The plaintiff asked the defendant estate agents to find a purchaser for his property at a price of pounds 2,500 and if one such was found the agents’ fee would be pounds 50. A purchaser, one Clutterbuck, at pounds 2,100 was found. He paid the agents pounds 100 by way of deposit. The agents paid the principal pounds 50 and, with the principal’s consent, retained pounds 50 as their commission. But it then transpired that the agents had had a side deal with Clutterbuck whereby he paid them pounds 20. In the first action the principal claimed and recovered the pounds 20 as a secret profit made by the agent in breach his duty of good faith. In the second action the principal claimed the return of the pounds 50.
Held: He succeeded – even though he had had the benefit of the agent’s services.
Lord Alverstone CJ said: ‘It is said that the defendants ought not to be called upon to hand over the andpound;50 to the plaintiff because the plaintiff has had the benefit of their services. The principle of Salomons v. Pender (1865) 3 HandC 639 seems to me to govern the case, and it is, in my opinion, amply sufficient to do so. In that case it was held that an agent who was himself interested in a contract to purchase property of his principal was not entitled to any commission from the principal. The principle there laid down is that, when a person who purports to act as an agent is not in a position to say to his principal, ‘I have been acting as your agent, and I have done my duty by you,’ he is not entitled to recover any commission from that principal . . It seems to me that this case is only an instance of an agent who has acted improperly being unable to recover his commission from his principal. It is impossible to say what the result might have been if the agent in this case had acted honestly. It is clear that the purchaser was willing to give andpound;20 more than the price which the plaintiff received, and it may well be that he would have given more than that. It is impossible to gauge in any way what the plaintiff has lost by the improper conduct of the defendants. I think, therefore, that the interest of the agents here was adverse to that of the principal. A principal is entitled to have an honest agent, and it is only the honest agent who is entitled to any commission. In my opinion, if an agent directly or indirectly colludes with the other side, and so acts in opposition to the interest of his principal, he is not entitled to any commission. That is, I think, supported both by authority and on principle; but if, as is suggested, there is no authority directly bearing on the question, I think that the sooner such an authority is made the better.’
Wills J said: ‘The andpound;50 in question was paid by the purchaser to the defendants as agents for the plaintiff as part of the andpound;100 deposit on the purchase, and the defendants were allowed by the plaintiff to retain andpound;50 in the belief that they had earned that sum as commission. If the money had all been paid over, and the defendants had had to sue the plaintiff for commission, it seems to me perfectly clear that they could not recover it. They would have no chance whatever of succeeding in such an action, and I think that they ought not to stand in any better position because the plaintiff, believing that they had acted properly, had allowed them to retain the andpound;50. The case ought to be the same whether the commission has already been paid or whether the agent has to sue for it.’
Lord Alverstone CJ, Wills J
 2 KB 635
England and Wales
Applied – Salomons v Pender 21-Apr-1865
When a person who purports to act as an agent is not in a position to say to his principal, ‘I have been acting as your agent, and I have done my duty by you,’ he is not entitled to recover any commission from that principal.
Bramwell B said: . .
Cited – Imageview Management Ltd v Jack CA 13-Feb-2009
The appellant company acted for the respondent footballer in placing him with a football club. The respondent said that he had also taken a payment from the club, nominally for arranging a work permit. The respondent said this was improper. The . .
Cited – Nitedals Taenstikfabrik v Bruster 1906
Commission was allowed for an agent despite an alleged breach of duty. Neville J discussed Andrews v Ramsay saying its doctrine: ‘does not apply to the case of an agency where the transactions in question are separable’ . .
Cited – Hosking v Marathon Asset Management Llp ChD 5-Oct-2016
Loss of agent’s share for breach within LLP
The court was asked whether the principle that a fiduciary (in particular, an agent) who acts in breach of his fiduciary duties can lose his right to remuneration, is capable of applying to profit share of a partner in a partnership or a member of a . .
These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 02 June 2021; Ref: scu.282635