Sumpter v Hedges [1898]

Sumpter v Hedges [1898] 1 QB 673 is a notable English contract law case that delves into the aspects of substantial performance of a contract and restitution for unjust enrichment.

Mr Sumpter, a builder, entered into a contract with Mr Hedges to construct two houses and stables for a lump sum of £560. After completing work valued at £333, Sumpter informed Hedges that he was ceasing the construction due to a lack of funds. Although substantial payments had already been made to Sumpter, he abandoned the project, leaving unfinished structures on Hedges' land. Hedges proceeded to complete the construction using the materials left behind by Sumpter. Subsequently, Sumpter sued for the outstanding payment.

Bruce J, in the initial judgment, found that Sumpter had abandoned the contract and was only entitled to receive money for the value of the materials but nothing for the work. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision, emphasising that Sumpter had abandoned the building work, leaving Hedges with no choice but to complete it.

The court ruled that Hedges had to pay for the building materials used but was not obliged to reimburse Sumpter for the incomplete structures. The leading judgment by AL Smith LJ clarified that in cases where there is a contract for a lump sum, the price cannot be recovered until the work is completed. It was further stated that for Sumpter to claim on a quantum meruit (reasonable value for the work done), evidence of a new contract to pay for the work already done must be present.

Chitty LJ concurred with the decision, emphasising that an express contract prevails, and unless there is evidence of a new contract, the original terms stand. He cited previous cases, including Cutter v Powell [1795], to support the view that there must be some evidence of a new contract for a builder to recover on a quantum meruit.

Collins LJ agreed with the finding, emphasising that the circumstances did not provide an option for Hedges to choose whether to benefit from the work done or not. He clarified that the mere fact of a defendant being in possession of completed work does not automatically imply a new contract, and the circumstances in this case did not warrant such an inference.

This case underscores the importance of contractual performance and the need for clear evidence of a new contract for recovery in cases of abandonment. The decision aligns with the legal principle that a party cannot recover the contract price until the work is substantially completed or there is evidence of a fresh agreement.
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.