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Hochster v De La Tour (1853) 2 E & B 678
Award of damages for anticipatory breach of contract.
De La Tour concluded an agreement to employ Mr. Hochster to act as a courier and travel with him in Europe on 1 June 1852. On 11 May 1852, De La Tours wrote to Hochster informing them that they no longer require his services. On 22 May 1852, Hochster brought an action of damages for anticipatory breach of contract. De La Tours argued that he could not bring an action before the date on which the contract was due to commence.
The question arose as to (1) whether a party’s refusal to perform the agreement before the date of commencement entitled the other party to damages, and (2) whether this breach is actionable before the date on which the contract was due to commence.
Firstly, the Court held that when a contract provides for a promise for future conduct, a party refusal to perform the agreement, thus renouncing the contract, becomes liable for breach of contract. Further, a contract for future conduct constitutes an implied promise that, in the meantime, neither party will prejudice the performance of that promise. Secondly, on that basis, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the other party must remain ready to perform the contract until after the commencement day, thus preventing him from bringing a suit beforehand. The Court held that the renunciation of a contract of future conduct by one party immediately dissolves the obligation of the other party to perform the contract, thus leaving “no reason for requiring that the other wait till the day arrives before seeking his remedy by action.” (p 928) Thus, a breach of contract by renouncing the duty to perform the future obligation immediately renders the party liable to a suit of action for damages by the injured party. The Court awarded damages to Hochster.
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