This article is written by Anshika Agrawal @ LEXCLIQ on the case law of Harvey V. Facey(1893).
Facts of the case
In October 1891, Mr Facey received a telegraph from Mr. Harvey who was interested in buying a property called Bumper Hall Pen. The telegraph read “Will you sell us Bumper Hall Pen? Telegraph lowest cash price- answer paid”.
In response Mr Facey replied “Lowest price for Bumper Hall Pen £900.”
Upon receiving Mr Facey’s reply, Mr Harvey then sent another telegraph with the following message “We agree to buy Bumper Hall Pen asked by you.” Mr Harvey also asked if the property deed could be sent so that he might get early possession of the property.
Mr Facey declined to sell the property at that price and Mr Harvey sued him for breach of contract and argued that Mr Facey’s telegraph (“Lowest price for Bumper Hall Pen £900”) was an offer to sell the property. The dispute went to the court and at the first trial the court found for Mr Facey; Mr Harvey appealed and won the case at the Court of Appeal. This time Mr Facey appealed against the decision and the case finally went to the Privy Council which upheld the trial court’s decision.
Harvey sued for specific performance of the agreement, and for an injunction to restrain Kingston from taking a conveyance of the property.
Trial court dismissed the action on grounds that the agreement did not disclose a concluded contract. The Supreme court of Jamaica reversed. Appealed to the Privy Council.
Legal Issue raised in the case
Was there an explicit offer from Facey to sell the land for £900 to Harvey?
Judgment of the case
The Privy Council advised that no contract existed between the two parties. The first telegram was simply a request for information, so at no stage did the defendant make a definite offer that could be accepted. Lord Morris LC gave the following Judgment.
“In the view their Lordships take of this case it becomes unnecessary to consider several of the defences put forward on the part of the respondents, as their Lordships concur in the judgment of Mr. Justice Curran that there was no concluded contract between the appellants and L.M. Facey to be collected from the aforesaid telegrams. The first telegram asks two questions. The first question is as to the willingness of L.M. Facey to sell to the appellants; the second question asks the lowest price, and the word “Telegraph” is in its collection addressed to that second question only. L.M. Facey replied to the second question only, and gives his lowest price. The third telegram from the appellants treats the answer of L.M. Facey stating his lowest price as an unconditional offer to sell to them at the price named. Their Lordships cannot treat the telegram from Facey as binding him in any respect, except to the extent it does by its terms, viz., the lowest price. Everything else is left open, and the reply telegram from the appellants cannot be treated as an acceptance of an offer to sell to them; it is an offer that required to be accepted by Facey. The contract could only be completed if Facey had accepted the appellant’s last telegram. It has been contended for the appellants that Facey’s telegram should be read as saying “yes” to the first question put in the appellant’s telegram, but there is nothing to support that contention. Facey’s telegram gives a precise answer to a precise question, viz., the price. The contract must appear by the telegrams, whereas the appellants are obliged to contend that an acceptance of the first question is to be implied. Their Lordships are of opinion that the mere statement of the lowest price at which the vendor would sell contains no implied contract to sell at that price to the persons making the inquiry. Their Lordships will therefore humbly advise Her Majesty that the judgment of the Supreme Court should be upheld. The appellants must pay to the respondents the costs of the appeal to the Supreme Court and of this appeal.”
Decision of the Court
The Supreme Court reversed and the judgment of the trial court restored.
Mere statement of the lowest price at which the vendor would sell contains no implied contract to sell at that price to the persons making the inquiry. A concluded contract only exists if there was an offer and an acceptance of an offer. A mere statement contains no implied acceptance of a contract. This is because a legally enforceable agreement requires certainty to hold.
An offer is an expression of willingness to be legally bound on certain terms, without further negotiation.
Topic- Harvey V. Facey case law
By- Anshika Agrawal @LEXCLIQ