February 10, 2014

Cohen v. Cowles Media Company - 479 N.W.2d 387 (1992) - Supreme Court of Minnesota

FACTS: Cohen (an associate of a gubernatorial candidate) informed some reporters about arrests for unlawful assembly and shoplifting of the opposing candidate.  He had an agreement with the reporters to keep his identity confidential.  The editors overruled the promise and when the story was published he was fired by the ad agency he worked for.

HISTORY: Jury awarded Cohen $200,000 in compensatory damages.  The Supreme Court of Minnesota allowed Cohen to recover under promissory estoppel but said the parties were not thinking in terms of a legally binding contract.

ISSUE: Was there a contract?

HOLDING: Yes

RATIONALE: The test is whether enforcement is required to prevent an injustice.  The defendants agree that they "hung Cohen out to dry" and experts stressed the ethical importance of keeping promises of confidentiality.  No compelling need to break the promise was shown either.