Law School Case Brief
Moore v. Ill. Bell Tel. Co - 155 Ill. App. 3d 781, 108 Ill. Dec. 358, 508 N.E.2d 519 (1987)
Promissory estoppel is a doctrine under which, in appropriate circumstances, a promise not supported by consideration will be enforceable. For a plaintiff to prevail on a promissory estoppel theory, there must have been: (1) a promise, unambiguous in its terms, (2) which the defendant expected and could have foreseen would be relied upon by the plaintiff, (3) who relied upon the promise, (4) to his detriment.
Plaintiffs John A. Moore and Raymond L. Berens were employed by defendant Illinois Bell Telephone Company ("Company") as account executives. Plaintiffs' pay was composed of base salary, incentive pay, and merit award. The Company published an incentive plan designating the anticipated amount of incentive pay for the year. The first page of the incentive plan stated that the Company reserved the right to amend, change, or cancel the incentive plan at its discretion and that the plan was not a contract. The Company modified the plan after the end of the year. Plaintiffs filed an action against the Company in Illinois state court seeking to recover payment of the incentive pay designated in the plan. After trial, the trial court rendered judgment in the amount of $ 196,655 for Moore and $ 262,289 for Berens. Plaintiffs' motions for attorney fees and prejudgment interest were denied. The Company appealed, and plaintiffs cross-appealed.
Were plaintiffs entitled to recover under the Company's incentive plan?
The appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment. The court held that the incentive plan did not create any enforceable contractual rights because the plan did not contain a promise such that plaintiffs would reasonably believe that an offer had been made. The plan was a statement of management's intent, but was subject to modification by the Company at any time. The plan was not a contract or assurance of compensation, and no enforceable contractual rights were created by the plan. The court further ruled that because plaintiffs' argument that they were entitled to attorney fees and prejudgment interest depended on their being the prevailing parties, the denial of attorney fees and prejudgment interest was affirmed based upon the reversal of the awards for plaintiffs.
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