Contract Law Cases - Allcard v Skinner
Background of Allcard v Skinner
Allcard v Skinner was the case where a woman by the name of Mrs Allcard was introduced by her reverend (Mr Nihil) to Mrs Skinner, a woman who was the 'superior' lady in a protestant institution created by Nihil and Skinner themselves. They called this institution 'The Sisters of the Poor' and membership required Mrs Allcard to give up all of her property (possessions) to Mrs Skinner as well as write a will stating that all property will go to her upon death.
Mrs Allcard was a member of the Sisters of the Poor from 1870 until 1879 and agreed to these terms, giving Skinner a total of £1,050 and stocks and shares worth £5, 870 during this time, totalling almost £7,000 in the 19th Century, which is roughly the equivalent of £350,000 today.
When Allcard decided to leave in 1879 she revoked the will she had made promising her property away to Skinner and then tried to claim the property she had already given away back in 1885. She did this on the grounds that she was unduly influenced by Skinner to do so without anyone else's advice.
It was part of the rules of the sisterhood that "the voice of thy Superior is the voice of God' and that 'no Sister [should] seek advice of any extern without the Superior's leave' meaning that Allcard was obliged to not seek the opinion of anyone else except Skinner, pointing towards undue influence.
Thinking for yourself is NUN of your Business!
The Court's Ruling
The courts ruled that Mrs Allcard would have been entitled to reclaim whatever was left of the property she had given to Skinner due to the following facts:
- The process that lead to her final decision was not unbiased since Allcard was told she could not seek (or needed permission and therefore made it difficult/impossible to do so) advice from anyone outside of the institution.
- She was being heavily influenced by people who she deemed to be of superior rank to her and so did not make the decision on her own.
- Even though the defendants claimed that she had advice from her brother and still chose to give away her possessions, Lord Justice Cotton stated that had this been true and she had unbiased advice, the second point raised would still make her decision unduly influenced."
Lord Justice Cotton's Exact Words
"At the time of the gift the Plaintiff was a professed sister, and, as such, bound to render absolute submission to the Defendant as superior of the sisterhood. She had no power to obtain independent advice, she was in such a position that she could not freely exercise her own will as to the disposal of her property, and she must be considered as being [not] a free agent"
"In my opinion, even if there were evidence that she had, before she joined the sisterhood, advice on the question of how she should deal with her property, that would not be sufficient."
Lessons to take away
- The courts are sympathetic to people who have been unduly influenced into performing particular actions.
- When this means doing something that directly affects ones own life, such as giving away your life savings to someone else, the courts will rule that you are entitled to recover whatever you can from the damages your influenced decision caused you.
- Waiting for six years before claiming your property back on the grounds of undue influence is too long for the courts.
The Final Decision for Mrs Allcard
In the end Allcard was not actually able to claim her property back because of the long delay she had made before taking the issue to court.
A delay of six years was deemed too long to be reasonably accepted by the Court of Appeal and Mrs Allcard received nothing.
When pressing legal action, make sure it is within a reasonable time!