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Taft v. Hyatt - 105 Kan. 35, 180 P. 213 (1919)

Rule:

A private offer of reward for the apprehension of a fugitive from justice or of a person suspected or charged with an offense stands, as a general rule, upon a different footing from a statutory offer, or one made by virtue of a statute. The offer of a private individual is a mere proposal which, when accepted, becomes a contract. Until it is accepted by some person who, upon the strength of the offer, takes some steps to earn the reward, there is no contract. There must be a meeting of the minds of the parties; on the one side, of the person who makes the offer; on the other, of the person who performs the service. Where a claimant for the reward was not aware that it had been offered until after he had performed his services, there has been no meeting of minds which would constitute a contract.

Facts:

In 1917, it became known in the city of Parsons that Agnes Smith, the wife of Dr. Asa Smith, had been assaulted, and that a physician by the name of Robert E. Smith was suspected of the crime. Agnes died. Plaintiff Dr. Asa Smith caused to be published and circulated an offer of $750 reward "for the arrest or information that will lead to" the arrest of Agnes' killer. Defendant William Hyatt was an attorney at law, and after being told that Smith wanted to hire an attorney, Hyatt went to Smith's hiding place, in compliance with the directions that had been given him, and there found Smith. They were unable to reach an agreement as to the employment of Hyatt to defend Smith. Hyatt knew about the reward and, after returning from his interview, Hyatt went to the office of the county attorney and told him where Smith could be found. However, Smith was not arrested from the information by Hyatt. Rather, several other claimants, including defendants Clarence Glass and others, who had not known about Plaintiff's offer of the reward, had gone to the chief of police, before attorney Hyatt had, and informed the law officer of the whereabouts of Smith, and had given the information that led to the arrest of Robert E. Smith, who was subsequently charged with and convicted of murder in the first degree. Plaintiff Dr. Smith and others brought this action against the several claimants as to who was entitled to the reward. The lower court granted the attorney, defendant Hyatt, the reward despite the unsuccessful arrest through his information. The other claimants sought further review.

Issue:

1. Was the attorney entitled to the private reward for giving information as to the location of the fugitive but did not result to a successful arrest?

2. Were the other defendants entitled to the private reward for giving information as to the location of the fugitive that led to a successful arrest?

3. Was the Chief of Police entitled to the private reward for successfully arresting the fugitive?

Answer:

1. No. 2. No. 3. No.

Conclusion:

1. The Court reversed the judgment and held that the attorney was not entitled to obtain the reward because his efforts to secure the fugitive were unsuccessful.

2. The Court held that Glass et. al. were not entitled to the reward either because they were not aware of the reward. The Court held that the reward by the private person was a mere proposal and without knowledge of the reward, there was no meeting of the minds that constituted a contract.

3. The Court held that the chief of police was not entitled to recover because it was his duty to make an arrest of fugitives from justice.

The court remanded the action and determined that the parties that offered the reward were entitled to the return of their money.

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