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Law School Case Brief

Loring v. Boston - 48 Mass. 409 (1844)


What is a reasonable time for the collection of a reward, when all the facts and circumstances are proved on which it depends, is a question of law.


When the city of Boston suffered numerous acts of arson, the mayor of the city caused an advertisement to be published, for about a week, in the daily papers of the city. The advertisement stated, inter alia, that there had been a frequent and successful repetition of incendiary attempts, and offering a reward, to be paid by the city, for the apprehension and conviction of any person engaged in those arson attempts. The reward was even doubled a few days later. The claimants expressed an intention to collect a suspect. Almost four years later, the claimants apprehended the suspect and produced witnesses that resulted in conviction of the arsonist. The city refused to pay the reward and the claimants brought suit for breach of contract. The city filed a motion for a nonsuit. 


Should the Court grant the motion for a nonsuit?




The court granted a nonsuit to the city on the claimants' breach of contract action. It held that while there was no question that the advertisement created a binding obligation upon the city to pay the reward if the terms were met in the entirety, the obligation was limited to a reasonable period of time. The offer was not to be regarded as an unlimited offer, continuing till it should be formally withdrawn, but as limited to a reasonable time and that it ceased to be an offer, after the lapse of three years and eight months. The court rejected the city's claim that the offer had expired with the mayor's term of office because the city was a perpetual entity. However, the court found that it need not determine the exact point at which reliance became unreasonable because reliance almost four years later was clearly unreasonable. Therefore, a nonsuit was appropriate.


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