Law School Case Brief
McConnell v. Commonwealth Pictures Corp. - 7 N.Y.2d 465, 199 N.Y.S.2d 483, 166 N.E.2d 494 (1960)
It is the settled law of New York (and probably of every other state) that a party to an illegal contract cannot ask a court of law to help him carry out his illegal object, nor can such a person plead or prove in any court a case in which he, as a basis for his claim, must show forth his illegal purpose.
Defendant agreed in writing that if plaintiff succeeded in negotiating a contract with a motion-picture producer whereby defendant would get the distribution rights for certain motion pictures, defendant would pay plaintiff a sum on execution of the contract between defendant and the producer, and would thereafter pay plaintiff a stated percentage of defendant's gross receipts from distribution of the pictures. Without the knowledge of defendant or of the producer, the plaintiff procured the distribution rights by bribing a representative of the producer and that plaintiff agreed to pay and did pay to that representative as a bribe the $ 10,000 which defendant paid plaintiff. Defendant paid plaintiff the promised sum but later refused to pay him the commissions or to give him an accounting. Plaintiff sued for breach of contract and an accounting. The lower courts held that defendant's defenses were insufficient to defeat plaintiff's suit. Defendant appealed.
Was there an action for a breach of contract?
The court reversed and held that proper and consistent application of a prime and long-settled public policy closed the doors of the courts to those who sued to collect the rewards of corruption. The court held that it is the settled law of New York (and probably of every other state) that a party to an illegal contract cannot ask a court of law to help him carry out his illegal object, nor can such a person plead or prove in any court a case in which he, as a basis for his claim, must show forth his illegal purpose.
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