Skip to main content
« Back to Blog

Promises, promises - proprietary estoppel appeal

The farming case of Moore v Moore has been considered by the Court of Appeal, who handed down their judgment in the appeal on 27 November 2018.

This case involves the promises by a father to his son that his son would receive his share of the farm partnership and its assets on the death of the father and mother. The son relied on this promise and worked his whole life on the farm, making no other career and relying on the farming partnership to provide his income and housing for his family. When the father and son fell out, the father sought to dissolve the partnership and take out his share of the assets. This would have left the son only with his half share, rather than the whole as promised. The father, Roger Moore, applied to the court; the son, Stephen Moore, counterclaimed that the father’s share had been promised to him and that promise should be upheld.

The case was initially decided in 2016 in the high court; the judge found in Stephen’s favour and he was awarded Roger’s share of the farm, subject to the condition that Stephen should grant a licence to his mother Pamela to live on the farm or other properties as long as she wished, to receive a very small income and to pay for the care and residential costs of his father.

An appeal was made by Roger, through his wife Pamela. The Court of Appeal reviewed the 13 grounds of appeal and rejected all but one ground - the consideration of equity. The original circumstances had changed as the partnership had been dissolved, family relations had broken down and Roger now lacked capacity. LJ Henderson considered that the immediate transfer of Roger’s interest in the partnership meant that Pamela was not adequately provided for; after a long marriage she would be in the difficult position of being financially reliant on her estranged son. A clean break was required. The tax positions had not been considered and would have an effect on how the farm and partnership should be transferred to Stephen, and the costs orders would need to be considered now that Roger and Pamela’s funds were severely depleted. The award given by the trial judge was considered to be too high and disproportionate.

The judge reluctantly referred the case back to the trial judge to consider how the equity should be satisfied - what should Stephen receive in light of the promises made to him, and how?

He did agree that Roger’s share in the land and partnership assets should be transferred to Stephen. However he also recommended that Pamela should receive a lump sum of £1-2 million to enable her to purchase a home and live independently and in relative comfort. Evidence should be obtained about the tax position. Stephen should pay Roger's costs but the lower judge would have to decide whether this could be offset in any way by Stephen’s costs.

This case was ongoing for many years and the costs between the parties were extremely high at around £2.5 million. The promises made to and relied upon by Stephen were to be upheld, but the practicalities of how, given the changes circumstances, was the complicated part in this appeal. Sadly this case led to the breakdown in family relations and huge costs being incurred. However it does show how the testamentary wishes in a Will may be superseded by promises made during the testator’s lifetime.