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Breach Of Covenant As Trespass Notes

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This is an extract of our Breach Of Covenant As Trespass document, which we sell as part of our History of English Law Notes collection written by the top tier of Oxford students.

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Contract: Assumpsit and Deceit General In the writs of covenant and debt, the C demanded the performance of a contract as a right. It is true that a breach of covenant was a wrong, but to turn from the praecipe writs to trespass a C had to present his case in a different light. Trespass writs were not designed to compel performance. If a medieval C brought such a writ simply for failing to perform a covenant, he would be met by the argument 'this sounds in covenant' and the action might fail. The ostensurus quare formula of the trespass writ required D to come and explain why he had done something wrong. To a medieval lawyer that seemed fundamentally different from a truly contractual action, the object of which was to give effect to what the parties themselves had agreed (Vampage in Somer v. Sapurton (1428)). By 1600 this distinction would lose its meaning, but even in the year-book period there was no dramatic leap from contract to tort. The extension of trespass was slow and resisted at every step. The first step was taken into territory where the boundary marks were indistinct.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Breach of Covenant as Trespass - Contract Side of Assumpsit
? 14th c. evolution of covenant: Assumpsit - Development occurred as a result of the specialty rule. 'Assumpsit': A form of recovery for the negligent performance of an undertaking - D 'took upon himself' to do something and then did it badly to the damage of C. Earliest assumpsit actions were trespassory - the complaints were of damage actually caused to goods entrusted by C to D, not of failure to carry out a 'contractual' obligation. They were the first comings to the royal courts of wrongs which were not done in breach of the king's peace. 'Misfeasance': A wrongful act which needed explaining had to shown for the claim to be trespass: since the complaint was an act rather than of a failure to keep one's word there was no need for a deed. A breach of covenant which caused physical damage, as where a carrier damaged goods or a surgeon mishandled an operation, looked like trespass. It is not an act of force against the king's peace - a surgeon could not be sued for battery, nor the bailee for trespass to chattels. E.g. If C claims that he and D made a covenant that D would shoe his horse, but D did that badly, then C's lawyers would not want to mention covenant. C's lawyer would want to make it appear that D's act was unilateral (D took the task upon himself wrongfully) in order to avoid the deed requirement of covenant. This conceptualisation of assumpsit ignores any agreement. However, covenant would be lurking in the background as D would often respond, 'you mean I did not keep my covenant with you?' and try to make the case 'sound in covenant'. 14th c: Possibility of using trespass in such cases was opened up by the decision in the mid14th c. to admit actions of trespass in central courts where no force and arms were mentioned. There was then no difficulty in allowing actions in which the C's special case was that the D had caused damage whilst carrying out an undertaking. Such cases were already known in London and other local courts; the change was not in reality a change in substantive legal thought but simply an enlargement of royal jurisdiction.

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