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McCollum v. Clothier - 121 Utah 311

Rule:

Except where the relationship of the parties, the triviality of the services, or other circumstances indicate that the parties have agreed otherwise, it is inferred that one who requests or permits another to perform services for him as his agent promises to pay for them. It is appreciated that this rule should not be applied to bind one under implied contract who merely permits services to be rendered him, or accept benefits from another, under such circumstances that he may reasonably assume they are given gratuitously. The law should not require everyone to keep on guard against such possibilities by warning persons offering services that no pay is to be expected. It is, therefore, essential that the court should exercise caution in imposing the obligations of implied contract, as contrasted to express contract, where the parties have actually defined and agreed to the terms they are to be found by. With such caution in mind, the test for the court to apply is: Under all the evidence, were the circumstances such that the plaintiff could reasonably assume he was to be paid and that the defendant should have reasonably expected to pay for such services.

Facts:

Defendant, Dr. Clothier, held a mortgage upon certain real property, machinery and equipment of the Kiest Beet Harvester Company of Hooper, Utah, which company went into bankruptcy in May, 1949. Defendant instituted foreclosure proceedings and procured judgment. Before the sheriff's sale was had, Jdefendant's attorney talked to the trustee in bankruptcy about Plaintiff McCollum who had been assisting the trustee in bankruptcy during the time she was in control of the property and had been helping in the sale of some of the machinery and equipment. Upon learning about Plaintiff's work in that regard, he inquired of the trustee as to Plaintiff's trustworthiness and where he could be found; then contacted the Plaintiff. At his request, Plaintiff went to the premises and there met defendant Dr. Clothier's attorneys. Plaintiff then aided them in checking and inventorying the property, lining up prospective buyers for the machinery, and doing other services. Plaintiff was even given a key to the premises so he could open the premises for the plaintiff whenever he had a prospective buyer. During the foreclosure proceedings, Plaintiff McCollum asserted that he was defendant Dr. Clothier's agent who that he rendered services for Dr. Clothier under such circumstances that the Dr. Clothier, the creditor, was obligated under implied contract to pay for them. Dr. Clothier argued that McCollum's activities were without any promise that he would pay therefore. The lower court entered judgment for McCollum. The court affirmed. Defendant Dr. Clothier appealed.

Issue:

Can the agent assume that the defendant creditor would pay for the services that he has rendered even in the absence of a formal contract between them?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Utah affirmed the ruling in favor of McCollum, as Dr. Clothier's agent. Based on the evidence, the lower court properly applied the rule that where unless the circumstances indicated otherwise, it was to be inferred that one who requested another to perform services for him as his agent, promised to pay for them. The evidence was sufficient to support these findings of the court that there was an implied contract to pay for the reasonable value of the agent's services.

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