Mills v. Wyman

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1825.

20 Mass. (3 Pick.) 207.

Dawson, pp. 230-232


Facts: The defendantís son got very sick and was taken in by the plaintiff.The son was in the care of the plaintiff for 15 days until he died, and when the defendant learned of this he promised to repay the plaintiff for his help.The plaintiff sued to recover the promised money, but was nonsuited.The plaintiff appealed.


Issue: Did the fatherís moral obligation serve as adequate consideration for his promise of payment in order to constitute an enforceable promise?


Rule: A moral obligation may only form consideration for an express promise in three cases: (1) debts barred by the statute of limitations, (2) debts incurred by kids, or (3) debts previously discharged by bankruptcy.


Analysis: The moral obligation of the defendant is not found to be of the kind that can form consideration for an express promise.Therefore, the defendantís promise to pay the plaintiff was nothing more than a gift promise in the eyes of the law.In the courtís view, society has chosen to leave it up to the defendantís conscience whether to pay back a purely moral debt.


Conclusion: The trial courtís decision was upheld and the promise was found not to be enforceable.




This would seem nearly analogous to the case where a doctor treats an unconscious person who dies without regaining consciousness.The difference would be that we donít know whether or not the defendantís son could have expressed an intention or lack of intention to repay the plaintiff.I think Mills has a better shot at Levi Wymanís estate than at the father, who basically had nothing to do with the situation except the letter he sent after his sonís death.


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