Knights v Wiffen – Case Summary

Knights v Wiffen

High Court

Citations: (1869-70) LR 5 QB 660.


The defendant offered to sell some of his sacks of barley to a third-party. The parties did not choose any particular sack from the defendant’s granary. Before the grain was delivered, the third-party agreed to sell some of it to the claimant. The claimant then asked the defendant to confirm the transfer of the barley. The defendant responded that ‘All right, when you get the forwarding note I will put the barley on the line.’ The third-party went bankrupt. The claimant then presented the defendant with a forwarding note, but the defendant refused to deliver him the barley.

The claimant sued the defendant in conversion, alleging that the defendant was refusing to release his property. The defendant denied that property had passed in the goods, because they were still unascertained. The claimant argued that the defendant was barred from making this argument by estoppel, based on his promise to deliver the barley on receipt of the forwarding note.

  1. Was the defendant estopped from arguing that property had not passed to the claimant?
  2. Did the claimant have any contractual rights against the defendant?

The Court held in favour of the claimant. The defendant was estopped from denying that the claimant had property in the goods. The claimant had altered their position in reliance on the defendant’s statement by deliberately failing to take steps to shore up his legal position against the third-party.

This Case is Authority For…

Where a person makes a statement, intending or knowing that the other will rely upon it and causing the other to change their position in reliance it, an estoppel arises. This estoppel bars the person from presenting evidence to the court which contradicts the facts presented in that statement.

For the purposes of estoppel, deliberate inaction can constitute sufficient change in position.


No property in unascertained goods passes until they are appropriated to the contract.