The Law School Authority

White v. Corlies and Tift Case Brief

Summary of White v. Corlies & Tift
Court of Appeals of New York, 1871.

Facts: Defendants (D) sent specifications to plaintiff (P) for work on an office building and asked P to give them an estimate.  P left the estimate with D. D wrote to P stating that P can start work. P did not send any response to D’s note but the next day, P commenced a performance by purchase of lumber and beginning the work thereon.  Then P received the countermand from D.

Procedure: Trial judge informed the jury: “From the contents of this note which the plaintiff received, was it his duty to go down to Defendants to give notice of assent before commencing the work?” Jury found for the P.

Issue: Did the trial ct. err by giving this instruction?

Holding: Yes

Rationale: P had to communicate his assent in some reasonable fashion to D before making D bound to the offer.  According to the Ct.: “…a mental determination not indicated by speech, or put in course of indication by act to the other party, is not an acceptance which will bind the other.  Nor does an act, which in itself, is no indication of an acceptance, become such, because accompanied by an unevinced mental determination.”  Here P bought the lumber and started working on it. Since he was a carpenter, it was part of his regular work to conduct such actions.  These actions did not in any way communicate his assent to D.  Reversed.

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