Law School Case Brief
Hackley v. Headley - 45 Mich. 569, 8 N.W. 511 (1881)
Duress exists when one by the unlawful act of another is induced to make a contract or perform some act under circumstances that deprive him of the exercise of free will. It is commonly said to be of either the person or the goods of the party. Duress of the person is either by imprisonment, or by threats, or by an exhibition of force which apparently cannot be resisted. It is not pretended that duress of the person existed in this case; it is if anything duress of goods, or at least of that nature, and properly enough classed with duress of goods. Duress of goods may exist when one is compelled to submit to an illegal exaction in order to obtain them from one who has them in possession but refuses to surrender them unless the exaction is submitted to.
Headley sued Hackley & McGordon to recover compensation for cutting, hauling and delivering in the Muskegon river a quantity of logs. The performance of the labor was not disputed, but the parties were not agreed as to the construction of the contract in some important particulars, and the amount to which Headley was entitled depended largely upon the determination of these differences. The issue related to the cost of expense for the board of the scaler. Headley boarded him and claimed to recover one-half what it was worth. However, the defendants offered evidence that it was customary on the Muskegon river for jobbers to board the scalers, at their own expense. The defendants also claimed to have had a full and complete settlement with Headley, and produced his receipt in evidence thereof. Headley admitted the receipt, but insisted that it was given by him under duress. The trial court ruled in Headley's based upon his claim of duress.
Was Headley's claim of duress valid?
The court reversed the decision of the trial court and remanded for a new trial. Headley accepted a payment offered by plaintiffs in error because of his financial embarrassment at the time. Headley admitted that had it not been for his financial embarrassment, no duress would have existed. The court ruled that the dispute was between the parties to the contract and no monies were being withheld from nor was a threat made to withhold monies from third parties that would cause Headley much duress and financial embarrassment. Thus, the court found no duress of goods existed.
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