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Byrne v Van Tienhoven

[1880] 5 CPD 344

Case summary last updated at 03/01/2020 14:10 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case Byrne v Van Tienhoven

D offered to sell plates to P at a fixed price by post. Before P received the letter, D posted a revocation of the offer. P then received the “offer” letter and immediately accepted by telegram. P then received the revocation letter. D claimed that the offer had been validly revoked, whereas P claimed breach of contract when D failed to deliver. The court said that an offer may be withdrawn any time BEFORE acceptance, but the revocation must have been COMMUNICATED (NOT merely sent) to the offeree before acceptance. Thus, in this case acceptance occurred before the revocation was communicated and therefore the contract was valid. 

Lindley J: the reason why an offer can be rejected before acceptance is that there is no consent/meeting of the minds which is necessary for a contract. However, a view not notified cannot have effect in dealings between men. There is no authority that in “revocation” cases (unlike in Grant- type cases) the post office is to be treated as an agent of both parties. He says that any other conclusion would produce “extreme injustice and inconvenience” for a person accepting an offer, since he would have to wait a long period of time so as to be sure that no (possibly delayed) letters of revocation have been sent. Why is this not also true of Grant- in that situation an offeree would have to wait for a long-period of time to ensure that he was not bound by contract AND, in the case of mail that was lost, make efforts to check with the offeree that no acceptance had been sent. Not clear why the post office should be a mutual agent when acceptances are being sent, but not when revocations are being sent…McKendrick points out that at no point were the parties actually in agreement and attributes the inconsistency between postal rules on acceptance and revocation to judicial attitudes towards the postal system! 

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