Jacob & Youngs v. Kent, 230 N.Y. 239 (1921).

Facts of the Case:

In “Jacob & Youngs v. Kent,” the plaintiff, Jacob & Youngs, was a building contractor who constructed a home for the defendant, Kent. The contract specified the use of a particular brand of pipe, “Reading pipe,” in the construction. However, the contractor used a different, but equally good, brand of pipe in part of the construction. When Kent discovered this, he demanded that the contractor replace all the piping with Reading pipe, as specified in the contract. The contractor refused, arguing that the substitution did not lessen the house’s value or quality.


The primary legal issue in this case was whether the contractor’s failure to use the specified brand of pipe constituted a breach of contract that justified the owner’s refusal to make the final payment.

Holding and Rationale:

The New York Court of Appeals, in an opinion written by Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo, held in favor of the contractor, Jacob & Youngs. The court introduced the concept of “substantial performance.” It was determined that the contractor had substantially performed the contract, and the deviation from the contract terms (using a different brand of pipe) was not significant enough to constitute a breach that would justify the owner’s refusal to pay.

Judge Cardozo famously stated, “The law has outgrown its primitive stage of formalism when the precise word was the sovereign talisman, and every slip was fatal. It takes a broader view today.” This highlighted a move away from strict interpretation in contract law towards a more reasonable and fair approach.

Legal Precedent and Subsequent Influence:

This case is often cited for its articulation of the principle of substantial performance in contract law. It illustrates that a breach must be material, or go to the essence of the contract, to justify the non-breaching party’s refusal to perform their contractual obligations. The principle established in this case has been influential in subsequent contract law cases, such as Groves v. John Wunder Co. [205 Minn. 163, 286 N.W. 235 (1939)], where the concept of material breach was further explored.


Jacob & Youngs v. Kent remains a foundational case in contract law, particularly in discussions around breach of contract and the doctrine of substantial performance. It marks a significant shift in legal thinking, from strict adherence to contract terms to a more equitable approach that considers the intentions and actions of the parties involved.

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