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14.4 Cases

Nonassignable Rights

Nassau Hotel Co. v. Barnett & Barse Corporation

147 N.Y.S. 283 (1914)

McLaughlin, J.

Plaintiff owns a hotel at Long Beach, L. I., and on the 21st of November, 1912, it entered into a written agreement with the individual defendants Barnett and Barse to conduct the same for a period of years.…Shortly after this agreement was signed, Barnett and Barse organized the Barnett & Barse Corporation with a capital stock of $10,000, and then assigned the agreement to it. Immediately following the assignment, the corporation went into possession and assumed to carry out its terms. The plaintiff thereupon brought this action to cancel the agreement and to recover possession of the hotel and furniture therein, on the ground that the agreement was not assignable. [Summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, defendant corporation appeals.]

The only question presented is whether the agreement was assignable. It provided, according to the allegations of the complaint, that the plaintiff leased the property to Barnett and Barse with all its equipment and furniture for a period of three years, with a privilege of five successive renewals of three years each. It expressly provided:

‘That said lessees…become responsible for the operation of the said hotel and for the upkeep and maintenance thereof and of all its furniture and equipment in accordance with the terms of this agreement and the said lessees shall have the exclusive possession, control and management thereof. * * * The said lessees hereby covenant and agree that they will operate the said hotel at all times in a first-class business-like manner, keep the same open for at least six (6) months of each year, * * *’ and ‘in lieu of rental the lessor and lessees hereby covenant and agree that the gross receipts of such operation shall be, as received, divided between the parties hereto as follows: (a) Nineteen per cent. (19%) to the lessor. * * * In the event of the failure of the lessees well and truly to perform the covenants and agreements herein contained,’ they should be liable in the sum of $50,000 as liquidated damages. That ‘in consideration and upon condition that the said lessees shall well and faithfully perform all the covenants and agreements by them to be performed without evasion or delay the said lessor for itself and its successors, covenants and agrees that the said lessees, their legal representatives and assigns may at all times during said term and the renewals thereof peaceably have and enjoy the said demised premises.’ And that ‘this agreement shall inure to the benefit of and bind the respective parties hereto, their personal representatives, successors and assigns.’

The complaint further alleges that the agreement was entered into by plaintiff in reliance upon the financial responsibility of Barnett and Barse, their personal character, and especially the experience of Barnett in conducting hotels; that, though he at first held a controlling interest in the Barnett & Barse Corporation, he has since sold all his stock to the defendant Barse, and has no interest in the corporation and no longer devotes any time or attention to the management or operation of the hotel.

…[C]learly…the agreement in question was personal to Barnett and Barse and could not be assigned by them without the plaintiff’s consent. By its terms the plaintiff not only entrusted them with the care and management of the hotel and its furnishings—valued, according to the allegations of the complaint, at more than $1,000,000—but agreed to accept as rental or compensation a percentage of the gross receipts. Obviously, the receipts depended to a large extent upon the management, and the care of the property upon the personal character and responsibility of the persons in possession. When the whole agreement is read, it is apparent that the plaintiff relied, in making it, upon the personal covenants of Barnett and Barse. They were financially responsible. As already said, Barnett had had a long and successful experience in managing hotels, which was undoubtedly an inducing cause for plaintiff’s making the agreement in question and for personally obligating them to carry out its terms.

It is suggested that because there is a clause in the agreement to the effect that it should ‘inure to the benefit of and bind the respective parties hereto, their personal representatives and assigns,’ that Barnett and Barse had a right to assign it to the corporation. But the intention of the parties is to be gathered, not from one clause, but from the entire instrument [Citation] and when it is thus read it clearly appears that Barnett and Barse were to personally carry out the terms of the agreement and did not have a right to assign it. This follows from the language used, which shows that a personal trust or confidence was reposed by the plaintiff in Barnett and Barse when the agreement was made.

In [Citation] it was said: “Rights arising out of contract cannot be transferred if they…involve a relation of personal confidence such that the party whose agreement conferred those rights must have intended them to be exercised only by him in whom he actually confided.”

This rule was applied in [Citation] the court holding that the plaintiff—the assignee—was not only technically, but substantially, a different entity from its predecessor, and that the defendant was not obliged to entrust its money collected on the sale of the presses to the responsibility of an entirely different corporation from that with which it had contracted, and that the contract could not be assigned to the plaintiff without the assent of the other party to it.

