Willmott v. Barber, (1880) 15 Ch. D. 96

Historical Cases from Attorney Richard Clem: Willmott v. Barber, (1880) 15 Ch. D. 96
Willmott v. Barber, (1880) 15 Ch D 96, is an 1880 English case which is often cited for its holding regarding the doctrine of estoppel by acquiescence.

The plaintiff, Willmott, was suing two defendants, John Barber and William Bowyer. Barber had agreed to sell the plaintiff a leasehold interest in land and to compel Bowyer to consent to the assignment of the lease. The plaintiff argued that Bowyer was precluded (estopped) from objecting to the assignment, even though he had the legal power to make such an objection.

The plaintiff claimed that Barber and Bowyer were acting in collusion, and that Bowyer had refused assent to the assignment on Barber's instructions. Therefore, allowing him to refuse consent would work a gross fraud upon the plaintiff.

The court held that the plaintiff could prevail only if he established all of the elements. First, he must establish that he had made a mistake as to his legal rights. Second, he must have expended money or done some act in reliance on the mistaken belief. Third, the defendant must know that his right is inconsistent with the acts of the plaintiff. Finally, the defendant must have actively encouraged the plaintiff in acting to his detriment.

In this case, the court held that the plaintiff had not established all of these element. Therefore, the defendant could not be compelled to consent to the assignment.

While it is cited in many contracts casebooks used in American law schools, Willmott is rarely cited by American courts. It is, however, cited fairly frequently by British and Canadian courts. For example, in Desoto Resources Limited v. Encana Corporation, 2010 ABQB 448, the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench cites it as the "classic statement of the constituent elements of estoppel by acquiescence."

The full text of the case is available at Google Books.

(C)2014, Richard P. Clem. The text of this page is released under the Creative Commons Zero Waiver 1.0 (CC0).


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

For more information about attorney Clem, please visit his website.
For more information about his low-cost CLE programs, please visit his CLE page.
Return to index of historical cases

Copyright 2014, Richard P. Clem.
Attorney Richard P. Clem is responsible for the content of this page.

Richard P. Clem, Attorney
PO Box 14957
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Phone: +1-612-378-7751
e-mail: clem.law@usa.net
Minnesota Attorney Registration Number 0192648

Books by Richard Clem:

Please visit my author page at amazon.com

Copyright and privacy notice.