Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kirksey v. Kirksey - Case Brief

I was reading through an old law text book: Knapp & Crystal  2nd Ed "Problems in Contract Law" and ran across this case of a nasty, mean brother-in-law, also summarized here.

The case highlights the difference between a condition for a gratuitous, unenforceable promise versus a consideration in an enforceable contract.

Knapp & Crystal ask a few leading questions concerning this case.

1. Is it also possible that her brother-in-law, the defendant, received from her actions a "benefit" -- at least a legal one, and possibly a real one as well?

2. If Kirksey could have been decided for either party on legal grounds, would it be more enlightening to seek an explanation of the decision in the social attitudes of the judges who decided the case rather than in the doctrine of consideration?
The court originally ruled in favor of the poor widow woman, but the decision was reversed on appeal.

Since I'm not a lawyer, I took more of a soap opera view of the facts and wondered why the brother-in-law offered his widowed sister-in-law & her orphaned children an abode in the first place & then went back on his offer.

1) It could be that he was similar to the Dashwoods' hen-pecked half-brother in Sense and Sensibility , who started with good intentions, but was encouraged by his wife Fanny to reduce his gift.

2) The brother-in-law may have expected "consideration" from the lonely widow woman. If and or when she appeared less friendly and grateful for his generosity, he may have decided to move her first into the woods so bears would eat her & then off his property all together.

3) He may have always had the intention of simply using her and her family as display dummies to help sell his houses. It is easier to sell property to clients if the property has been recently occupied versus being boarded up and abandoned. Presumably, her family helped to keep the property tidy whilst they occupied both houses.

4) Conversely, perhaps the sister-in-law's family were nuisance tenants who decreased the property value. They may have been the 19th C equivalent of meth lab hill billies with cars on cinder blocks (moonshine still hill billies with carriages on flagstones?) However, if this were true, the case would still be called Kirksey v. Kirksey, but with the guy suing the girl.

Basically, I think the brother-in-law was an annoying person, but, apparently, one couldn't successfully sue people for simply being annoying back in the 19th C.


Aha! I found an article that explains all! Apparently, both Kirkseys were engaged in dubious behavior. My theory 3 came the closest, but the actual story involved squatters' rights on public land:

Though Isaac's invitation suggests to us today that Isaac was kind and generous, Isaac had an ulterior motive. He meant to place Angelico on public land to hold his place-his preference-so that he could buy the land later from the U.S. government at a lucrative discount.

A further point of trivia is that the nasty man who abandoned his brother's widow & orphans is the ancestor of Dan Rather:

"And Isaac's daughter Eliza married Daniel Rather in March 1840; their great-great-grandson is Dan Rather, formerly of CBS News."
Dan Rather was the lefty news anchor who conducted an unsubstantiated smear against GWBush alleging he went AWOL during Vietnam War. Unfortunately, Rather relied on forged documents for his story which caused him to get fired from CBS. It seems Rather comes from a long line a shady weasel ne'er-do-wells.

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