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II. A. 5. b. Silence as Acceptance
  • 1 Day v. Caton

    1

     

    2
    JOHN G. DAY
    3
    v.
    4
    ASA H. CATON.
    5

     

    6

    Suffolk. Nov. 19, 1875.— Feb. 29, 1876.

    7

    COLT & LORD, JJ., absent

    8

    In an action to recover the value of one half of a party wall erected by the plaintiff partly on his estate and partly on that of the defendant, the jury may, in the absence of an express agreement as to payment on the defendant’s part, infer promise to pay, if the plaintiff undertook and completed the wall with the ex-

    9

    [514]

    10

    pectation that the defendant would pay him for it, and the defendant had reason to know that the plaintiff was so acting with that expectation, and allowed him so to act without objection.

    11

    CONTRACT to recover the value of one half of a brick party wall built by the plaintiff upon and between the adjoining estates, 27 and 29 Greenwich Park, Boston.

    12

    At the trial in the Superior Court, before Allen, J., it appeared that, in 1871, the plaintiff, having an equitable interest in lot 29, built the wall in question, placing one half of it on the vacant lot 27, in which the defendant then had an equitable interest. The plaintiff testified that there was an express agreement on the defendant’s part to pay him one half the value of the wall when the defendant should use it in building upon lot 27. The defendant denied this, and testified that he never had any conversation with the plaintiff about the wall; and there was no other direct testimony on this point.

    13

    The defendant requested the judge to rule that, “ 1. The plaintiff can recover in this case only upon an express agreement.”

    14

    “ 2 . If the jury find there was no express agreement about the wall, but the defendant knew that the plaintiff was building upon land in which the defendant had an equitable interest, the defendant’s rights would” not be affected by such knowledge, and his silence and subsequent use of the wall would raise no implied promise to pay anything for the wall.”

    15

    The judge refused so to rule, but instructed the jury as follows : “ A promise would not be implied from the fact that the plaintiff, with the defendant’s knowledge, built the wall and the defendant used it, but it might be implied from the conduct of the parties. If the jury find that the plaintiff undertook and completed the building of the wall with the expectation that the defendant would pay him for it, and the defendant had reason to know that the plaintiff was so acting with that expectation and allowed him so to act without objection, then the jury might infer a promise on the part of the defendant to pay the plaintiff.”

    16

    The jury found for the plaintiff; and the defendant alleged exceptions.

    17

    H. D. Hyde & M. F. Dickinson, Jr., for the defendant.

    18

    F. W. Kiitredge, for the plaintiff.

    19

    [515]

    20

    DEVENS, J. The ruling that a promise to pay for the wall would not be implied from the fact that the plaintiff, with the defendant’s knowledge, built the wall, and that the defendant used it, was substantially in accordance with the request of the defendant, and is conceded to have been correct. Chit. Con. (11th Am. ed.) 86. Wells v. Banister, 4 Mass. 514. Knowlton v. Plantation No. 4, 14 Maine, 20. Davis v. School District in Bradford, 24 Maine, 349.

    21

    The defendant, however, contends that the presiding judge incorrectly ruled that such promise might be inferred from the fact that the plaintiff undertook and completed the building of the wall with the expectation that the defendant would pay him for it, the defendant having reason to know that the plaintiff was acting with that expectation, and allowed him thus to act without objection.

    22

    The fact that the plaintiff expected to be paid for the work would certainly not be sufficient of itself to establish the existence of a contract, when the question between the parties was whether one was made. Taft v. Dickinson, 6 Allen, 553. It must be shown that, in some manner, the party sought to be charged assented to it. If a party, however, voluntarily accepts and avails himself of valuable services rendered for his benefit, when he has the option whether to accept or reject them, even if there is no distinct proof that they were rendered by his authority or request, a promise to pay for them may be inferred. His knowledge that they were valuable, and his exercise of the option to avail himself of them, justify this inference. Abbot v. Hermon, 7 Greenl. 118. Hayden v. Madison, 7 Greenl. 76. And when one stands by in silence and sees valuable services rendered upon his real estate by the erection of a structure, (of which he must necessarily avail himself afterwards in his proper use thereof,) such silence, accompanied with the knowledge on his part that the party rendering the services expects payment therefor, may fairly be treated as evidence of an acceptance of it, and as tending to show an agreement to pay for it.

