Appleby v Myers

April 02, 2024
Micheal James

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Introduction to Appleby v Myers

The 1867 case of Appleby v Myers holds a significant place in contract law. It grapples with the complexities of contract performance, divisibility, and the impact of unforeseen events. The case revolves around a construction project gone awry, raising questions about who bears the financial burden when a contract is disrupted by circumstances beyond either party’s control.

Factual Background

Appleby, a machinery installer, entered into a contract with Myers to erect machinery on his premises. The agreement wasn’t a simple one. It involved the installation of the machinery in specific portions, with a fixed price for each completed stage. Additionally, the contract stipulated that Appleby would be responsible for keeping the premises in good repair for a period of two years after installation. However, the payment structure differed from the work schedule. The total sum for the project was to be paid by Myers only upon completion of all the work and the two-year maintenance period.

Work commenced, and Appleby completed some portions of the machinery installation. While other sections were in progress, a disaster struck. An accidental fire engulfed the premises, destroying everything – the completed machinery, remaining materials, and even the building itself.

Legal Issue

This devastating event triggered the central legal question in the case. Despite the fire rendering full completion impossible, Appleby demanded compensation for the work they had already completed. They argued that the contract was divisible, allowing them to claim payment for those finished portions, regardless of the overall destruction. In essence, Appleby contended that they had fulfilled their obligations for certain stages of the project and deserved compensation for their work.

Holding and Reasoning

The initial court hearing, held in the Court of Common Pleas, sided with Appleby. The court’s reasoning might have centered on the concept of divisibility in contracts. They might have viewed the agreement as divisible, meaning it could be broken down into separate stages, each with its own associated price. Since Appleby demonstrably completed some stages, they were entitled to payment for those, even if the fire prevented full performance.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Myers appealed the decision, taking the case to the Court of Exchequer Chamber. This higher court reached a different conclusion, ultimately ruling in favor of Myers. The Court of Exchequer Chamber’s reasoning likely focused on two key legal principles:

  • Doctrine of Frustration: The court might have applied the doctrine of frustration of contract. This doctrine excuses both parties from their contractual obligations when an unforeseen event makes performance impossible or fundamentally different from what was originally contemplated. The fire, a clearly unforeseen event, rendered further performance by both Appleby (installation) and Myers (payment upon completion) impossible.
  • Entire Contract: The court might have considered the contract as “entire,” meaning full completion and final payment were interdependent conditions. Since the fire prevented full completion, it also rendered the payment obligation null and void. In essence, the entire contract was frustrated by the fire, leaving no room for partial claims.


The decision in Appleby v Myers has had a lasting impact on contract law. While the case doesn’t provide a definitive answer to divisibility in every situation, it offers valuable insights:

  • Divisibility Clarification: The case serves as a reminder that divisibility is not always straightforward. Courts will consider the specific terms and structure of the contract, along with the nature of the work performed, to determine if a contract can be considered divisible.
  • Frustration Doctrine Emphasis: The case reinforces the importance of the frustration doctrine. It highlights that unforeseen events can disrupt contracts, potentially excusing both parties from further obligations.


Appleby v Myers stands as a significant case in contract law. It sheds light on the complexities of divisibility, the doctrine of frustration, and their interplay in unforeseen circumstances. While the case doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all solution, it helps navigate situations where performance becomes impossible due to events beyond the parties’ control.

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