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Taylor v. Johnston

Supreme Court of California
539 P.2d 425 (1975)


Facts

Taylor (plaintiff) and Johnston (defendant) were both in the business of owning, breeding, raising, and racing thoroughbred horses in California. On January 19, 1965, Taylor entered into two contracts to breed his two mares, Sunday Slippers and Sandy Fork, to Johnston’s stallion, Fleet Nasrullah. The contracts stated that both mares would be bred to Fleet Nasrullah in 1966 for a fee of $3,500 each. During the remainder of 1965, Taylor bred his mares to a different horse, and both became with foal. On October 4, 1965, Johnston sold Fleet Nasrullah for $1,000,000 to Dr. Pessin and Leslie Combs in Kentucky. Pessin and Combs sold shares in the horse to various shareholders, and reserved shares for themselves. Their assistant, Mrs. Judy, managed Fleet Nasrullah’s breeding schedule and appointments. All shareholders were given the first option to breed Fleet Nasrullah at any time. If Fleet Nasrullah was not reserved by a shareholder, however, his services could be booked by third parties. Johnston informed Taylor that Fleet Nasrullah had been sold to Pessin and Combs, and stated that Taylor was “released” from his “reservations” for Fleet Nasrullah. Taylor informed Johnston through multiple letters that he still wished to enforce his contract to breed his mares with Fleet Nasrullah, however, and Johnston made arrangements for Taylor to breed his mares in Kentucky with Fleet Nasrullah. Taylor shipped Sunday Slippers and Sandy Fork to Kentucky. The mares were both with foal at the time. The mares were placed under the care of Frazier, Taylor’s agent in Kentucky. After Sunday Slippers delivered a foal, she did not come into heat again until April 26, 1966, and was thus incapable of being bred to Fleet Nasrullah until this time. After Sandy Fork delivered her foal, she did not come into heat again until June 14, 1966. Acting on behalf of Taylor, Frazier contacted Mrs. Judy and requested to breed Sunday Slippers to Fleet Nasrullah on April 26, May 14, May 15, and June 4, 1966. Each time, Mrs. Judy said Fleet Nasrullah was not available because he was already reserved by a shareholder. Mrs. Judy assured Frazier that breeding would still be possible in 1966. After being rejected by Mrs. Judy on June 4th, however, Frazier bred Sunday Slippers to another horse for a fee of $10,000. The foal was ultimately aborted. Frazier also attempted unsuccessfully to breed Sandy Fork with Fleet Nasrullah on June 14, 1966. Mrs. Judy informed Frazier that Fleet Nasrullah was already booked by a shareholder for that day, but told Frazier he could reserve Fleet Nasrullah on any day that was not already reserved by a shareholder. Frazier made no other attempts to breed Sandy Fork to Fleet Nasrullah, but instead bread her to the same horse to which Sunday Slippers had been bread. Sandy Fork’s foal was also ultimately aborted, and Taylor was released from his obligation to pay stud fees for both breedings. Taylor brought suit in California state court against Johnston seeking damages for breach of contract. The trial court held that Johnston and his agents were liable for anticipatory breach, and awarded damages of $103,122.50 to Taylor. Johnston appealed.

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