    23

    The maxim, Qui tacet consentire videtur, is to be construed indeed as applying only to those cases where the circumstances are such that a party is fairly called upon either to deny or admit his liability. But if silence may be interpreted as assent where a

    24

    [516]

    25

    proposition is made to one which he is bound to deny or admit, so also it may be if he is silent in the face of facts which fairly call upon him to speak. Lamb v. Bunce, 4 M. & S. 275. Conner v. Hackley, 2 Met. CIS. Preston v. American Linen Co. 119 Mass. 400.

    26

    If a person saw day after day a laborer at work in his field doing services, which must of necessity ensure to his benefit, knowing that the laborer expected pay for his work, when it was perfectly easy to notify him if his services were not wanted, even if a request were not expressly proved, such a request, either previous to or contemporaneous with the performance of the services, might fairly be inferred. But if the fact was merely brought to his attention upon a single occasion and casually, if he had little opportunity to notify the other that he did not desire the work and should not pay for it, or could only do so at the expense of much time and trouble, the same inference might not be made. The circumstances of each case would necessarily determine whether silence with a knowledge that another was doing valuable work for his benefit, and with the expectation of payment, indicated that consent which would give rise to the inference of a contract. The question would be one for the jury, and to them it was properly submitted in the case before us by the presiding judge.

    27

    Exceptions overruled.

    28

     

    29

     

  • 2 Restatement of Contracts, Second, §69(1)

  • 3 HOBBS v. MASSASOIT WHIP CO.

    1
    CHARLES A. HOBBS
    2
    VS.
    3
    MASSASOIT WHIP COMPANY.
    4

    Essex. January 12, 1893. —March 1, 1893.


    5

    Present: FIELD, C. J., ALLEN, HOLMES, KNOWLTON, & BARKER, JJ.

    6

    Contract Retention of Merchandise Acceptance.

    7

    A. brought an action against B. for the price of eelskins. A. had sent eelskins in the same way four or five times before, which skins had been accepted and paid for by B. On B.’s testimony, it was to be assumed that if he had admitted the eelskins to be over a certain length, and fit for his business, as A. testified, and the jury found that they were, he would have accepted them; that this was understood by A.; and that there was a standing offer to A. for such skins. Held, that A. was warranted in sending B. skins conforming to the requirements, and even if the offer was not such that the contract was made as soon as skins corresponding to its terms were sent, sending them did not impose on B. a duty to act about them; and silence on his part, coupled with a retention of the skins for a reasonable time, might be found by the jury to warrant A. in assuming that they were accepted, and thus to amount to an acceptance.

    8

    CONTRACT, upon an account annexed for one hundred and eight 50100  dollars, for 2,850 eelskins sold by the plaintiff to the defendant. At the trial in the Superior Court, before Hammond, J., it appeared in evidence that the plaintiff lived in Saugus, and the defendant had its usual place of business in Westfield, and was engaged in the manufacture of whips.

    9

    The plaintiff testified that he delivered the skins in question to one Harding of Lynn, on February 18, 1890, who upon the same or the following day forwarded them to the defendant; that the skins were in good condition when received by Harding, 2,050 of them being over twenty-seven inches in length each, and the balance over twenty-two inches in length each; that he had forwarded eelskins to the defendant through said Harding several different times in 1888 and 1889, and received payment therefor from the defendant; that he knew the defendant used such skins in its business in the manufacture of whips; that the skins sent on February 18, 1890, were for such use; that he understood that all skins sent by him were to be in good condition and over twenty-two inches in length, and that the defendant had never ordered of him skins less than twenty-two inches in length; and that Harding took charge of the skins for him and

    10

    [195]

    11

    that he received orders through Harding, but that Harding was not his agent.

    12

    Harding, who was called as a witness, testified that he had some correspondence for the plaintiff with the defendant in reference to skins; that he acted for the plaintiff in forwarding skins to the defendant, and in receiving pay therefor, and acted for the plaintiff in giving him any information, order, or notice which he received from the defendant in reference to skins sent or to be sent.

    13

    The defendant contended that Harding acted as the plaintiff’s agent. The plaintiff contended that Harding acted as the agent of the defendant, and not as his agent. On this point the evidence was conflicting, and the question was submitted to the jury, upon instructions not excepted to.

