It is a general rule, in cases of misreliance, that although all the other elements of obligation are present, proof of serious misconduct by the plaintiff toward the defendant will be held to justify a refusal to make restitution (ante, Sec. 21). One of the forms of misconduct which ought, upon principle, to be so regarded is the willful breach of a contract:
Stark v. Parker, 1824, 2 Pick. (Mass.) 267; 13 Am. Dec. 425: Action to recover the value of services rendered under a contract which plaintiff without cause had abandoned. Lincoln, J. (p. 271): "It cannot but seem strange to those who are in any degree familiar with the fundamental principles of law, that doubts should ever be entertained upon a question of this nature. Courts of justice are eminently characterized by their obligation and office to enforce the performance of contracts, and to withhold aid and countenance from those who seek, through their instrumentality, impunity or excuse for the violation of them. And it is no less repugnant to the well-established rules of civil jurisprudence, than the dictates of moral sense, that a party who deliberately and understandingly enters into an engagement and voluntarily breaks it, should be permitted to make that very engagement the foundation of a claim to compensation for services under it."
Haslack v. Mayers, 1857, 26 N. J. L. 284: Indebitatus assumpsit to recover the value of nine shares of stock transferred by the plaintiff to the defendant in part performance of a contract for the purchase of the defendant's stock of groceries. The plaintiff subsequently refused to complete the purchase. Potts, J. (p. 290): "The plaintiff here has deliberately broken his covenant with the defendant; and without the shadow of a pretext for having done so, asks, at the hands of a court of justice, to be remunerated in money for the stock he delivered to the defendant voluntarily in part performance of that covenant. For the court to aid him, would be to lend its aid to an act of bad faith. There is no hardship in the case. Let him perform his contract, and he will receive the remuneration he stipulated for; or, if it be now too late, the loss is the consequence of his own act."
The weight of authority, as will be seen later (post, Sec. 174 et seq.), is in accord with principle, though the cases are in confusion, and the distinction between the willful contract breaker and one who honestly endeavors to perform but fails because of want of skill, or for other reasons not affecting good faith, is frequently overlooked.