Dohrmann v Swaney


Plaintiff Dohrmann sued the defendant Swaney, executor of the estate of his neighbor Mrs. Rogers, for damages under a purported contract. Mrs. Rogers had, in the contract, agreed to give him her apartment and $4 million for “past and future services” and in exchange for “incorporating” her last name into the names of his children. The trial court granted summary judgment against plaintiff, who appealed.

Rules of law

A contract requires consideration, and the question of whether consideration is sufficient is a matter of law. Where the amount of consideration is so grossly inadequate as to shock the conscience of the court, the contract will fail. When there is a gross inadequacy of consideration, the relative fairness of the contract and circumstances of unequal bargaining power may be considered in determining whether to set aside the contract.


Plaintiff asserted that perpetuating Mrs. Rogers’ name by adding it to those of his children was bargained-for and sought consideration. He also said that the court did not have grounds to examine the relative value of consideration, only to determine whether it exists. The Estate argued that the contract was entered into fraudulently and that because the name was not added as a surname, it did not meet the goal of perpetuating her name.


The court affirmed, finding that not only was the consideration grossly inadequate, but it was in a sense nonexistent, since the only supposed benefit, changing the children’s names, was not enforceable against them since they could freely change their names in the future. There was also substantial unfairness associated with the formation of the contract and had to be set aside.

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