    14

    Four letters were offered in evidence, three of which, dated in 1889, showed transactions between the plaintiff and the defendant, and the fourth of which, dated Lynn, February 18, 1890, signed by Harding and addressed to the defendant, was as follows : “ We send you to-day, for Mr. Hobbs, 2,050 eelskins at .05 and 300 at .02.”

    15

    One Pirnie, president of the defendant corporation, called by the defendant, testified that before February 18,1890, the plaintiff had sent eelskins four or five times by Harding to the defendant, which were received and paid for by the defendant; that the defendant agreed to pay five cents each for eelskins over twenty-seven inches in length, and two cents each for eelskins over twenty-two inches in length and less than twenty-seven inches, suitable for use in the defendant’s business; that Harding was not acting for the defendant, but for the plaintiff; that the defendant never ordered the skins in question, and did not purchase them in any manner, and that no officer or employee of the corporation except himself had authority to order or purchase skins, and that he never ordered or purchased those in question; that skins came from Hobbs through Harding on February 19 or 20, 1890, and were at once examined by him, and found to be less than twenty-two inches in length, and found to be unfit for use, and that he notified Harding at once, in writing, that the skins were unfit for use, and that they were held subject to the plaintiff’s order; that the skins remained some months at the defendant’s place of

    16

    [196]

    17

    business in Westfield, and were then destroyed; and that the defendant received no other skins in the month of February from the plaintiff or from any other person.

    18

    One Case, the defendant’s shipping clerk, and one Gowdy, the defendant’s treasurer, testified that the skins sent on February 18, 1890, and received February 19 or 20, 1890, were examined by them, and were very short, in very bad shape, not fit for use, and worthless.

    19

    The judge instructed the jury that the plaintiff could not recover for eelskins less than twenty-two inches in length, nor for any of the eelskins if they were in the condition described by the witnesses for the defendant.

    20

    The plaintiff denied that he received any notice from the defendant that the skins were not suitable for use, or that they were held subject to his order.

    21

    The judge, among other instructions, also gave the following : “ Whether there was any prior contract or not, if skins are sent to them (the defendants) and they see fit, whether they have agreed to take them or not, to lie back and say nothing, having reason to suppose that the man who has sent them believes that they are taking them, since they say nothing about it, then, if they fail to notify, you would be warranted in finding for the plaintiff, on that state of things.”

    22

    The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff; and the defendant alleged exceptions.

    23

    F. L. Evans, for the defendant.

    24

    J. E. Hanly & J. F. Libby, for the plaintiff.


    25
    HOLMES, J.
    26

    This is an action for the price of eel skins sent by the plaintiff to the defendant, and kept by the defendant some months, until they were destroyed. It must be taken that the plaintiff received no notice that the defendants declined to accept the skins. The case comes before us on exceptions to an instruction to the jury that, whether there was any prior contract or not, if skins are sent to the defendant, and it sees fit, whether it has agreed to take them or not, to lie back, and to say nothing, having reason to suppose that the man who has sent them believes that it is taking them, since it says nothing about it, then, if it fails to notify, the jury would be warranted in finding for the plaintiff.

    27

    [197]

    28

    Standing alone, and unexplained, this proposition might seem to imply that one stranger may impose a duty upon another, and make him a purchaser, in spite of himself, by sending goods to him, unless he will take the trouble, and be at the expense, of notifying the sender that he will not buy. The case was argued for the defendant on that interpretation. But, in view of the evidence, we do not understand that to have been the meaning of the judge, and we do not think that the jury can have understood that to have been his meaning. The plaintiff was not a stranger to the defendant, even if there was no contract between them. He had sent eelskins in the same way four or five times before, and they had been accepted and paid for. On the defendant’s testimony, it is fair to assume that, if it had admitted the eelskins to be over twenty-two inches in length, and fit for its business, as the plaintiff testified, and the jury found that they were, it would have accepted them; that this was understood by the plaintiff; and, indeed, that there was a standing offer to him for such skins.

