Lalman Shukla v. Gauri Dutt

This case brief is written by Sanskriti Goel, a 1st year law student from Chanderprabhu Jain College of Higher Studies and School of law, GGSIPU.

Citation

(1913) 11 ALJ 489

Relevant Act/Sections

The Indian Contract Act, 1872 :

Section 2(a):  When one person signifies to another his willingness to do or to abstain from doing anything, to obtain the assent of that other to such act or abstinence, he is said to make a proposal.

Section 2(b): When a person to whom the proposal is made, signifies his assent thereto, the proposal is said to be accepted. A proposal, when accepted, becomes a promise.

Section 2(d): When, at the desire of the promisor, the promisee or any other person has done or abstained from doing, or does or abstains from doing, or promises to do or to abstain from doing, something, such act or abstinence or promise is called a consideration for the promise.

Section 8: Performance of the conditions of a proposal, or the acceptance of any consideration for a reciprocal promise which may be offered with a proposal, is an acceptance of the proposal.

Brief Facts

  • The nephew of the defendant had absconded from home. He was nowhere to be found. The defendant sent his servants to various places in search of his nephew.
  • The plaintiff was one of the servants of the defendant and he was sent to Haridwar in search of the boy. He was given money for his travel fare and other expenses.
  • While the search for the boy was still going on, the defendant issued handbills offering a reward of ₹501 to anyone who might find his nephew and bring the boy back home.
  • The plaintiff succeeded in tracing the boy and brought him back to the defendant. As the plaintiff was unaware of the reward offered, he did not ask for it and continued working for the defendant.
  • After about 6 months, due to some disputes, the defendant dismissed the plaintiff from the job.
  • Afterward, the plaintiff filed a suit against the defendant claiming the reward of ₹501 that was due to him.

Contentions of the Parties

Plaintiff

The plaintiff contended that the very performance of the task assigned to him was sufficient consideration for the defendant’s promise since the plaintiff had successfully traced the boy and brought him back home and thus fulfilling the defendant’s conditions.

He affirmed that neither motive nor knowledge of the offer was not essential and hence, he was entitled to the reward.

Defendant

The defendant argued that there was no contract between the parties as there was no acceptance of the offer.

He also argued that the plaintiff, being his servant, was under an obligation to perform the task assigned to him, and therefore, such performance cannot be regarded as  sufficient consideration for the defendant’s promise.

Legal Issues

  • Was there a valid acceptance to constitute a legally binding contract?
  • Was the plaintiff entitled to the reward that was offered by the defendant for tracing the boy?
  • Did tracing of the boy by the plaintiff can be regarded as sufficient consideration for the defendant’s promise?

Ratio of the Case

In the case of Lalman Shukla v. Gauri Dutt, it was held that there can be no acceptance unless there is knowledge of the offer.

Although in the present case, the offer was a general offer where merely fulfilling the conditions of the offer itself is treated as an acceptance to create a contract but, fulfilling the conditions under the present case cannot be regarded as acceptance of the offer due to lack of knowledge of the offer.

Decision of the Allahabad High Court

The High Court observed that “A suit like the present can only be found on a contract. To constitute a contract, there must be an acceptance of the offer and there can be no acceptance unless there is knowledge of the offer. Motive is not essential but knowledge and intention are. Moreover, there was already a subsisting and therefore, the performance of the act cannot be regarded as a consideration for the defendant’s promise.”

Consequently, the suit was dismissed and the defendant was held not liable to pay the reward to the plaintiff.

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