The reason which underlies the basis of the rule is that a party has the right to the benefit contemplated from the character, credit, and substance of him with whom he contracts, and in such case he is not bound to recognize…an assignment of the contract.

The order appealed from, therefore, is affirmed.

Case Questions

  1. The corporation created to operate the hotel was apparently owned and operated by the same two men the plaintiff leased the hotel to in the first place. What objection would the plaintiff have to the corporate entity—actually, of course, a legal fiction—owning and operating the hotel?
  2. The defendants pointed to the clause about the contract inuring to the benefit of the parties “and assigns.” So the defendants assigned the contract. How could that not be allowed by the contract’s own terms?
  3. What is the controlling rule of law upon which the outcome here depends?

Assignment Includes Delegation

Rose v. Vulcan Materials Co.

194 S.E.2d 521 (N.C. 1973)

Huskins, J.

…Plaintiff [Rose], after leasing his quarry to J. E. Dooley and Son, Inc., promised not to engage in the rock-crushing business within an eight-mile radius of [the city of] Elkin for a period of ten years. In return for this promise, J. E. Dooley and Son, Inc., promised, among other things, to furnish plaintiff stone f.o.b. the quarry site at Cycle, North Carolina, at stipulated prices for ten years.…

By a contract effective 23 April 1960, Vulcan Materials Company, a corporation…, purchased the stone quarry operations and the assets and obligations of J. E. Dooley and Son, Inc.…[Vulcan sent Rose a letter, part of which read:]

Mr. Dooley brought to us this morning the contracts between you and his companies, copies of which are attached. This is to advise that Vulcan Materials Company assumes all phases of these contracts and intends to carry out the conditions of these contracts as they are stated.

In early 1961 Vulcan notified plaintiff that it would no longer sell stone to him at the prices set out in [the agreement between Rose and Dooley] and would thereafter charge plaintiff the same prices charged all of its other customers for stone. Commencing 11 May 1961, Vulcan raised stone prices to the plaintiff to a level in excess of the prices specified in [the Rose-Dooley agreement].

At the time Vulcan increased the prices of stone to amounts in excess of those specified in [the Rose-Dooley contract], plaintiff was engaged in his ready-mix cement business, using large quantities of stone, and had no other practical source of supply. Advising Vulcan that he intended to sue for breach of contract, he continued to purchase stone from Vulcan under protest.…

The total of these amounts over and above the prices specified in [the Rose-Dooley contract] is $25,231.57, [about $152,000 in 2010 dollars] and plaintiff seeks to recover said amount in this action.

The [Rose-Dooley] agreement was an executory bilateral contract under which plaintiff’s promise not to compete for ten years gained him a ten-year option to buy stone at specified prices. In most states, the assignee of an executory bilateral contract is not liable to anyone for the nonperformance of the assignor’s duties thereunder unless he expressly promises his assignor or the other contracting party to perform, or ‘assume,’ such duties.…These states refuse to imply a promise to perform the duties, but if the assignee expressly promises his assignor to perform, he is liable to the other contracting party on a third-party beneficiary theory. And, if the assignee makes such a promise directly to the other contracting party upon a consideration, of course he is liable to him thereon. [Citation]

A minority of states holds that the assignee of an executory bilateral contract under a general assignment becomes not only assignee of the rights of the assignor but also delegatee of his duties; and that, absent a showing of contrary intent, the assignee impliedly promises the assignor that he will perform the duties so delegated. This rule is expressed in Restatement, Contracts, s 164 (1932) as follows:

(1) Where a party under a bilateral contract which is at the time wholly or partially executory on both sides purports to assign the whole contract, his action is interpreted, in the absence of circumstances showing a contrary intention, as an assignment of the assignor’s rights under the contract and a delegation of the performance of the assignor’s duties.

(2) Acceptance by the assignee of such an assignment is interpreted, in the absence of circumstances showing a contrary intention, as both an assent to become an assignee of the assignor’s rights and as a promise to the assignor to assume the performance of the assignor’s duties.’ (emphasis added)

We…adopt the Restatement rule and expressly hold that the assignee under a general assignment of an executory bilateral contract, in the absence of circumstances showing a contrary intention, becomes the delegatee of his assignor’s duties and impliedly promises his assignor that he will perform such duties.

