Byrne v. Laura
52 Cal.App.4th 1054, 60 Cal.Rptr.2d 908 (1997)
Byrne lived with a man named
Lavezzo, but they never married. Lavezzo died.
They never married because
Byrne had handicapped children who would lose their insurance benefits if
Byrne and Lavezzo had lived
together for 5 years and their possessions and bank accounts were
Lavezzo had an obsolete will
that gave everything to his (predeceased) parents. or if they were not
alive to someone Suy.
Lavezzo died. Suy contacted
Byrne and told her to move out of the house or pay rent.
Byrne filed a creditor's claim
against Lavezzo's estate claiming that she was the sole and exclusive
owner of all the property. The claim was denied.
Byrne sued the estate
(represented by Laura) for several things:
Byrne argued that there was
an oral agreement between her and Lavezzo to provide for her needs for
the rest of her life.
Byrne also argued that the
property was held in a joint tenancy,
even if that was never in writing.
Byrne argued that she
alternately deserved money for services provided (aka quantum meruit) to Lavezzo while he was alive.
Laura countersued for unpaid
rent that Byrne racked up living in Lavezzo's house after he died.
The Trial Court found for
Laura in summary judgment, dismissed Byrne's claims, and charged her $2k
in unpaid rent. Byrne appealed.
The Trial Court did allow
Byrne to assert her quantum meruit
claim, but everthing else was thrown out.
The Appellate Court reversed and
remanded for trial.
The Appellate Court found
that Byrne's claims rested on a finding of fact about Lavezzo's promises,
and could not be adjudicated via summary judgment.
Since Byrne relied on
Lavezzo's promises, there was an equitable estoppel issue.
Byrne had changed her
life, by quitting her job and moving in with Lavezzo. That counts as reliance
on a promise, which makes her
eligible for getting their contract enforced due to equitable
Remember that from
Was the reliance enough to justify equitable
estoppel? That was for a jury to
In general, wills fall under
the Statute of Frauds and must be in writing, but there were factual
issues of what Lavezzo was providing for in a will, what was an inter
vivos gift, and what was a contract
to provide for Byrne's needs, etc. So the fact that there was no written
will did not preclude Byrne's claims.
Equity can get around the
Statute of Frauds.
This case was pretty shocking
in that the Court used equitable estoppel in order to invalidate an otherwise valid will!