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Lissimore v Downing [2003] 2 FLR 208



The defendant was a wealthy individual who expressed various sentiments that his girlfriend (the claimant) would want for nothing for the rest of her life. The claimant later claimed that she had a proprietary interest in the defendant’s land, arising out of these assurances, due to proprietary estoppel.


A person will have an inchoate ‘equity’ in land if they can establish proprietary estoppel. Establishing this requires proof that the land-owner made an unequivocal representation that they had a proprietary interest, which they relied on to their detriment, such that it would be unconscionable to renege on the representation. The inchoate equity that results from proprietary estoppel can be satisfied by the court using whatever remedy would do the minimum amount of justice in the case.

The issue in this case was the degree of certainty which was required as to the proprietary interest the claimant believed herself to be entitled to.


The High Court held in the defendant’s favour: there was no proprietary estoppel.

The High Court held that to qualify as a representation for the purposes of proprietary estoppel, the assurances must be unequivocal and make sufficiently clear the nature of the proprietary interest the representee is expected to receive. This representation must be sufficiently clear to allow the court to determine what remedy will satisfy the claimant’s interest: this requires the representation to indicate to a reasonable degree a specific type of proprietary interest over a specific piece of property.

In this case, the assurances did not relate to or indicate any specific proprietary interest or property at all: they were completely abstract. For this reason, they were insufficiently clear to give rise to proprietary estoppel.

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