Holbrook owned a walled tulip garden which had been the subject of frequent burglaries. In an attempt to capture the burglar, as attested by witnesses, he set a spring gun. This gun discharged when tripped by Bird, a neighbor who was attempting to retrieve a lost peafowl, causing serious injuries. Bird sued for battery.
Questions of law
To what lengths may a property owner go to protect his property? To what standard should passive or active measures be held? Should Holbrook have given notice or warning of the spring gun? Did it matter that Holbrook intended to injure intruders rather than merely deterring them?
The court held that Holbrook’s intention to injure, rather than deter, was a strong element in finding for Bird. Although the court reviewed multiple prior cases, it then divested itself of them, stating:
“We want no authority in a case like the present; we put it on the principle that it is inhuman to catch a man by means which may maim him or endanger his life, and, as far as human means can go, it is the object of English law to uphold humanity.”
The court did not go so far as to say that a spring gun could not be used, but did state that notice ought to be given when such means of protection are used. It also noted that Bird’s status as a mere trespasser rather than a burglar affected Holbrook’s liability, stating, “if the Defendant had been present, he would not have been authorized even in taking him into custody, and no man can do indirectly that which he is forbidden to do directly.” Because Holbrook intended to cause serious bodily harm to trespassers, he was responsible for whatever was caused indirectly.
Oregon resident J. H. Mitchell brought a suit in state district court against Marcus Neff, a nonresident of Oregon, using publication service, and obtained a default judgment. Neff owned property in Oregon, and Mitchell used a writ of execution from his default judgment to auction the property, then purchased it himself. He later sold the property to Sylvester Pennoyer.
Nine years later, Neff sued Pennoyer in federal court under diversity jurisdiction for eviction. Neff prevailed in the trial court, as the judge pointed to irregularities in Mitchell’s service. Pennoyer appealed to SCOTUS.
Questions of law
What are the limits of state sovereignty? Should one state’s service requirements apply to a defendant outside that state who owns property there? What remedy does a plaintiff have for a person who is outside of the state? Does it matter when property is attached? What are the limitations of the full faith and credit clause?
In a lengthy opinion, the justices found for Neff. They determined that the sovereignty of a state does not extend beyond its borders, except insofar as a party outside that state has contracted in some way within that state. An action in rem, against property, can prevail against the property alone, but not against a person who has not been personally served; while an action in personam, against the person, is without any validity unless service has been completed upon him or his appearance.
The court decided that if Mitchell had attached the property and proceeded in rem against the property, he could have legally prevailed, as an owner of property is ordinarily expected to retain enough control over that property to be aware that it is attached. The attempt to bring the suit in personam, against Neff directly, was an attempt to obtain a default judgment enforceable against any property owned by Neff, and this was invalid without personal service on Neff.
Plaintiff, a real estate agent, was made aware of a bonus incentive program offered by defendant, a real estate brokerage and her employer, in which employees who remained with the firm through the end of the calendar year and met certain performance requirements. After plaintiff had remained with the firm through the first nine months of the year and met the performance requirements (receiving a nominal payment toward the bonus), defendant announced an alteration of the terms of the bonus incentive program, stating that the bonus would only be paid to employees who remained with the company through March of the following year. Plaintiff remained with the firm through the end of the year and then accepted another position the following January. Plaintiff demanded she receive the bonus due under the original incentive program and the defendant refused, after which suit was brought. The jury returned a verdict of $24,748.89, which was appealed.
Rules of law
A unilateral contract is formed when an offer may by satisfied only by performance, rather than by a reciprocal promise.
Once extended, an offer for unilateral contract may not be revoked if substantial performance has been completed.
Performance is considered substantial if it contemplates timely completion of performance in accordance with the terms of the offer.
Defendant argued that the trial court erred in not granting motion for directed verdict, claiming that plaintiff had not made a case for breach of the bonus agreement. Defendant claimed a lack of acceptance and a lack of consideration.
