Mills v. Wyman

20 Mass. 207 (1825).

One-Sentence Takeaway: Past consideration and/or moral obligation alone not sufficient consideration to form an enforceable contract.

Summary:  Plaintiff found Defendant’s 25-year-old son extremely ill and Plaintiff provided care for the son before the son passed away.  After Defendant found out about the actions of Plaintiff (a stranger), Defendant wrote to Plaintiff thanking him for caring for his son and promised to reimburse Plaintiff for the expenses incurred in caring for the son.

Defendant did not pay Plaintiff and Plaintiff filed the instant action to enforce that promise.

The court held that since Defendant promised to pay for services after Plaintiff had already provided said services, the promise was supported by past consideration which was not sufficient to form an enforceable contract.  Had Defendant made the promise before Plaintiff started caring for the son, that promise would have been enforceable.

Further, the court held that since a parent is without legal responsibility for the status or affairs of an adult offspring, Defendant did not have a legal obligation to reimburse Plaintiff and a mere moral obligation was insufficient to form an enforceable contract.

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