Case name & citation: Nash v Inman,  2 K.B. 1 (Eng. C.A.).
Year of the case: 1908
What is the case about?
As far as contracts with minors are concerned, the general rule is that all contracts entered into by a minor are void. But there are certain exceptions to this rule. One such exception is a “contract of necessaries”. The famous case of Nash v Inman throws light on this exception.
Facts of the case (Nash v Inman)
The plaintiff was a Savile Row tailor and the defendant was a minor doing undergraduate studies at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. The plaintiff sent his agent to the university to see if he can find people who might be interested in buying high-class clothing. Following that, he supplied to the defendant various articles of clothing that were valued at around £145. He supplied 11 fancy waistcoats in total.
The plaintiff then sued the minor for the payment of the price of clothing. The student claimed that the contract was not enforceable against him as he was a minor. During the time zone of this case law, people were considered minors until the age of 21.
Is the minor liable to pay for the price of clothing?
Can the property of the minor be attached for the payment?
The case of Nash v Inman resembles Section 68 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872. According to it, if a person supplies to a minor or to anyone who is dependent on him, any necessaries suited to his condition in life, then the person who has furnished the supplies is entitled to be reimbursed from the property of such minor/incapable person. The contract is enforceable under the law and the supplier can recover the price of supplies out of the property of the minor.
It is also important to know what constitutes the term “necessaries”.
Under the terms of law, contracts of “necessaries” will be valid only if the articles supplied to a minor are such that are deemed necessary for his actual requirements at the time of sale/delivery and are suited to his condition in life. This could include food, shelter, clothing, education and medical services.
They normally include articles that are required to maintain a person in the status and position of life in which he actually is. Thus, an item won’t be regarded as “necessaries” if a person is already sufficiently supplied with items of that kind.
In general, as far as goods and services are concerned, if they have a utility value (for example clothing) and they are suited to a person’s status & condition, then they are regarded as “necessaries”. But, if a minor is already well supplied with a particular set of articles, then they no longer remain necessary for him even if they hold utility value or are useful for him.
Moreover, in determining the matter of what constitutes “necessaries”, the Courts can examine the social status of the minor. Things that may not be regarded as necessities for a working-class child may be necessities for one from an affluent family. Thus, it may not be possible to make an exhaustive list of items that would constitute “necessaries”. It should be understood having regard to the social status of the minor concerned.
The Courts first evaluate whether the good or service in question falls under the definition of necessaries under law. Thereafter, they evaluate whether or not it is in fact a necessity as far as the minor before them is concerned.
One should note that as regards the payment for necessaries supplied to a minor, the amount can be claimed only out of the properties of the minor. He can’t be held personally liable for the same. That is, he cannot be asked to expend labor in exchange, nor can his income, if any, be attached. This applies to both goods supplied as well as services rendered to him.
Further, in this regard, the parent or guardian of the minor can also not be held liable unless such goods or services are supplied to the minor, being an agent of the parent or guardian. That is unless the minor has collected them on behalf of his parent or guardian, the parent or guardian cannot be held liable.
Judgement of the Court in Nash v Inman
The Court observed that the claim made by the plaintiff against the defendant for the price of the clothing could not be approved. Because the plaintiff could not establish that the goods supplied to the minor were “necessaries”.
There was enough evidence that the minor’s father was an architect and was thus in a good position with a town and country house. It could be said that the clothes supplied were suited to the minor’s condition in life and standard of living. However, the father of the defendant further proved that the defendant had adequate clothes of such type at the time when the plaintiff delivered the clothing.
Hence, the Court of Appeal held that although the goods supplied were suitable to the young man’s condition in life (since he was the son of an architect of good position), they could still not be regarded as “necessaries”. Because the father had given uncontradicted evidence that he already had a sufficient wardrobe of clothes. Hence, they could not be regarded as necessary for his actual requirements at that time.
Since, at the time of sale and delivery of such items, the minor was already adequately provided with clothes, not even a single coat was a necessity for him.
The Court held that waistcoats were not necessities – not because they were luxuries but because the minor already had an ample supply of them.
Thus, the contract was not binding. And the property of the minor could not be attached for the payment of the price of clothing.
The case of Nash v Inman shows that a minor cannot be bound by a contract of goods supplied where such goods are not necessaries for the minor. Moreover, the burden of proof is on the supplier or seller to prove that the goods supplied are necessaries for the minor.
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