Feinberg v. Pfeiffer Co.

322 S.W. 2d 163 (Mo. App. 1959).

One-Sentence Takeaway: Where an employee retired in reliance upon her employer’s promise to pay her pension, that promise was enforceable based on the doctrine of promissory estoppel, but not based on the theory of past consideration.

Summary: Plaintiff had worked for Defendant for over 37 years.  During that period, she received several promotions.  At the age of 63, Plaintiff was told by Defendant that if she retired early, she would receive pension for life in a certain amount.  Plaintiff retired and received the pension for several years, after which Defendant attempted to reduce the amount of the pension payments and Plaintiff sued.

In her lawsuit, Plaintiff sought to enforce the promise of pension on the ground that the promise had induced her to retire.  Defendant argued that the plaintiff had not established that she would not have retired in the absence of the promise.

Upon reviewing the testimony in the trial court, the court disagreed and found that the evidence justified a finding that Plaintiff would not have retired early had she not known and relied upon the promise of Defendant to pay monthly sum for life.  Id. at 165-166.

Thus, the court found the promise enforceable based on promissory estoppel.

Finally, the court rejected Plaintiff’s alternate/backup argument that the promise was an enforceable contract supported by past consideration.  The court reasoned:

There is no language in the resolution predicating plaintiff’s right to a pension upon her continued employment. She was not required to work for the defendant for any period of time as a condition to gaining such retirement benefits. She was told that she could quit the day upon which the resolution was adopted, as she herself testified, and it is clear from her own testimony that she made no promise or agreement to continue in the employ of the defendant in return for its promise to pay her a pension. Hence there was lacking that mutuality of obligation which is essential to the validity of a contract.

Id. at 167.

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