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Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Contracts Limerick of the Week: Brackenbury v. Hodgkin

I promised last week that I would discuss Brackenbury v. Hodgkin, 102 A.2d 106 (1917), and provide a companion Limerick to go with Fitzpatrick v. Michael.  In that case, I suggested that specific performance might have led the parties to a reasonable settlement of their dispute.  Ms. Fitzpatrick had been serving as Mr. Michael’s live-in nurse and caretaker.  Apparently induced by his grasping, conniving relatives to oust her, Mr. Michael terminated the relationship.  The court felt uncomfortable ordering two people to live together.  I think the court could have done so confident in the knowledge that they would quickly come to an agreement that would give Ms. Fitzpatrick at least a partial benefit of the bargain but would not involve court-supervised cohabitation.

Witch But the next case suggests at least one reason why law professors might make lousy judges.   People have this nasty habit of not always behaving as rational choice theory suggests they should.  Sarah Hodgkin (pictured), an aging widow, had six children, none of whom were willing to look after her.   Her one daughter agreed to do so in return for income from the farm on which Sarah lived, use of the household goods and ownership after the property after Sarah’s demise.  So, the Brackenbury family moved from Independence, Missouri to the outskirts of Lewiston, Maine.

It took all of two weeks before “the relations between the parties grew most disagreeable,” and Sarah sought to get out of her promise by transferring ownership of the property to her son Walter.   The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine found: (1) a contract that (2) created an equitable interest, (3) that Sarah had breached her duty of performance because she was primarily at fault; and (4) that the Brackenbury family had no adequate remedy at law.

The parties were ordered to continue their arrangement, which included cohabitation.  If they had been rational, the parties ought to have either quickly settled or learned to get along.   They chose to do neither.  Poor Sarah was forced to eat with an old iron fork with two tines broken off and when she asked that food be passed her way at the table, it was passed in the Peyton Manning sense of the word.

This conduct is Limerickworthy.  As the Fitzpatrick Limerick is from the perspective of the judge, this one of from Brackenbury’s perspective:

Brackenbury v. Hodgkin

I’d sooner kiss a chimera
Than put up with my in-law, Old Sarah,
Now whenever she dines,
Her fork has but two tines,
And her home ain't no French Riviera.

[Jeremy Telman]

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