Supreme Court of California
34 P.2d 1026 (Cal. 1934)
Caro Davis was the niece of Mr. and Mrs. Whitehead, but they were very close and the Whiteheads trusted her and loved her like a daughter. When the Whiteheads became sick in their old age, Mr. Whitehead wrote a letter to Davis and her husband (plaintiffs) requesting that they come live with and take care of him and his wife until their death. Mr. Whitehead offered to devise all of the Whiteheads’ assets to the Davises if they did so. Mr. Whitehead was depressed and desperately sought not only the Davises’ acceptance of his offer, but also a quick response to his offer, writing in a subsequent letter, “Will you let me hear from you as soon as possible.” The Davises wrote a letter back purporting to accept the offer and promising to leave their home soon to take care of the Whiteheads. Soon after, the Davises did abandon their home and Mr. Davis’s business and started the trip to the Whiteheads’ home. Right before they left, however, Mr. Whitehead committed suicide. When the Davises finally arrived at the Whitehead home, they cared for Mrs. Whitehead until she died in accordance with the contract. However, the written wills of the Whiteheads in effect actually devised their assets to their nephews, Geoff Doubble and Rupert Whitehead (nephews) (defendants). The Davises brought suit for specific performance of their contract with the Whiteheads. The trial court found in favor of the nephews on the theory that Mr. Whitehead’s offer to the Davises was for a unilateral contract and could only be accepted by performance, not a promise to perform, and thus the Davises did not accept Mr. Whitehead’s offer until after he had already died. The Davises appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (The Court)
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