Law School Case Brief
Blaustein v. Burton - 9 Cal. App. 3d 161, 88 Cal. Rptr. 319 (1970)
Cal. Civ. Code § 1619 declares that a contract is either express or implied. An express contract is one, the terms of which are stated in words. Cal. Civ. Code § 1621. An implied contract is one, the existence and terms of which are manifested by conduct. Cal. Civ. Code § 1584 provides that the acceptance of the consideration offered with a proposal, is an acceptance of the proposal. A voluntary acceptance of the benefit of a transaction is equivalent to a consent to all the obligations arising from it, so far as the facts are known, or ought to be known, to the persons accepting. Cal. Civ. Code § 1605. Any benefit conferred upon the promisor, by any other person, to which the promisor is not lawfully entitled is a good consideration for a promise. Under Cal. Civ. Code § 1606, a moral obligation originating in some benefit conferred upon the promisor is also a good consideration for a promise, to an extent corresponding with the extent of the obligation, but no further or otherwise.
Plaintiff, Julian Blaustein, a motion picture producer, sued to recover from defendant movie stars damages for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, breach of confidential relationship, and services rendered and benefits conferred in connection with defendants' use of plaintiff's idea for production of a motion picture based on the play “The Taming of the Shrew.” The idea also included the casting of defendants, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor Burton, as the stars, the use of defendant Franco Zeffirelli, as director for the picture, the elimination from the film version of the play within a play device employed by Shakespeare, the beginning of the film with the main body of the story, the inclusion in the film of two scenes merely described in the play, and the filming of the picture in Italy. The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment.
Was there an enforceable contract?
On appeal, the judgment was reversed. It was held that plaintiff's affidavit, made in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, sufficiently raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the disclosure by plaintiff to defendants of his idea was made in confidence and accepted on the understanding that they would not use it without his consent, in stating that plaintiff knew defendants' agent to be highly reputable, that plaintiff had prior dealings with the agent, had the same attorneys as defendants, and had received a constantly renewed invitation to disclose his ideas and render services on the project, that he reposed trust and confidence in defendants and their representatives, and that he did not expect or intend defendants to go forward with the production of the picture and make use of his ideas without his participation. It was also held that the statute of frauds did not apply to the implied contract, fully performed by plaintiff, and that it was not permissible on the motion for summary judgment to find that the cause of action was barred by the two-year statute of limitations, since the trier of fact might conclude that release of the picture triggered the obligation to pay and the action was commenced a few months after its release.
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