Case Summary: Taylor v. Caldwell

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Court: Court of Queens’s Bench

Full Case Name: Taylor and Another v. Caldwell and Another

Citation: [1863] EWHC QB J1 122 ER 309;3 B. & S. 826

Date Decided: May 6, 1863

Judges: Cockburn C.J., Wightman, Crompton and Blackburn JJ.

Defendant: Caldwell and Bishop

Plaintiff: Taylor and Lewis

Facts: The following case centers around a music hall, The Surrey Gardens and Music Hall, Newington, Surrey. The defendant (Caldwell) agreed to let the plaintiff (Taylor) take the place for four particular days. These were- 17th June, 1861, 15th July, 1861, 5th August, 1861, 9th August, 1861, for presenting a series of four grand concerts, along with day and night fetes. This was done with a rent or sum of 100l. for each of those days. Owing to an accidental fire on 11th June, 1861, in the interest of which neither party was at fault, the hall was destroyed. With this, the plaintiff sued for a breach of the contract.

Issues: The legal issue arising from the destruction of the music hall was whether the aforesaid destruction excuses the rights and liabilities of the obligations of the parties under the agreement? Whether the loss suffered by the plaintiffs is recoverable from the defendant?

Rule: The rule of the doctrine of absolute obligations (1) is applied. Here, a party’s duties, under a contract are said to be discharged if the performance of the said contract involves particular chattels, which due to no fault of either of the parties, are destroyed. This in turn renders the performance impossible, with the doctrine of frustration.

Analysis:
• Under the doctrine of absolute obligations, if the contract is absolute, the contractor must perform it or pay the damages for the non-performance, although due to the unforeseen events the consequences of performing the contract have become impossible. Depending on this, the defendants would have been liable to the plaintiffs under the given agreement as they would not have been able to perform the specific obligations which had been contracted for- the use of the music hall for four given days. In the case here, Blackburn J. states, such contract is not “absolute” (2), rendering it to be on an implied condition. This implied condition is the existence of the music hall.
• With the implied condition, the obligation extends to the doctrine of frustration. The court notes that “the performance depends on the continued existence of a given person or thing, a condition is implied that the impossibility of performance arising from the perishing of the person or thing shall excuse the performance” (3),. This destruction is without the fault of either of the parties With this, the parties under the said contract regarded the continuous existence of the hall as the foundation of the contract. Hence, because of the implied condition both the parties would be excused from their obligations if the hall did not exist.
• The crux of the matter is the fact that the contract was on the basis of the existence of the hall. And without the continuous existence of the chattel, the parties involved in the contract are released from the obligations of the contract.(4) This is stated clearly by Justice Blackburn, that if the said condition isn’t expressly put in the contract, such an excuse/condition is implied by law. If the parties hadn’t been excused and carried on the contract, with all the obligations intended, the performance would have been extremely different from the one they had originally contracted to undertake.

Conclusion: The defendant is released from the obligations of the contract. And the loss suffered by the plaintiffs, which included printing advertising for the concerts and the preparation thereof, was not recoverable from the defendant, because of the doctrine of frustration through the destruction of subject matter.

References:
1. Taylor V Caldwell [1863] 3 B&S 826 Case Summary, (Jul 15, 2020) https://www.lawteacher.net/cases/taylor-v-caldwell.php
2. Taylor V Caldwell [1863] 122 E.R. 309
3. Taylor V Caldwell [1863] 122 E.R. 309

4. Casebriefs Taylor v Caldwell Comments, (Jul 15, 2020) https://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/commercial-law/commercial-law-keyed-to-lopucki/performance/taylor-v-caldwell-2/

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