Case law of Dickinson V. Dodds [1874 D. 94.] by Anshika Agrawal @LEXCLIQ

Facts of the case

On Wednesday, the 10th of June, 1874, the Defendant John Dodds signed and delivered to the Plaintiff, George Dickinson, a memorandum, of which the material part was as follows:-

I hereby agree to sell to Mr. George Dickinson the whole of the dwelling-houses, garden ground, stabling, and outbuildings thereto belonging, situate at Croft, belonging to me, for the sum of £800. As witness my hand this tenth day of June, 1874.

£800. (Signed) John Dodds.

P.S.- This offer to be left over until Friday, 9 o’clock, A.M. J.D. (the twelfth), 12th June, 1874.

(Signed) J. Dodds.

The bill alleged that Dodds understood and intended that the Plaintiff should have until Friday 9 A.M within which to determine whether he would or would not purchase, and that he should absolutely have until that time the refusal of the property at the price of £800, and that the Plaintiff in fact determined to accept the offer on the morning of Thursday, the 11th of June, but did not at once signify his acceptance to Dodds, believing that he had the power to accept it until 9 A.M. on the Friday.

In the afternoon of the Thursday the Plaintiff was informed by Mr. Berry that Dodds had been offering or agreeing to sell the property to Thomas Allan, the other Defendant. Thereupon the Plaintiff, at about half-past seven in the evening, went to the house of Mrs. Burgess, the mother-in-law of Dodds, where he was then staying, and left with her a formal acceptance in writing of the offer to sell the property. According to the evidence of Mrs. Burgess this document never infact reached Dodds, she having forgotten to give it to him.

On the following (Friday) morning, at about seven o’clock, Berry, who was acting as agent for Dickinson, found Dodds at the Darlington railway station, and handed to him a duplicate of the acceptance by Dickinson, and explained to Dodds its purport. He replied at it was too late, as he had sold the property. A few minutes later Dickinson himself found Dodds entering a railway carriage, and handed him another duplicate of the notice of acceptance, but Dodds declined to receive it, saying, “You are too late. I have sold the property.”

It appeared that on the day before, Thursday, the 11th of June, Dodds had signed a formal contract for the sale of property to the Defendant Allan for £800, and had received from him a deposit of £40.

The bill in this suit prayed that “the Defendant Dodds might be decreed specifically to perform the contract of the 10th of June, 1874; that he might be restrained from conveying the property to Allan; that Allan might be restrained from taking any such conveyance; that, if any such conveyance had been or should be made, Allan might be declared a trustee of the property for, and might be directed to convey the property to, the Plaintiff; and for damages.

The cause came on for hearing before Vice-Chancellor Bacon on the 25th of January, 1876.

Legal issues raised

Was letter just an offer?

Is offer bound or not bound to revoke the offer?

Judgment of the case

James LJ held that Mr Berry had conveyed notice of the withdrawl of the offer. After referring to the document of 10 June 1874 he said the following:

“The document, though beginning, “I hereby agree to sell”, was nothing but an offer, and was only intended to be an offer, for the Plaintiff himself tells us that he required time to consider whether he would enter into an agreement or not. Unless both parties had then agreed there was no concluded agreement then made; it was in effect and substance only an offer to sell. The Plaintiff being minded not to complete the bargain at that time adds this memorandum: “This offer is to be left over until Friday, 9 o’ clock a.m. 12th June 1874. “That shows it was only an offer. There was no consideration given for the undertaking or promise, to whatever extent it may be considered binding, to keep the property unsold until 9 o’clock on Friday morning; but apparently Dickinson was of opinion, and probably Dodds was of the same opinion, that he (Dodds) was bound by that promise, and could not in any way withdraw from it, or retract it, until 9 o’clock on Friday morning, and this probably explains a good deal of what afterwards took place. But it is clear settled law, on one of the clearest principles of law, that this promise, being a mere nudum pactum, was not binding, and that at any moment before a complete acceptance by Dickinson of the offer, Dodds was as free as Dickinson himself. Well, that being the state of things, it is said that the only mode in which Dodds could assert that freedom was by actually and distinctly saying to Dickinson, “Now I withdraw my offer.” It appears to me that there is neither principle nor authority for the proposition that there must be an express and actual withdrawl of the offer, or what is called a retractation. It must, to constitute a contract, appear that the two minds were at one, at the same moment of time, that is, that there was an offer continuing up to the time of acceptance. If there was not such a continuing offer, then the acceptance comes to nothing. Ofcourse it may well be that the one man is bound in some way or other to let the other man know that his mind with regard to the offer has been changed; but in this case, beyond all question, the Plaintiff knew that Dodds was no longer minded to sell the property to him as plainly and clearly as if Dodds had told him in so many words, “I withdraw the offer”. This is evidence from the Plaintiff’s own statements in the bill.

Mellish LJ agreed and said,

“just as when a man who has made an offer dies before it is accepted it is impossible that it can then be accepted, so when once the person to whom the offer was made knows that the property has been sold to someone else, it is too late for him to accept the offer, and on that ground I am clearly of the opinion that there was no binding contract for the sale of this property.”

Final Decision

The document amounted only to an offer and the withdrawl of the offer can be made by any reliable third party.



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