I love cases. I simply love cases. I love the drama of them, and I love to go hunting for extra facts about the case. The case of Lumley v Wagner (1852) 1 De GM & G 604; 42 ER 687 involved Johanna Wagner, a famous German singer (and the niece of Richard Wagner). She contracted with Mr Lumley that she would sing at his theatre for a certain period of time. Included in the contract was a term that she would not sing anywhere else without written authority from Mr Lumley. Subsequently, Ms Wagner and her father agreed to sing for Mr Gye at Covent Garden for a larger sum than that promised by Mr Lumley (possibly partly because Mr Lumley had apparently not paid Johanna, despite the payment stipulated under the contract). Mr Lumley sought to restrain Johanna Wagner from singing for Mr Gye based on the clause in her contract in which she had promised not to sing for anyone else. Mr Lumley said he was just enforcing the negative covenant, not requiring the specific performance of the entire agreement. The Court of Chancery were prepared to issue an injunction to restrain the negative covenant, although they were not prepared to enforce Ms Wagner’s positive obligation to sing (to force someone to perform a service is an impermissible imposition on their individual autonomy – whereas if you just restrain them from singing for someone else, you’re not forcing them to positively sing for the person they contracted with). There was a very obvious tone in the judgment to the effect that, “You may think conduct like this is fine in Germany, but we English honour our promises.”
There was then a companion case, Lumley v Gye (1853) 2 El & Bl 216; 118 ER 749, where Mr Lumley sued Mr Gye for the economic tort of inducing breach of contract. A majority of the court held Mr Gye liable for inducing Ms Wagner’s breach of contract using the cases about seduction of servants, among other things. Coleridge J was very doubtful about this extension of the law and said in dissent, ‘None of this reasoning applies to the case of a breach of contract: if it does, I should be glad to know how any treatise on the law of contract could be complete without a chapter on this head, or how it happens that we have no decisions upon it. Certainly no subject could well be more fruitful or important; important contracts are more commonly broken with than without persuaders or procurers, and these often responsible persons when the principals may not be so.’
Via the Obligations Discussion Group, I became aware of this video:
This is also the Saturday chit-chat post.