Under the doctrine of promissory estoppel a promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance on the part of the promisee or a third person and which does induce such action or forbearance is binding if injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise. A fundamental element of promissory estoppel, therefore, is the existence of a clear and definite promise, which a promisor could reasonably have expected to induce reliance. Thus, a promisor is not liable to a promisee who has relied on a promise if, judged by an objective standard, he had no reason to expect any reliance at all.
Plaintiff, a nontenured teacher employed under contract with defendants, filed an action to recover damages for alleged wrongful termination. Plaintiff contended that defendant high school board was in breach of their contract and liable for its negligent misrepresentations with regard to plaintiff's continued employment with defendants. Defendants argued that its oral and written representations did not rise to the level of promises enforceable based on detrimental reliance. Defendants further maintained that plaintiff failed to support a claim for negligent misrepresentation because she did not sufficiently allege in her complaint that defendants failed to exercise reasonable care in their communication. The trial court ruled in favor of defendant but the appellate court reversed judgment. Defendants sought review and judgment of the appellate court was reversed with respect to plaintiff's breach of contract claims, however, plaintiff's negligent misrepresentation claim was remanded to the trial court because plaintiff's allegations were sufficient to withstand the motion to strike.
Did any of the representations made by defendants invoke a cause of action for promissory estoppel?
The court found that defendants' representations did not invoke a cause of action for promissory estoppel because they were neither sufficiently promissory nor sufficiently definite to support contractual liability. Additionally, the court held that plaintiff's complaint contained the necessary elements of negligent misrepresentation to survive a motion to strike. There is no claim that these representations were not made in good faith. Contrary to the plaintiff's assertion, these representations manifested no present intention on the part of the defendants to undertake immediate contractual obligations to the plaintiff. Furthermore, none of the representations contained any of the material terms that would be essential to an employment contract, such as terms regarding the duration and conditions of the plaintiff's employment, and her salary and fringe benefits.