Jennings v Rice

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
JudgeLord Justice Aldous,Lord Justice Mantell,Lord Justice Robert Walker
Judgment Date22 Feb 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] EWCA Civ 159
Docket NumberCase No: A3/2001/1013

[2002] EWCA Civ 159






Royal Courts of Justice


London, WC2A 2LL


Lord Justice Aldous

Lord Justice Mantell and

Lord Justice Robert Walker

Case No: A3/2001/1013

Anthony Clifford Jennings
(1) Arthur Thomas Rice
(2) Janet Wilson
(3) Linda Ann Marsh
(4) Peter Lewis Norris
(5) Arthur Edmund Norris
(6) Patricia Margaret Reed

Mr M. Warner (instructed by Pardoes) for the Appellant

Miss B. Rich (instructed by Gould & Swayne) for the 1st Respondent

The 2nd—6th Respondents not present nor represented

Lord Justice Aldous

This appeal from the judgment of HHJ Weeks QC of 20th March 2001 is concerned with one aspect of the law of proprietary estoppel, namely the extent of the relief where the claimant establishes the estoppel.


The facts are no longer in dispute. I can therefore take them from the judgment. Mrs Royle, who lived at Lawn House, Shapwick in Somerset, died on 11th August 1997 aged 93. Her estate was sworn for probate at £1.285 million net with the house and furniture being valued at £435,000. She died a widow without children and wholly intestate. Her estate is now being administered by Mr Arthur Thomas Rice, the respondent himself and on behalf of nineteen other beneficiaries.


Mrs Royle married her husband in the early 1950s. In 1959 her husband bought Lawn House which was his family home, and he and his wife moved in. In 1965 Mr Royle gave Lawn House to Mrs Royle and in 1969 when he died, he left her, then aged 65, a portfolio of investments which were never changed until her death.


The claimant, Mr Jennings, was born in 1939 and has lived in Shapwick all his life. He was a self-employed bricklayer who married in 1966 and has two children. In about 1970 Mrs Royle needed a gardener and Mr Jennings was recommended. He started to work for Mrs Royle on a part-time basis at 30p per hour. At the beginning he used to work Saturdays and about 3 evenings a week in the summer. As time went by, his job was extended to running errands, taking Mrs Royle shopping and minor maintenance work about the house. The hours he worked increased and the demands made on him by Mrs Royle put a strain on his marriage because his wife disliked Mrs Royle and resented her husband's loss of free time.


In the late 1980s Mrs Royle stopped paying Mr Jennings, but did provide him with £2,000 towards the purchase of his property. In the early 1990s Mrs Royle, now in her eighties, became increasingly incapacitated with arthritis and leg ulcers. She became more and more dependent on Mr Jennings, who at that time still worked full-time as a bricklayer.


Mrs Royle was always frugal and spent as little money as possible. By the late 1990s Mrs Royle had shut and locked the major part of the house and had taken to sleeping in the servants' kitchen. In 1993 she had a burglary, which must have been a shocking and upsetting experience for her. She was, however, determined to go on living in her own house, and she sought to persuade Mr Jennings to stay overnight to provide her with security. Mr Jennings was reluctant at first, but eventually he did agree to do so and, from some time in 1994 until her death in 1997, he spent nearly every night on a sofa in a sitting room at Lawn House.


After finishing work Mr Jennings would go to Lawn House to check that Mrs Royle was alright, then go home for a shower, and often a meal, and then return to sleep at Lawn House. Mr Jennings ran errands for Mrs Royle, collected her prescriptions, helped her to dress and go to the toilet, made sure she had food and drink available and did some work in the garden. In the last months of her life, Mrs Royle needed even more care and Mrs Jennings, to her credit, volunteered to come in and help. Eventually Mrs Royle died on 11th August 1997. Mr Jennings remained living at Lawn House.


It is quite clear that for many years Mr Jennings spent a considerable amount of his time looking after Mrs Royle, despite the fact that from the late 1980s she paid him nothing. It seems that he did that out of compassion for her, and also because she assured him that she would see him right.


The judge held that in the late 1980s Mrs Royle was challenged by Mr Jennings about her failure to pay him. Her reply according to the judge was always:

"He did not need to worry about that, he would be alright and she would 'see to it'. At all times she said to him 'this will all be yours one day' or words to that effect. Nothing was put in writing and while I accept the general thrust of Mr Jennings evidence, it is difficult to be precise about the exact words used several years ago."


Later in his judgment the judge said:

"The terms of the offer were too vague and imprecise to amount to a contract. Mrs Royle was prone to saying different things at different times and, perhaps deliberately, couched her promises to Mr Jennings in non-specific terms."


The result as recorded by the judge was:

"It is clearly established by the evidence that Mr Jennings believed he was going to receive all or part of Mrs Royle's property on her death."


