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Contracts: The Legal Duty Rule

There’s an important rule in contract law and that’s the legal duty rule. The legal duty rule says that a promise to perform what is already a legal duty isn’t consideration. For example, in Slattery v. Wells Fargo Armored Service Corp. an armored car was robbed. The plaintiff was a polygraph operator and discovered that a man he was testing for a matter unrelated to the robbery was the guilty party. He tried to recover the reward, but the court said that since he was working for the Sheriff’s Department at the time, he had a duty to report his findings.

An important case that illustrates the legal duty rule with contracts is Lingenfelder v. Wainwright Brewery. Here, an architect (the plaintiff was the plaintiff’s executor) was supposed to design a brewery for the defendant, but stopped work when another company was awarded a freezer contract that he wanted for his own company. The defendant offered to pay him commission in exchange for his continued work and the architect agreed. Wainwright, however, didn’t pay and the plaintiff sued. The court held that the architect was already under contract to design and build the brewery so Wainwright’s promise to pay for what he was already supposed to do was not consideration.  

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January 30, 2007 - Posted by | Contracts

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