    29

    In such a condition of things, the plaintiff was warranted in sending the defendant skins conforming to the requirements, and even if the offer was not such that the contract was made as soon as skins corresponding to its terms were sent, sending them did impose on the defendant a duty to act about them; and silence on its part, coupled with a retention of the skins for an unreasonable time, might be found by the jury to warrant the plaintiff in assuming that they were accepted, and thus to amount to an acceptance. See Bushel v. Wheeler, 15 Q. B. 442; Benjamin on Sales, §§ 162-164; Taylor v. Dexter Engine Co. 146 Mass. 613, 615. The proposition stands on the general principle that conduct which imports acceptance or assent is acceptance or assent in the view of the law, whatever may have been the actual state of mind of the party, — a principle sometimes lost sight of in the cases. O’Donnell v. Clinton, 145 Mass. 461, 463. McCarthy v. Boston & Lowell Railroad, 148 Mass. 550, 552.

    30

    Exceptions overruled.

  • 4 Austin v. Burge

    1

    137 S.W. 618
    156 Mo. App. 286

    AUSTIN
    v.
    BURGE.

    Kansas City Court of Appeals. Missouri.
    May 15, 1911.

    4

    CONTRACTS (§ 27)—SUBSCRIPTION FOR NEWSPAPERS—LIABILITY.

    5

    Defendant's father-in-law subscribed and paid for a newspaper for a specified time, to be sent to defendant, who received it during that time. The publisher continued to send the paper to the defendant, who received it, and on two occasions paid a bill for subscription price, and directed the paper to be stopped. Notwithstanding the order to stop, the publisher continued to send the paper, and the defendant received it. Held, that he was liable for the subscription price; a contract to pay the same arising by necessary implication.

    6

    Appeal from Circuit Court, Bates County; C. A. Denton, Judge.

    7

    Action by O. D. Austin against Charles Burge. From a judgment for defendant, plaintiff appeals. Reversed and remanded.

    8

    W. O. Jackson and Silvers & Silvers, for appellant. Thos. J. Smith, for respondent.

    9

    ELLISON, J.

    10

    This action was brought on an account for the subscription price of a newspaper. The judgment in the trial court was for the defendant. It appears that plaintiff was publisher of a newspaper in Butler, Mo., and that defendant's father-in-law subscribed for the paper, to be sent to defendant for two years, and that the father-in-law paid for it for that time. It was then continued to be sent to defendant, through the mail, for several years more. On two occasions defendant paid a bill presented for the subscription price, but each time directed it to be stopped. Plaintiff denies the order to stop, but for the purpose of the case we shall assume that defendant is correct. He testified that, notwithstanding the order to stop it, it was continued to be sent to him, and he continued to receive and read it, until finally he removed to another state.

    11

    We have not been cited to a case in this state involving the liability of a person who, though not having subscribed for a newspaper, continues to accept it by receiving it through the mail. There are, however, certain well-understood principles in the law of contracts that ought to solve the question. It is certain that one cannot be forced into contractual relations with another and that therefore he cannot, against his will, be made the debtor of a newspaper publisher. But it is equally certain that he may cause contractual relations to arise by necessary implication from his conduct. The law in respect to contractual indebtedness for a newspaper is not different from that relating to other things which have not been made the subject of an express agreement. Thus one may not have ordered supplies for his table, or other household necessities, yet if he continue to receive and use them, under circumstances where he had no right to suppose they were a gratuity, he will be held to have agreed, by implication, to pay their value. In this case defendant admits that, notwithstanding he ordered the paper discontinued at the time when he paid a bill for it, yet plaintiff continued to send it, and he continued to take it from the post office to his home. This was an acceptance and use of the property, and, there being no pretense that a gratuity was intended, an obligation arose to pay for it.

    12

    A case quite applicable to the facts here involved arose in Fogg v. Atheneum, 44 N. H. 115, 82 Am. Dec. 191. There the Independent Democrat newspaper was forwarded weekly by mail to the defendant from May 1, 1847, to May 1, 1849, when a bill was presented, which defendant objected to paying on the ground of not having subscribed. Payment was, however, finally made, and directions given to discontinue. The paper changed ownership, and the order to stop it was not known to the new proprietors for a year; but, after being notified of the order, [137 S.W. 619] they nevertheless continued to send it to defendant until 1860, a period of 11 years, and defendant continued to receive it through the post office. Payment was several times demanded during this time, but refused on the ground that there was no subscription. The court said that:

    13

    "During this period of time the defendants were occasionally requested, by the plaintiff's agent, to pay their bill. The answer was, by the defendants, `We are not subscribers to your newspaper.' But the evidence is the defendants used or kept the plaintiff's * * * newspapers, and never offered to return a number, as they reasonably might have done, if they would have avoided the liability to pay for them. Nor did they ever decline to take the newspapers from the post office."

