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Under the doctrine of subjective impossibility, a promisor's duty is never discharged by the mere fact that supervening events deprive him of the ability to perform, if they are not such as to deprive other persons, likewise, of ability to render such a performance.
Plaintiff Federal Reserve Board selected defendant Wegematic Corporation’s proposal for a computer system known as the ALWAC III-E. Defendant described its system as "truly revolutionary" and promised delivery nine months from the date of the purchase order. Defendant postponed delivery twice and finally announced that, due to engineering difficulties, it had become impracticable to deliver the computer system. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant and was awarded damages. Defendant appealed, alleging that delivery was made impossible by basic engineering difficulties, and that under federal law, the practical impossibility of completing the contract excused its defaults in performance.
Did the difficulty encountered by the defendant amount to a practical impossibility that could absolve it from liability?
The court noted that the Board, in its invitation for bids did not request invitations to conduct a development program for it. The Board requested invitations from manufacturers for the furnishing of a computer machine. The court held that, when defendant promoted the computer system as a "revolutionary" breakthrough, the risk of the revolution's occurrence should not have fallen on the plaintiff. The court determined that the reasonable supposition was that the revolutionary breakthrough had already occurred or, at least, that defendant was assuring plaintiff that it would be found to have occurred when the system was assembled. Accordingly, the judgment awarding plaintiff damages was affirmed.