Law School Case Brief
McInerney v. Charter Golf - 176 Ill. 2d 482, 223 Ill. Dec. 911, 680 N.E.2d 1347 (1997)
A party's partial performance generally does not bar application of the statute of frauds, unless it would otherwise be impossible or impractical to place the parties in status quo or restore or compensate the performing party for the value of his performance.
Plaintiff Dennis McInerney was a salesman employed by defendant Charter Golf, Inc. After another company offered McInerney an exclusive sales representative position, he informed Charter Golf of the offer. Charter Golf wanted McInerney to stay, and so it guaranteed him a 10 percent commission on his sales for the remainder of his life and a position in which he was subject to discharge only for dishonesty or disability. Charter Golf later fired McInerney, and he filed a lawsuit in Illinois state court seeking to recover damages for breach of the parties' contract. Charter Golf filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, concluding that the alleged oral contract was unenforceable under the statute of frauds because the contract amounted to an agreement that could not be performed within a year from its making. The appellate court affirmed on a different ground, namely that no contract for lifetime employment even existed because a promise to forbear another job opportunity was insufficient consideration to convert an existing employment-at-will relationship into a contract for lifetime employment. McInerney was granted leave to appeal.
Was summary judgment Charter Golf proper?
The court affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court held that McInerney gave up a lucrative job offer in exchange for a guarantee of lifetime employment; in exchange for giving up its right to terminate an employee at will, Charter Golf retained a valued employee. Thus, the court held, both parties exchanged bargained-for benefits. The court ruled, however, the statute of frauds required the contract for lifetime employment to be in writing. Although the parties entered into the oral contract freely and without coercion, fraud, or misrepresentation, the statute of frauds operated despite McInerney's reliance on the promise. Thus, the trial court did not err in granting Charter Golf summary judgment.
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