    14

    The defendant was held to have accepted the papers, and to have become liable for the subscription price by implication of law.

    15

    In Ward v. Powell, 3 Har. (Del.) 379, it was decided that an implied agreement to pay for a newspaper or periodical arose by the continued taking and accepting the paper from the post office, and that "if a party, without subscribing to a paper, declines taking it out of the post office, he cannot become liable to pay for it; and a subscriber may cease to be such at the end of the year, by refusing to take the papers from the post office, and returning them to the editor as notice of such determination." In Goodland v. Le Clair, 78 Wis. 176, 47 N. W. 268, it was held that if a person receives a paper from the post office for a year, without refusing or returning it, he was liable for the year's subscription. And a like obligation was held to arise in the case of Weatherby v. Bonham, 5 C. & P. 228.

    16

    The preparation and publication of a newspaper involves much mental and physical labor, as well as an outlay of money. One who accepts the paper, by continuously taking it from the post office, receives a benefit and pleasure arising from such labor and expenditure as fully as if he had appropriated any other product of another's labor, and by such act he must be held liable for the subscription price. On the defendant's own evidence, plaintiff should have recovered.

    17

    The judgment will therefore be reversed, and the cause remanded. All concur.

  • 5 Morone v. Morone

    1
    50 N.Y.2d 481 (1980)
    2
    Frances Morone, Also Known as Frances Cross, Appellant,
    v.
    Frank Morone, Respondent.
    3

    Court of Appeals of the State of New York.

    4
    Argued March 28, 1980.
    5
    Decided June 6, 1980.
    6

     

    7

    Joel R. Brandes, Robert W. Kahn, P. C., Andrew F. Capoccia, P. C., and Peter K. Levine for appellant.

    8

    James H. Doran for respondent.

    9

    Chief Judge COOKE and Judges GABRIELLI, WACHTLER and FUCHSBERG concur with Judge MEYER; Judge JONES dissents in part and votes to affirm in a separate opinion in which Judge JASEN concurs.

    10
    [484] MEYER, J.
    11

    Presented by this appeal are the questions whether a contract as to earnings and assets may be implied in fact from the relationship of an unmarried couple living together and whether an express contract of such a couple on those subjects is enforceable. Finding an implied contract such as was recognized in Marvin v Marvin (18 Cal 3d 660) to be conceptually so amorphous as practically to defy equitable enforcement, and inconsistent with the legislative policy enunciated in 1933 when common-law marriages were abolished in New York, we decline to follow the Marvin lead. Consistent with our decision in Matter of Gorden (8 N.Y.2d 71), however, we conclude that the express contract of such a couple is enforceable. Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division dismissing the complaint should be modified to dismiss only the first (implied contract) cause of action and as so modified should be affirmed, with costs to plaintiff.

    12

    On a motion to dismiss a complaint we accept the facts alleged as true (219 Broadway Corp. v Alexander's Inc., 46 N.Y.2d 506, 509) and determine simply whether the facts alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory (see Rovello v Orofino Realty, 40 N.Y.2d 633).

    13

    Plaintiff alleges that she and defendant have lived together and held themselves out to the community as husband and wife since 1952 and that defendant acknowledges that the two children born of the relationship are his. Her first cause of action alleges the existence of this long-continued relationship and that since its inception she has performed domestic duties and business services at the request of defendant with the expectation that she would receive full compensation for them, and that defendant has always accepted her services [485] knowing that she expected compensation for them. Plaintiff suggests that defendant has recognized that their economic fortunes are united, for she alleges that they have filed joint tax returns "over the past several years." She seeks judgment in the amount of $250,000.

    14

    The second cause of action begins with the repetition and reallegation of all of the allegations of the first cause of action. Plaintiff then alleges that in 1952 she and the defendant entered into a partnership agreement by which they orally agreed that she would furnish domestic services[1] and defendant was to have full charge of business transactions, that defendant "would support, maintain and provide for plaintiff in accordance with his earning capacity and that defendant further agreed on his part to take care of the plaintiff and do right by her," and that the net profits from the partnership were to be used for and applied to the equal benefit of plaintiff and defendant. Plaintiff avers that defendant commanded that she not obtain employment or he would leave her, and that since 1952 the defendant has collected large sums of money "from various companies and business dealings." Finally, plaintiff states that since December of 1975 defendant has dishonored the agreement, has failed to provide support or maintenance, and has refused her demands for an accounting. She asks that defendant be directed to account for moneys received by him during the partnership.

