Mazer v. Jackson Ins. Agency

Citation340 So.2d 770
PartiesSylvia P. MAZER et al. v. JACKSON INSURANCE AGENCY, a corporation, et al. SC 1701.
Decision Date17 December 1976
CourtSupreme Court of Alabama

Joseph W. Mathews, Jr., Birmingham, for appellants.

Douglas P. Corretti and Samuel Maples, Birmingham, for appellees.

BLOODWORTH, Justice.

Plaintiffs appeals from denial of injunctive and declaratory relief sought by their complaint, in which they aver defendants breached a promise to maintain a 100-foot buffer zone between defendants' office park and their residences. We reverse and remand on the basis of estoppel.

In 1955, defendants, Ervin Jackson, Jackson Insurance Agency, and East Lawn Corporation ('Developers') were planning the development of approximately 75 acres in Jefferson County as an office park. Part of the acreage was in the Mountain Brook police jurisdiction and part was in the Homewood police jurisdiction. The Developers decided to try to get all of the property into the city limits of Mountain Brook for their own convenience in dealing with only one city government.

The proposed annexation by Mountain Brook of the acreage within the Homewood police jurisdiction was opposed by the Homewood city government and by residents of Homewood including some of the plaintffs in this case. Plaintiffs ('Homeowners') are Homewood residents who live on Devon and Poinciana Drives and whose backyards border on the office park area.

In seeking to convince the Jefferson County legislative delegation that it ought to introduce a bill authorizing the proposed annexation, the Developers requested the Mountain Brook Planning Commission to pass a resolution containing certain assurances to the Homeowners. On June 30, 1955, the resolution was passed. It stated, however, that it represented only the present judgment of the Commission and that the Commission '. . . cannot legally bind its present members or its future members on how they will vote on such a matter . . ..' Some of the Homeowners attended the meeting at which the resolution was passed, but there is no evidence that they had actual knowledge of this qualification.

Notwithstanding passage of the resolution, the legislative delegation did not act on the annexation until after the Developers sent a memorandum, dated August 15, 1955, to the adjoining property owners on Devon and Poinciana Drives. (Devon and Poinciana are located, respectively, on the southern and western sides of the office park area.) The memorandum set forth the assurances in the resolution Without mentioning that the resolution was not legally binding on the Commission:

'With reference to the 40 acres which lie west of new Highway 91, ten acres was originally put in Mountain Brook and the other thirty acres we requested to be put in Mountain Brook because that is the only direction in which we can flow traffic and keep it out of a residential area. The Mountain Brook Planning Commission, at our request, passed a resolution that should a change in zoning be granted at a future date, that it would be done only under the three following conditions:

'1. At least 150 feet adjoining this property on the west and south side of the 30 acres would remain residential property of the same character as the houses adjoining it in Homewood, or,

'2. That in any change of zoning on this property a buffer zone be maintained of 100 feet along the western and southern portion of the 30 acre tract on which there would be no building or parking permitted, this 100 feet being left in natural woodland, or,

'3. A variation or change from the above two requirements could be accomplished should at least 90% Of the owners of the abutting property agree on any more suitable or more acceptable plan.

'The reason for Number 3 is this: That it will be our desire and purpose to develop this property in a manner which would be an asset to all of the surrounding property owners and after the studies made by our Engineer and landscape Architect, you, the property owners, may much prefer what we propose than either Numbers 1 or 2, but if there should be a change from Numbers 1 or 2, 90% Of you people would have to agree.

'In requesting that our property be annexed to Mountain Brook, we presented the above facts to the Legislative Delegation so that they might have them in their deliberations concerning the matter.

'In closing we ask your patience in watching this development. We ask your good will towards us and we feel that when the job is over, that each occupant of the property on Poinciana and Devon will be very happy indeed over the conclusion. . . .'

The memorandum was signed by Ervin Jackson, one of the defendants in this suit.

After the memorandum was sent, the annexation bill was passed, and the office park development was begun. By 1974, only the 100-foot buffer zone of natural woodland mentioned in the memorandum separated the Homeowners' backyards from the office park. Prior to the commencement of this suit, the Mountain Brook Planning Commission rezoned the buffer zone from 'residential' to 'office park,' and the Developers announced plans to clear-cut the buffer zone and to construct an addition to the office part on it. Consent from 90 percent of the adjoining property owners on Devon and Poinciana was not obtained.