Plaintiff argued that she remained with defendant’s brokerage and performed at a high level, earning enough commissions to meet the performance requirements of the bonus incentive program, due to the existence of the offer. She argued that she had stayed with the brokerage for nine months of the year and that her partial performance was recognized by the defendant, as evidenced by the partial prepayment of the bonus. She argued that because she had already completed substantial performance, defendant lost the power to revoke the original offer and was thereby bound to its terms.
The court affirmed the jury’s finding and award. Particularly, they found that the partial but substantial performance of the offer’s requirements prevented the defendant from revoking the original offer, as this performance was sufficient to constitute acceptance.
Defendant, an insane person, was being cared for by plaintiff, who was aware of defendant’s mental state. During an episode, defendant struck plaintiff on the head, causing serious injuries. The trial court refused to enter a directed verdict for the defendant; defendant appealed.
Questions of law
Can a mentally ill or deranged person form the requisite intent to commit battery? Does a caretaker for a deranged person assume the risk of injury?
The court entered a judgment for the plaintiff. The court found that the caretaker did not consent or assume the risk, and held that the defendant “was capable of entertaining and…did entertain an intent to strike and to injure the plaintiff and that she acted upon that intent.” It reviewed, but ignored, concerns that the single-intent formulation of tort liability was too strict or archaic. It also discussed public policy grounds for such a view, arguing that an insane person ought to be required to pay for damages done, if he is able.
Defendant arranged and promoted an illegal prizefight in which the plaintiff was a willing participant. The plaintiff suffered injuries and sued defendant and his opponent, though failed to serve his opponent. Dismissed by trial court.
Questions of law
Can a third party who encourages or arranges for injury to another be held liable for battery? Does the consent of the victim have any effect? Is the legality of a prize fight an element?
The court reversed, holding that the illegality of the fight promotion rendered the defendant promoter liable for plaintiff’s injuries regardless of whether the plaintiff could have successfully sued his opponent. The court invoked reference to strict liability and cited numerous statutes and legislative declarations concerning the proper management and administration of legal prize fights. Because the fight was illegal, the question of consent or assumption of risk was moot.
Plaintiff found a lost hunting dog wandering as a stray and took it in, posting notices announcing its discovery and notifying authorities. It came to be regarded as a family pet. A year later, defendant owner located the dog and retrieved it. Plaintiff sued for replevin and trial court found for plaintiff. Defendant appealed.
What Vermont property laws apply to a lost family pet? Does the passage of time affect the original owner’s rights? Should courts distinguish between pets and livestock? Does a family law element invoke in dealing with pets? Should courts use a public interest argument in adjudicating lost pet disputes? Is this an instance of conversion?
The appellate court affirmed, finding that VT’s lost livestock statute did not directly apply (making plaintiff’s imperfect compliance therewith moot) and determining that public interest would be best served by allowing plaintiff to keep the dog.
Defendant argued he was entitled to the return of the dog as he was the owner and that plaintiff had not complied with the “lost beast” statute requiring a specific set of notices and final disposition. The court considered whether a family law analogue could apply, with reasoning made according to the best interests of the dog. The court found that neither the livestock rule nor the family law approach applied well: the livestock rule was intended to apply with animals of significant agrarian value, and evaluating the best interest of the dog was broadly imperfect.
The court held that a substantial intent to provide notice by the plaintiff before the plaintiff became the owner served the common good. The court held that allowing a finder who cares for a dog to eventually keep it would encourage rather than discourage such actions. The plaintiff’s argument from conversion was also held as inapplicable, as a family pet is property only in a qualified sense.
Plaintiff conveyed an offer of purchase of real property to a defendant-seller which contained a time limit for acceptance. Defendant-seller modified the terms of the offer and signed it, then returned it for acceptance by plaintiff. Plaintiff neither accepted nor rejected. Thereafter, defendant seller entered a contract with a third party (who was later joined as another plaintiff) for the sale of the property. After learning of this sale, but before the time limit conveyed in plaintiff’s original offer, plaintiff executed defendant’s counteroffer and made an earnest deposit.