    15

    Special Term dismissed the complaint, concluding that no matter how liberally it was construed it sought recovery for "housewifely" duties within a marital-type arrangement for which no recovery could be had. The Appellate Division affirmed because the first cause of action did not assert an express agreement and the second cause of action, though asserting an express partnership agreement, was based upon the same arrangement which was alleged in the first cause of action and was therefore "contextually inadequate". The dissenting Justice was of the view that while the first cause of action was legally insufficient as premised upon an implied contract, the second, expressing as it does an explicit agreement, should have been sustained.

    16

    Development of legal rules governing unmarried couples has quickened in recent years with the relaxation of social customs [486] (Douthwaite, Unmarried Couples and the Law, ch 4, passim). It has not, however, been a development free of difficult problems: Is the length of time the relationship has continued a factor? Do the principles apply only to accumulated personal property or do they encompass earnings as well? If earnings are to be included how are the services of the homemaker to be valued? Should services which are generally regarded as amenities of cohabitation be included? Is there unfairness in compensating an unmarried renderer of domestic services but failing to accord the same rights to the legally married homemaker? Are the varying types of remedies allowed mutually exclusive or cumulative? (See, generally, Douthwaite, supra; and CLARK, J., concurring and dissenting in Marvin v Marvin, supra.)

    17

    New York courts have long accepted the concept that an express agreement between unmarried persons living together[2] is as enforceable as though they were not living together (Rhodes v Stone, 63 Hun 624, opn in 17 NYS 561; Vincent v Moriarty, 31 App Div 484), provided only that illicit sexual relations were not "part of the consideration of the contract" (Rhodes v Stone, supra, at 17 NYS, p 562, quoted in Matter of Gorden, 8 N.Y.2d 71, 75, supra). The theory of these cases is that while cohabitation without marriage does not give rise to the property and financial rights which normally attend the marital relation, neither does cohabitation disable the parties from making an agreement within the normal rules of contract law (Matter of Gorden, supra, at p 75; see Ann., 94 ALR3d 552, 559).

    18

    Even an express contract presents problems of proof, however, as Matter of Gorden illustrates. There Ann Clark and Oliver Gorden moved from Brooklyn to West Fulton, in Schoharie County, where Gorden acquired a tavern in his own name. For seven years Clark and Gorden operated the tavern without other employees, she performing both the work required by her duties in the tavern and by their home life. They lived together and were known in the community as husband and wife until he died. Clark then filed a claim against the estate predicated upon an oral contract pursuant [487] to which Gorden agreed to compensate her for the value of her services, to marry her, to grant her the same rights as she would have as his wife, and to make a will to compensate her. The Surrogate denied the claim because of the "meretricious" relationship. The Appellate Division, finding no proof that there was any relationship between the duties performed in the operation of the inn and the fact that the parties lived together, reversed and awarded claimant $9,000. We reversed, because the evidence was not of the clear and convincing character required to establish a claim against a decedent's estate, but expressly adopted the rationale of Rhodes v Stone that the unmarried state of the couple did not bar an express contract between them. Ironically, part of the basis for holding the evidence less than clear and convincing was that "If she had been working as an employee instead of a de facto wife, she would not have labored from 8 o'clock in the morning until after midnight without demanding pay or without being paid" (8 NY2d, at p 75).

    19

    While accepting Gorden's concept that an unmarried couple living together are free to contract with each other in relation to personal services, including domestic or "housewifely" services, we reject the suggestion, implicit in the sentence quoted above, that there is any presumption that services of any type are more likely the result of a personal, rather than a contractual, bond, or that it is reasonable to infer simply because the compensation contracted for may not be payable in periodic installments that there was no such contract.

