Between: Frank Anthony Cornwall Plaintiff v Adam Marvick Llewelyn as Adminstrator of the Estate of Kathleen Anita Whittaker (Deceased) Defendant

JurisdictionCayman Islands
JudgeJustice Margaret Ramsay-Hale
Judgment Date03 June 2024
Docket NumberCAUSE NO. GC2022-0019
CourtGrand Court (Cayman Islands)
Between:
Frank Anthony Cornwall
Plaintiff
and
Adam Marvick Llewelyn as Adminstrator of the Estate of Kathleen Anita Whittaker (Deceased)
Defendant
Before:

The Chief Justice, The Hon. Justice Margaret Ramsay-Hale

CAUSE NO. GC2022-0019

IN THE GRAND COURT OF THE CAYMAN ISLANDS

CIVIL DIVISION

Land Law — proprietary estoppel — elements required for claim — the issue of detriment must be judged at the moment when the person who has given the assurance seeks to go back on it — Thorner v Major [2009] UKHL 18

Appearances:

Mr. Frank Cornwall Jr. in person

Mr. H. Delroy Murray of Murray & Westerborg for the Defendant

IN OPEN COURT
Introduction
1

The Plaintiff, Frank Cornwall jr., is the great grandson of Ms Kathleen Anita Whittaker (“Ms Kathleen”) of Rock Hole, George Town who owned property on Rock Hole Road in George Town registered as Block 14 CF Parcel 41. Ms Kathleen died intestate in 1985. The Defendant, Adam Llewelyn is the son of Ms Kathleen's daughter, Kathleen Alvernie Watson-Llewelyn (“Ms Alvernie”) and the Administrator de bonis non of Ms Kathleen's estate.

2

Although Mr. Llewelyn is Mr. Cornwall's uncle, the men were both born in 1967 and were very close in their youth and early twenties. A dispute over family land arising from Mr. Cornwall's claim to be entitled to Ms Kathleen's property, to the exclusion of her children and/or their issue has, however, been the catalyst for a conflict which has strained the relationship between the two.

Background to the Claim
3

Mr. Cornwall, was born to Adrian, also known as Ann, who was the daughter of Ms Kathleens' daughter, Goldstein Whittaker Bodden (“Goldstein”). He was raised by his mother and his stepmother, Ms Kathleen's daughter, Frances Remelda Cornwall (“Ms Remelda”) with whom he lived at Sound Round in George Town until 1981.

4

In 1981, Mr. Cornwall went to live with his mother at Ms Kathleen's home in Rock Hole and remained living there until Ms Kathleen passed away in 1985. After her death, he remained in his grandmother's home. He renovated and rebuilt it over the years, first replacing the foundation of the house which was built on stilts with concrete blocks and later, replacing the original wooden walls and floors, as the structure grew increasingly dilapidated. He lived in the house until 2018.

5

Some 5 years after Ms Kathleen's death, her daughter, Lorine Haywood, applied for Letters of Administration. She died in 1991 without administering the Estate. In 1994, her sister, Gwendolyn Elveda Cornwall more usually known as Elveda (“Ms Elveda”) applied for Letters of Administration de bonis non. In 1998, she was registered on the Title as Administratrix.

6

Nothing was done by Ms Elveda to settle the Estate until 2018, when acting through her daughter, Tori, her Attorney, she caused the property to be advertised for sale and gave Mr. Cornwall notice to quit the premises.

7

In response, Mr. Cornwall made an application to the Registrar of Lands, Ms Sophia Williams, for a restriction to be placed against the property, claiming unregistered interest in the property as a “ beneficial and equitable part-owner”. 1

8

At the conclusion of the resulting hearing, the Registrar accepted Mr. Cornwall's evidence that Ms Kathleen had made a promise to him that he “could stay on the property” 2 and that he had, in detrimental reliance on that promise, continuously improved the property

over the ensuing years and “treated the property as if it was his own, collecting rent and arranging for electricity and water for tenants on the property.” 3
9

She found that he had “continuously improved the property with the premise that he and his family could reside there” and “building his family home” on the property. She also found that both Ms Kathleen and Ms Elveda, qua Administratrix, “had permitted him to remain on the land for over thirty (30) years before making any attempt to terminate his licence to do so.” 4

10

She held that, in the circumstances, it would be “inequitable for him to vacate the property on which he has his home for some nearly thirty years when he was out in possession with the permission of his great grandmother and continued …after … Ms Gwendolyn Cornwall was registered as Adminstratrix”, concluding that he had “an interest in the property by virtue of propriety estoppel.” 5

11

She granted the restriction which was registered on 29 February 2019.

