Contracts Practice Question 2

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Contracts: Performance, Breach, and Discharge

A widow entered into a contract with a painter to repaint her house over a three-week period that summer, after which the painter would be paid in full. The painter came every day during the first week and worked according to the agreed upon terms. At the beginning of the second week, the widow’s son arrived home from college for the summer. Once the widow’s son was home, she informed the painter that she would no longer require his service, as her son was going to finish painting the house. When the painter argued that she was violating their contract, the widow then refused to pay the painter for any of his completed work.

If the painter sues the widow for breach of contract before the three weeks are over, who will prevail?

A: The painter because the widow breached by anticipatory repudiation.

B: The painter because the widow breached the contract.

C: The widow because the agreement was an installment contract.

D: The widow because of a change of circumstances.

Answer and Explanation

A is correct. Anticipatory repudiation occurs if a promisor, prior to the time set for performance of his promise, indicates that he will not perform when the time comes. The repudiation must be words or conduct that unequivocally indicates he will not perform when the time comes. The effect of a repudiation is different from a normal breach. After an anticipatory repudiation, the nonrepudiating party may choose to sue immediately or may suspend performance and wait to sue until the performance is due.

B is incorrect. This choice is not specific enough. Because the widow breached by anticipatory repudiation, the painter may sue immediately without having to wait until the performance date.

C is incorrect. The contract was not an installment contract. An installment contract is one which requires or authorizes the delivery of goods in separate lots to be separately accepted. Each delivery therefore may be treated like a separate contract. There was no such agreement here between the widow and the painter.

D is incorrect. Although occasionally performance may be excused by a later unanticipated event, the occurrence must affect the promisor’s ability to perform, not just the cost of the performance. In this case, the widow is not excuse from performance just because her son unexpectedly came home and could now paint the house for free.

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