Dixon v Fisher (1843) 5 D 775

The definition of chattel and fixture with regards to affixing machinery to the land

Facts

John Dixon was the owner and operator of several coal mines, some of which were owned outright by him and others were held under various leases. In his will, Mr Dixon made a provision of £4,000 for his daughter. On his death, the daughter refused the provision and sought a share of the estate as his child as against her two brothers. After time, one brother died and the remaining brother continued the claim. It was contended that the machinery used in the mines, although this was firmly affixed to the land for the purposes of its use should form part of the divisible estate and should not pass directly to the brother as was the case for items that formed part of the land. The court ordered a survey of the machinery which found that much of it could only be removed a great expense but that it was however custom for the machinery to be removed once its purpose ended. It was found that other machinery was easily replaceable.

Issue

The issue in this circumstance was whether the machinery attached to the land for its use formed part of the land and therefore was not part of the divisible estate and whether a different position arose in respect of the machinery that could be replaced easily.

Held

It was held that the question must be addressed in relation to each of the types of machinery and that where the machinery was firmly attached to the land, the fact that it was for a particular purpose and would be removed when the purpose ended did not prevent it from being part of the land. However, the position differed for property that could easily be replaced. This was less likely to form part of the land because its affixation was less significant and was therefore more likely to form part of the divisible estate. In a more modern context therefore the items firmly affixed, because they were in place for the use of the land, were a fixture and those which were not firmly affixed, despite their use, were more likely to be considered chattels. The size of the daughter’s share in the estate was calculated accordingly.