The rule we adopt and reaffirm here is regarded as the more reasonable view by legal scholars and textwriters. Professor Grismore says:

It is submitted that the acceptance of an assignment in this form does presumptively import a tacit promise on the part of the assignee to assume the burdens of the contract, and that this presumption should prevail in the absence of the clear showing of a contrary intention. The presumption seems reasonable in view of the evident expectation of the parties. The assignment on its face indicates an intent to do more than simply to transfer the benefits assured by the contract. It purports to transfer the contract as a whole, and since the contract is made up of both benefits and burdens both must be intended to be included.…Grismore, Is the Assignee of a Contract Liable for the Nonperformance of Delegated Duties? 18 Mich.L.Rev. 284 (1920).

In addition, with respect to transactions governed by the Uniform Commercial Code, an assignment of a contract in general terms is a delegation of performance of the duties of the assignor, and its acceptance by the assignee constitutes a promise by him to perform those duties. Our holding in this case maintains a desirable uniformity in the field of contract liability.

We further hold that the other party to the original contract may sue the assignee as a third-party beneficiary of his promise of performance which he impliedly makes to his assignor, under the rule above laid down, by accepting the general assignment. Younce v. Lumber Co., [Citation] (1908), holds that where the assignee makes an express promise of performance to his assignor, the other contracting party may sue him for breach thereof. We see no reason why the same result should not obtain where the assignee breaches his promise of performance implied under the rule of Restatement s 164. ‘That the assignee is liable at the suit of the third party where he expressly assumes and promises to perform delegated duties has already been decided in a few cases (citing Younce). If an express promise will support such an action it is difficult to see why a tacit promise should not have the same effect.’ Grismore, supra. Parenthetically, we note that such is the rule under the Uniform Commercial Code, [2-210].

We now apply the foregoing principles to the case at hand. The contract of 23 April 1960, between defendant and J. E. Dooley and Son, Inc., under which, as stipulated by the parties, ‘the defendant purchased the assets and obligations of J. E. Dooley and Son, Inc.,’ was a general assignment of all the assets and obligations of J. E. Dooley and Son, Inc., including those under [the Rose-Dooley contract]. When defendant accepted such assignment it thereby became delegatee of its assignor’s duties under it and impliedly promised to perform such duties.

When defendant later failed to perform such duties by refusing to continue sales of stone to plaintiff at the prices specified in [the Rose-Dooley contract], it breached its implied promise of performance and plaintiff was entitled to bring suit thereon as a third-party beneficiary.

The decision…is reversed with directions that the case be certified to the Superior Court of Forsyth County for reinstatement of the judgment of the trial court in accordance with this opinion.

Case Questions

  1. Why did Rose need the crushed rock from the quarry he originally leased to Dooley?
  2. What argument did Vulcan make as to why it should not be liable to sell crushed rock to Rose at the price set out in the Rose-Dooley contract?
  3. What rule did the court here announce in deciding that Vulcan was required to sell rock at the price set out in the Rose-Dooley contract? That is, what is the controlling rule of law in this case?

Third party Beneficiaries and Foreseeable Damages

Kornblut v. Chevron Oil Co.

62 A.D.2d 831 (N.Y. 1978)

Hopkins, J.

The plaintiff-respondent has recovered a judgment after a jury trial in the sum of $519,855.98 [about $1.9 million in 2010 dollars] including interest, costs and disbursements, against Chevron Oil Company (Chevron) and Lawrence Ettinger, Inc. (Ettinger) (hereafter collectively referred to as defendants) for damages arising from the death and injuries suffered by Fred Kornblut, her husband. The case went to the jury on the theory that the decedent was the third-party beneficiary of a contract between Chevron and the New York State Thruway Authority and a contract between Chevron and Ettinger.

On the afternoon of an extremely warm day in early August, 1970 the decedent was driving northward on the New York State Thruway. Near Sloatsburg, New York, at about 3:00 p.m., his automobile sustained a flat tire. At the time the decedent was accompanied by his wife and 12-year-old son. The decedent waited for assistance in the 92 degree temperature.

