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11.4 Cases

Consideration for an Option

Board of Control of Eastern Michigan University v. Burgess

206 N.W.2d 256 (Mich. 1973)

Burns, J.

On February 15, 1966, defendant signed a document which purported to grant to plaintiff a 60-day option to purchase defendant’s home. That document, which was drafted by plaintiff’s agent, acknowledged receipt by defendant of “One and no/100 ($1.00) Dollar and other valuable consideration.” Plaintiff concedes that neither the one dollar nor any other consideration was ever paid or even tendered to defendant. On April 14, 1966, plaintiff delivered to defendant written notice of its intention to exercise the option. On the closing date defendant rejected plaintiff’s tender of the purchase price. Thereupon, plaintiff commenced this action for specific performance.

At trial defendant claimed that the purported option was void for want of consideration, that any underlying offer by defendant had been revoked prior to acceptance by plaintiff, and that the agreed purchase price was the product of fraud and mutual mistake. The trial judge concluded that no fraud was involved, and that any mutual mistake was not material. He also held that defendant’s acknowledgment of receipt of consideration bars any subsequent contention to the contrary. Accordingly, the trial judge entered judgment for plaintiff.

Options for the purchase of land, if based on valid consideration, are contracts which may be specifically enforced. [Citations] Conversely, that which purports to be an option, but which is not based on valid consideration, is not a contract and will not be enforced. [Citations] One dollar is valid consideration for an option to purchase land, provided the dollar is paid or at least tendered. [Citations] In the instant case defendant received no consideration for the purported option of February 15, 1966.

A written acknowledgment of receipt of consideration merely creates a rebuttable presumption that consideration has, in fact, passed. Neither the parol evidence rule nor the doctrine of estoppel bars the presentation of evidence to contradict any such acknowledgment. [Citation]

It is our opinion that the document signed by defendant on February 15, 1966, is not an enforceable option, and that defendant is not barred from so asserting.

The trial court premised its holding to the contrary on Lawrence v. McCalmont…(1844). That case is significantly distinguishable from the instant case. Mr. Justice Story held that ‘(t)he guarantor acknowledged the receipt of one dollar, and is now estopped to deny it.’ However, in reliance upon the guaranty substantial credit had been extended to the guarantor’s sons. The guarantor had received everything she bargained for, save one dollar. In the instant case defendant claims that she never received any of the consideration promised her.

That which purports to be an option for the purchase of land, but which is not based on valid consideration, is a simple offer to sell the same land. [Citation] An option is a contract collateral to an offer to sell whereby the offer is made irrevocable for a specified period. [Citation] Ordinarily, an offer is revocable at the will of the offeror. Accordingly, a failure of consideration affects only the collateral contract to keep the offer open, not the underlying offer.

A simple offer may be revoked for any reason or for no reason by the offeror at any time prior to its acceptance by the offeree. [Citation] Thus, the question in this case becomes, ‘Did defendant effectively revoke her offer to sell before plaintiff accepted that offer?’…

Defendant testified that within hours of signing the purported option she telephoned plaintiff’s agent and informed him that she would not abide by the option unless the purchase price was increased. Defendant also testified that when plaintiff’s agent delivered to her on April 14, 1966, plaintiff’s notice of its intention to exercise the purported option, she told him that ‘the option was off’.

Plaintiff’s agent testified that defendant did not communicate to him any dissatisfaction until sometime in July, 1966.

If defendant is telling the truth, she effectively revoked her offer several weeks before plaintiff accepted that offer, and no contract of sale was created. If plaintiff’s agent is telling the truth, defendant’s offer was still open when plaintiff accepted that offer, and an enforceable contract was created. The trial judge thought it unnecessary to resolve this particular dispute. In light of our holding the dispute must be resolved.

An appellate court cannot assess the credibility of witnesses. We have neither seen nor heard them testify. [Citation] Accordingly, we remand this case to the trial court for additional findings of fact based on the record already before the court.…

Reversed and remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion. Costs to defendant.

Case Questions

  1. Why did the lower court decide the option given by the defendant was valid?
  2. Why did the appeals court find the option invalid?
  3. The case was remanded. On retrial, how could the plaintiff (the university) still win?
  4. It was not disputed that the defendant signed the purported option. Is it right that she should get out of it merely because she didn’t really get the $1.00?

