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The matter of David Jones Limited v Willis  HCA 47; 52 CLR 110 is considered amongst the landmark cases with regards to the merchantable quality. In this particular case, the plaintiff was Willis and the defendant was David Jones and in this matter, an appeal was made was made from the New South Wales Supreme Court. This particular matter was related to the Sales of Goods Act, 1923 (Cth) (High Court, 2017). In this case, a pair of shoes was purchased by the plaintiff from the defendant, who was a retail distributor of the footwear but the same was not manufactured by the defendant. While the plaintiff was walking down the stairs, the heel came off and the plaintiff was injured. Hence, she initiated claims against the defendant and asked for damages. It was held by the court in this case that the defendant had breached the conditions of merchantable quality of the product and the fitness for purpose (Amazon, 2017).
In the following parts, this case has been discussed to understand the reasons behind the ruling. The discussion also carries the facts of this case and the arguments made by the plaintiff.
This case took place in Sydney in the 1933s where the plaintiff Elizabeth May Willis went to the distributor of the shoe, i.e., the defendant. She went to purchase not any ordinary shoes, but rather a particular shoe. The particularity in asking for shoe stemmed from the fact that the plaintiff had a condition in her feet, i.e., bunion, which was quite large. When she went to Davis Jones, Willis explained to the person in the store that she needed a pair of comfortable walking shoes. She explicitly told that she has a bunion on her foot due to which she wanted such a pair of shoes which would cover the bunion completely. The store person produced three distinctive pair of shoes and recommended a particular pair (Chai, 2017). Willis was assured that the bunion would be covered completely through this particular pair of shoes and at the same time, they would be comfortable. Hence, Willis chose this pair of shoes, the cost of which was 2 pounds and 5 shillings (Australasian Legal Information Institute, 2017a).
The key point in this case was that Willis had made the store person aware of the reasons behind her purchasing the particular shoes. And she was recommended that particular pair of shoes by the store person on the basis of inquiry done by Willis. And on this very recommendation, the shoes were purchased. While she was walking in her new shoes, and descending down a flight of stairs, the heel of the shoe broke off and she was injured. Her leg was broken and she had to stay in the hospital for twenty days. This was the third time when she had worn these particular shoes in the period of nine months (Australasian Legal Information Institute, 2017a).
The plaintiff would like to bring to the notice of the court that the defendant had breached sections of the Sale of Goods Act, 1923 (NSW). The plaintiff would like to claim the damages from the defendant due to the contravention of the warranty of fitness which has been implied through section 19(1) of the NSW Sale of Goods Act. This section is being raised due to the purchase of a pair of shoes by the plaintiff, from a defendant who was not the manufacturer, but the distributor of the footwear. The plaintiff would also like to highlight that she had told the saleswoman of the defendant, who had attended her when she went in the defendant’s store that she had a particular condition on her foot and this is the reason, why she wanted a comfortable pair of shoes (Jade, 2014).
The shoes were purchased solely on the basis of the recommendations given by the saleswomen. On just the third occasion of wearing the shoes, the heel broke off and the leg of the plaintiff was fractured. The plaintiff would like to highlight that the shoes were a very bad job and also that the heels of the shoes had not been properly fastened (Barnett and Harder, 2014).
As per the section 19 of the quoted act, there is no implied condition or an implied warranty with regards to the fitness or the quality for particular goods as per the contract of sale, save for certain cases. When there the buyer in an express manner or by implying makes the seller aware of the specific reasons for which the goods are needed so that the judgment or skill of the seller could be relied upon by the buyer (Legislation, 2012). Further, the goods have to be of such a description that they are in the course of supply of the seller’s business, irrespective of the fact that they are manufactured by the seller or not. In such cases, the implied condition is deemed as reasonably fit for such purposes (Campbell, 2013). Apart from this, when the goods have been brought by the buyer on the basis of description of the seller, who is a dealer of those particular goods, the implied condition would be of merchantable quality (Australasian Legal Information Institute, 2017b).
The matter was initially heard in the District Court, which was followed by the Supreme Court of New South Wales and ultimately, in the High Court of Australia. The key issues of this were related to whether the shoes were brought on the basis of description or not; and whether the shoes that were supplied were in merchantable quality or not. So, on the basis of the Sales of Goods Act, the fitness of purpose and the merchantable quality had to be decided upon (Legal Helpdesk Lawyers, 2017).
The Whole Court held that the evidence which was provided to the court by the plaintiff, indeed gave rise to a cause of action based on section 19(2) of the NSW Sales of Goods Act, 1923. The court held that the plaintiff had provided enough evidence to show that the shoes had indeed been brought by the description and that due to these reasons there was an implied condition that the merchantable quality of the shoes had been broken (Jade, 2014).
With regards to the matter relating to the fitness of the product, pursuant to section 19(1) of this act, the jury stated that it could be clearly established that the specific purpose was made clear to the seller, for which the shoes were being purchased, and that the buyer had relied upon the judgment of the seller that the shoes were reasonably fit for the purpose which has been described. This was clarified from the evidence put forward by the plaintiff that she had asked the saleswomen in the defendant’s store regarding getting comfortable shoes due to bunion in her foot. Further, the plaintiff had relied upon the advice, which was given by the saleswomen with regards to opting for a particular pair of shoes, which were comfortable and which would cover her bunion, as per the requirements of the plaintiff (Jade, 2014).
