Legal Memorandum: Elements of Promissory Estoppel in WI

Issue: Under Wisconsin law, what are the elements of promissory estoppel?

Area of Law: Business Organizations & Contracts
Keywords: Promissory estoppel; Elements; Enforce a promise
Jurisdiction: Wisconsin
Cited Cases: 150 Wis. 2d 80; 218 N.W.2d 723; 64 Wis. 2d 131
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 03/01/2015

Promissory estoppel is an equitable remedy that may be available to a plaintiff to enforce a promise where the usual remedy, a breach of contract claim, cannot be established for various reasons including, for example, the absence of sufficiently definite contract terms or a failure to comply with the statute of frauds.  See, e.g., Hellenbrand v. Goodman, 2003 Wis. App. 162, ¶ 44 (Wis. Ct. App. 2003) (unpublished) (citing Silberman v. Roethe, 64 Wis. 2d 131, 146, 218 N.W.2d 723 (1974) (noting that “the promise sought to be made the basis of an action in promissory estoppel need not be so definite that it would be sufficient as the basis for a contract action”)); U.S. Oil Co. v. Midwest Auto Care Servs., Inc., 150 Wis. 2d 80, 90 (Wis. Ct App 1989) (a claim of promissory estoppel may preclude defendant from interposing a statute of frauds defense).

The whole purpose of this equitable claim is to enforce promises where a failure to do so would be unjust.  U.S. Oil, 150 Wis. 2d at 91.  The definition and elements of this claim are as follows:

To enforce a promise under the theory of promissory estoppel, a plaintiff must prove [1] that the promise was one that the promisor should reasonably have expected to induce either action or forbearance of a definite and substantial character by the plaintiff and [2] that the promise did induce either action or forbearance.  […]

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