Johnson v Agnew: HL 1979

The seller had obtained a summary order for specific performance of a contract for the sale of land against the buyer.
Held: The breach was continuing and was still capable of being remedied by compliance with the order for specific performance. The seller was entitled, after the buyer had failed to comply with the order, to apply to court to put an end to the contract and claim damages for breach. A plaintiff who is refused specific performance or an injunction is left to his damages in contract or tort. The measure of such damages is exactly what it would be at common law.
Lord Wilberforce said: ‘In my opinion, the argument based on irrevocable election, strongly pressed by the appellant’s counsel in the present appeal is unsound. Election, though the subject of much learning and refinement, is in the end a doctrine based on simple considerations of common sense and equity. It is easy to see that a party who has put an end to a contract by accepting the other party’s repudiation cannot afterwards seek specific performance. This is simply because the contract has gone – what is dead is dead. But it is no more difficult to agree that a party who has chosen specific performance, may quite well thereafter, if specific performance fails to be realised say, ‘very well, then the contract should be regarded as terminated’.
It is quite consistent with a decision provisionally to keep alive, to say, ‘Well this is no use – let us now end the contract’s life’. A vendor who seeks (and gets) specific performance is merely electing for a course which may or may not lead to implementation of the contract – what he elects for is not eternal and unconditional affirmation, but a continuance of the contract under the control of the court which control involves the power, in certain events, to terminate it.’ and
‘In cases where a breach of a contract for sale has occurred, and the innocent party reasonably continues to try to have the contract completed, it would to me appear more logical and just rather than tie him to the date of the original breach, to assess damages as at the date when (otherwise than by his default) the contract is lost.’
In the law of contract, the date of breach rule ‘is not an absolute rule: if to follow it would give rise to injustice, the court has power to fix such other date as may be appropriate in the circumstances.’

Lord Wilberforce
[1980] AC 367, [1979] 2 WLR 487, [1979] 1 All ER 883
England and Wales
CitedOgle v Vane 1868
. .
CitedRadford v De Froberville 2-Jan-1977
A contract was made for the sale of a plot of land adjoining a house belonging to the plaintiff (the vendor) but occupied by his tenants, under which the defendant (the purchaser) undertook to build a house on the plot and also to erect a wall to a . .

Cited by:
CitedWilliam Sindall Plc v Cambridgeshire County Council CA 21-May-1993
Land was bought for development, but the purchaser later discovered a sewage pipe which very substantially limited its development potential. The existence of the pipe had not been disclosed on the sale, being unknown to the seller.
Held: . .
CitedSurrey County Council and Mole District Council v Bredero Homes Ltd ChD 1992
Land was agreed to be sold for development in accordance with an existing planning permission. Instead a later permission was obtained, and more houses were built. The plaintiff had not sought to restrain or prevent the breach, but now sought . .
CitedOliver Ashworth (Holdings) Limited v Ballard (Kent) Limited CA 18-Mar-1999
In order for the landlord to claim double rent where a tenant held over unlawfully after the tenancy was determined, the landlord must not do anything to indicate that the lease might be continuing, for example by denying the validity of break . .
CitedSmith New Court Securities Ltd v Scrimgeour Vickers HL 21-Nov-1996
The defendant had made misrepresentations, inducing the claimant to enter into share transactions which he would not otherwise have entered into, and which lost money.
Held: A deceitful wrongdoer is properly liable for all actual damage . .
CitedSurrey County Council v Bredero Homes Ltd CA 7-Apr-1993
A local authority had sold surplus land to a developer and obtained a covenant that the developer would develop the land in accordance with an existing planning permission. The sole purpose of the local authority in imposing the covenant was to . .
CitedCollins Stewart Ltd and Another v The Financial Times Ltd QBD 20-Oct-2004
The claimants sought damages for defamation. The claimed that the article had caused very substantial losses (andpound;230 million) to them by affecting their market capitalisation value. The defendant sought to strike out that part of the claim. . .
CitedPegler Ltd v Wang (UK) Ltd TCC 25-Feb-2000
Standard Conract – Wide Exclusions, Apply 1977 Act
The claimant had acquired a computer system from the defendant, which had failed. It was admitted that the contract had been broken, and the court set out to decide the issue of damages.
Held: Even though Wang had been ready to amend one or . .
CitedDomb and Another v Isoz CA 29-Nov-1979
In a chain of conveyancing transactions, a solicitor sent his contract and deposit to his vendor’s solicitor, asking him to hold it to his order pending exchange. On the next day, that vendor’s solicitors agreed to an exchange of contracts over the . .
CitedGolden Strait Corporation v Nippon Yusen Kubishka Kaisha (‘The Golden Victory’) HL 28-Mar-2007
The claimant sought damages for repudiation of a charterparty. The charterpary had been intended to continue until 2005. The charterer repudiated the contract and that repudiation was accepted, but before the arbitrator could set his award, the Iraq . .
CitedAlcoa Minerals of Jamaica Inc v Herbert Broderick PC 20-Mar-2000
(Jamaica) Damage had been caused to the claimant’s property, but, because of his lack of funds, he was dependent upon the receipt of the damages to carry out the works of repair necessary. By the time the matter came to trial, inflation meant that . .
CitedPersonal Representatives of Tang Man Sit v Capacious Investments Ltd PC 18-Dec-1995
The claimant, Capacious Investments Ltd, brought proceedings against Tang’s estate for damages for the loss of use and occupation, and also an account of profits and damages for loss and damage incurred, for example by encumbering the property with . .
MentionedRamzan v Brookwide Ltd CA 19-Aug-2011
The defendant had broken through into a neighbour’s flying freehold room, closed it off, and then included it in its own premises for let. It now appealed against the quantum of damages awarded. The judge had found the actions deliberate and with a . .
CitedHooper and Another v Oates CA 20-Feb-2013
The parties had agreed for the purchase of land, but the buyer, Mr Oates, failed to complete. A notice to complete was served, and on non-compliance, the repudiation was accepted. It proved difficult to resell, and they suffered substantial losses. . .
CitedDowns and Another v Chappell and Another CA 3-Apr-1996
The plaintiffs had suceeded in variously establishing claims in deceit and negligence, but now appealed against the finding that no damages had flowed from the wrongs. They had been sold a business on the basis of incorrect figures.
Held: . .
CitedDowns and Another v Chappell and Another CA 3-Apr-1996
The plaintiffs had suceeded in variously establishing claims in deceit and negligence, but now appealed against the finding that no damages had flowed from the wrongs. They had been sold a business on the basis of incorrect figures.
Held: . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Equity, Contract

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.185672