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Lewis v. Browning - 130 Mass. 173 (1881)

Rule:

A contract made by mutual letters was not complete until the letter accepting the offer had been received by the person making the offer.

Facts:

On June 10, 1878, plaintiff Lewis wrote defendant a letter, which was received by the latter, under which plaintiff requested the defendant to make him an offer for a new lease of the premises. The defendant made an offer in a letter dated June 22, 1878. On July 8, 1878, plaintiff wrote the defendant a letter, accepting defendant’s offer with slight modifications; the letter contained a stipulation that if no reply was made by "the 18th or the 20th," plaintiff would consider that the defendant did not accept his counter-offer. The defendant received the letter on July 17, 1878 and immediately sent a telegraph to convey his acceptance. However, the same was not received by plaintiff. Plaintiff argued that defendant breached certain conditions of the lease; however, defendant argued that no contract of lease was formed because the letter of acceptance made by him was not received by the plaintiff. The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant alleged exceptions.

Issue:

Did defendant have a ground to allege exceptions in the case at bar?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

Taking the whole letter together, the Court held that the offer was made dependent upon an actual communication to the plaintiff of the defendant's acceptance on or before the 20th of July, and did not discharge the old lease, nor bind the plaintiff to execute a new one, unless the acceptance reaches California within that time. Assuming, therefore, that the defendant's delivery of a dispatch at the telegraph office had the same effect as the mailing of a letter, the Court averred that defendant had no ground of exception to the ruling at the trial.

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