    20

    Changing social custom has increased greatly the number of persons living together without solemnized ceremony and consequently without benefit of the rules of law that govern property and financial matters between married couples. The difficulties attendant upon establishing property and financial rights between unmarried couples under available theories of law other than contract (see Douthwaite, loc. cit.) warrant application of Gorden's recognition of express contract even though the services rendered be limited to those generally characterized as "housewifely" (Matter of Adams, 1 AD2d 259, affd 2 N.Y.2d 796; cf. Dombrowski v Somers, 41 N.Y.2d 858). There is, moreover, no statutory requirement that such a contract as plaintiff here alleges be in writing (cf. General [488] Obligations Law, § 5-701, subd a, pars 1, 3). The second cause of action is, therefore, sustained.[3]

    21

    The first cause of action was, however, properly dismissed. Historically, we have required the explicit and structured understanding of an express contract and have declined to recognize a contract which is implied from the rendition and acceptance of services (Rhodes v Stone, supra; Vincent v Moriarty, 31 App Div 484, supra; see, also, Matter of Adams, supra). The major difficulty with implying a contract from the rendition of services for one another by persons living together is that it is not reasonable to infer an agreement to pay for the services rendered when the relationship of the parties makes it natural that the services were rendered gratuitously (Matter of Adams, supra, at p 262; Robinson v Munn, 238 N.Y. 40, 43). As a matter of human experience personal services will frequently be rendered by two people living together because they value each other's company or because they find it a convenient or rewarding thing to do (see Marvin v Marvin, 18 Cal 3d, 660, 675-676, n 11, supra). For courts to attempt through hindsight to sort out the intentions of the parties and affix jural significance to conduct carried out within an essentially private and generally noncontractual relationship runs too great a risk of error. Absent an express agreement, there is no frame of reference against which to compare the testimony presented and the character of the evidence that can be presented becomes more evanescent. There is, therefore, substantially greater risk of emotion-laden afterthought, not to mention fraud, in attempting to ascertain by implication what services, if any, were rendered gratuitously and what compensation, if any, the parties intended to be paid.

    22

    Similar considerations were involved in the Legislature's abolition by chapter 606 of the Laws of 1933 of common-law marriages in our State. Writing in support of that bill, Surrogate [489] FOLEY informed Governor Lehman that it was the unanimous opinion of the members of the Commission to Investigate Defects in the Law of Estates that the concept of common-law marriage should be abolished because attempts to collect funds from decedents' estates were a fruitful source of litigation. Senate Minority Leader Fearon, who had introduced the bill, also informed the Governor that its purpose was to prevent fraudulent claims against estates and recommended its approval. The consensus was that while the doctrine of common-law marriage could work substantial justice in certain cases, there was no built-in method for distinguishing between valid and specious claims and, thus, that the doctrine served the State poorly.

    23

    The notion of an implied contract between an unmarried couple living together is, thus, contrary to both New York decisional law and the implication arising from our Legislature's abolition of common-law marriage. The same conclusion has been reached by a significant number of States other than our own which have refused to allow recovery in implied contract (see Ann., 94 ALR3d 552, 559). Until the Legislature determines otherwise, therefore, we decline to recognize an action based upon an implied contract for personal services between unmarried persons living together.

    24

    For the foregoing reasons, the order of the Appellate Division should be modified in accordance with this opinion and, as so modified, should be affirmed, with costs to plaintiff.

    25
    JONES, J. (dissenting).
    26

    I am in agreement with the majority that the first cause of action, seeking recovery of money damages predicated on an implied agreement between cohabiting persons not married to each other, fails to state a ground for relief under the law of this jurisdiction and that dismissal is appropriate. I would go further, however, and make similar disposition of the second cause of action, on the ground that the express agreement alleged is too vague and indefinite to be enforced.

