Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Johnson v. Otterbein University case brief

Johnson v. Otterbein University case brief summary
41 Ohio 527 (1885)

Appellee university filed a petition setting forth a copy of a writing from appellant donor promising to pay to its trustees a certain sum to reduce the indebtedness of the university. The university averred its delivery, maturity, and nonpayment, and that the indebtedness referenced in the note was unpaid. A trial court entered judgment against the donor. The donor appealed from an affirmance by the District Court of Wood County (Ohio).

The writing contained a distinct promise to pay a certain sum at a fixed time, a direction as to the application of the fund, and a provision that it was to be refunded in case of misapplication. The university's charter authorized the trustees to procure funds for specified purposes, and required them to apply what they received by donation or otherwise to those purposes. It also required that all donations and bequests be applied in accordance with the designs expressed by the donors.

The university argued that there was a valid consideration in order to enforce the donor's promise. Alternatively, by force of the charter provisions, the university claimed that the promise was binding.


  • The court overturned the judgment of the district court after determining that the underlying judgment was erroneous. 
  • The creation of the fund with which to pay the university's indebtedness was not a consideration for the promise. 
  • Nor did the trustees' acceptance of the writing containing the direction to apply the fund give rise to a case of mutual promises. 
  • Moreover, gratuitous promises were not named in the charter and were left to the control of the law.

The court reversed the judgment of the district court.

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