Prince Rupert

The following case appears in our Property casebook. It was decided in 1647 by the King's Bench in England. It's short, so I reproduce it below in its entirety:

Paradine v. Jane King’s Bench, 1647 Aleyn 27, 82 Eng. Rep. 897

In debt the plaintiff declares upon a lease for years rendering rent at the four usual feasts; and for rent behind for three years, ending at the Feast of the Annunciation, 21 Car. brings his action; the defendant pleads, that a certain German prince, by name Prince Rupert, an alien born, enemy to the King and kingdom, had invaded the realm with an hostile army of men; and with the same force did enter upon the defendant’s possession, and him expelled, and held out of possession from the 19 of July 18 Car. till the Feast of the Annunciation, 21 Car. whereby he could not take the profits; whereupon the plaintiff
demurred, and the plea was resolved insufficient * * *

It was resolved, that the matter of the plea was insufficient; for though the whole army had been alien enemies, yet he ought to pay his rent. And this difference was taken, that where the law creates a duty or charge, and the party is disabled to perform it without any default in him, and hath no remedy over, there the law will excuse him. * * * Now the rent is a duty created by the parties upon the reservation, and had there been a covenant to pay it, there had been no questions but the lessee must have made it good, notwithstanding the interruption by enemies, for the law would not protect him beyond his own agreement, no more than in the case of reparations; this reservation then being a covenant in law, and whereupon an action of covenant hath been maintained (as Roll said) it is all one as if there had been an actual covenant. Another reason was added, that as the lessee is to have the advantage of casual profits, so he must run the hazard of causal losses, and not lay the whole burthen of them upon his lessor; and Dyer 56.6 was cited for this purpose, that though the land be surrounded, or gained by the sea, or made barren by wildfire, yet the lessor shall have his whole rent: and judgment was given for the plaintiff.

To translate: This case stands for the proposition that, even if you're excluded from your leasehold, you still have to pay your rent. So even if King Rupert and his German armies break into your apartment and throw you out the window, you still have to pay that rent check in the mail on the first of the month.

This, by the way, is a great illustration of the goofiness of the common law: This case was incorporated into American law, along with the rest of English Common Law, shortly after the revolution. It hasn't been overturned, so right now, today, Paradine v. Jane is good, binding law here in America. As a practical matter, it holds that when you're in a lease there are certain duties, and with a few exceptions you're always bound to those duties even if the other party ignores them. If your landlord kicks you out for no reason, you still have to pay rent while you seek a legal remedy. Likewise, if you don't pay rent, your landlord can't kick you out until he gets you lawfully evicted.

Nonetheless, it's slightly silly. An anonymous, royally-appointed judge in England in 1647 makes a ruling. Later judges follow it unquestioningly, doctrine is built around it, and now it's the iron-clad law here in America in the Twenty-First Century, land of democracy and freedom and the like. Yes, I know, if it were that bad a rule someone would have overturned it by now, but nonetheless. A surprising amount of the laws and rules that govern us in America are the result of decisions by antique English judges. I submit to you that there is a certain irrationality to this.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on March 6, 2006 12:25 AM.

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