12

Ms Elveda died on 19 June 2021 without administering the property. On 28 April 2021, the defendant, Adam Llewelyn, was granted Letters of Administration de bonis non. It soon became apparent that there was a new sheriff in town as, after his appointment, Mr. Llewelyn began making changes at the property. These included having the meters which supplied electricity to the property put in his name, directing tenants to pay him rent and constructing fences on the property, going so far as to put a fence pole right by Mr. Cornwall's kitchen window.

13

On 25 January 2022, Mr. Cornwall commenced these proceedings against Mr. Llewelyn as Administrator, seeking “to confirm his equitable interest by way of proprietary estoppel in the property.” 6

14

He claims against Mr. Llewelyn a declaration that he is the owner of the property and an order directing the Registrar to record his ownership of the property as well as an account of any income from the property.

The Succession Act
15

Because Ms Kathleen died without a will, the intestacy rules apply to her Estate. Pursuant to the provisions of the Succession Act (2021 Revision) a trust arises on an intestacy in

favour of the issue and other classes of relatives of the intestate. Relevantly, section 29 of the statute provides at subsection (1)(c):

“(c) if the intestate leaves issue but no husband, wife or civil partner, the residuary estate of the intestate shall be held on the statutory trusts for the issue of the intestate;”

16

Section 30 provides:

“30. (1) Where, by this Act, the residuary estate of an intestate, or any part thereof, is directed to be held on the statutory trusts for the issue of the intestate, the same shall be held upon the following trusts — (a) in trust in equal shares if more than one, for all or any of the children or child of the intestate, surviving the intestate, who attain the age of eighteen years or marry or enter into a civil partnership under that age, and for all or any of the issue surviving the intestate who attain the age of eighteen years or marry or enter into a civil partnership under that age of any child of the intestate who predeceases that intestate, such issue to take through all degrees according to their stocks, in equal shares if more than one, the share which their parent would have taken if living at the death of the intestate, and so that no issue shall take whose parent is living at the death of the intestate and so capable of taking;”

17

As Ms Kathleen did not make a will leaving her property to Ann or Mr. Cornwall, all of her children and/or their issue are entitled to benefit from her Estate unless Mr. Cornwall can establish that it would be unconscionable if the property were not transferred to him.

The Doctrine of Proprietary Estoppel
18

The doctrine of proprietary estoppel rests on the fundamental principle that equity is concerned to prevent unconscionable conduct: see Robert Walker LJ in the case of Gillet v Holt, [2009] UKHL 18, [2001] Ch. 210 at 225.

19

In Thorner v Major, [2009] UKHL 18 the Court recognized the form of proprietary estoppel arising where a person has acted to their detriment in reliance on a promise made by another in relation to land. The Court identified three elements which had to be present in order to give rise to an estoppel:

(i) there must be a promise made by A to B that B has been or will be given an interest in property;

(ii) reasonable reliance on that promise; and

(iii) there must be an identifiable detriment to B if A resiles from the promise they have made.

20

As Lord Sales, speaking extra-judicially 7, pointed out proprietary estoppel does not impose duties or liabilities from the moment that the relevant promise is made. As explained by Hoffmann LJ in Walton v Walton (unrep) [1994] EWCA Civ J0414-1, the principle does not look forward into the future and guess what might happen. It looks backwards from the moment when the promise falls due to be performed and asks whether, in the circumstances which have actually happened, it would be unconscionable for the promise not to be kept.”

21

The Court is thus concerned with the conduct of the promisee in reliance on the promise before the promise fell due to be performed which, in this case, was on the death of the putative promisor in 1985.

The Pleaded case
The Promise
22

Mr. Cornwall's' case, as pleaded, is that his mother, Ann, lived with her grandmother, Ms Katheleen, all her life and cooked, washed, cleaned and paid bills for her. As Ms Kathleen grew older, she required greater assistance and the increased burden of caring for her fell on Ann. When Ms Kathleen became bedridden in 1981, he helped his mother get her in and out of bed and bathe and dress her on a daily basis. He and his mother bore the significant financial burden of taking care of Ms Kathleen, a burden he assumed from a young age, using monies he earned by working in the evenings after school. When he became an adult, his financial contributions to the household increased.

23

Ms Kathleen died on 21 October 1985, shortly after he turned 18. At the date of her death, he was still living in what was her house. On numerous occasions before her death, Ms Kathleen stated that what she left behind was to be passed to his mother, Ann, and to him. This promise was reiterated on various occasions in his presence of Ms Remelda, Ms Alvernie and her son, Charles Leonard Whittaker.

24

He asserts that neighbours and others in the community were well aware of her...

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