The District Court of NSW, after listening to the claims of both the sides, returned with a verdict which was in the favor of the plaintiff where by the plaintiff was awarded a sum of £5 as general damages along with the payment for the hospital and medical expenses which the plaintiff had to incur. However, the defendant was not satisfied with the decisions given by the District Court and hence, an appeal was made by the defendant in the NSW Supreme Court on the question of damages. However, even the Full Court of the Supreme Court of NSW dismissed the appeal made by David Jones (Jade, 2014). Finally, the defendant was granted special leave for appealing from the judgment of the Full Court of NSW Supreme Court to the High Court of Australia with regards to the questions on whether the evidence presented by the plaintiff was as per the section 19(1) or 19(2) of the NSW Sale of Goods Act, 1923 (Gibson and Fraser, 2014).
Rich J, while deciding upon the matter, stated that the key question with regards to the special leave was completely dependent upon the liabilities of the retailer as per the quoted sections of the Sale of Goods Act. He stated that the evidence which was presented by the plaintiff was sufficient to support the fact that the goods had been purchased by description. He stated that the transaction had been undertaken on the basis of reliance over the skills and judgment of the defendant. Rich J dismissed the appeal of the defendant and stated that the like cases had to be treated in a like manner and that the legal principles have to be applied in consistent manner where the situation is similar. This was stated because in the matter of Australian Knitting Mills Ltd. v. Grant (1933) 50 C.L.R. 387, which was relied upon for this case, also had similar situation and in this case also, the defendant had been held liable (Pan, 2013).
Starke J allowed the appeal for a new trial to be made which was not to be limited to damages. In the views of Justice Starke, the evidence which had been put forward by the plaintiff could only show that it only depicted the genus of shoe and not for the purpose for which the shoes were needed. He highlighted that the requirement for the shoe was to cover bunion and being comfortable. He stated that the goods were of merchantable quality and section 19(2) was not breached. He further stated that the buyer only had the right to expect a saleable article and not a perfect article (Pan, 2013).
Dixon J also dismissed the appeal of the defendant but with costs. He focused upon the merchantable quality and also stated that the lack of merchantable quality of the goods and poor workmanship had to be considered as a breach of section 19(2). Though, he stated that considering section 19(1) was not required in this case. Even the Chief Justice recorded the judgment given by Dixon (Pan, 2013).
The appeal was dismissed by McTiernan JJ on the basis that the claims of the plaintiff had indeed been right. He also noticed that there was evidence to support that the saleswoman had recommended a product which was more expensive than the others. He stated that the buyer was induced to purchase the products on the basis of the judgment and the skills of the seller. And he also stated that there was clear evidence to prove that the goods had not been of merchantable quality, as were required through the act (Pan, 2013).
On the basis of these points, the appeal was dismissed by the High Court of Australia and it was held that the defendant had indeed breached section 19(1) and 19(2) of the NSW Sale of Goods Act, 1923 (Pan, 2013).
The matter of David Jones v Willis presented an example that the defective goods which were not of acceptable quality would not be accepted. This particular case highlighted that since the plaintiff relied upon the skill and judgment of the defendant and on the basis of description of goods, purchased the pair of shoes, which were actually defected and which resulted in the plaintiff being injured, the provisions contained in NSW Sale of Goods Act had been breached. And due to these reasons, the plaintiff had been awarded damages for the loss she sustained, along with the costs of hospital and that of the medical expenses undertaken.
The case was raised in the District Court, followed by the NSW Supreme Court and even in the High Court of Australia and at none of the places the claims of the defendant could be upheld. All three courts stated that the conditions of sale had been breached by the defendant as they did not fit the purpose and were also un-merchantable. The court held that the evidence presented by the plaintiff had been sufficient to support the claims made by her and so, the ruling was ultimately given in her favor.
Amazon. (2017) David Jones v Willis – Contract Implied Terms. [Online] Amazon. Available from: https://studentvip-notes.s3.amazonaws.com/3300-sample.pdf [Accessed on: 07/06/17]
Australasian Legal Information Institute. (2017a) David Jones Ltd v Willis  HCA 47; (1934) 52 CLR 110 (17 October 1934). [Online] Australasian Legal Information Institute. Available from: https://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/HCA/1934/47.html [Accessed on: 07/06/17]
Australasian Legal Information Institute. (2017b) Sale of Goods Act 1923 - Sect 19. [Online] Australasian Legal Information Institute. Available from: https://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/soga1923128/s19.html [Accessed on: 07/06/17]
Barnett, K., and Harder, S. (2014) Remedies in Australian Private Law. Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge University Press.
Campbell, D. (2013) International Consumer Protection, Volume 1. New York: Springer.
Chai, S. (2017) LAWS5136 Sale of Goods. [Online] Quizlet. Available from: https://quizlet.com/79696538/laws5136-sale-of-goods-flash-cards/ [Accessed on: 07/06/17]
Gibson, A., and Fraser, D. (2014) Business Law 2014. 8th ed. Melbourne: Pearson Education Australia.
High Court. (2017) High Court of Australia. [Online] High Court. Available from: https://eresources.hcourt.gov.au/getPdf/1/239760/1_52clr110.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y [Accessed on: 07/06/17]
Jade. (2014) David Jones Limited v Willis  HCA 47; 52 CLR 110. [Online] Jade. Available from: https://jade.io/article/63731 [Accessed on: 07/06/17]
Legal Helpdesk Lawyers. (2017) David Jones v Willis. [Online] Legal Helpdesk Lawyers. Available from: https://legalhelpdesklawyers.com.au/1934/10/17/1934-david-jones-ltd-v-willis/ [Accessed on: 07/06/17]
Legislation. (2012) Sale of Goods Act 1923 No 1. [Online] Legislation. Available from: https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/inforce/1953c5fa-5eb8-11dd-8fae-00144f4fe975/1923-1.pdf [Accessed on: 07/06/17]
Pan, C. (2013) David Jones Ltd v Willis (1934). [Online] Prezi. Available from: https://prezi.com/stf7nah2b-7p/dabid-jones-ltd-v-willis1934/ [Accessed on: 07/06/17]
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