Duncan v. Black
324 S.W.2d 483 (Mo.App. 1959)

  • Duncan signed a contact to buy some land from a guy named Black. One of the terms of the contract was that Duncan receive an allotment from the county government to grow 65 acres of cotton.
    • Allotments are a quota system to guard against overproduction.
  • Duncan only received 49.6 acres of allotment from the county that year, and Black made up for it by giving Duncan an extra 15.6 acre allotment out of his own personal allotments. The 2nd year though, Duncan again asked Black to make up the difference and Black refused. Duncan sued for breach of contract.
  • Black attempted to settle out of court by promising to give Duncan $1500.
    • This was a settlement of a claim.
  • Duncan sued when Black didn’t give him the $1500.
  • The Trial Court found for Black. Duncan appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed the Trial Court’s decision.
    • The Appellate Court found that allotments run with the land, it is not a separate property of the individual, and is not subject to be sold, bartered, or removed.
    • The Court found that neither party owned the allotment, and would be unable to predict future allotments, because they change every year. Therefore, it was not something that they could have contracted for.
    • The Court found that allotment transfers were technically illegal, and Black could not transfer his allotment to Duncan, therefore the provision in the contract is void.
      • The settlement of a claim based on a contract which is against public morals, or public policy, or which is inherently illegal, or which is in direct violation of a Statute cannot form the basis of consideration for a valid compromise settlement.
  • Basically, Black could not have sold the allotment, so he couldn’t settle a lawsuit for not giving away an allotment. Therefore, the $1500 was never part of a legal contract. Bargaining away a claim that is in fact invalid or unfounded is not a consideration.
  • Although Black settled a claim for unliquidated damages the settlement was not upheld. This is because Black could never sell allotment, and therefore Duncan could never sue, since the contract was inherently unenforceable. Settled claims for unliquidated damages for unenforceable contracts are not upheld.
    • However, these settlements are sometimes upheld if both parties believe that the contract was enforceable, even if it turns out to not be enforceable. Not in this case though.