Consideration: Preexisting Obligation

Denney v. Reppert

432 S.W.2d 647 (Ky. 1968)

R. L. Myre, Sr., Special Commissioner.

The sole question presented in this case is which of several claimants is entitled to an award for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of certain bank robbers.…

On June 12th or 13th, 1963, three armed men entered the First State Bank, Eubank, Kentucky, and with a display of arms and threats robbed the bank of over $30,000 [about $208,000 in 2010 dollars]. Later in the day they were apprehended by State Policemen Garret Godby, Johnny Simms and Tilford Reppert, placed under arrest, and the entire loot was recovered. Later all of the prisoners were convicted and Garret Godby, Johnny Simms and Tilford Reppert appeared as witnesses at the trial.

The First State Bank of Eubank was a member of the Kentucky Bankers Association which provided and advertised a reward of $500.00 for the arrest and conviction of each bank robber. Hence the outstanding reward for the three bank robbers was $1,500.00 [about $11,000 in 2010 dollars]. Many became claimants for the reward and the Kentucky State Bankers Association being unable to determine the merits of the claims for the reward asked the circuit court to determine the merits of the various claims and to adjudge who was entitled to receive the reward or share in it. All of the claimants were made defendants in the action.

At the time of the robbery the claimants Murrell Denney, Joyce Buis, Rebecca McCollum and Jewell Snyder were employees of the First State Bank of Eubank and came out of the grueling situation with great credit and glory. Each one of them deserves approbation and an accolade. They were vigilant in disclosing to the public and the peace officers the details of the crime, and in describing the culprits, and giving all the information that they possessed that would be useful in capturing the robbers. Undoubtedly, they performed a great service. It is in the evidence that the claimant Murrell Denney was conspicuous and energetic in his efforts to make known the robbery, to acquaint the officers as to the personal appearance of the criminals, and to give other pertinent facts.

The first question for determination is whether the employees of the robbed bank are eligible to receive or share in the reward. The great weight of authority answers in the negative. [Citation] states the rule thusly:

‘To the general rule that, when a reward is offered to the general public for the performance of some specified act, such reward may be claimed by any person who performs such act, is the exception of agents, employees and public officials who are acting within the scope of their employment or official duties. * * *.’…

At the time of the robbery the claimants Murrell Denney, Joyce Buis, Rebecca McCollum, and Jewell Snyder were employees of the First State Bank of Eubank. They were under duty to protect and conserve the resources and moneys of the bank, and safeguard every interest of the institution furnishing them employment. Each of these employees exhibited great courage, and cool bravery, in a time of stress and danger. The community and the county have recompensed them in commendation, admiration and high praise, and the world looks on them as heroes. But in making known the robbery and assisting in acquainting the public and the officers with details of the crime and with identification of the robbers, they performed a duty to the bank and the public, for which they cannot claim a reward.

The claims of Corbin Reynolds, Julia Reynolds, Alvie Reynolds and Gene Reynolds also must fail. According to their statements they gave valuable information to the arresting officers. However, they did not follow the procedure as set forth in the offer of reward in that they never filed a claim with the Kentucky Bankers Association. It is well established that a claimant of a reward must comply with the terms and conditions of the offer of reward. [Citation]

State Policemen Garret Godby, Johnny Simms and Tilford Reppert made the arrest of the bank robbers and captured the stolen money. All participated in the prosecution. At the time of the arrest, it was the duty of the state policemen to apprehend the criminals. Under the law they cannot claim or share in the reward and they are interposing no claim to it.

This leaves the defendant, Tilford Reppert the sole eligible claimant. The record shows that at the time of the arrest he was a deputy sheriff in Rockcastle County, but the arrest and recovery of the stolen money took place in Pulaski County. He was out of his jurisdiction, and was thus under no legal duty to make the arrest, and is thus eligible to claim and receive the reward. In [Citation] it was said:

‘It is * * * well established that a public officer with the authority of the law to make an arrest may accept an offer of reward or compensation for acts or services performed outside of his bailiwick or not within the scope of his official duties. * * *.’…

It is manifest from the record that Tilford Reppert is the only claimant qualified and eligible to receive the reward. Therefore, it is the judgment of the circuit court that he is entitled to receive payment of the $1,500.00 reward now deposited with the Clerk of this Court.

The judgment is affirmed.

Case Questions

  1. Why did the Bankers Association put the resolution of this matter into the court’s hands?
  2. Several claimants came forward for the reward; only one person got it. What was the difference between the person who got the reward and those who did not?

Consideration: Required for Contract Modification

Gross v. Diehl Specialties International, Inc.

776 S.W.2d 879 (Missouri Ct. App. 1989)

Smith, J.

Plaintiff appeals from a jury verdict and resultant judgment for defendant in a breach of employment contract case.…

Plaintiff was employed under a fifteen year employment contract originally executed in 1977 between plaintiff and defendant. Defendant, at that time called Dairy Specialties, Inc., was a company in the business of formulating ingredients to produce non-dairy products for use by customers allergic to cow’s milk. Plaintiff successfully formulated [Vitamite]…for that usage.

