Ricketts v. Scothorn – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Ricketts v. Scothorn, 57 Neb. 51 (1898).
The defendant (D) is the estate of J. C. Ricketts, grandfather of the plaintiff (P) Katie Scothorn.
In May 1891 J. C. Ricketts gave his granddaughter Katie Scothorn a promissory note for $2,000 payment on demand with 6% interest per annum. The grandfather stated that none of his other grandchildren worked and she would not have to work either. The promise was not given on condition that she stop working, nor were there any other stated conditions.
Scothorn left her employment in reliance on Ricketts’ promise. In September 1892 she obtained a new job as a bookkeeper with Ricketts’ knowledge and assistance. Within the next two years he paid one year’s interest on the note and told his daughter that he would like to pay the plaintiff the principal upon selling his farm in Ohio.
Ricketts died in June 1894 and the executor of his estate refused payment, claiming that Ricketts’ promise lacked consideration and was therefore a gratuity and not an enforceable promise. The trial court found in favor of Scothorn and Ricketts’ estate appealed.
- Under what circumstances, if any, can a promise given without consideration create a binding and enforceable contract?
Holding and Rule
- Although a promise given without consideration ordinarily does not create a binding contract, the doctrine of promissory estoppel prevents a promisee from using lack of consideration as a defense to breach of contract. Consequently, a promise can be enforced even though it was given without consideration if the promisee has reasonably relied on the promise to her detriment.
Here, the court considered the magnitude of Scothorn’s good faith reliance on her grandfather’s promise and held that her actions were consistent with that reliance and therefore constituted a sufficient consideration.