Wheeler v. White
Supreme Court of
398 S.W.2d 93
Facts: Wheeler sued White because White allegedly breached a contract to finance construction on Wheeler’s land. In reliance on this contract, Wheeler knocked down some buildings on his land, after which the financing never came through. Wheeler said if the contract was uncertain, White should be barred from saying the contract was uncertain because of his actions which reasonably induced Wheeler to knock down the buildings. White said the contract was indeed too uncertain and that the doctrine of estoppel couldn’t create a ground for Wheeler to recover. The trial court dismissed Wheeler’s case and Wheeler appealed.
Issue: Does the doctrine of promissory estoppel bar White from claiming that the contract is void for vagueness since he induced Wheeler’s reliance?
Rule: When a party acts to his detriment in reasonable reliance on an otherwise unenforceable promise and is injured, that party may have a claim for breach.
Analysis: The court sort of sees this as a classic promissory estoppel case. If Wheeler can prove the facts as he alleges them, then he has a good claim against White. White was trying to influence Wheeler’s conduct by promising to get him financing. White actually did succeed in influencing Wheeler’s conduct. But then White backed out. The contract is no good, but promissory estoppel has the power to make stuff enforceable that is usually not enforceable.
Conclusion: The dismissal is reversed and the case is remanded for trial.
1. It seems that the difference is in the side that brought the action. If Ball-Co. had brought suit against Empro on a promissory estoppel theory, I think they could have succeeded if Empro had told them outside the context of the letter that they were definitely going to buy Ball-Co. and thus it would not be necessary for them to negotiate with anyone else. In Wheeler, the plaintiff relied on the defendant.