Lewis v. Averay By Neharica Mishra from Amity Law School, Lucknow
(1972) 1 QB 198
Coram: Denning MR, Phillimore LJ, Megaw LJ.
In the dissenting judgment Denlin LJ emphasized that cases like these pose a problem of practical justice, and theoretical considerations such as whether the contact is void or voidable should not obstruct the path of delivering practical justice.
Statement of Facts:
Lewis, a student, owned a Mini Cooper S. and he wanted to sell his car for which he placed an advertisement in the newspaper. A man described as ‘rogue’ by a court answered his advertisement and took the car for a test drive. He represented himself as Richard Green, a famous film actor.
He offered a cheque to the plaintiff to buy the car. The plaintiff told him to wait till the cheque is cleared, as he was reluctant to hand over the possession of his car to the rogue until the clearance of the cheque. When the plaintiff demanded an identity proof, the Rogue produced a special admission pass to a film studio, namely the Pinewood Studio. The pass had his photograph and the official stamp. This convinced the plaintiff and he allowed the car and the log books to be taken away in exchange for the cheque.
As soon as he bought the car, the rogue disposed it off the car to an innocent buyer, Mr. Averay. He sold the car to the defendant and eloped. After a few days the banker told Mr. Lewis that the cheque had bounced. Subsequently, the plaintiff sued the defendant to recover his car.
- What are the instances where fraud does not lead to mistake of identity i.e. what is the effect of mistake on the part of one party in identifying the other party?
- Should the title depend upon the questions as to whether the fraud was committed before or after the contract was acted upon, or whether the mistake related to identity as opposed to attributes or whether the contact was void or voidable?
A mistake is a wrong understanding by one or more parties to a contact. An assumption of false identity occurs where one of the parties represents himself to be some person other than he really is.
In this case the principle of Unilateral Mistake is observed where only one party to a contract is mistaken as to the terms or subject matter.
The plaintiff claimed that since the contract was entered on the pretext of mistake as to identity, the contract between him and the rogue never existed. Thus, the ownership never passed to the rogue and that he still owns the car. On these grounds, he seeks damages from the defendant since he has his car.
Judgment and Ratio of the case:
The court held that the car was delivered under a contract voidable by reason of fraud and the contract not being avoided before the car passed into the possession of an innocent buyer, he acquired the title.
Lord Denning felt that in this case an innocent person is visited by a rogue who maliciously by the usual tricks of his trade, convinces that he is a man of standing and credit and thereby induces the seller to part with his car in exchange of a cheque and later disposes off the car to an innocent buyer.
It was held that when the parties are present, face to face, the presumption is that the contract is made with the person actually present, even though there is fraudulent impersonation by the buyer representing himself as a different man than he really is- the fact that one party is mistaken as to the identity of the other does not mean that there is no contract.
In such a case, the contract was voidable, but then a third party became involved and thus there is an impediment to revocation.
In this case Mr. Lewis failed to identify the rogue’s real identity but a contract existed.
Phillimore LJ and Megaw LJ also agreed with the view that there was nothing in the conduct of the plaintiff to overthrow the presumption of contracting with person present in person.
The contract is not void but is voidable. However, the defendant should not be made to bear the burden as he bought the car in good faith.
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