Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v Selfridge & Co Ltd [1915]

Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v Selfridge & Co Ltd [1915] UKHL 1 holds significance in English contract law for establishing the unenforceability of resale price maintenance agreements under the doctrine of privity of contract. It is distinct from another House of Lords decision, Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v New Garage & Motor Co Ltd [1914], which considered the same resale price maintenance agreement but focused on the concept of liquidated damages.

In the factual context, Dunlop, a tyre manufacturer, sought to uphold a standard resale price for its products. Agreements were made with its dealers, including Dew & Co, prohibiting the sale of tyres below the recommended retail price. Dealers were obligated to secure a similar commitment from their retailers, such as Selfridge. The agreement included a provision stipulating that retailers, if selling below the list price, would incur £5 per tyre in liquidated damages payable to Dunlop. As a third party to the contract between Selfridge and Dew, Dunlop initiated legal action against Selfridge for breach of contract, seeking damages and an injunction.

The House of Lords, in its judgment, concluded that Dunlop could not claim damages from Selfridge for selling below the resale price due to the absence of a direct contractual relationship between Dunlop and Selfridge. The court found no consideration between Dunlop and Selfridge, and there was no evidence of an agency relationship between Dew and Selfridge. Lacking consideration or an agency relationship, Dunlop was unable to enforce the terms of the agreement against Selfridge.

The legal significance of this case extends beyond contract law and touches on modern competition law. Resale price maintenance agreements like the one in question are now generally regulated as anticompetitive practices. The case underscores the limitations imposed by the doctrine of privity of contract and reflects evolving legal perspectives on competition and fair trade. In essence, Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v Selfridge & Co Ltd remains a pivotal decision that has influenced both contract law principles and the regulation of anticompetitive practices in contemporary legal frameworks.
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