Lacy v. Getman

Decision Date14 January 1890
Citation23 N.E. 452,119 N.Y. 109
PartiesLACY v. GETMAN.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Appeal from supreme court, general term, fourth department.

Action by Thomas Lacy against Sophronia Getman, as executrix, to recover for services performed under a contract with defendant's testator.


A contract to work as a farm hand for a year at a certain price is terminated by the death of the master during the term, and the servant can only recover for the period of service during the master's life, though he continues to work until the end of the year under the direction of the master's widow, to whom a life-estate in the farm and the full use and control of the personalty were devised.

Elon R. Brown, for appellant.

W. A. Nims, for respondent.


The relation of master and servant is no longer bounded by its original limits. It has broadened with the advance of civilization, until the law recognizes its existence in new areas of social and business life, and yields in many directions to the influence and necessities of its later surroundings.When, therefore, it is said generally, as the commentators mostly agree in saying, that the contract relations of principal and agent and of master and servant are dissolved by the death of either party, it is very certain that the statement must be limited to cases in which the relation may be deemed purely personal, and involves neither property rights nor independent action. Beyond that, a further limitation of the doctrine is asserted, which approaches very near to its utter destruction, and is claimed to be the result of modern adjudication. That limitation is that the rule applies only to the contract of the servant, and not to that of the master, and not at all, unless the service employed is that of skilled labor, peculiar to the capacity and experience of the servant employed, and not the common possession of men in general; and it is proposed to adopt, as a standard or test of the limitation, an inquiry in each case whether the contract on the side of the master can be performed after his death by his representatives, substantially and in all its terms and requirements, or cannot be so performed without violence to some of its inherent elements. The agitation of that question has kept the present case passing, like a shuttle, between the trial and the appellate courts, until it has been tried four times at the circuit, and reviewed four times at general term, and at last has been sent here in the hope of securing a final repose. The facts are few and undisputed on this appeal. The plaintiff, Lacy, contracted orally with defendant's testator, McMahan, to work for the latter upon his farm, doing its appropriate and ordinary work, for a period of one year, at a compensation of $200. Lacy entered upon the service in March, doing from day to day the work of the farm under the direction of its owner, until about the middle of July, when McMahan died. By his will he made the defendant executrix, but devised and bequeathed to his widow a life-estate in the farm, and the use and control of all his personal property whatsoever, in the house and on the farm, during the term of her natural life. Lacy knew in a general way the terms of the will. He testifies that he knew that it gave to the widow the use of the farm, and that she talked with him about the personal property. It is admitted that the executrix did not hire or employ him, but he continued on to the close of the year, doing the farm work, under the direction of the widow, until the end of his full year. He sued the executrix upon his contract with the testator, and has recovered the full amount of his year's wages. From that decision the executrix appeals, claiming that the judgment should have been limited to the proportionate amount earned at the death of McMahan, and that the death of the master dissolved the contract.

It is obvious at once that an element has come into the case, as now presented, which was not there when the general term first held that the contract survived. It now appears that that the executrix could not have performed her side of the contract at all after the death of McMahan, by force of her official authority, because she had neither the possession of the farm, nor personal property upon it, and no right to such possession during the life of the widow. She had no power to put her servant upon the land, or employ him about it, and in her representative character she had not the slightest interest in his service, and could derive no possible benefit from it. The plaintiff's labor, after the death of McMahan, was necessarily on the farm of the widow, by her consent, for her benefit, and under her direction and control, and equitably and justly should be a charge against her alone. The test of power to perform on the part of the personal representative of the deceased fails in the emergency presented by the facts, except possibly upon proof of the consent of the widow. We have, then, the peculiar case of a contract made to work for McMahan, and under his direction and control, which could not be performed because of his death,...

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36 cases
  • Abraham v. Leigh
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • July 8, 2020
    ...performance contemplated is particular to the individuals involved." King II , 370 F. Supp. 3d at 381-82 (citing Lacy v. Getman , 119 N.Y. 109, 115-16, 23 N.E. 452 (1890), and Samuel Williston, A TREATISE ON THE LAW OF CONTRACTS § 77:72 (4th ed. 2004) ). While Mr. Leigh may have been best s......
  • Ellerson v. Grove
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • October 21, 1930
    ...discharged from their obligation, not in breach of their contract but by implied condition. See also Lacy v. Getman, 119 N. Y. 109, 23 N. E. 452, 6 L. R. A. 728, 16 Am. St. Rep. 806; Labatt's Master & Servant, vol. 1, p. 671, § From what has been said above it is clear that plaintiff had no......
  • Williams v. Butler
    • United States
    • Indiana Appellate Court
    • May 26, 1914
    ... ... Iron Works Co. (1875), 119 Mass. 82; Trammell ... v. Vaughan (1900), 158 Mo. 214, 59 S.W. 79, 81 Am ... St. 302, 51 L.R.A. 854; Lacy v. Getman ... (1890), 119 N.Y. 109, 23 N.E. 452, 16 Am. St. 806, 6 L.R.A ... 728; Taylor v. Caldwell (1863), 32 L. J ... 164, 167; Dolan ... ...
  • Williams v. Butler
    • United States
    • Indiana Appellate Court
    • May 26, 1914
    ...Co., 119 Mass. 82;Trammell v. Vaughan, 158 Mo. 214, 59 S. W. 79, 51 L. R. A. 854, 81 Am. St. Rep. 302;Lacy v. Getman, 119 N. Y. 109, 23 N. E. 452, 6 L. R. A. 728, 16 Am. St. Rep. 806; Taylor v. Caldwell (Q. B. 26 Victoria) 32 L. J. 164-167; Dolan v. Rodgers, 149 N. Y. 489, 44 N. E. 167;Sand......
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