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Estoppel is an equitable legal action that bars a person from denying certain assertions that he or she has made in past. The appropriate evidence may be given through testimony or papers showing that he or she relied on the words or actions of another, the indicated promise should be enforced in the interest of fairness, or he or she will now suffer some harm as a result if the promise is not enforced. As an equitable legal concept, there is no statutory law governing estoppel. Rather, the judge deciding the case will determine whether or not to apply the principle based on the specific circumstances dictated by the facts.
Equitable legal principles are those that are in the judge’s discretion to apply. The judge will consider all the facts and look at the situation from the subjective perspectives of the parties and apply such principles if they are in the interest of fairness. Estoppel is an example of such an equitable legal principle. As with any similar legal concepts, estoppel is very heavily dependent upon the facts in the present case. Therefore, evidence of the promise being made, evidence of reliance by the estopping party, and evidence of the resulting harm is essential for any estoppel claim.
In contract law, promissory estoppel will be applied when a person reasonably relies on the actions or words of another and acts in some way to his or her detriment based upon that reliance. If the person on whom the first person reasonably relied then changes his or her position to the detriment of the relying party, then the relying party may show evidence of such a reliance in order assert promissory estoppel, which may preclude the person from changing his or her position. For example, Party A may testify that Party B promised his or her car to Party A because he or she was purchasing a new one and in expectation of the fulfillment of the promise, Party A sold his or her car. Additionally, Party A may introduce evidence of such a correspondence such as a dated letter and a bill of sale that corroborates the testimony. The requirement that the estopping party show that he or she was harmed is implied in this scenario by the fact that he or she will be left without a car if the promise is not enforced.
Estoppel by deed is a concept that precludes any party that validly executes a deed from denying any information within the deed. For instance, Party B executes a deed conveying a plot of land and delivers it to Party A. If, a day later, Party B discovers that there is a gold deposit on the land and tries to rescind the conveyance, Party A should introduce the properly executed deed as evidence in order to assert estoppel by deed, which will prevent Party B from asserting that he or she never meant to convey the land. Since every plot of land is considered unique under the law, the party to whom the land was promised will automatically be considered to have suffered an injury if the promise is not enforced.
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