Lumley v Wagner [1852]

Lumley v Wagner [1852] EWHC (Ch) J96 concerned the dispute revolving around a contract involving Mlle Johanna Wagner, engaged by Benjamin Lumley to sing exclusively at Her Majesty's Theatre on Haymarket for three months, two nights a week, starting from 1 April 1852. However, Frederick Gye, the manager of Covent Garden Theatre, offered her more money to breach her contract with Lumley and sing for him instead.

Sir James Parker granted an injunction to restrain Mlle Wagner from performing at Covent Garden Theatre, and she appealed this decision. Lord St Leonards LC, in the Court of Chancery, held that the injunction did not amount to indirect specific performance of Wagner's obligation to sing. Instead, an order was granted that prohibited Wagner from performing at any other venue than Her Majesty's Theatre.

Lord St Leonards emphasised the court's role in binding individuals to the literal performance of their agreements, maintaining good faith, and preventing parties from departing from their contracts at their own discretion. While the court lacked the power to compel Wagner to sing, it could rightfully prevent her from violating the contractual obligation she had willingly undertaken. The judge acknowledged the potential mischievous effect of the injunction, restricting Wagner from singing elsewhere. Still, he asserted that she had no cause for complaint, as the injunction aimed to uphold the commitment she made and possibly encourage her to fulfil her engagement.

The judge justified the exercise of the court's jurisdiction, expressing that it was appropriate to interfere in this case. The injunction, while unable to force Wagner to sing, could prevent potentially significant damages if Lumley chose to pursue legal action against her. In continuing the injunction, the judge disclaimed any intention to achieve indirectly what could not be done directly, emphasising the court's limited but impactful role in preserving contractual obligations.
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