Mills v. Wyman – Case Brief

Mills v. Wyman, 20 Mass. 207 (Mass. 1825).

Facts: Levi Wyman returned from a voyage at sea and fell sick among strangers. Mills (P) gave Levi Wyman shelter and comfort until he died. After Levi’s death his father Wyman (D) wrote to Mills and told him he would pay all of the expenses for the care of his son. Wyman later refused to pay and Mills sued. At trial the court directed a non-suit in favor of D because there was no consideration. P appealed.

Is a moral obligation sufficient consideration to make a promise enforceable? Is past consideration sufficient consideration to make a promise enforceable?

Holding and Rule: No and no. The court stated that moral obligation is sufficient consideration in some cases but not under these facts. Moral obligation is sufficient consideration under the following circumstances: debts barred by the statute of limitations, debts incurred by infants, and debts of bankrupts. In such cases, enforcing promises based on preexisting equitable obligations may be enforced because they merely remove an impediment created by the law to enforce debts that are due, but which public policy protects debtors from being compelled to pay.

In this case, however, the services provided to D’s son were not bestowed at his request. The son had left his father’s family and was not under D’s care when he died. The court held that the general position that moral obligation is a sufficient consideration for an express promise is to be limited in its application to cases where at some time or other a good or valuable consideration has existed.

Disposition: Affirmed.

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