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[Latin, He undertook or he promised.] A promise by which someone assumes or undertakes an obligation to another person. The promise may be oral or in writing, but it is not under seal. It is express when the person making the promise puts it into distinct and specific language, but it may also be implied because the law sometimes imposes obligations based on the conduct of the parties or the circumstances of their dealings.

Assumpsit was one of the common-law Forms of Action. It determined the right to sue and the relief available for someone who claimed that a contract had been breached.

When the Common Law was developing in England, there was no legal remedy for the breach of a contract. Ranulf Glanvill, a famous legal scholar, wrote just before the year 1200 that "[i]t is not the custom of the court of the lord king to protect private agreements, nor does it concern itself with such contracts as can be considered private agreements." Ordinary lawsuits could be heard in local courts, but the king was primarily interested in royal rights and the disputes of his noblemen. As commerce began to develop, the king's courts did allow two forms of action for breach of contract—the actions of Covenant and debt. Covenant could be maintained only if the agreement had been made in writing and under seal and only if the action of debt was not available. One could sue on the debt only if the obligations in the contract had been fully performed and the breach was no more than a failure to pay a specific sum of money.

Finally, in 1370, a plaintiff sought to sue a defendant who had undertaken to cure the plaintiff's horse but treated it so negligently that the horse died, and the action was allowed. In 1375, another man was permitted to sue a surgeon who had maimed him while trying to cure him. These cases showed a new willingness to permit a lawsuit for monetary damages arising directly from the failure to live up to an agreement. For the next hundred years the courts began to allow lawsuits for badly performed obligations but not for a complete failure to perform what was required by contract. Unexpectedly, this restriction was abandoned also, and a new form of action was recognized by the courts, an action in special assumpsit for breach of an express agreement.

Special assumpsit gave a new legal right to parties who could not sue on a debt. Gradually, it became possible to sue in assumpsit if the defendant owed a debt and then violated a fresh promise to pay it. This action came to be known as indebitatus assumpsit, which means "being indebted, he promised."

As time passed, courts were willing to assume that the fresh promise had been made and to impose obligations as if it had. This allowed lawsuits for a whole range of contract breaches, not just those recognized by an action on the debt or in special assumpsit. If the plaintiff could claim that services had been performed or goods had been delivered to the defendant, then the law would assume that the defendant had promised to pay for them. Any failure to do so gave the plaintiff the right to sue in assumpsit. This development allowed such a wide range of lawsuits based on promises to private parties that it came to be known as general assumpsit.

Eventually, the right to sue was extended even to situations where the defendant had no intention to pay but it was only fair that he or she be made to do so. This form was called assumpsit on quantum meruit. Special assumpsit, general assumpsit (or indebitatus assumpsit), and quantum meruit are all ex contractu, arising out of a contract. Their development is the foundation of our modern law of contracts.


Quantum Meruit.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a voluntary promise made by words, an old form of action abolished by the Judicature Act 1925. Modern theoretical writings refer to one of its grounds, indebitatus assumpsit, an action for breach of an undertaking, either to do or pay something.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

ASSUMPSIT, contracts. An undertaking either express or implied, to perform a parol agreement. 1 Lilly's Reg. 132.
     2. An express assumpsit is where one undertakes verbally or in writing, not under seal, or by matter of record, to perform an act, or to pa a sum of money to another.
     3. An implied assumpsit is where one has not made any formal promise to do an act or to pay a sum of money to another, but who is presumed from his conduct to have assumed to do what is in point of law just and right; for, 1st, it is to be presumed that no one desires to enrich himself at the expense of another; 2d, it is a rule that he who desires the antecedent, must abide by the consequent; as, if I receive a loaf of bread or a newspaper daily sent to my house without orders, and I use it without objection, I am presumed to have accepted the terms upon which the person sending it had in contemplation, that I should pay a fair price for it; 3d, it is also a rule that every one is presumed to assent to what is useful to him. See Assent

