THORNER v MAJOR

While of a strictly familial nature, this case relies upon elements of land law and principles of equity for its proximation of fact.

After a decade-spanning relationship of trust and obligation observed by the appellant, it fell to the House of Lords to lay to rest the true meaning behind the time shared between two cousins; while the core of this dispute rests within the subjective disparity of those seeking claim to the estate of a private farmer, and the man who likely knew him better than anybody.

After growing up and working on his father’s farm, the appellant found himself extending his energies to his older cousin, after witnessing him suffering loss both through death and divorce.

Having no children of his own, the cousin had continued to toil the land left him; and in turn, looked to the appellant to help manage the considerably extensive freehold.

For one reason or another, the arrangement required no payment exchange; and so, it was that until the death of the landowner, the two men worked the farm and developed it through an intimate relationship based upon the appellant’s unique ability to understand the emotion and intentions of a man renowned for his narrow vocabulary and deep introspection.

When upon his death, the appellant followed up on his understanding that the farm had been bequeathed him, the claim of succession was contested on grounds of proprietary estoppel and the ambiguity of true intention displayed by the deceased.

There were principally two events that triggered the assumption of his entitlement, namely a gesture that indirectly disclosed the plans of the elder cousin in relation to deaths duties, and the inherent nature of their close friendship and disappearance and subsequently implied revocation of a will drawn up eight years prior to his passing.

Needless to say, over the passage of time the appellant had made numerous adjustments to his own circumstances in order that the relationship could sustain the changes discussed and alterations incorporated into the estate, while there were a number of other minor events that supported his interpretation that he would become the sole successor of his cousin’s farm.

Having had his claim dismissed in the lower courts, it became fatal to the respondents in the House of Lords that the principle of proprietary estoppel relies upon an inability to identify the land in contention, therefore the House upheld the appeal, while reminding the parties that:

“If it is reasonable for a representee to whom representations have been made to take the representations at their face value and rely on them, it would not in general be open to the representor to say that he or she had not intended the representee to rely upon them.”