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Broadnax v. Ledbetter - 100 Tex. 375, 99 S.W. 1111 (1907)

Rule:

A mere offer or promise to pay does not give rise to a contract. That requires the assent or meeting of two minds and therefore is not complete until the offer is accepted. Such an offer may be accepted by any one who performs the service called for, when the acceptor knows that it has been made and acts in performance of it. He may do such things as are specified in the offer, but does not act in performance of it and therefore does not accept it, when he is ignorant of its having been made. The offer is made to anyone who will accept it by performing the specified acts, and it only becomes binding when another mind has embraced and accepted it. The mere doing of the specified things without reference to the offer is not the consideration for which it calls.

Facts:

In Dec. 1904, a convicted murder who was sentenced to death escaped from the custody of defendant A.L. Ledbetter, a local sheriff. Ledbetter later offered a reward of $500 to anyone who captured the fugitive and returned him to the authorities. In Jan. 1905, plaintiff S.H. Broadnax captured the fugitive and took him to Ledbetter's jail. Ledbetter refused Broadnax's demands for the reward money. Consequently, Broadnax filed a lawsuit against Ledbetter in Texas state court to recover the reward. Ledbetter demurred to the petition on the ground that it failed to state a cause of action in that Broadnax did not allege that he had knowledge or notice of the reward when captured and returned the fugitive. The trial court sustained the demurer, and the petition was dismissed. Broadnax appealed, and the appellate court certified the question to the Supreme Court of Texas: Was notice or knowledge to Broadnax of the existence of the reward when the recapture was made essential to his right to recover?

Issue:

 Was notice or knowledge to Broadnax of the existence of the reward when he recaptured the fugitive essential to his right to recover the reward offered by Ledbetter?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court answered the certified question in the affirmative. The court examined the conflict of authorities among the states and ruled that that the liability for the reward offered by Ledbetter was created, if at all, by contract. There was no rule of law that imposed it except that which enforced contracts voluntarily entered into. A mere offer or promise to pay did not give rise to a contract, the court explained. Rather, the assent or meeting of two minds gave rise to a contract, and therefore it was not complete until the offer was accepted. Such an offer, like the reward here, could be accepted by anyone who performs the service called for, when the acceptor knows that it has been made and acts in performance of it, but not otherwise. He may do such things as are specified in the offer, but, in so doing, does not act in performance of it and therefore does not accept it, when he is ignorant of its having been made. There is no such mutual agreement of minds as is essential to a contract. The offer is made to anyone who will accept it by performing the specified acts, and it only becomes binding when another mind has embraced and accepted it. The mere doing of the specified things without reference to the offer is not the consideration for which it calls.

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