Lucy Ann Andrews Habberfield v Jane Sarah Andrews Habberfield

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
JudgeLord Justice Lewison,Lord Justice Moylan,Lady Justice Rose
Judgment Date23 May 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] EWCA Civ 890
Docket NumberCase No: A3/2018/1115

[2019] EWCA Civ 890

IN THE COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)

ON APPEAL FROM THE HIGH COURT, CHANCERY DIVISION

Mr Justice Birss

C30BS914 & C30BS666

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Before:

Lord Justice Lewison

Lord Justice Moylan

and

Lady Justice Rose

Case No: A3/2018/1115

Between:
Lucy Ann Andrews Habberfield
Appellant
and
Jane Sarah Andrews Habberfield
Respondent

Mr Richard Wilson QC (instructed by Wilsons Solicitors) for the Appellant

Mr Leslie Blohm QC & Mr Christopher Jones (instructed by Stephens Scown Solicitors LLP) for the Respondent

Hearing dates: 14 th and 15 th May 2019

Approved Judgment

Lord Justice Lewison

Introduction

1

This is a sad tale of a farming family: the Habberfields. The main protagonists are Lucy Habberfield and her mother Jane. There are three other children of the family: Emma, Andrew and Sarah. Like the judge I will refer to them by their given names alone. For some 30 years Lucy worked on the family farm at Woodrow in Somerset together with her mother Jane and her father Frank. Following a five-day trial, Birss J found that as a result of various assurances over the years, Lucy had established an equity, based on the principles of proprietary estoppel. He made an order giving effect to that equity. His judgment is at [2018] EWHC 317 (Ch), [2019] 1 FLR 121.

The facts found

2

The judge considered the evidence in detail and made careful factual findings. What follows is a very abbreviated summary sufficient to understand the issues raised on the appeal and cross-appeal.

3

From 1975 Frank and Jane farmed Woodrow farm in partnership. It consisted of a farmhouse and some 116 acres of farmland, together with farm buildings. Lucy began working full time on the farm on leaving school. It was her enthusiasm for dairy farming that persuaded Frank to restart dairy farming, which had ceased in the early 1970s. From 1983 the dairy farming became the cornerstone of the business. In 1989 Frank and Jane bought a further 104 acres of land at Mudford. The farming business for most of the relevant period until 2015 concentrated on dairy farming. Although others worked on the farm, without Lucy's work there would have been no dairy farming at Woodrow. But they also raised beef cattle and did some arable farming. Since 2015 the business has been based on beef cattle and arable.

4

The assurances began in about 1983, shortly after Lucy left school and went to work full time on the farm. Further assurances were made in about 1985, during the late 1980s and 1992. Although the precise words of the assurances varied, the judge held that in substance Frank had assured Lucy that if she continued to work on the farm, then, after he could not run it any more, the farming business would be passed to her; subject to three qualifications. The first was that some land would be made available for Andrew, whose primary interest was in machinery. He had built up a machinery and contracting business which he ran from premises at Woodrow. The second was that some provision would be made for her sisters. The third was that title to the farm and the farmhouse (in which Frank and Jane lived) would not necessarily be conveyed to Lucy in their lifetimes. Among the assurances that the judge found were at least two to the effect that Lucy was working on the farm for the eventual benefit of her children. The judge found that the meaning of the assurances was that not only would Lucy receive the dairy farming business but also, subject to the three qualifications, ownership of the farm itself in due course. He summarised his conclusions by finding that Lucy expected to receive a viable dairy farm at Woodrow. He also found that Frank's assurances were made with Jane's knowledge and authority; so that the consequences for her were the same as the consequences for Frank.

5

The judge found that, in reliance on these assurances, Lucy acted to her detriment. Part of that detriment was her work on the farm, including long hours, low pay and few holidays. Another part was her commitment to farming at Woodrow rather than going elsewhere and setting about building a successful dairy farming business on her own account. In particular, in 2006, there was the possibility of a farming business near Taunton becoming available for rent. By that time, Lucy had three children with her partner Stuart Parker. The judge found that they did not tender for the farm because Frank persuaded them not to; on the basis that Woodrow was their future. He encouraged them to stay for the benefit not only of themselves but also their children. They did not put in a tender.

