Mills v. Wyman - Case Summary

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 22nd Feb 2024
Wordcount: 558 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: Landmark case that helped establish the principle of consideration in contract law.


In 1825, Levi Wyman, a 25-year-old seafarer, fell ill while away from his home. A stranger named Samuel Mills found him sick and helpless, and decided to care for Wyman. After Wyman recovered, his father, Daniel Wyman, wrote a letter to Mills thanking him for his kindness and promising to pay for the expenses incurred. However, Daniel Wyman later refused to fulfil his promise arguing that there was no legal obligation for him to do so.


The primary issue in this case was whether a moral obligation constitutes sufficient consideration to form a legally-binding contract. This was an important notch of contention as it directly tied to the establishment and understanding of consideration, one of the key elements of contract formation.

Beyond this, the case raised questions about the validity of a contract entered into based on past action, and the enforceability of promises made out of moral duty.



The decision in Mills v. Wyman significantly shaped the element of consideration in common law jurisdictions. It set a precedent that moral obligations are insufficient to constitute a enforceable contract and that consideration must be a bargained-for exchange.

Additionally, this case distinguished past consideration from valid consideration in the contract law. It was notable in reinforcing the notion that 'past consideration is no consideration' under the contract law.


The court ruled in favour of Wyman, holding that a moral obligation does not constitute sufficient consideration to form a legally binding contract. The court reasoned that consideration must be something of value given or promised in exchange of a promise, which Mills never received. Furthermore, Daniel Wyman's promise was based on past actions, which factually cannot be bargained for, indicating a lack of present consideration.


  • Mellish, L.(1825) 'Report of Mills v. Wyman', Massachusetts Reports, 20, pp. 207.
  • Knapp, C., Crystal, N. and Prince, H. (2016) Problems in Contract Law: Cases and Materials, 8th edn., Wolters Kluwer Law & Business.

Journalist Brief

In 1825, a case occurred where a man named Samuel Mills helped a sick seafarer, Levi Wyman. After the young man recovered, his father, Daniel Wyman, promised to reimburse Mills, but later refused. The court decided that a promise based on moral obligation, but without any exchange of value, fails to create a legally binding contract. This notable case helped to establish the concept of consideration - the idea that there has to be an exchange of value in a contract.


What is the main principle that Mills v. Wyman establishes?

Answer: It establishes that moral obligation does not provide sufficient consideration to form a legally binding contract.

What role does this case play in the theory of consideration?

Answer: It helps define the nature of valid consideration in contract law and asserts that past consideration due to moral obligations is insufficient to establish an enforceable contract.

Why did the court rule in favour of Wyman?

Answer: The court ruled that there was no consideration given in return of the promise made by Daniel Wyman because the act of supporting his son was a past action, and therefore, could not be used as valid consideration for a contract.

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