ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Friday, July 28, 2017

Why Pyeatte v. Pyeatte May Be the Best Teaching Tool in Contracts Law

Our friend and esteemed colleague, Professor Charles Calleros, has kindly sent the following as a guest contribution to the ContractsProf Blog.  Enjoy!

Recently Val Ricks has collected a number of essays from colleagues on best and worst cases for the development or application of contract law.  In addition to participating in that project, Charles Calleros invites faculty to upload and post links to essays about their favorite cases as teaching tools (regardless whether the cases advance the law in an important way). He starts the ball rolling with this Introduction to his essay on "Why Pyeatte v. Pyeatte Might be the Best Teaching Tool in the Contracts Casebook":

Pyeatte v. Pyeatte, a 1983 decision of the Arizona Court of Appeals, did not break new ground in the field of contracts. Nonetheless, I assert that it is one of the best pedagogic tools in the Contracts casebook, for several reasons:

  •  *          The facts are sure to grab the attention of first-semester law students: A law grad reneges on a promise to support his ex-wife through graduate school after she supported him through law school during their marriage;

*          This 1980’s opinion is written in modern plain English, allowing students to focus on substance, while also learning a few necessary legal terms of art.

*          After their immersion in a cold and rather unforgiving bath of consideration and mutual assent, students can finally warm up to a tool for addressing injustice: quasi-contract;

*          The opinion’s presentation of background information on quasi-contract provides an opportunity to discuss the difference between an express contract, an implied-in-fact contract, and an implied-in-law contract; 

*          Although the wife’s act of supporting her husband through law school seems to beg for reciprocation or restitution, students must confront judicial reticence to render an accounting for benefits conferred between partners in a marriage, exposing students to overlap between contract law and domestic relations law;

*          The appellate ruling of indefiniteness of the husband’s promise – presented in a later chapter in my casebook, but looming vaguely in the background of the discussion of quasi-contract – invites critique and perhaps even speculation that the appellate panel felt comfortable denying enforcement of the promise precisely because it knew it could grant restitution under quasi-contract; and

*          The court’s admonition that expectation interest forms a ceiling for the calculation of restitution reveals a fascinating conundrum that brings us back to the court’s ruling on indefiniteness. . . .

You can find the whole essay here.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/contractsprof_blog/2017/07/why-pyeatte-v-pyeatte-may-be-the-best-teaching-tool-in-contracts-law.html

Commentary, Contract Profs, Famous Cases, Law Schools, Miscellaneous, Recent Scholarship, Teaching, True Contracts | Permalink

Comments

The case can be juxtaposed nicely in class to compare English and American contract law with the English case of Jones v Padavatton. In this case an English court refused to enforce an agreement between a mother and daughter for the mother to pay the daughter's law school expenses if the daughter agreed to return from her job in Washington D.C. and attend law school in London. The daughter did so, although not very successfully, and after several changes to the agreement, then mother wanted to stop the deal. Because of the English law rebuttable presumption that family agreements are not intended to be enforceable contracts, the court declined the daughter's suit.

Posted by: Marian Dent | Jul 31, 2017 2:11:53 AM

I nominate Hawkins v. McGee, for the reasons stated in "Ten Reasons to Start Contracts with 'Hairy Hand'" in The Law Teacher (Spring 1995), available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=1495157.

Posted by: Otto Stockmeyer | Aug 1, 2017 7:11:01 PM

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