Watteau v Fenwick

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Watteau v Fenwick [1893] 1 QB 346 is an 1893 English case decided by the Queen's Bench. The case addresses the liability of an undisclosed principal.

The Queen's Bench is the superior court in a number of jurisdictions within some of the Commonwealth realms. The original King's Bench, founded in 1215 in England, was one of the ancient courts of the land and is now a division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales.

In agency law, an undisclosed principal is a person who uses an agent for negotiations with a third party who has no knowledge of the identity of the agent's principal. Often in such situations, the agent pretends to be acting for himself or herself. As a result, the third party does not know to look to the real principal in a dispute.

The plaintiff, Watteau, supplied cigars to a beer house named the "Victoria," which was located at Middlesbrough. The establishment was operated by a man named Humble. Prior to 1888, he had operated the business on his own account, but in that year, he had assigned his interest to the defendants, Messrs. Fenwick and Company. However, Humble remained the manager and continued to operate the business as before. The sign bore his name, and the license was held in his name.

The plaintiff supplied cigars to Humble. He was at all times unaware of Fenwick's involvement. Indeed, Fenwick had never given Humble any authority to act on their behalf. But when Watteau was not paid the 25 pounds owed him, he eventually sued Fenwick.

The County Court held that the defendants had held Humble out to the world as having general authority, and that they were therefore liable for the claim because of the implied authority thereby granted.

Dissatisfied with this outcome, the defendants then brought an appeal to the Queen's Bench. That court, Lord Coleridge, Chief Justice, dismissed the appeal. The Court held that once it is established that the defendant was the principal, then the ordinary rules of principal and agent apply, notwithstanding the fact that the relationship was unknown to the plaintiff. The principal is liable for acts of the agent, as long as those are those usually confided to an agent of that character. This is true even though the agent was acting outside the scope of his actual authority.

John Coleridge, 1st Baron Coleridge British lawyer, judge and Liberal politician

John Duke Coleridge, 1st Baron Coleridge, PC was an English lawyer, judge and Liberal politician. He held the posts, in turn, of Solicitor General for England and Wales, Attorney General for England and Wales, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and Lord Chief Justice of England.

The Court likened the case to that of a "dormant partner", in which case the partner would be liable for acts within the ordinary authority of the other partner. [1]

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