Parker v Clark

Parker v Clark [1960]: A Quick Case Brief

Case name & citation: Parker v Clark [1960] 1 WLR 286

Year of the case: 1960

Jurisdiction: English Contract law case, England and Wales

Learned Judge: Devlin J.

Area of law: Intention to create legal relations

What is the case about?

The case of Parker v. Clark illustrates that even though it is often believed that domestic agreements do not constitute legally binding contracts, this presumption may at times be overturned by the facts.

Facts of the case (Parker v Clark)

Two couples were family relatives. Mrs. Parker was the niece of Mrs. Clark.

Mr. and Mrs. Clark made a request to Mr. and Mrs. Parker. The elderly couple (the Clarks) lived in a huge house and asked the Parkers to share it, making very clear and comprehensive arrangements about who would pay which bills and what would happen to their property after they died.

The Parkers were fine with the idea but expressed their concern that moving with them would mean selling their own house. To this, the Clarks specifically stated in a letter that if the Parkers would start living with them, the former would give the latter a share of their estate in the will.

Based on this correspondence, Mr. and Mrs. Parker sold their property and started to live with the Clarks.

Later a dispute arose between the two couples. The elderly couple repudiated the agreement and asked the Parkers to leave the house and stay somewhere else.

The Parkers sued for breach of contract and thus, claimed damages.

Issue raised

Whether the agreement between the Clarks and the Parkers was a valid contract?

The decision of the Court in “Parker v Clark”

The decision was taken in favour of the Parkers.

The Court determined that the arrangement was a binding contract, especially because the Parkers had taken such a “dramatic and irrevocable step” of selling their own house on assurance of the commitment made by the Clarks. Had the Clarks not committed to giving a share of their property in the will, the Parkers would not have sold all that they had. And, the denial of the Clarks to allow them to stay would cause an undue burden on the Parkers.

Therefore, in light of the seriousness of the consequences on the lives of the affected parties, the Court declared it to be a legally binding contract. It was held that the agreement was contractual in nature and was intended to create legal relations.

Ratio decidendi (the rationale for the decision)

The Clarks’ letter to the Parkers, in which the Clarks stated their desire to give the Parkers a portion of their property, constituted a lawful offer, and the language used in the letters exchanged between the Parkers and Clarks suggested that both parties intended to establish legal connections.

Further, the Clarks’ letter also satisfied Section 40(1) of the Law of Property Act, 1925 and it constituted a sufficient memorandum of the contract.

A similar case to this

You may also want to refer to another case of Wakeling v Ripley (1951) on similar grounds. The defendant (Ripley) wrote a letter to his sister (Wakeling) in England and requested that she and her husband relocate to Sydney, Australia in order to care for him. Ripley promised that they could live rent-free and that he would leave his house to them in his will. The plaintiffs made a number of sacrifices to move to Australia. Later, misunderstandings arose between the two parties and the defendant sold his house and altered his will to disinherit the plaintiffs.

According to the Court, sufficient evidence was found to believe that the parties had made a definite and binding contract. The correspondence between the parties regarding the arrangements for relocation to Sydney was such that it demonstrated their intention to be legally bound. Read the full case here.

Again, the presumption that domestic agreements do not entail legal relations was rebutted in this case.

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