November 22, 2005
Speaking of Allegheny . . .
As noted in this post, today is the 78th anniversary of Judge Cardozo's decision in Allegheny College v. National Chautauqua County Bank, 246 N.Y. 369 (1927). Coincidentally, today, the New York Court of Appeals issued a decision in Matter of the Estate of Wirth. Matter of the Estate of Wirth was described in a previous post because it calls to mind Allegheny College -- it addresses whether a promise to pledge money to a Pennsylvania college is enforceable. (Image source: Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York portrait gallery ).
Today, the New York Court of Appeals held that the pledge was enforceable. The result was consistent with Allegheny College, but a statute enacted that same year drove the court's reasoning. The New York court recognized that Pennsylvania's Uniform Written Obligations Act, enacted in 1927, provided that a written promise is not unenforceable for lack of consideration if the writing contains an additional, express statement by the signer that he intends to be bound. In a unanimous memorandum, the court held:
By the plain terms of the statute, Wirth's pledge was not "invalid or unenforceable for lack of consideration," and Wirth's estate has no other defense to Drexel's claim. The estate argues that there was a "failure" rather than a "lack" of consideration, but this argument rests only on confusion. A "failure of consideration" means a failure to render the performance the parties agreed on (citation to Corbin omitted). In this case, there is no basis for asserting that Drexel failed to render any required performance.
Most interesting is not the reasoning or the result, but the rich history: Allegheny College is listed in the New York court's memorandum as amicus curiae.
[Meredith R. Miller]
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