ASSUMPSIT, remedies, practice., A form of action which may be defined to be an action for the recovery of damages for the non-performance of, a parol or simple contract; or, in other words, a contract not under seal, nor of record; circumstances which distinguish this remedy from others. 7 T. R. 351; 3 Johns. Cas. 60. This action differs from the action of debt; for, in legal consideration, that is for the recovery of a debt eo nomine, and in numero, and may be upon a deed as well as upon any other contract. 1 h. Bl. 554; B. N. P. 167. If differs from covenant, which, though brought for the recovery of damages, can only be supported upon a contract under seal. See Covenant.
     2. It will be proper to consider this subject with reference, 1, to the contract upon which this action may be sustained; 2, the declaration 3, the plea; 4, the judgment.
     3.-1. Assumpsit lies to recover damages for the breach of all parol or simple contracts, whether written or not written express or implied; for the payment of money, or for the performance or omission of any other act. For example, to recover, money lent, paid, or had and received, to the use of the plaintiff; and in some cases, where money has been received by the defendant, in consequence of some tortious act to the plaintiff's property, the plaintiff may waive the tort, and sue the defendant in assumpsit. 5 Pick. 285; 1 J. J. Marsh. 543 3 Watts, R. 277; 4 Binn. 374; 3 Dana, R. 552; 1 N. H. Rep. 151; 12 Pick. 120 4 Call. R. 461; 4 Pick. 452. It is the proper remedy for work and. labor done, and services rendered 1 Gill, 95; 8 S. & M. 397 2 Gilman, 1 3 Yeates, 250 9 Ala. 788 but such work, labor, or services, must be rendered at the request, express or implied, of the defendant; 2 Rep. Cons. Ct. 848; 1 M'Cord, 22; 20 John. 28 11 Mass. 37; 14 Mass. 176; 5 Monr. 513 1 Murph. 181; for goods sold and delivered; 6 J. J. Marsh. 441; 12 Pick. 120; 3 N. H. Rep. 384; 1 Mis. 430; for a breach of promise of marriage. 3 Mass. 73 2 Overton, 233 2 P. S. R. 80. Assumpsit lies to recover the purchase money for land sold; 14 Johns. R. 210; 14 Johns. R. 162; 20 Johns. R. 838 3 M'Cord, R. 421; and it lies, specially, upon wagers; 2 Chit. Pl. 114; feigned issues; 2 Chit. Pl. 116; upon foreign judgments; 8 Mass. 273; Dougl. 1; 3 East, 221; 11 East, 124; 3 T. R. 493; 5 Johns. R. 132. But it will not lie on a judgment obtained in a sister state. 1 Bibb, 361 19 Johns. 162; 3 Fairf. 94; 2 Rawle, 431. Assumpsit is the proper remedy upon an account stated. Bac. Ab. Assumpsit, A. It will lie for a corporation, 2 Lev. 252; 1 Camp. 466. In England it does not lie against a corporation, unless by express authority of some legislative act; 1 Chit. Pl. 98; but in this country it lies against a corporation aggregate, on an express or implied promise, in the same manner as against an individual. 7 Cranch, 297 9 Pet. 541; 3 S. & R. 117 4 S. & R. 16 12 Johns. 231; 14 Johns. 118; 2 Bay, 109 1 Chipm. 371, 456; 1 Aik. 180 10 Mass, 397. But see 3 Marsh. 1; 3 Dall. 496.
     4.-2. The declaration must invariably disclose the consideration of the contract, the contract itself, and the breach of it; Bac. Ab. h.t. F 5 Mass. 98; but in a declaration on a negotiable instrument under the statute of Anne, it is not requisite to, allege any consideration; 2 Leigh, R. 198; and on a note expressed to have been given for value received, it is not necessary to aver a special consideration. 7 Johns. 321. See Mass. 97. The gist of this action is the promise, and it must be averred. 2 Wash. 187 2 N. H. Rep. 289 Hardin, 225. Damages should be laid in a sufficient amount to cover the real amount of the claim. See 4 Pick. 497; 2 Rep. Const. Ct. 339; 4 Munf. 95; 5 Munf. 23; 2 N. H. Rep. 289; 1 Breese, 286; 1 Hall, 201; 4 Johns. 280; 11 S. & R. 27; 5 S. & R. 519 6 Conn. 176; 9 Conn. 508; 1 N. & M. 342; 6 Cowen, 151; 2 Bibb, 429; 3 Caines, 286.
     5.-3. The usual plea is non-assumpsit, (q.v.) under which the defendant may give in evidence most matters of defence. Com. Dig. Pleader, 2 G 1. When there are several defendants they cannot plead the general issue severally; 6 Mass. 444; nor the same plea in bar, severally. 13 Mass. 152. The plea of not guilty, in an action of assumpsit, is cured by verdict. 8 S. & R. 541; 4 Call. 451. See 1 Marsh, 602; 17 Mass. 623. 2 Greenl. 362; Minor, 254 Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.
     6.-4. Judgment. Vide Judgment in Assumpsit. Vide Bac. Ab. h.t.; Com. Dig. Action upon the Case upon Assumpsit; Dane's Ab. Index, h.t.; Viner's Ab. h.t.; 1 Chit. Pi. h.t.; Petersd. h.t.; Lawes Pl. in Assumpsit the various Digests, h.t. Actions; Covenant; Debt; Indebitatus assumpsit; Padum Constitutiae pecuniae.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
(10 Pet.) at 138 (recognizing assumpsit action against collector for excess duties paid under protest in action removed from state court).
Cases of necessitous intervention apart, the requirement that a quantum meruit is only awarded where the defendant requests the performance of the services has a long pedigree, extending back to the pleading of the quantum meruit count in the contractual and quasi-contractual action of assumpsit. But the history also shows the difficulties that courts experienced in matching pleading form to substance in cases where the defendant did not expressly request the performance of the services (63) and explains why writers have proposed alternative tests for the award of reasonable remuneration for work done.
number of common law writs--trover, detinue, assumpsit, and so on.
(14.)According to Palmer, assumpsit covered negligent carriers, builders, doctors, shepherds, clothworkers, and assorted artisans and laborers (pp.
Slade's Case opened the door to modern contract law by upholding the availability of assumpsit to contract plaintiffs.(10) The Case of Impeachment of Waste involved a classic dispute between a life tenant and her remainderman.(11) The Jurisdiction of the Council
between a State and Citizens of another State."(13) A majority of the Justices, writing separately, adhered to the plain language of the constitutional text and rejected Georgia's arguments that the provision was intended only to govern suits commenced by a state and did not reach actions in assumpsit.(14) Public reaction to Chisholm was so intensely negative -- largely, historians generally agree, due to a fear of an avalanche of suits by British and Tory creditors to recover Revolutionary War debts and seized property(15) -- that Congress proposed and approved the Eleventh Amendment within three weeks of the Chisholm decision.
Slade's case was a milestone in the formation of the modern common law of contract, since it allowed plaintiffs to sue parties who had reneged on their contracts on the basis of "assumpsit" and not only on the basis of the writ of debt.
a covenant under seal or under a writ of debt (debitatus assumpsit)
originating in medieval common law and the concept of assumpsit, views
assumpsit tristitiam maximam quantitate absoluta, non tamen excedentem regulam rationis."
(121) Voir AWB Simpson, A History of the Common Law of Contract: The Rise of the Action of Assumpsit, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1987 a la p 118 et s.
assumpsit (to recover damages for breach of contract), general