Allegheny College v. National Chautauqua County Bank – Case Brief
Allegheny College v. National Chautauqua County Bank, 246 N.Y. 369, 159 N.E. 173 (1927).
Facts: Mary Johnston pledged $5,000 payable 30 days after her death if Allegheny College (P) would use it to establish a memorial in her name. One thousand dollars of Johnston’s pledge was paid while she was still alive. Johnston later repudiated her promise and Allegheny College brought this action against the executor of her estate, National Chautauqua County Bank (D). P appealed the trial court’s ruling that the obligation was invalid.
Issues: 1) Can a minor task that one is not otherwise obliged to do constitute valid consideration? 2) Can promissory estoppel be applied when there is consideration? 3) Is a charitable subscription enforceable in the absence of consideration? 4) Must a court measure the extent of the benefit to the promissor or the detriment to the promisee implicit in any duty assumed?
Holding and Rule (Cardozo): 1) Yes. A minor task that one is not otherwise obliged to do can constitute valid consideration. 2) No. Promissory estoppel cannot be applied when there is consideration. 3) Yes. Charitable subscriptions are enforceable in the absence of consideration if promissory estoppel applies. 4) No. A court need not measure the extent of the benefit to the promissor or the detriment to the promisee implicit in any duty assumed.
Johnston wished to have a memorial to perpetuate her name and imposed a condition on her gift that it be known as the Mary Yates Johnston Memorial Fund. The court held that the moment P accepted the $1,000, there was an assumption of a duty. That duty to perpetuate the name of Mary was sufficient to render the subscription enforceable within the rules that define consideration for a promise regarding charitable subscriptions.
The court held that the assumption of the duty created a bilateral agreement. A bilateral agreement may exist though one of the mutual promises is implied in fact from conduct. To determine whether words of condition in a promise indicate a request for consideration or state a mere condition in a gratuitous promise, an aid is to determine whether the happening of the condition will be a benefit to the promissor. The court held that in this case Johnston’s request of a memorial was a benefit to the promissor and was requested as consideration.
Disposition: Judgment reversed.
Dissent (Kellogg): Johnston proposed to exchange her offer of a donation in return for acts to be performed. There was never any acceptance of the offer and therefore no contract because the acts requested have never been performed. The donation was not to take effect until after the death of the donor, and by her death her offer was withdrawn.
Notes: Cardozo defines consideration as a legal detriment to the promisee, the detriment must induce the promise, and the promise must induce the detriment.