Cooper v Phibbs (1867) LR 2 HL 149

Contract – Void – Mistake- Mistake as to Title – Res Sua – Beneficial Ownership – Lease – Equity - Voidable

Facts

The complainant, Mr Cooper, was the nephew of the owner of the salmon fishery near Ballysadare, Ireland. He leased this salmon fishery from his Uncle. When his uncle died and the lease came up for the time of renewal, the complainant renewed the lease for the salmon fishery with his Aunt. However, it was later found out that in the Uncle’s will, Mr Cooper as his nephew, had been given life tenancy of the salmon fishery. This meant that there was no need for the lease that existed between him and the Aunt and the dispute arose when the next rental payment was due.

Issues

The issue in this case was whether Mr Cooper was the owner of the salmon fishery and whether the lease would be void.

Held

It was held that the contract and lease that existed between the complainant and the defendant was voidable, rather than void. This was due to the claim being in equity, as Mr Cooper had beneficial ownership of the salmon fishery and not legal ownership. This case concerned ‘res sua’ and it was a mistake as to the title of the property; Mr Cooper was already the beneficial owner of the salmon fishery and there could not be a lease. It was held that such an agreement would be set aside due to a common mistake by both parties as to ownership.