Cameron v Murdoch (1986)

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Cameron v Murdoch (1986) 63 A.L.R. 575

Proprietary estoppel can be enforced even though the interest is inchoate.


The facts occurred in Western Australia. Some family members claimed shares in a partnership farming business which had been carried on for 43 years after the death of the senior partner (the father of the other two partners) with no final settlement of accounts. After the two sons died the family members sought a final settlement of the accounts. 


The debate was whether the sons were trustees for the father’s estate for the share of the profits that were attributable to the use of the father’s original share in the partnership assets. There was also a debate over whether such a right could be transferred to a third party as it had yet to be defined and was ‘inchoate’. 


The Privy Council held that the father’s estate was not entitled to a one third share in any new land bought by the partnership after his death, or to hold that the surviving partners were trustees, as this would have been inconsistent with s.42 of the New South Wales Partnership Act 1892 (s.55 in Western Australia) which provided set remedies. However, the court also held that a person’s successor in title could sue for equitable rights. A proprietary estoppel was brought into being as soon as a landowner acted unconscionably and could be enforced from that time. The exact nature of the expectation or right need not be expressed provided the claimant believed he would be entitled in some way during the due course of time.

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