The burden of proving reliance in proprietary estoppel

The plaintiff in a proprietary estoppel claim has to show reliance on the belief / promise / assurance. Where there has been conduct from which reliance can be inferred the burden of showing that there has been no reliance shifts to the defendant.

In Wayling v Jones ((1995) 69 P & C.R. 170 CA (Eng)) the plaintiff had lived with a Mr Jones for many years in a homosexual relationship. He also worked for Mr Jones. In return he received just pocket-money and living expenses. Mr. Jones made repeated assurances that when Mr Jones (much older then Mr. Wayling) died, Mr. Wayling would inherit his business. Mr. Jones died but without having altered his will to leave the business to Mr. Wayling. At first instance, Mr. Wayling’s proprietary estoppel claim failed. The problem area was that of reliance on the promise. The Court of Appeal was satisfied that he had relied on the promise. It held that once there was evidence of conduct from which reliance could be inferred (working without pay for many years) then the defendant had to prove that there had been no reliance.

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