Moore v. Elmer

A promise to pay while absent of any consideration may at first blush appear to be enforceable, however the eyes of the law see things in quite a different light, as was found in this rather bizarre suit between a clairvoyant and the administrators of an estate.

For reasons best known to themselves, the plaintiff and former client had somehow entered into a bargain, whereby a written statement in January 1898 expressed that:

“In consideration of business and test sittings received from Madame Sesemore, the clairvoyant, otherwise known as Mrs. Josephene L. Moore on numerous occasions I the undersigned do hereby agree to give the above named Josephene or her heirs, if she is not alive, the balance of her mortgage note which is the Herman E. Bogardus mortgage note of Jan. 5, 1893, and the interest on same on or after the last day of Jan. 1900, if my death occurs before then which she has this day predicted and claims to be the truth, and which I the undersigned strongly doubt. 

Wherein if she is right I am willing to make a recompense to her as above stated, but not payable unless death occurs before 1900. Willard Elmer.”

And so upon his death, the plaintiff sued for recovery in the Hampden County Superior Court, while his various family members argued that the claim was void for want of consideration, after which the court dismissed the suit and the matter was argued again before the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

Here the court turned first to Chamberlain v. Whitford, wherein it had held that:

“An executed and past consideration is not sufficient to support a subsequent promise. It is not enough to show that a service has been rendered, and that it was beneficial to the party sought to be charged, unless it was rendered at his express request, or under such circumstances that the law would imply a request.”

Chamberlain v. Whitford

While in Dearborn v. Brown the court had earlier held that:

“[T]he past performance of services constitutes no consideration even for an express promise, unless they were performed at the express or implied request of the defendant, or unless they were done in performance of some duty or obligation resting on the defendant.”

Dearborn v. Brown

To which it had been evident that no money had been exchanged for the readings, nor any express terms set out during their meetings. And so when summarising the fruitlessness of the claim, the court finally relied upon Johnson v. Kimball in which it had later held that:

“An executed gift is neither consideration for an express contract nor a ground for implying one as a fiction of law.”

Johnson v. Kimball

Thus the claim was one without merit and so the suit was again dismissed to the relief of the surviving parties and the dismay of a wanton clairvoyant, although one might have expected her to learn of the outcome prior to any litigation.