based upon proprietary estoppel.

Facts

The parents owned a large farm in Wales. The daughter ('E') (one of three) had worked on the farm for no pay until she turned 21 in 1989. She was assured that the farm would be hers one day. In 1989 she moved out due to a disagreement over her choice of partner. She married her partner in 1990 and was reconciled with her parents. She was away from the farm for a total of 2 years.

The parents then purchased another nearby farm, 20 acres of which they sold to E. She raised her own herd of cattle, while continuing to work on the parents' farm. The work she carried out was milking, and other miscellaneous tasks. She was paid for the milking at a rate of £15 per day.

In 1997 the parents discussed bringing E into their farming partnership. E signed a partnership agreement in March 1998, in the expectation that the parents were about to sign it too. However, they never did so.

In 1998 E and her husband sold her acreage at the smaller farm and moved back to a cottage on the main farm, which they occupied rent free. E was still under the impression that her parents had signed the partnership agreement. It was not until 2001 that she realised they had not. While she and her husband were living at the farm cottage they carried out various improvements, for which they were only partly reimbursed by the parents.

In 2001, following an argument, E moved out of the cottage and began renting another property nearby. The parents rented out the cottage and paid some of the rental income to E. In the autumn of 2001, the parents gave instructions to their solicitor that they intended E to take over the running of the farm in due course, but that she was not to inherit it outright as long as she remained married to her husband. Nevertheless, they signed wills in 2002 simply leaving their estate to all three of their daughters in equal shares.

E returned to work on the farm part-time in late-2005 or early-2006. She divorced in October 2006. She continued to live at the rented accommodation with her two daughters, taking on other part-time work to make ends meet. There was another argument in 2007, provoked by the appearance of a new partner. Following this she ceased working at the farm and began working as a technician for a livestock firm called Genus. E's father ('F') repeatedly asked her to return to work on the farm, which she did at the end of 2007, and she moved back into the farmhouse. F told her that the farm would be her home, rent free, for life. The Judge noted that there needed to be some encouragement to get E to move back to the farm. E subsequently did more work around the...

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