Wodzicki v Wodzicki [2017] EWCA Civ 95

24th February 2017

Appeal concerning the beneficial ownership of an English property by virtue of resulting trust, common intention constructive trust, or proprietary estoppel

Facts:

  • An English property was registered in the joint names of the appellant’s late father and his second wife, the respondent. The funds were provided by a loan to them which was secured by a mortgage on their jointly owned French house.
  • The appellant had occupied the house since its purchase. She paid outgoings and spent £5,000 on improvement works. The respondent never visited the property.
  • The appellant’s father died intestate in 2010 and the respondent brought possession proceedings. The appellant defended the possession proceedings and counterclaimed that she was the sole beneficial owner of the property.
  • The first instance judge held that the father, the respondent and the appellant had intended the property to be the appellant’s long term home. The father had agreed to transfer the property to the appellant when he thought she was ready. However, the property had been put in the names of the father and the respondent and this militated against the appellant being the sole beneficial owner.
  • The respondent held the property on trust for the appellant and herself as beneficial owners in the proportions to which they had respectively contributed to its purchase, maintenance, and outgoings on the basis of a resulting trust. The judge held that the parties’ respective beneficial interests in the property should be determined at a subsequent hearing.
  • The appellant appealed on two grounds:
    • The judge ought to have determined the parties’ interest on the basis of a common intention constructive trust, as in Kernott v Jones [2011] UKSC 53;
    • The judge failed to consider proprietary estoppel.

Held:

  • Appeal dismissed on all grounds.
  • The judge made a finding as to the actual intention of the parties, which was open to her on the evidence. Subsequently, there was no room for imputing intention.
  • The approach laid down in Kernott v Jones as applicable to cases of cohabiting couples was not relevant here, as the appellant and the respondent were not close. There was no evidence that the respondent intended to make a gift to the appellant.
  • The beneficial interest of one joint owner cannot be terminated without their knowledge by the other joint owner; the father could not bind the respondent by a promise to the appellant.
  • The claim based on proprietary estoppel failed because the respondent did not know about the promise given to the appellant.