Hoffman v. Red Owl Stores is one of the most famous twentieth-century cases in American contract law, usually credited both with expanding the reach of the promissory estoppel doctrine and with opening up the issue of liability for precontractual reliance. It is a staple in contracts casebooks. By fortunate circumstance, we have located the plaintiff, who retains a vivid memory about many of the circumstances in his famous case. We have interviewed him and we have examined the full trial record, as well as the briefs on appeaL In this Article we tell the story of what we have learned about this famous case, including what happened after the appellate decision. We conclude that a fuller understanding of the facts provides information about a promise that was made, yet was not described in the Court's opinion. This promise supports the outcome of the litigation. Justice was done! The plaintiff substantially relied to his detriment after receiving specific assurances from an authorized agent of the defendant that he would receive a franchise if he relied by selling his bakery building and business. Reimbursing precontractual reliance in this circumstance can be done without creating a rule that would justify reimbursement of precontractual reliance in all circumstances.
William C. Whitford and Stewart Macaulay,
Hoffman v. Red Owl Stores: The Rest of the Story,
61 Hastings L.J. 801
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