Ogilvie v Ryan

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Citation: Ogilvie v Ryan (1976) 3 NSWLR 504.

This information can be found in the Textbook: Edgeworth et all, Sackville and Neave's Property Law Cases and Materials, 8th edition, Lexis Nexis, 2008, pp. 363-8 [4.103].


Background Facts

  • The owner [Oglivie] promised the Defendant [Ryan] a life tenancy of his house if she lived with him and looked after him until his death.
  • The owner died without mentioning the Defendant in his will.
  • The Plaintiff [executor of the owner's estate] sought possession of the house from the Defendant.


  • The Defendant argued that there was a constructive trust because of evidence of a common intention that the property would be bought to give effect to that common intention.
  • In addition, she had altered her position based on that common intention and acted in a way beneficial to the deceased upon the faith of his assurance that the common intention would be carried out.
  • It would be fraud for him now to assert his legal right to the property in order to defeat the promised beneficiary.

Legal issues


  • After examining a number of cases, it seems that a constructive trust will be established in either of the following cases:
    1. Where the constructive trustee has only obtained his legal title because of the beneficiary, and obtained it only by having agreed that the beneficiary would have a beneficial interest in the property.
    2. Where the constructive trustee acquired title regardless of the beneficiary, but then the value of the property was increased by the work of the beneficiary.
  • Neither of these scenarios fit the present case, because the benefits which the Defendant provided were of a domestic nature rather than improvements to the property.
  • However, the common intention of the parties clearly show that the Defendant was to receive beneficial interest.
  • Equity is able to intervene when there is an unconscionable use of legal title to deny someone's beneficial ownership, and therefore a constructive trust arises here.
  • The Defendant wins.


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