This section is from the book "The Law Of Contracts", by William Herbert Page. Also available from Amazon: Commercial Contracts: A Practical Guide to Deals, Contracts, Agreements and Promises.
If two or more persons are promisees in a contract their rights arising thereunder may be either joint or several. Whether their rights are joint or several depends upon the nature of their interest and the intention of the parties as it appears from the face of the contract. If the consideration moves from the promisees together a promise to them is prima facie joint.1 However the fact that a promisee has, by a separate contract with a third person, given the latter an interest in the contract does not make the latter a joint promisee.2 If the consideration moves from the promisees separately, a promise to them is prima facie several.3 A contract between four producers of coal, whereby one "agrees to represent the entire interests and sales of the coal of the other three parties," is a several contract as to such promisees.4 So if a member of a partnership buys out the interests of his co-partners and agrees to hold them harmless from liabilities owing by the firm, such contract is several as to the promisees.5 In either case this presumption may be rebutted by clear and unequivocal language which shows that the promise is made to them either jointly or severally.6 The interest of the promisees cannot by any form of words be made joint and several.7 While the mere form of the promise cannot make the interest of the promisees joint and several it has been held that the nature of the transaction may in some exceptional instances have this effect. This security was given jointly to several creditors to protect their several claims; it was held that they could enforce the application of such security to their claims either jointly or severally.8
2 Ex parte Rowlandson, 3 P. Wms. 405; Ex parte Brown, 1 Ves. & B. 60; United States v. Price, 9 How. (U. S.) 83; Weil v. Guerin, 42 0. S. 299.
3 Weil v. Guerin, 42 0. S. 299. 4 Prosser v. Evans (1895), 1 Q.
B. 108; People v. Harrison, 82 111. 84.
5 Clinton Bank v. Hart, 5 0. S. 33.
6 Cummings v. People, 50 111. 132; Fay v. Jenks, 78 Mich. 312; 44 N. W. 380. Contra, by statute, Council Bluffs Savings Bank v. Griswold, 50 Neb. 753; 70 N. W. 376.
7 Barry v. Foyles, 1 Pet. (U. S.) 311; Minor v. Bank, 1 Pet. (U. S.) 46.
8 United States v. Leffler, 11 Pet. (U. S.) 86.
9 Hochmark v. Richler, 16 Colo. 265; 26 Pac. 818; Benjamin v. Mc-Connell, 9 111. 536; 46 Am. Dec. 474; American Bank v. Doolittle, 14 Pick. (Mass.) 123; Crane v. Ailing, 15 N. J. L. 423.
1 Eveleth v. Sawyer, 96 Me. 227; 52 Atl. 639; Robbins v. Ayres, 10 Mo. 538; 47 Am. Dee. 125; Slaughter v. Davenport, 151 Mo. 26; 51 S. W. 471.