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Threat of Litigation: Covenant Not to Sue

15 January, 2016 - 09:32

Because every person has the legal right to file suit if he or she feels aggrieved, a promise to refrain from going to court is sufficient consideration to support a promise of payment or performance. In Dedeaux v. Young, Dedeaux purchased property and promised to make certain payments to Young, the broker. 1 But Dedeaux thereafter failed to make these payments, and Young threatened suit; had he filed papers in court, the transfer of title could have been blocked. To keep Young from suing, Dedeaux promised to pay a 5 percent commission if Young would stay out of court. Dedeaux later resisted paying on the ground that he had never made such a promise and that even if he had, it did not amount to a contract because there was no consideration from Young. The court disagreed, holding that the evidence supported Young’s contention that Dedeaux had indeed made such a promise and upholding Young’s claim for the commission because “a request to forbear to exercise a legal right has been generally accepted as sufficient consideration to support a contract.” If Young had had no grounds to sue—for example, if he had threatened to sue a stranger, or if it could be shown that Dedeaux had no obligation to him originally—then there would have been no consideration because Young would not have been giving up a legal right. A promise to forebear suing in return for settlement of a dispute is called a covenant not to sue (covenant is another word for agreement).