The Law School Authority

Pym v. Campbell Case Brief

Summary of Pym v. Campbell
Queen’s Bench, ENG [1856]

Relevant Facts: Pl John Pym invented a “crushing, washing, and amalgamating machine,” which he solicited the sale of 1/8 interest in the benefits to accrue from future sales.  At trial the Pl produced a document, which was signed by both Pl and Df, that outlined the terms of the agreement. A meeting was set for two engineers to examine the machine for approval.  One approved but the other did not.  The Df did not honor the written agreement and the pl filed suit  claiming a breach of contract.  Trial judge informed the jury that a condition precedent to formation could be required before an agreement was determined to be valid.

Legal Issue(s): Whether  a condition precedent to the agreement, the second engineer’s approval,

invalidated a written agreement?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Jury trial for the df, Pl obtained rule nisi for a new trial; Df showed cause, judgment affirmed, rule discharged.

Law or Rule(s): Evidence to vary the terms of an agreement in writing is not admissible; but evidence to show that there is not an agreement at all is admissible.

Court Rationale: Evidence has shown that the written agreement was conditional.  The jury’s finding that the writing was signed on the terms that it was to be an agreement if Abernethie approved of the invention, and not otherwise.  The signed paper was never intended to be the record of the terms of the agreement.  Before the paper was signed it was explained t oteh Pl that the Df did not intend the paper to be an agreement until Abernethie had been consulted, and approved.  The Pl assented to this and received the writing on those terms.  There was no agreement.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The terms were reduced to writing and the Df signed the instrument; the writing is silent as to whether the agreement is dependent upon a condition precedent.

Defendant’s Argument: The Dfs have shown that the writing was signed on the terms that it should be merely void until a condition was fulfilled; there was no contract until then.

* Note – Exception when parties agreed not to enter into an enforceable agreement if some other contingency occurs.  Proof of such a condition precedent to formation is admissible, not performance which is excluded.

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