    27

    The terms of the contract in the second cause of action are set forth in paragraph 15 of the complaint where it is alleged that "it was orally agreed and understood by and between the parties hereto that plaintiff would perform the work, services and labor of a domestic nature on her part as requested by the defendant, and that the defendant would support, maintain and provide for plaintiff in accordance with his earning capacity [490] and that defendant further agreed on his part to take care of the plaintiff and do right by her". Thus, defendant's obligation is alleged first as one to support, maintain and provide for plaintiff in accordance with his earning capacity and, additionally, to take care of and do right by plaintiff. The latter segment of the purported undertaking is on its face patently indefinite and unenforceable; as we recently held in Dombrowski v Somers (41 N.Y.2d 858, 859) the words "to take care of" are "too vague to spell out a meaningful promise" — nothing of substance is added by the words "to do right by plaintiff". The former segment — imposing an apparent obligation to support, maintain and provide for in accordance with (defendant's) earning capacity — is similarly nebulous and indeterminate. A reference of more substance is required than simply one to the provider's earning capacity to describe what it is to which the parties are agreeing. What is notably lacking is any statement of the standard of support and maintenance to be provided or of what relationship is to furnish the measure of the allegedly agreed-on life-style. Assuming a provider whose earning capacity places ample funds at his disposal, the level of support and maintenance he will provide for his wife and children will of course vary substantially from the level he will provide for a household retainer living within his residence. Is it the former style of maintenance or the latter — or some other, such as might be extended to a favorite, impoverished aunt living outside the family establishment — to which the defendant binds himself by the alleged agreement?[*] By its terms the promise is indefinite and uncertain and it runs afoul of the basic premise of contract law — viz., "It is a necessary requirement in the nature of things that an agreement in order to be binding must be sufficiently definite to enable a court to give it an exact meaning" (1 Williston, Contracts [3d ed], § 37).

    28

    The majority dismisses the problem of vagueness by reliance on the allegation included in the second pleaded cause of [491] action that "the net profits from the agreement and partnership of the plaintiff and defendant were to be used for and applied to the equal benefit of plaintiff and defendant", apparently accepting this as a sufficiently definite statement of the obligation now sought to be enforced. But, rather than clarifying the ambiguity, this allegation only confounds the confusion. What are "net profits from the agreement and partnership" is wholly unelucidated and, when the agreement as described in paragraph 15 of the complaint is examined, the term seems strange indeed, for the compact is only that plaintiff will perform domestic services and defendant will support her to the undefined extent previously discussed. Although there is an allegation in paragraph 16 that defendant "was to have full charge of the business", no reference to any business appears elsewhere in the pleading and nowhere is it alleged that defendant bound himself to operate or carry on any profit-making activity. Surely it cannot be said that the domestic work for which plaintiff engaged would produce profits. How the "profits" — not to mention the "net profits" — from such an agreement are to be determined is a conundrum; as a consequence any provision for their application to the equal benefit of the parties is fatally vague and indefinite. Plaintiff invites our attention to no case in which courts have undertaken to enforce an agreement approaching the indefiniteness of that allegedly made by the parties to this litigation.

    29

    Because the second cause of action seeks recovery on the basis of an agreement the terms of which are too uncertain to admit of its enforcement, this action, like the first cause of action, should be dismissed.

    30

    Order modified, etc.

    31

    [1] Paragraph 9, one of the realleged allegations, avers that "plaintiff performed work, labor and services for the defendant in the nature of domestic duties and business services at the request of the defendant" (emphasis supplied).

    32

    [2] Much of the case law speaks of such a relationship as "meretricious". Defined as "Of or pertaining to a prostitute; having a harlot's traits" (Webster's Third New International Dictionary Unabridged, p 1413), that word's pejorative sense makes it no longer, if it ever was, descriptive of the relationship under consideration, and we, therefore, decline to use it.

    33

    [3] We have not overlooked the holding of Dombrowski v Somers (41 N.Y.2d 858, 859) that the words "take care of" are too vague to spell out a meaningful promise. In the instant complaint we regard those words as surplusage in light of the further allegation that the profits of the partnership were to be used and applied for the equal benefit of both plaintiff and defendant. Nor can we accept the dissent's concept that there need necessarily be "profits" from the domestic services. Plaintiff alleges an express agreement of partnership under which she was to contribute services in return for which she was to share in the profits from the business conducted by defendant; more is not required to make defendant accountable for profits of the partnership.

    34

    [*] If the agreement alleged were to be interpreted as committing defendant to support plaintiff, within his earning capacity, in the style of a wife, and were to be so enforced, the result would be largely to vitiate the statutory ban on common-law marriages at least with respect to the parties to the arrangement themselves (L 1933, ch 606, amdg Domestic Relations Law, § 11). Nevertheless, the infirmity of the alleged agreement lies not in its potential for impairment of the statute but in its inherent vagueness. Respect for the legislative determination manifested in the statute, however, precludes resort to marital standards of support to supply the definiteness which the agreement of the parties otherwise lacks.

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