Closely resembling cases of seizure or detention of property (ante, Sec. 216) are those of actual or threatened serious injury to business or employment. To imperil a man's livelihood, his business enterprises, or his solvency, is ordinarily quite as coercive as to detain his property. It is manifestly impossible, however, to frame a test whereby to determine precisely what the nature or extent of the injury or interference must be in order to constitute duress. Each case must be judged in the light of its peculiar circumstances. The courts have recognized this, and have generally dealt with the subject in a commendable spirit of liberality. Threats of expulsion or suspension from a labor union;3 taking steps to prevent the collection of money due from other persons;4
1 Vereycken v. Vandenbrooks, 1894, 102 Mich. 119; 60 N. W. 687.
2 Close v. Phipps, 1844, 7 Man. & G. 586; Whitcomb v. Harris, 1897, 90 Me. 206; 38 Atl. 138; Cazenove v. Cutler, 1842, 4 Metc. (Mass.) 246; McMurtie v. Keenan, 1872, 109 Mass. 185; Klein v. Bayer, 1890, 81 Mich. 233; 45 N. W. 991; Bennett v. Healey, 1861, 6 Minn. 240. And see Joannin v. Ogilvie, 1892, 49 Minn. 564; 52 N. W. 217; 16 L. R. A. 376; 32 Am. St. Rep. 581. But see, contra, Wessel v. Johnston Land Co., 1893, 3 N. D. 160; 54 N. W. 922; 44 Am. St. Rep. 529; Burke v. Gould, 1894, 105 Cal. 277; 38 Pac. 733.
3 Fuerst v. Musical, etc., Union, 1905, 95 N. Y. Supp. 155, 160 (City Ct., Tr. T.). The court said: "Plaintiff knew that before he could appeal to the courts for relief he must exhaust the remedies provided by the laws of the organization, and to prosecute the appeal therein allowed he was compelled to pay the amount of the fine. This he did on the last day allowed, but accompanied the payment with his written protest. He feared that if he did not pay the money on that day, the president's threat would become effective and his means of earning a livelihood in his chosen occupation destroyed. That threat, coupled with the fear induced thereby, amounts in law to duress." See also Carew v. Rutherford, 1870, 106 Mass. 1; 8 Am. Rep. 287, where the court seemed to regard it as a tort.
4 Vyne v. Glenn, 1879, 41 Mich. 112; 1 N. W. 997.
threats of a business manager, who alone is conversant with important matters, to resign his position;1 threats of a water company or municipality to cut off the water supply of a factory or commercial building;2 a refusal on the part of a lessor, whose interest in premises is protected by insurance policies taken out by the lessee, to execute proofs of loss without which the lessee cannot collect his insurance money;3 all these have been held sufficiently coercive, under particular circumstances, to raise an obligation to repay money wrongfully extorted through their instrumentality.4
On the other hand, a wrongful refusal on the part of a brewing company to perform a contract to supply beer to a retailer has been declared not to amount to duress, though the retailer feared that he might have difficulty in obtaining a supply from other brewers.5 And the same court which held that taking steps to prevent the collection of money due from others is duress decided in a later case that a wrongful refusal to pay one's own debt under similar circumstances of hardship to the creditor is not 1 - a distinction difficult to appreciate.
1 Whitt v. Blount, 1906, 124 Ga. 671; 53 S. E. 205. There were also threats, in this case, to keep money, contracts, and property belonging to the persons threatened.
2 Panton p. Duluth Gas and Water Co., 1892, 50 Minn. 175; 52 N. W. 527; 36 Am. St. Rep. 635; Chicago v. Northwestern Mut. Life Ins. Co., 1905, 218 111. 40; 75 N. E. 803; 1 L. R. A. (N. S.) 770; Westlake v. City of St. Louis, 1882, 77 Mo. 47; 46 Am. Rep. 4.
3 Guetzkow Bros. Co. v. Breese, 1897, 96 Wis. 591, 598; 72 N. W. 45 ; 65 Am. St. Rep. 83, in which the court said: "The plaintiff was in a position where it must obtain its insurance money at once in order to go on with its business and fulfill valuable outstanding contracts, or it would suffer great loss. Under these circumstances it submitted under protest to the unjust demand in order to obtain its own money from the insurance company. This makes a case of legal duress of goods."
4 See also Lehigh Coal & Nav. Co. v. Brown, 1882, 100 Pa. St. 338, and United States v. Lawson, 1879, 101 U. S. 164. In the latter case a collector of customs was required by his superior officer, Commissioner of Customs, to turn over fees to the U. S. Treasury. By law he was entitled to keep these fees in addition to his salary. He paid them over and brought suit to recover. Clifford, J.: " Confessedly, the order was official and peremptory, and under such circumstances it may well be inferred the party felt that, if he refused to obey, the refusal would cost him his commission."
5 Matthews v William Frank Brewing Co., 1899, 26 Misc. Rep. 46; 55 N. Y. Supp. 241.
Some of the important cases of interference with business have arisen under statutes imposing penalties for the nonpayment of taxes. They are considered in another section (post, Sec. 242).