Both the initial plaintiff-offeror and the third-party plaintiff sued for specific performance. Trial court granted the third-party plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and specific performance of that third-party contract. Initial plaintiff-offeror appealed and it was affirmed, and that affirmation was appealed on petition.
Rules of law
An offer may contain a time limit, which causes that offer to automatically revoke upon expiration. The offeror is the creator of the offer and any such limit.
An option is a separate contract, supported by consideration, in which an independent offer is guaranteed to remain open and exclusive for a certain period.
A conditional or modified acceptance is a rejection of the initial offer and creates a counteroffer.
Plaintiff argued that the counteroffer had left the property “off the market” until the time specified in the original offer, in essence creating an option on the property. Both defendant seller and the third-party plaintiff argued that the counteroffer revoked the original offer, with its time limit, and represented a new offer which was revocable; they argued this new offer was revoked when the new contract was entered and the plaintiff was notified of the same.
The court modified and affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, holding for the defendant and third-party plaintiff. They found that the time limit in the original offer did not carry over into the counteroffer conveyed by the conditional acceptance, and that no option existed because the defendant had never intended to convey an option (and no consideration existed to support such a contract). Thus, the plaintiff’s attempts to accept the counteroffer after learning of the actual sale was fruitless, as their power of acceptance had already been revoked.
Defendant posted an advertisement for the sale of land, to which plaintiff replied. Plaintiff and defendant exchanged letters concerning the sale of the land, culminating in the plaintiff’s opening of an escrow account and initial deposit. In an intervening period, defendant sold the land to a third party. Plaintiff sued for specific performance or damages, and the trial court ruled in favor of defendant, arguing that plaintiff did not promptly accept defendant’s offer. Plaintiff appealed.
Rules of law
In order for a contract to be entered into by offer and acceptance, the offer must be clear and unambiguous, not conditioned on any further assent and not merely an invitation to further negotiation.
The court argued that contrary to the findings of the trial judge, the defendant had never extended any offer at all, and had merely extended an invitation to further negotiation, conditioned on further assent and additional specifications. This was based on the phrasing and the urging of haste in the letter. Accordingly, no offer existed and no acceptance could thereby issue.
The court affirmed, though for a different reason, finding for the defendant.
Plaintiff entered into a contract with defendant for the latter to construct a house. The contract specified that the house should be built according to a series of specifications drafted by plaintiff’s attorney. Later, defendant reneged, claiming it had not approved the specifications and that the requests of plaintiff were onerous. The trial judge held that if defendant had not contemplated the specifications, no meeting of the minds had taken place, and accordingly there was no contract.
Rules of law
The manifestation of mutual intent to enter the contract is the execution of the contract, not the “secret intent” of the parties thereto. An objective test must be used, based on how a reasonable person would interpret the meaning of the written agreement.
Although the trial judge had held that no contract existed due to a lack of the meeting of the minds, the court argued instead that the contract is not dependent on any “secret intent” of the parties thereto, but on the actual terms of the contract, provided that the contract is entered into freely and without coercion or fraud. To restrict the terms of a contract to a subjective intent would make it impossible to enforce contracts at all.
The court reversed, and found damages for the plaintiff in the amount of excess costs required for another builder to complete the building according to the contract specifications.
The plaintiff acquired a distinctive parrot which the defendant asserted had escaped from its cage. The defendant retrieved the parrot from the defendant, claiming ownership, and the plaintiff sued for its return (action in replevin).
How do you determine the identity of an animal? Is the true owner of lost property entitled to its return? Does this change when dealing with a wild animal?
The court found that the parrot was indeed the lost parrot and dismissed.
The court made a finding of fact, on evidence, that the parrot was indeed the same as the one which escaped from the Defendant. An owner of lost property is entitled to its return. However, in dealing with a wild animal (ferae naturae), the loss of the property extinguishes the property rights of the original owner. In this case, the parrot was held to be domesticated, not wild, and so its return was right and the plaintiff’s action was without merit.