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Constructive Conditions of Exchange: The Avoidance of Forfeiture

The Avoidance of Forfeiture

Note: Britton v. Turner is a landmark case

Case: Britton v. Turner (1834, NH)

Parties: Plaintiff - Britton (laborer)

Defendant - Turner (employer)

Procedural History: Judgment for P; D appeals.

Facts: The plaintiff and defendant made a one-year employment contract. The
plaintiff stopped working after 9.5 months, w/o a good cause. D refused to pay P
for his services since he did not fulfill the entire employment K. P sued and the
jury awarded him $95 out of the full $120 from the K. The defendant appealed on
the basis that the plaintiff should get nothing because the work had been done
under a “special contract" - where P was to work for one year, and D to pay him
$120 for that year. Since P did not work for the full year, his end of the K was
not performed. The jury awarded P $95 out of the full $120.

Issue: May the breaching party recover for services rendered? -Yes.

Holding: Affirmed for P.

Reasoning: The court makes an analogy between labor contracts and contracts to
build houses. When you build only part of a house and then breach, you are
entitled to restitution damages for the value you conferred upon the other party.
The old rule was that if you voluntarily failed to fulfill an employment contract,
you were not entitled to recover anything for the work you had done. The court
feels that even though precedent says differently, the better rule is the one
above. D has incurred a benefit from P's services, and so p is entitled to the
value of his work. Also, there was no evidence of any damages arising from P's
early departure.

RULE: [Landmark Case - New rule established] A hired laborer is entitled to

compensation for work actually performed unless there is an express stipulation to
the contrary in the contract.

• Quantum meruit - recover a reasonable sum for the service he has actually
• Under the old rule, a person who only partially completes the K would be under a
worse condition than someone who never performs at all. Because they would have
put time and energy into performing partially.
○ Why should someone who works 0, get the same as someone who works for 9
○ The new rule would encourage more people to start/attempt the work under
the K. If they were hesitant about it, they might not start at all if they knew
if they worked less than time specified they wouldn’t get paid at all.
○ The old rule, though, has value of consistency and certainty
○ Farmer may want the old rule of consistency and certainty, so worker wont
leave right before harvest, who might engage in opportunistic behavior - taking
advantage of farmer in a weak spot, he would need laborers right away.
○ However, if we do have the consistency & certainty rule, the farmer might
engage in opportunistic behavior by making working conditions so bad laborer would
leave before end of term, and then farmer wouldn’t have to pay him.
• Farmer may be eligible for damages
○ Money spent looking for replacement
○ Its harvest time, but no one to pick it - the waste
• These are default rules