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Nash v Inman

[1908] 2 KB 1

Overview

Considered capacity of a minor to contract.

Observed that while there is no capacity for a minor to contract, a minor will have an obligation to repay a supplier for services rendered if the supply is for necessities.

Business suit

Facts

Formal suitNash,a tailor on Saville Row, entered into a contract to supply Inman (a Cambridge undergraduate student) with, amongst other things, 11 fancy waistcoats. Inman was a minor who was already adequately supplied with clothes by his father.

When Nash claimed the cost of these clothes Inman sought to rely on lack of capacity and succeeded at first instance.

 

Held (trial) (Justice Ridley)

Inman was a minor and already had anough clothing; the contract could therefore not be said to be for necessities.

Held (appeal)

All three judges agreed with the trial judge that judgment should be entered for the defendant (Inman).

Cozens-Hardy MR

This case is undoubtedly one of difficulty and also, I think, one of importance. It is an action by a tailor against Mr. Inman, who was at the date of the transactions in question an infant. ... In substance the position is this: The plaintiff sues the defendant for goods sold and delivered. The defendant pleads infancy at the date of sale, and his plea is proved. What is the consequence of that? The consequence of that is that the Infants’ Relief Act, 1874, becomes applicable. Under that Act all contracts for goods supplied are absolutely void, the only exception being contracts for necessaries. Then s. 2 of the Sale of Goods Act, 1893, provides as follows: "Capacity to buy and sell is regulated by the general law concerning capacity to contract, and to transfer and acquire property." That, of course, includes the Act of 1874. Then follows this proviso: "Provided that where necessaries are sold and delivered to an infancy, or minor, or to a person who by reason of mental incapacity or drunkenness is incompetent to contract, he must pay a reasonable price therefor." The section then defines necessaries as follows: "Necessaries in this section mean goods suitable to the condition in life of such infant or minor or other person, and to his actual requirements at the time of sale and delivery." What is the effect of that? ... Having shewn that they were suitable to the condition in life of the infant, he must then go on to shew that they were suitable to his actual requirements at the time of sale and delivery. ... the infant, who was an undergraduate at Cambridge, and had just gone up to the university when the goods were supplied, was in fact supplied with clothes suitable and necessary for his condition in life, and for his position as an undergraduate of Trinity College, Cambridge. ... We have scarcely heard any suggestion that there was even a scintilla of evidence to support that which is an affirmative issue, that the goods were suitable to the requirements of the infant. ...

Fletcher-Moulton LJ

‘An infant, like a lunatic, is incapable of making a contract of purchase in the strict sense of the words; but if a man satisfies the needs of the infant or lunatic by supplying to him necessaries, the law will imply an obligation to repay him for the services so rendered, and will enforce that obligation against the estate of the infant or lunatic.’

However, the foundation of such a claim is not contractual, but rather an obligation to make ‘fair payment in respect of needs satisfied.’

Buckley LJ

‘The defendant, having been at school at Uppingham, went as a freshman to Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1902. The plaintiff, who was a tailor carrying on business in Savile Row, sent a traveller to Cambridge to solicit orders. The traveller has stated in evidence that he was told there was a young man spending money there very freely, so he called upon him. At first he got no order, but he pressed for orders, and subsequently got orders, with the result that between October 29, 1902 and June 16, 1903, the defendant had run up a bill of 145l. Odd for clothing of an extravagant and ridiculous style having regard to the position of the boy. The tailor now sues the defendant for 145l. The defence is infancy. That action is brought in contract. ... At common law … the contracts of an infant were voidable except such as were necessarily to his prejudice; these last were void.’ 

However, infants have a limited capacity to contract.  To succeed, the plaintiff had to prove the contract within this limited capacity, which his Honour defined as follows:

... an infant may contract for the supply at a reasonable price of articles reasonably necessary for his support in his station in life if he has not already a sufficient supply. To render an infant's contract for necessaries an enforceable contract two conditions must be satisfied, namely, (1.) the contract must be for goods reasonably necessary for his support in his station in life, and (2.) he must not have already a sufficient supply of these necessaries.

This could not be satisfied here.