Alaska Packers' Ass'n v. Domenico
117 F. 99 (9th Cir. 1902)
Alaska Packers hired workers
(including Domenico) from San Francisco to go up to Alaska and work on
salmon fishing and canning.
The workers first signed an
agreement to get $50 each for the season (plus 2 cents per fish). Before
they left, they asked for more money and signed another agreement with
Alaska Packers giving them $60 each. Then when they got up to Alaska,
they refused to work unless they were promised $100 each.
Alaska Packers' manager at the
job site was forced to accede to their demands and make a new contract at
the rate of $100 per person.
He explained to the workers
that he had no authority to make a new contract.
Hadley v. Baxendale (9 Ex. 341 (Ex.Ct. 1854)) dealt with this
When the workers returned to
San Francisco they demanded their $100 each, but the company would only
pay them $60 under the terms of the contracts they signed before they
left. The workers sued.
The workers argued that
since the fishing nets were faulty, they couldn't catch very many fish.
The jury didn't find that
the nets were faulty though.
The Trial Court found for
Domenico and the rest of the workers. Alaska Packers appealed.
The Appellate Court reversed
the decision, saying that the contract modification was made under
The Court found that it
isn't fair to coerce a party into giving a promise in exchange for doing
something you were already bound to do anyway. Once the first contract
was signed, the workers were legally obligated to follow its terms.
In a way, this goes back to
the doctrine of consideration.
When modifying a contract, there must be consideration on both sides for it to be enforceable. You
can't modify a contract where one side just gets more and the other side
receives nothing else.
Getting more money for
doing the same thing is just a naked promise, and not enforceable!
The fishermen had a preexisting
duty to perform the work, they
couldn't negotiate a second, better deal to do the same work.
FYI, because this case came
out of the Federal Court's Admiralty jurisdiction, it uses obscure
terminology. For example, the complaint in an Admiralty Court is called the
libel and the plaintiffs are called