Thereafter, on August 24, 1977, plaintiff and defendant corporation entered into an employment contract employing plaintiff as general manager of defendant for fifteen years. Compensation was established at $14,400 annually plus cost of living increases. In addition, when 10% of defendant’s gross profits exceeded the annual salary, plaintiff would receive an additional amount of compensation equal to the difference between his compensation and 10% of the gross profits for such year. On top of that plaintiff was to receive a royalty for the use of each of his inventions and formulae of 1% of the selling price of all of the products produced by defendant using one or more of plaintiff’s inventions or formulae during the term of the agreement. That amount was increased to 2% of the selling price following the term of the agreement. The contract further provided that during the term of the agreement the inventions and formulae would be owned equally by plaintiff and defendant and that following the term of the agreement the ownership would revert to plaintiff. During the term of the agreement defendant had exclusive rights to use of the inventions and formulae and after the term of agreement a non-exclusive right of use.

At the time of the execution of the contract, sales had risen from virtually nothing in 1976 to $750,000 annually from sales of Vitamite and a chocolate flavored product formulated by plaintiff called Chocolite. [Dairy’s owner] was in declining health and in 1982 desired to sell his company. At that time yearly sales were $7,500,000. [Owner] sold the company to the Diehl family enterprises for 3 million dollars.

Prior to sale Diehl insisted that a new contract between plaintiff and defendant be executed or Diehl would substantially reduce the amount to be paid for [the company]. A new contract was executed August 24, 1982. It reduced the expressed term of the contract to 10 years, which provided the same expiration date as the prior contract. It maintained the same base salary of $14,400 effective September 1982, thereby eliminating any cost of living increases incurred since the original contract. The 10% of gross profit provision remained the same. The new contract provided that plaintiff’s inventions and formula were exclusively owned by defendant during the term of the contract and after its termination. The 1% royalty during the term of the agreement remained the same, but no royalties were provided for after the term of the agreement. No other changes were made in the agreement. Plaintiff received no compensation for executing the new contract. He was not a party to the sale of the company by [Owner] and received nothing tangible from that sale.

After the sale plaintiff was given the title and responsibilities of president of defendant with additional duties but no additional compensation. In 1983 and 1984 the business of the company declined severely and in October 1984, plaintiff’s employment with defendant was terminated by defendant. This suit followed.…

We turn now to the court’s holding that the 1982 agreement was the operative contract. Plaintiff contends this holding is erroneous because there existed no consideration for the 1982 agreement. We agree. A modification of a contract constitutes the making of a new contract and such new contract must be supported by consideration. [Citation] Where a contract has not been fully performed at the time of the new agreement, the substitution of a new provision, resulting in a modification of the obligations on both sides, for a provision in the old contract still unperformed is sufficient consideration for the new contract. While consideration may consist of either a detriment to the promisee or a benefit to the promisor, a promise to carry out an already existing contractual duty does not constitute consideration. [Citation]

Under the 1982 contract defendant assumed no detriment it did not already have. The term of the contract expired on the same date under both contracts. Defendant undertook no greater obligations than it already had. Plaintiff on the other hand received less than he had under the original contract. His base pay was reduced back to its amount in 1977 despite the provision in the 1977 contract for cost of living adjustments. He lost his equal ownership in his formulae during the term of the agreement and his exclusive ownership after the termination of the agreement. He lost all royalties after termination of the agreement and the right to use and license the formulae subject to defendant’s right to non-exclusive use upon payment of royalties. In exchange for nothing, defendant acquired exclusive ownership of the formulae during and after the agreement, eliminated royalties after the agreement terminated, turned its non-exclusive use after termination into exclusive use and control, and achieved a reduction in plaintiff’s base salary. Defendant did no more than promise to carry out an already existing contractual duty. There was no consideration for the 1982 agreement.

Defendant asserts that consideration flowed to plaintiff because the purchase of defendant by the Diehls might not have occurred without the agreement and the purchase provided plaintiff with continued employment and a financially viable employer. There is no evidence to support this contention. Plaintiff had continued employment with the same employer under the 1977 agreement. Nothing in the 1982 agreement provided for any additional financial protection to plaintiff. The essence of defendant’s position is that [the owner] received more from his sale of the company because of the new agreement than he would have without it. We have difficulty converting [the owner’s] windfall into a benefit to plaintiff.

[Remanded to determine how much plaintiff should receive.]

Case Questions

  1. Why did the court determine that Plaintiff’s postemployment benefits should revert to those in his original contract instead being limited to those in the modified contract?
  2. What argument did Defendant make as to why the terms of the modified contract should be valid?