Dennant v Skinner and Collom [1948] 2 KB 164 (KBD), Erwin Thomas Wilson@LexCliq

Dennant v Skinner and Collom are but one in a long line of cases concerning whether a unilateral error in inter presented or face-to-face relations will void the contract created. This typically entails the complainant selling his products to a rogue who takes the name of another and who later passes the goods on to an innocent third party. The rogue immediately vanishes, leaving the complainant and a third party (usually the defendant) to argue why the contract was invalid from the start. If the deal was legitimate, the defendant would be considered the lawful owner of the goods, and the goods would have to be returned to the complainant if they were not.

The case’s issues

The biggest issue in Dennant was if the claimant would have entered into the contract if he had known the rogue’s true identity at the time of the contract. The court decided to settle this by deciding if the complainant would have entered into the contract if he had known the rogue’s true identity at the time of the contract. Given the rogue’s lack of real reward, a much smaller question was whether the land in the merchandise had passed from the complainant.

Facts of the Cases

A guy successfully bid for a van at an auction arranged by the complainant (Dennant). He named himself George Albert King from King’s Motors of Oxford, a highly reputable company in the industry after the lot was knocked down to him. The complainant then sent five more vehicles to King, including the one that was the subject of the proceedings. The applicant accepted a cheque from King before approving delivery, but only after obtaining a signed document stating that possession of the cars would not transfer until the cheque was honoured.

The check was returned unpaid, and the complainant later learned that King had no link to King’s Motors. The related car eventually came into the custody of the defendant (Skinner), who declined to return it. The appellant filed for the vehicle’s restitution, and the defendant named Collom, the individual from whom he purchased the vehicle as a third party. Hallett J of the King’s Bench Division denied the allegation.

The decision of the case

Hallett J held that the claimant’s error about King’s name did not impair the legitimacy of the deal, which was established on the dropping of the hammer, after applying Lake v Simmons. There was no investigation into King’s identity at the moment. In reality, the claimant never considered the identity of the highest bidder at the time, and Hallett J found that the claimant would have been able to trade with someone else regardless of their identity. Similarly, the certificate has no bearing on the contract since it was signed before the certificate was issued.

The second matter was also settled in the defendant’s favour when Hallett J determined that the claimant’s land in the car had transferred to King when the lot was knocked down to him. The parties were considered to have expected the property to pass when the contract was made, regardless of any delay in payment or execution, under Rule 1, s.18 of SOGA 1893. Such a goal was not negated by the auction terms or the certificate, which merely permitted the applicant to keep custody of the car – but not ownership – until the cheque was honoured.


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