6

Stuart began helping on the farm in 1999; but kept his full-time job elsewhere. By 2006 he and Lucy were running the dairy side of the business. From 2007 he worked on the farm full time. Nevertheless, Frank and Jane remained in overall control. From 2006 onward Sarah became more involved in running the farm. She was helping with the beef cattle, which led to tensions between her and Lucy.

7

In 2008 Frank and Jane made an offer to Lucy. The offer was that there would be a new limited liability partnership to run the farm, in which Frank, Jane and Lucy would be the partners. Stuart would be taken on as an employee on a two-year trial basis; and after that they would consider bringing him into the partnership. Lucy would end up being the owner of the farm, and the live and dead stock, after her parents' deaths; although some land would be passed to Andrew, and bequests would be made to Emma and Sarah. Lucy (and Stuart) rejected the proposal. The judge found that her reasons were two-fold:

“First she was not happy about the offer relating to Stuart. She felt her parents had gone back on what they had originally said. Second, as one of three partners in a partnership with her parents she would not have been in control and her siblings interference in the farm, via their parents, would continue.”

8

The judge commented on the rejection in two parts of his judgment. At [178] he said:

“With the benefit of hindsight, including knowledge of Mr Robinson's original advice in the letter and the later events, perhaps it would have been better if Lucy had kept her cool and tried to negotiate a better offer with a closer involvement for Stuart. But that did not happen, no doubt in part due to Lucy's temperament and attitude but also the temperament and attitude of her parents and the influence and temperament of her siblings. The offer was not presented as open to negotiation.”

9

And at [212] he said:

“… looking back from today it is probable that if [the offer] had been accepted by Lucy and if it had been implemented in full by her parents (who would have to have resisted a likely outcry from some of Lucy's siblings), the result would have led to Lucy receiving the farm in the long run as a viable dairy farm. I am sure the need to fund legacies to her sisters by mortgaging the farm was not intended to prejudice its long term viability.”

10

Following the rejection of that offer both Lucy and Stuart continued to work on the farm. It is not suggested that any further representations were made after that rejection. But as the judge put it: “Lucy stayed at Woodrow because she hoped she would get what she expected in the long run and staying was the way to do that.”

11

Frank's health deteriorated; and family tensions began to mount. Those tensions boiled over in October 2013, when there was a fight between Lucy and Sarah in the milking parlour. Lucy and Stuart resigned in the following month. At the time when they left, there were about 63 cows in the dairy herd. That number increased to 120, but milk production ceased in 2015. At the time of trial the cost of setting up a dairy unit at Woodrow (buying in stock, feed and machinery; and reinstating the milking parlour) was of the order of £400,000.

12

Frank died in 2014. Lucy began her claim by claim form on 29 June 2016. In her Particulars of Claim she set out the assurances on which she relied, and the detriment that she claimed to have suffered. She sought an order for the transfer of the farm and the assets of the farming partnership (or their value). But she pleaded in paragraph 29:

“For the avoidance of doubt, [Lucy] is content that such order the Court should make provision for the entitlement of [Jane] to live at Woodrow farmhouse for her life, and should make adequate provision for [Jane's] reasonable needs for the remainder of her life.”

13

At the time of trial Jane was 81.

The judgment

14

The judge repeated his conclusion that the assurances had been proven. As far as their meaning is concerned, the following parts of his judgment are relevant:

“However looking at the matters as a whole and in context I find that in making these statements the idea which was intended to be conveyed to Lucy was not only the idea that the farming business would be hers in future after Frank could not run it anymore but that the farm as a piece of property itself would be passed on to her too, subject to a point below.” (paragraph [99])

“When the idea was conveyed to Lucy that the farming business and the farm itself would be hers, this did not mean that every single acre of land at Woodrow would necessarily pass to Lucy nor was it focussed on whether making some provision for Lucy's siblings was to be ruled out. And Lucy did not understand it to mean either of these things.” (paragraph [100])

“As I have said I find that her parents intended and Lucy understood that the farming business would be hers in future after Frank could not run it anymore. However the precise circumstances in which the land would be passed on to Lucy [were] not discussed. By the time her parents had died Lucy would be the owner of the farm (subject to the previous qualification about what “the farm” would consist of) but I do not believe they meant or Lucy understood that...

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