Alaska Packers’ Ass’n v. Domenico
117 F. 99 (9th Cir. 1902)

  • Alaska Packers hired workers (including Domenico) from San Francisco to go up to Alaska and work on salmon fishing and canning.
    • The workers first signed an agreement to get $50 each for the season (plus 2 cents per fish). Before they left, they asked for more money and signed another agreement with Alaska Packers giving them $60 each. Then when they got up to Alaska, they refused to work unless they were promised $100 each.
  • Alaska Packers’ manager at the job site was forced to accede to their demands and make a new contract at the rate of $100 per person.
    • He explained to the workers that he had no authority to make a new contract.
      • Hadley v. Baxendale (9 Ex. 341 (Ex.Ct. 1854)) dealt with this same issue.
  • When the workers returned to San Francisco they demanded their $100 each, but the company would only pay them $60 under the terms of the contracts they signed before they left. The workers sued.
    • The workers argued that since the fishing nets were faulty, they couldn’t catch very many fish.
      • The jury didn’t find that the nets were faulty though.
  • The Trial Court found for Domenico and the rest of the workers. Alaska Packers appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed the decision, saying that the contract modification was made under duress.
    • The Court found that it isn’t fair to coerce a party into giving a promise in exchange for doing something you were already bound to do anyway. Once the first contract was signed, the workers were legally obligated to follow its terms.
    • In a way, this goes back to the doctrine of consideration. When modifying a contract, there must be consideration on both sides for it to be enforceable. You can’t modify a contract where one side just gets more and the other side receives nothing else.
      • Getting more money for doing the same thing is just a naked promise, and not enforceable!
      • The fishermen had a preexisting duty to perform the work, they couldn’t negotiate a second, better deal to do the same work.
  • FYI, because this case came out of the Federal Court’s Admiralty jurisdiction, it uses obscure terminology. For example, the complaint in an Admiralty Court is called the libel and the plaintiffs are called the libellants.