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Pettit v. Liston

    Citation

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    Bloomberg Law

    Brief Fact Summary. A minor purchased a motorcycle and attempted to return it to the shop he bought it from and receive a full refund.


    Synopsis of Rule of Law. "[W]here the minor has not been overreached in any way, and there has been no undue influence, and the contract is a fair and reasonable one, and the minor has actually paid money on the purchase price, and taken and used the article, that he ought not to be permitted to recover the amount actually paid, without allowing the vendor of the goods the reasonable compensation for the use and depreciation of the article, while in his hands."


    Facts. The Plaintiff, a minor, Pettit (the "Plaintiff"), purchased a motorcycle from the Defendants, Liston and others (the "Defendants"), for $325.  The Plaintiff paid $125 as a down payment and was obligated to make $25 monthly payments until the balance was paid off.  The Plaintiff used the motorcycle for a little more than a month, and then returned it to the Defendants demanding his money back.  The Defendants refused and the Plaintiff filed this action.  The Defendants alleged that the Plaintiff caused $156.56 in damages to the motorcycle.  The lower court dismissed the Plaintiff's action.


    Issue. "[W]hether or not a minor who has purchased an article of this kind, and taken and used the same, after paying part or all of the purchase price, can return the article and recover the money paid without making good to the vendors the wear and tear and depreciation of the same while in his hands"?


    Held. The court first recognizes how the state of the law in the country concerning this issue is in disarray.  As such, the court decides to treat this issue as one of first impression.  The court finds that "where the minor has not been overreached in any way, and there has been no undue influence, and the contract is a fair and reasonable one, and the minor has actually paid money on the purchase price, and taken and used the article, that he ought not to be permitted to recover the amount actually paid, without allowing the vendor of the goods the reasonable compensation for the use and depreciation of the article, while in his hands."
    •    On the other hand however, "if there has been any fraud or imposition on the part of the seller, or if the contract is unfair, or any unfair advantage has been taken of the minor in inducing him to make the purchase, then a different rule would apply."


    Discussion. The court makes an interesting argument against allowing a minor to void a transaction that is fair just because he/she is minor.  The court observes:  "[a]gain, it will not exert any good moral influence upon boys and young men, and will not tend to encourage honesty and integrity, or lead them to a good and useful business future, if they are taught that they can make purchases with their own money, for their own benefit, and after paying for them in this way, and using them until they are worn out and destroyed, go back and compel the business man to return to them what they have paid upon the purchase price. Such a doctrine, as it seems to us, can only lead to the corruption of young men's principles and encourage them in habits of trickery and dishonesty."



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