It’s probably true that we’d all like to think that people are inherently honest and good, especially when it comes to business. It would be so much easier to make deals in our society if everyone just did what they promised to do. But man, you can’t trust anyone anymore. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that if you cut an agreement to hide your kidnapper from the police, you’d dang well better keep. Unfortunately though, a pair of Kansas hostages just didn’t seem to get that memo.
Seriously though, despite the sarcasm in that last paragraph, the headline and story is actually true. A Denver native by the name of Jesse Dimmick (AKA “The Stupidest and Possibly Nicest Kidnapper Ever”) broke into the house of Jared and Lindsay Rowley. Dimmick told the Kansas couple that he was being pursued by someone trying to kill him and conjectured that it was most likely cops. The fuzz was on his tail, but just wanted to interrogate him over a death that occurred. Dimmick then tried to strike a deal with the couple where he’d give them some cash if they would agree to let him hide out in their home until the heat was off. And like any person whose home was just intruded upon by a man wanted for questioning in a murder, the Rowleys let Dimmick stay in their home and fed him until he fell asleep before calling the cops.
Dimmick was picked up by police and was eventually convicted of two counts of felony kidnapping among other things. But in a twist, Dimmick is now suing the Rowleys for breaching the alleged oral contract he claims they made with him. He wants $235,000 for his emotional distress and to cover his hospital bills since he was shot by police during his apprehension.
As you can see, this story is interesting on so, SO many levels. The capper would have been if Dimmick actually found a lawyer to represent him in this insanity; then this lawsuit would have gone down in history as terrible lawyer joke number 101. But alas he appears to be going at his lawsuit pro se. Surprisingly, Dimmick appears to know at least basic contract law. Dimmick claims in short that the three contract requirements of mutual assent, offer and acceptance, and consideration were met since he proposed money for sanctuary. However the prison law library books must have had their contract defenses section pulled out since he completely missed that illegal contracts are unenforceable.
We’ve talked about breach of contract nightmares before, but not the illegality exception to contracts since, well, I just figured everyone probably already knew that a contract to commit a crime is illegal and thus unenforceable as a matter of law. But Dimmick didn’t seem to get that memo.
Even if the Rowleys had agreed completely in good faith to Dimmick’s offer, Dimmick still wouldn’t have a leg to stand on because last time I checked, harboring a wanted criminal isn’t something done on the up and up. Not to mention the fact that the reality of the situation was one in which it would be hard to argue that the Rowleys were in any other position other than duress. A crazed guy breaks into my house, oh sure, I’ll agree to whatever you say man, just don’t go Mel Gibson or worst yet, Jerry Sandusky on me.
The Rowleys’ attorney has motioned for Dimmick’s case to be dismissed, but is also arguing that even if the case goes forward, a contract still doesn’t exist because the essential terms, like the amount of money Dimmick promised to give, were never specified. Laying out the essential terms of a contract, as many of you already know, is a requirement before any contract can become binding.
But you know what the biggest irony is in this case? It’s the fact that it’s actually a dispute over contract formation. Many lawyers in practice will tell you that arguments over whether a contract exists or not are usually nowhere to be found in the real world. Most contract cases are over the terms of a contract since that’s where the trouble usually starts. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Life is not complex. [People] are complex.” Dimmick’s formation, if it actually goes forward, would’ve probably thrown the court in a tizzy, not to mention the hilarious media circus that would undoubtedly surround it. However, we’ll probably never get to see any of this.