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Warner Brothers Pictures Inc. v Nelson [1937] 1 KB 209

Contract law – Breach of contract – Damages

Facts

The defendant was a film artist, otherwise known as Bette Davis, who had entered into a contract with the plaintiffs, Warner Bros. Pictures, in the United States to provide her services exclusively to the company for the period of twelve months with a further twelve-month option. Under the contract, she could not, therefore, provide her services to another company, without the plaintiff’s express written consent. By her own admission, the defendant came to the United Kingdom to agree with a business to work to produce films for a third party and claimed that she was no longer bound by the original agreement with the defendants. The plaintiffs brought an action and claimed an injunction to restrain her actions.

Issue

The issue for the court was to understand and consider all of the options available with regards to remedying the breach of contract in this instance. Specific performance would be a strict requirement that would require Nelson to perform for the business, whereas damages would potentially be difficult to quantify in the circumstances. The court would also have to consider the length of time that such a restriction might run for.

Held

The court found that the contract was not meant to force the defendant to specific performance but that an injunction would enforce the contract to perform and therefore specific performance was not an appropriate remedy. This was also the case for damages as they could not be appropriate quantified under the circumstances. On this basis, an injunction, with a time limit was applied to prevent Nelson from carrying out the other contract.


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