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English farmer wins lump sum from farm awarded to son

Thursday, 29 November, 2018

The England and Wales Court of Appeal (EWCA) has ordered a major adjustment to a 2016 High Court ruling that transferred the Moore family's entire GBP10 million farming business from Roger Moore to his son Stephen.

The father and son had owned half shares in the Wiltshire farming partnership since Roger Moore's brother and partner retired in 2008. But after that date, Roger began to show signs of dementia, which led to rows between the two as Stephen tried to make his father take a back seat in the running of the farm. Relations deteriorated until, in 2012, Roger posted a notice purporting to dissolve the partnership with immediate effect.

Stephen challenged this notice in the England and Wales High Court, on the basis that he had long been verbally promised the ultimate ownership of the whole farm, and that his father's dementia made him incapable of making decisions. Stephen also contended that Roger's wife Pamela had unduly influenced Roger, because she did not like Stephen and wanted her daughter to inherit a share of the business.

Monty J in the High Court accepted Stephen's claim of proprietary estoppel and ordered that the farming partnership should be dissolved and transferred into his sole name. The only concession made to Roger and Pamela was that they could continue to live on the farm and would be given GBP200 a week from the business to live on (Moore v Moore, 2016 EWHC 2202 Ch).

Roger Moore has since been admitted to a care home, and his wife appealed the decision on his behalf. She also had her own interests to consider as she is his dependent and has expectations from his estate. She argued that Monty J's conclusions about estoppel were unjustified, and that he erred in granting Stephen equity that was 'disproportionate and far greater than the minimum necessary to do justice'. Moreover, by immediately depriving Roger and Pamela of all their assets, the High Court had removed their ability to live anywhere else.

The EWCA upheld Monty J's basic finding that the farm should be Stephen's, but it also recognised the unfairness of the judgment on Roger and Pamela Moore. Giving judgment, Henderson LJ said that Stephen Moore's case was only that he would inherit the business on the death of both parents, and subject to reasonable provision being made for Pamela during her widowhood if Roger were the first to die. The High Court had made a 'clear misdirection' in its order to transfer the farm immediately to Stephen, without taking account of his mother's need for access to both capital and income after Roger's death, said Henderson.

'The judge's focus should have been on the minimum provision that was needed to satisfy Stephen's equity [and] to provide full and generous protection for Roger and Pamela during the remainder of their lives, and to reflect as far as possible the provision that Roger would have wished to make for Pamela on his death', said Henderson.

The EWCA duly referred the case back to the High Court, unanimously ordering that Stephen must make a lump sum payment of GBP1-2 million to Roger, and pay all taxes incurred in the transfer (Moore v Moore, 2018 EWCA Civ 2669).