Mr Jennings's claim against the estate was pleaded in three ways. First, a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975, second in contract, and third under the doctrine of proprietary estoppel. The judge rejected the claims under the Inheritance Act and for breach of contract, but found for Mr Jennings under the doctrine of proprietary estoppel. The judge went on to assess the "equity in the present case" at £200,000 and ordered the estate to pay that to Mr Jennings.


There is no appeal against the judge's conclusion that Mr Jennings's claim should fail under the Inheritance Act and for breach of contract. Also the estate does not contend that the judge was wrong to conclude that Mr Jennings was entitled to an award of £200,000 pursuant to the doctrine of proprietary estoppel. This appeal is concerned solely with Mr Jennings's contention that he was entitled to the whole estate of Mrs Royle or alternatively to a sum equal to the value of Lawn House and the furniture.

The Judgment


The judge held that Mr Jennings had clearly established that he believed he was going to receive all or part of Mrs Royle's property upon her death. He also held that Mr Jennings acted to his detriment in giving up his spare time in the evenings and weekends to look after Mrs Royle and eventually staying overnight in her house, unpaid. It was, according to the judge, clear that one reason for acceding to Mrs Royle's demands was Mr Jennings's belief that he would benefit on her death. The judge went on to consider the question of conscience. He said:

"I can now move on to consider the matter in the round and see whether it was unconscionable for Mrs Royle to go back on her assurances. In my judgment, it was. As Mr Warner said, Mrs Royle promised Mr Jennings the moon and left him nothing. Mr Gardner [the bank manager] made several attempts to get her to make a will but she chose to die intestate and deliberately disappointed Mr Jennings. That is unconscionable conduct for a person who took the benefit of his services."


The judge then had to decide what was the appropriate relief. He started by referring to Crabb v Arun District Council [1976] Ch 179 at 198. He went on to refer to a number of authorities and concluded that he should be guided by the approach of Robert Walker LJ and the other members of the Court of Appeal in Gillett v Holt [2001] Ch. 210. He concluded that he had a discretion to be exercised judicially in the light of all the relevant circumstances. He took into account, first that Mr Jennings did not know the extent of Mrs Royle's wealth and second, that the value of her actual estate and even the part known to Mr Jennings was out of all proportion to what Mr Jennings might reasonably have charged for the services he provided free. He then considered whether it would be equitable for Mr Jennings to take the house and the furniture which were the minimum he expected, and also what the judge called the problem of proportionality. The judge reminded himself that the house was valued at £420,000 and was not a suitable house for Mr Jennings to reside in on his own and he took into account that Mrs Royle had no special obligations to her family. He said that to reward an employee on the scale of £420,000 was excessive. He also compared the cost of full-time nursing care, which he estimated at £200,000, with the value of the house. He reasoned that Mr Jennings would probably need £150,000 to buy a house. He concluded:

"I do not think that he could complain that he had been unfairly treated if he had been left £200,000 in Mrs Royle's will. Most people would say that she would, at least, then have performed her promise to see him all right. The quality of her assurance affects not only questions of belief, encouragement, reliance and detriment, but also unconscionability and the extent of the equity.

In my judgment the minimum necessary to satisfy the equity in the present case is the sum of £200,000."

The Appeal


Mr Warner, who appeared for Mr Jennings, submitted that in a case like the present, where the claimant had established his claim of proprietary estoppel, the basic rule was that the established equity should be satisfied by making good the expectation. He accepted that there were exceptions, for example where there had been misconduct, but this case did not fall within any of them. Mr Warner went on to submit that Mr Jennings had expected to be left Mrs Royle's whole estate and that is...

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2 books & journal articles
  • The Land Registration Act 2002 – the Show on the Road
    • United Kingdom
    • The Modern Law Review Nbr. 77-5, September 2014
    • 1 September 2014
    ...kind of right: Ramsden vDyson (1866) LR 1 HL 129, 171; Plimmer vMayor etc of Wellington(1884) 9 App Cas 699, 713.60 Jennings vRice [2002] EWCA Civ 159; [2003]1P&CR8at[45]–[51], [56].61 For proprietary estoppel, see S. Gardner with E. MacKenzie, An Introduction to Land Law (Oxford:Hart P......
  • Proprietary Estoppel and Responsibility for Omissions
    • United Kingdom
    • The Modern Law Review Nbr. 78-1, January 2015
    • 1 January 2015
    ...Ltd [2006] EWHC 3192 (Ch); Holman vHowes [2007] EWCA Civ 877. For the‘proportionality’ requirement see for example Jennings vRice [2002] EWCA Civ 159 CA at [36];Campbell vGriffin [2001] All ER (D) 294 CA ; Ottey vGrundy [2003] EWCA Civ 1176 HC.Irit Samet© 2015 The Author. The Modern Law Revi......

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