Case name & citation: Dutton vs Poole (1678) 2 Lev 210
Year of the case: 1678
Jurisdiction: UK law (Court of Chancery)
What is the case about?
The case of Dutton vs Poole is a well-known English case law that dealt with the doctrine of privity of contract and the rule of consideration under common law (English law).
Facts of the case (Dutton vs Poole)
Father owned an oak tree land. He intended to cut down the trees and sell them to procure money for the marriage of his daughter. Meanwhile, his son convinced him not to cut the trees and promised the father that if he transferred the possession of trees in his name, he would pay the required money for the marriage of the daughter. Thus, an agreement was entered into between the father and the son. The father promised not to sell the trees and to transfer the possession in his son’s name in return for the son promising to pay £1000 for the marriage of the daughter (the son’s sister).
Although the father performed his side of the promise, he died before his daughter’s marriage.
After the death of the father, the son refuses to make the payment as previously agreed by him to pay at the time of the daughter’s marriage. Hence, the daughter sues him for the non-fulfillment of his promise to pay the money.
The son contends that he is not liable for the payment since no consideration was moving from the daughter. Moreover, there was no such contract between them. And that the original contract was made with the father, not the daughter.
Whether the daughter who is not a party to the contract (between the son and the father) can sue for the non-payment of the amount originally promised?
As no consideration is moving from the daughter, is the son still liable to pay the amount?
This case of Dutton vs Poole holds significant importance under UK law. At the time when it was passed, the doctrine of privity of contract had not been established well. Thus, the decision made by the Courts in the instant case had great importance regarding the applicability of this doctrine.
As per the doctrine of privity of contract, only those who are a party to the contract can sue to enforce their rights and obligations under the contract. No third party to the contract, also called a stranger to the contract, can sue.
There are also a few exceptions to this rule whereby a third party can sue, for example, if he or she is a beneficiary under an agreement to create a trust, where the contract is for the provision for maintenance or marriage under a family arrangement, etc.
Judgement of the Court in Dutton vs Poole
The Court observed that owing to the family relationship between the father and the daughter, the daughter shall become a party to the agreement entered into by the father with his son. Even though the daughter was not included in the contract at the time it was entered into, still she is a beneficiary and can thus, sue for the promise.
She could maintain an action on a promise made by her brother to the father for her benefit.
The Court held that the case falls under the exceptions to the doctrine of privity of contract. Even though the daughter was a third party to the contract, still she was a beneficiary of the contract. Hence, she could sue for the amount not paid to her. And the son was liable to pay the amount.
Moreover, as far as English law is concerned, consideration must move from the promisee only and not from any other person. Therefore, the Courts also had to find whether the contract can be enforced by the daughter as no consideration had moved from her and neither she was a party to the contract. [A good point to mention here would be the treatment of consideration under Indian law. Indian law permits that consideration may move from a third party and not only from the promisee himself.]
But as indicated above, the Court decided to ignore the doctrine of privity of contract in this case.
The reason behind this was that there was a very close and affectionate relationship between the daughter and her father who was the promisee under the contract in question. In this case, the Court believed that natural love and affection could constitute consideration. As a result, the consideration of refraining from selling the oak trees and the promise made to the father might be extended to the children, as there is natural love and affection between them. The daughter was, no doubt, a stranger to the contract, but not a stranger to the consideration. It was deemed that she had furnished the consideration, so she was held entitled to sue her brother. Again, the doctrine of privity was ignored and the daughter, even being a stranger to the contract, was allowed to sue for the promise.
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