After about an hour a State Trooper, finding the disabled car, stopped and talked to the decedent. The trooper radioed Ettinger, which had the exclusive right to render service on the Thruway under an assignment of a contract between Chevron and the Thruway Authority. Thereafter, other State Troopers reported the disabled car and the decedent was told in each instance that he would receive assistance within 20 minutes.

Having not received any assistance by 6:00 p.m., the decedent attempted to change the tire himself. He finally succeeded, although he experienced difficulty and complained of chest pains to the point that his wife and son were compelled to lift the flat tire into the trunk of the automobile. The decedent drove the car to the next service area, where he was taken by ambulance to a hospital; his condition was later diagnosed as a myocardial infarction. He died 28 days later.

Plaintiff sued, inter alia, Chevron and Ettinger alleging in her complaint causes of action sounding in negligence and breach of contract. We need not consider the issue of negligence, since the Trial Judge instructed the jury only on the theory of breach of contract, and the plaintiff has recovered damages for wrongful death and the pain and suffering only on that theory.

We must look, then, to the terms of the contract sought to be enforced. Chevron agreed to provide “rapid and efficient roadside automotive service on a 24-hour basis from each gasoline service station facility for the areas…when informed by the authority or its police personnel of a disabled vehicle on the Thruway”. Chevron’s vehicles are required “to be used and operated in such a manner as will produce adequate service to the public, as determined in the authority’s sole judgment and discretion”. Chevron specifically covenanted that it would have “sufficient roadside automotive service vehicles, equipment and personnel to provide roadside automotive service to disabled vehicles within a maximum of thirty (30) minutes from the time a call is assigned to a service vehicle, subject to unavoidable delays due to extremely adverse weather conditions or traffic conditions.”…

In interpreting the contract, we must bear in mind the circumstances under which the parties bargained. The New York Thruway is a limited access toll highway, designed to move traffic at the highest legal speed, with the north and south lanes separated by green strips. Any disabled vehicle on the road impeding the flow of traffic may be a hazard and inconvenience to the other users. The income realized from tolls is generated from the expectation of the user that he will be able to travel swiftly and smoothly along the Thruway. Consequently, it is in the interest of the authority that disabled vehicles will be repaired or removed quickly to the end that any hazard and inconvenience will be minimized. Moreover, the design and purpose of the highway make difficult, if not impossible, the summoning of aid from garages not located on the Thruway. The movement of a large number of vehicles at high speed creates a risk to the operator of a vehicle who attempts to make his own repairs, as well as to the other users. These considerations clearly prompted the making of contracts with service organizations which would be located at points near in distance and time on the Thruway for the relief of distressed vehicles.

Thus, it is obvious that, although the authority had an interest in making provision for roadside calls through a contract, there was also a personal interest of the user served by the contract. Indeed, the contract provisions regulating the charges for calls and commanding refunds be paid directly to the user for overcharges, evince a protection and benefit extended to the user only. Hence, in the event of an overcharge, the user would be enabled to sue on the contract to obtain a recovery.…Here the contract contemplates an individual benefit for the breach running to the user.…

By choosing the theory of recovery based on contract, it became incumbent on the plaintiff to show that the injury was one which the defendants had reason to foresee as a probable result of the breach, under the ancient doctrine of Hadley v Baxendale [Citation], and the cases following it…in distinction to the requirement of proximate cause in tort actions.…

The death of the decedent on account of his exertion in the unusual heat of the midsummer day in changing the tire cannot be said to have been within the contemplation of the contracting parties as a reasonably foreseeable result of the failure of Chevron or its assignee to comply with the contract.…

The case comes down to this, then, in our view: though the decedent was the intended beneficiary to sue under certain provisions of the contract—such as the rate specified for services to be rendered—he was not the intended beneficiary to sue for consequential damages arising from personal injury because of a failure to render service promptly. Under these circumstances, the judgment must be reversed and the complaint dismissed, without costs or disbursements.

[Martuscello, J., concurred in the result but opined that the travelling public was not an intended beneficiary of the contract.]

Case Questions

  1. Chevron made two arguments as to why it should not be liable for Mr. Kornblut’s death. What were they?
  2. Obviously, when Chevron made the contract with the New York State Thruway Authority, it did not know Mr. Kornblut was going to be using the highway. How could he, then, be an intended beneficiary of the contract?
  3. Why was Chevron not found liable for Mr. Kornblut’s death when, clearly, had it performed the contract properly, he would not have died?