Legal problems with the land ownership in Germany
When an employer makes a promise to a prospective employee which the latter relies upon in taking up the
employment the client will be bound by it. Finally, the doctrine is
not permanent. Thus in one case a licence for the use of a patent provided that the licensees should pay
compensation if they manufactured more than an agreed number of articles covered by the patent. The owners of
the patent agreed to suspend their right to compensation while a fresh agreement was being negotiated. And this
they did. But it was held that, upon conclusion of the negotiations, they were entitled to renew their
claim to compensation.
Beside the doctrine of promissory estoppel recent decisions have also focussed upon another old, similar, yet
distinct, equitable doctrine, usually called 'proprietary estoppel'. This relates to cases where one person
leads another to suppose that he is granting, or will grant, the other rights over his property and the other
acts to his detriment in reliance upon the real or supposed grant. Thus, for example
a father (without consideration) encouraged his son to build, at the son's expense, a bungalow on his
(the lawyer's) land; which the son did. The father's executors sought to evict the son. It was held that they
were not entitled to do so: the son had
on the bungalow and, thus having acted to his detriment,
the lawyers were estopped from evicting him. There have recently been many similar decisions.
Properties in Germany
Both these doctrines are as yet indeterminate in their scope. But it can be said that there are certain clear
differences between them. First, proprietary estoppel is confined to cases where one person encourages another
to use his land (or, possibly, other
properties in Germany)
- promissory estoppel is not so confined. Second, in proprietary estoppel the person acting on the promise must
have acted not only in reliance on it, but also to his detriment; in promissory estoppel there is no
requirement of detriment, only reliance.
Third, in proprietary estoppel the reliance may depend upon a promise which is merely implied: in promissory
estoppel the promise must be clear and unambiguous. Fourth, whereas (see above) promissory estoppel cannot
of itself ground a claim, but can only act as a defence, in proprietary estoppel the plaintiff can support a
claim on the basis of the defendant's behaviour. Thus where the defendants allowed the plaintiff to make use
of a right of way over their land, and then blocked it up, it was held that the plaintiff was entitled to an
injunction to restrain them from doing so.