The Homeowners then filed this suit for a declaratory judgment and for preliminary and permanent injunctions against the Developers. The complaint avers that the action proposed by the Developers would constitute a breach of a promise to maintain the 100-foot buffer zone. When the trial court denied relief, the Homeowners appealed.

The Homeowners contend that the Developers are estopped from developing their property in a manner inconsistent with the assurances contained in the memorandum. They argue that they relied on the assurances in ceasing to oppose annexation and that the memorandum misrepresented the situation by treating the assurances as Facts and by not mentioning that they were not legally binding on the Planning Commission.

The Developers respond that the Homeowners have failed to prove an essential element of both promissory and equitable estoppel, viz., detrimental Reliance on the alleged promises and misrepresentations. They argue further that they made no promises to the Homeowners. The Developers also contend that enforcement of the provisions of the memorandum would deprive them of all legitimate uses of the 100-foot buffer zone and that refusal to enforce the provisioins would not lessen the value of the Homeowners' property.

The Homeowners respond that use as a buffer zone is a legitimate use of land and that elimination of the buffer zone would make their properties less desirable as residences.

We hold that the Developers are estopped from developing the buffer zone in any manner inconsistent with the representations made and assurances given in the memorandum of August 15, 1955.

The purpose of equitable estoppel and promissory estoppel is to promote equity and justice in an individual case by preventing a party from asserting rights under a general technical rule of law when his own conduct renders the assertion of such rights contrary to equity and good conscience. First National Bank of Opp v. Boles, 231 Ala. 473, 479, 165 So. 586, 592 (1936).

Equitable estoppel is

". . . based upon the ground of public policy and good faith, and is interposed to prevent injustice and to guard against fraud by denying to a person the right to repudiate his acts, admissions, or representations, When they have been relied on by persons to whom they were directed and whose conduct they were intended to and did influence. The doctrine of estoppel is far reaching in its effect, extending to real as well as personal estate, and embracing almost every enterprise in which men may be engaged.' (Italics supplied.)'

Id., quoting 21 C.J. § 120 pp. 1117--18.

Except for the nature of the conduct on which the estoppel is based, the elements of equitable and promissory estoppel are essentially the same.

Promissory estoppel is defined in Bush v. Bush, 278 Ala. 244, 245, 177 So.2d 568, 578 (1964):

"A promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance of a definite and substantial character on the part of the promisee and ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
95 cases
  • Williams v. City of Dothan, Ala.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • November 5, 1984
    ...be harmed materially if the actor is later permitted to assert any claim inconsistent with his earlier conduct." Mazer v. Jackson Ins. Agency, 340 So.2d 770, 773 (Ala.1976) (quoting Dobbs, Remedies Sec. 2.3 (1973)). The record in this case simply does not support the claim that the plaintif......
  • Arabi Gin Co. v. Plexus Cotton, Ltd. (In re, Joseph Walker & Co.)
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Fourth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of South Carolina
    • September 25, 2014
    ...contain “promissory elements.” See, e.g.,Sykes v. Payton, 441 F.Supp.2d 1220, 1224 (M.D.Ala.2006); Mazer v. Jackson Ins. Agency, 340 So.2d 770, 774 (Ala.1976) (“An express promise is not necessary to establish a promissory estoppel. It is sufficient that there be promissory elements which w......
  • Arabi Gin Co. v. Plexus Cotton, Ltd. (In re Joseph Walker & Co.)
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Fourth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of South Carolina
    • September 25, 2014
    ...contain “promissory elements.” See, e.g., Sykes v. Payton, 441 F.Supp.2d 1220, 1224 (M.D.Ala.2006) ; Mazer v. Jackson Ins. Agency, 340 So.2d 770, 774 (Ala.1976) (“An express promise is not necessary to establish a promissory estoppel. It is sufficient that there be promissory elements which......
  • Arabi Gin Co. v. Plexus Cotton, Ltd. (In re, Joseph Walker & Co.)
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Fourth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of South Carolina
    • September 25, 2014
    ...contain “promissory elements.” See, e.g., Sykes v. Payton, 441 F.Supp.2d 1220, 1224 (M.D.Ala.2006); Mazer v. Jackson Ins. Agency, 340 So.2d 770, 774 (Ala.1976) (“An express promise is not necessary to establish a promissory estoppel. It is sufficient that there be promissory elements which ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT