Alaska Packers v. Domenico

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Alaska Packers v. Domenico
Court 9th Circuit
Citation 117 F. 99
Date decided May 26, 1902
Appealed from Northern District of California
Case Opinions
majority written by Ross

Facts

Commercial fishing is a dangerous line of work.

In March 1900, some fishermen contracted with Alaska Packers' Association (APA) to man a fishing boat for the salmon season. The boat would depart from San Francisco, catch salmons, deliver the catch at APA's Alaska cannery, & return to San Francisco.

APA would pay each fisherman

$50 + $0.02/salmon.

The following month, more fisherman joined to receive

$60 + $0.02/salmon

All of a sudden in May 1900, the fisherman stopped working altogether. They demanded a base payment of $100!

APA was in a bind: the salmon season was exceedingly short & the fishing waters were remote.

The superintendent was forced to execute a $100/fisherman contract after which the fishermen resumed work. Nevertheless, the superintendent paid them according to the original contract once the work was completed.

Procedural History

The fisherman (sailors represented by Domenico) sued Alaska Packers’ Association (APA) (defendants) for breach of contract in the U.S. district court for the northern district of California.

The district court ruled for the fisherman ("Domenico") to get $100 each.

Issues

Is a new contract between parties to an earlier contract on the same subject enforceable if the new contract calls for 1 party to do nothing additional or different from the earlier contract?

Holding

No. A new contract between parties to an earlier 1 on the same subject is un-enforceable, if the new contract requires nothing new or different from 1 party.

Reasons

The fishermen exploited the vulnerability of the 1 party to obtain more favorable terms. There was no new consideration for $100/fisherman.

Rule

An enforceable contract requires consideration on both sides.

However, for the sale of goods, the Article 2 of UCC validates good-faith contract modifications even without a new consideration.

Comments

The fishermen, without any valid cause, absolutely refused to do their work that they contracted for unless APA consented to pay more money

  • The demand for more pay under the circumstances was without consideration→ APA gained nothing more from the new agreements – basic contractual objection is no additional consideration
  • Fishermen willfully and arbitrarily broke the original agreements→ they should have been liable to APA for damages
  • No voluntary waiver on the part of APA for breach of the original contracts
  • Superintendent also explicitly informed the fishermen he had no authority to modify or enter into contracts
  • King v. Railway Co. (MN 1902)
    • A party who refuses to perform and coerces a promise from the other party for increased compensation takes an unjustifiable advantage of the necessities of the other party→this promise cannot be legally enforced
  • Ligenfelder v. Brewing Co. (MO 1891)
    • Court voided a contract of which the building owner agreed to pay its architect an additional sum b/c of the architect’s refusal to otherwise proceed
    • Architect extorted necessities; promise is not valid → permitting him to recover for building owner’s nonpayment would be to offer a premium upon bad faith; invites violating contracts

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