Cundy v Lindsay [1877–78]

Cundy v Lindsay [1877–78] LR 3 App Cas 459 is a notable English contract law case that dealt with the issue of mistake, specifically introducing the concept that contracts could be automatically void for mistake as to identity when it is of crucial importance. This case has been a subject of debate and criticism regarding its distinction from subsequent cases like Phillips v Brooks [1919], where parties contracting face-to-face are considered voidable for fraud, protecting third-party buyers.

Lindsay & Co, the plaintiffs, sued Cundy to reclaim handkerchiefs after being defrauded by a rogue who had sold the goods to Cundy. Lindsay & Co, manufacturers of linen handkerchiefs, received correspondence from a man named Blenkarn, who falsely represented himself as Blenkiron & Co. Lindsay & Co, mistakenly believing the correspondence to be from the reputable business Blenkiron & Co., delivered a large order of handkerchiefs to Blenkarn. The rogue, in turn, sold the handkerchiefs to Cundy, who was an innocent third party. When Blenkarn failed to pay, Lindsay & Co sued Cundy for the goods.

The Divisional Court held that Lindsay could not recover the handkerchiefs from Cundy. The court emphasised that where a contract is voidable due to fraud, it can be avoided only as long as the goods remain with the fraudulent party or someone who takes them with notice. However, when goods are acquired by a bona fide purchaser, the contract cannot be avoided.

The Court of Appeal overturned the Divisional Court's decision, stating that Lindsay could recover the handkerchiefs since the mistake about the identity of the rogue voided the contract from the start.

The House of Lords held that Lindsay & Co had intended to deal only with Blenkiron & Co, not the rogue. Therefore, there was no agreement or contract between Lindsay & Co and the rogue, and title did not pass to the rogue or Cundy. Cundy had to return the goods. Lord Cairns explained that a contract could not have arisen between Lindsay & Co and the dishonest rogue. Their minds never rested upon him, and there was no consensus of mind leading to any agreement. As between Lindsay & Co and the rogue, there was merely one side to a contract, where two sides would be required for a valid contract.

The case established that the contract was void, not voidable. However, critics argue that this distinction from subsequent cases is problematic. In cases like Phillips v Brooks, contracts involving face-to-face dealings are presumed to be valid, raising concerns about the consistency of legal principles. Despite still being considered good law, this distinction has faced criticism and is perceived as eroded in contemporary legal discussions.
Back to blog
UOL Case Bank

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
INSEAD
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law

    Terminology

    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory

    Exam-focused

    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.