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Great Northern Railway Co v. Witham

(1873) JELR 91487 (CCP)

Court of Common Pleas  •  6 Nov 1873  •  United Kingdom



KEATING, J. In this case Mr. Digby Seymour moved to enter a nonsuit.

The circumstances were these:—The Great Northern Railway Company advertised for tenders for the supply of stores. The defendant made a tender in these words: "I hereby undertake to supply the Great Northern Railway Company, for twelve months, from and c. to and c., with such quantities of each or any of the several articles named in the attached specifications as the company's store-keeper may order from time to time, at the price set opposite each article respectively," and c. Some orders were given by the company, which were duly executed. But the order now in question was not executed; the defendant seeking to excuse himself from the performance of his agreement, because it was unilateral, the company not being bound to give the order.

The ground upon which it was put by Mr. Seymour was that there was no consideration for the defendant's promise to [19] supply the goods; in other words, that, inasmuch as there was no obligation on the company to give an order, there was no consideration moving from the company, and therefore no obligation on the defendant to supply the goods. The case mainly relied on in support of that contention was Burton v. Great Northern Railway Co.[1] But that is not an authority in the defendant's favor.

It was the converse case. The Court there held that no action would lie against the company for not giving an order. If before the order was given the defendant had given notice to the company that he would not perform the agreement, it might be that he would have been justified in so doing. But here the company had given the order, and had consequently done something which amounted to a consideration for the defendant's promise. I see no ground for doubting that the verdict for the plaintiffs ought to stand.

BRETT, J. The company advertised for tenders for the supply of stores, such as they might think fit to order, for one year. The defendant made a tender offering to supply them for that period at certain fixed prices; and the company accepted his tender. If there were no other objection, the contract between the parties would be found in the tender and the letter accepting it. This action is brought for the defendant's refusal to deliver goods ordered by the company; and the objection to the plaintiffs' right to recover is, that the contract is unilateral. I do not, however,understand what objection that is to a contract. Many contracts are obnoxious to the same complaint. If I say to another, "If you will go to York, I will give you 100£,"" that is in a certain sense a unilateral contract.

He has not promised to go to York. But if he goes, it cannot be doubted that he will be entitled to receive the 100£. His going to York at my request is a sufficient consideration for my promise. So, if one says to another, "If you will give me an order for iron, or other goods, I will supply it as a given price"; if the order is given, there is a complete contract which the seller is bound to perform. There is in such a case ample consideration for the promise. So, here, the company having given the defendant an order at his request, his acceptance of the order would bind them.

If any authority could have been found to sustain Mr. Seymour's contention, I should have considered that a rule ought to be granted. But none has been cited. Burton v. Great Northern Railway Co.[1] is not at all to the [20] purpose. This is matter of every day's practice; and I think it would be wrong to countenance the notion that a man who tenders for the supply of goods in this way is not bound to deliver them when an order is given. I agree that this judgment does not decide the question whether the defendant might have absolved himself from the further performance of the contract by giving notice.

GROVE, J. I am of the same opinion, and have nothing to add.

Rule refused.

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