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Hoffman v. Red Owl Stores: The Rest of The Story


William C. Whitford


University of Wisconsin Law School

Stewart Macaulay


University of Wisconsin Law School

July 30, 2009

Hastings Law Journal, Vol. 61, p. 801, 2010
Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1085

Abstract:     
Hoffman v. Red Owl Stores is one of the most famous 20th 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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 56

Keywords: contracts, promissory estoppel, franchise, franchising, Hoffman v. Red Owl Stores, precontractual reliance, reliance, legal archaeology, law in action, law and society, legal history

JEL Classification: K12

working papers series


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Date posted: August 2, 2009 ; Last revised: May 18, 2010

Suggested Citation

Whitford, William C. and Macaulay, Stewart, Hoffman v. Red Owl Stores: The Rest of The Story (July 30, 2009). Hastings Law Journal, Vol. 61, p. 801, 2010; Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1085. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1441486 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1441486

Contact Information

William C. Whitford (Contact Author)
University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )
975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States
Stewart Macaulay
University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )
975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States
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