Judgments highlighted: the Lindenbaum/Cohen judgment

The Lindenbaum/Cohen judgment was handed down by the Supreme Court in 1919. This judgment has been of great significance for our Civil Law. In this case, the Supreme Court gives a much broader meaning to the concept of unlawful act, which has essentially changed subsequent case law.

The case

The Lindenbaum/Cohen story takes place in 1915, almost a hundred years ago! However, this case is still of great importance for our legal development, especially in Civil Law. In 1915, Lindenbaum and Cohen both had a printing business in Amsterdam. They competed fiercely with each other, which clearly affected prices. To reduce competition, Cohen thinks it would be wise to bribe an employee of Lindenbaum. This employee will then spy for Cohen. In this way, Cohen receives important information about the working methods and prices within Lindenbaum’s company. In this way, Cohen also receives information about quotations with customers, so that he can lower prices himself and thus try to attract customers. When Lindenbaum discovers the espionage, he takes Cohen to court and claims damages on the grounds of tort.

The case

As has become clear above, this old case is still very important in our society. The whole case revolves around one question: is there an unlawful act here? In the time of Lindenbaum and Cohen, there was little in the law about tort. One only acts unlawfully if he or she acts in violation of a legal obligation. This means that if someone neglects to do something when it should have been done. In the Lindenbaum/Cohen case, however, we cannot really speak of a failure to fulfill a legal obligation. However, Cohen has done something that cannot be socially justified. He has been guilty of bribery and espionage and also of unfair competition. However, at the beginning of the nineteenth century there was no legal rule for this and Cohen would in fact have to go free. However, the Supreme Court found this to go too far.

The judgement

The case starts in court in 1916. The judge here awards the claim for damages to Lindenbaum. Cohen will appeal against this decision to the Court of Appeal. Here the matter is revisited and investigated. However, the Court declares Lindenbaum inadmissible because the case is not based on an existing legal provision. The law does not clearly indicate that Cohen acted unlawfully. He did not act contrary to a legal obligation or fail to do anything. The case will be appealed and will therefore go to the Supreme Court. He disagrees with the Court and appeals the case. The Supreme Court rather agrees with the court. She clearly indicates a number of very new criteria for this. The Supreme Court says, among other things: ‘() an unlawful act is understood to mean an act or omission that either infringes another right, or is contrary to the perpetrator’s legal obligation or is contrary to good morals or against the care that is appropriate in social intercourse with regard to another person or property, while he who is through whose fault his act causes damage to another person, is obliged to pay compensation therefor.’

From criteria

The above shows that the Supreme Court adds a number of criteria to the already existing criteria for proving an unlawful act. Before 1919, there was actually only the criterion that someone had neglected his legal obligation. After the Lindenbaum/Cohen judgment, we can add a number of criteria to this. So we see that Cohen should have thought about good morals in his actions. This is also equated with public order. Was his action not permitted, was it unacceptable, was it against good morals and public order? The answer is affirmative. In addition to the criterion of ‘good morals’, there is another, more important criterion. If someone acts contrary to the due care that is appropriate in society with regard to another person or his goods. This means that someone else must handle people and their property with care and that they may not intentionally (or accidentally) damage another person or their goods. This criterion is very broad, because what exactly is considered social due diligence and when is there a violation of this criterion. So everyone understands that the judiciary has changed a lot as a result of this. This new rule, which has also been included in our law, allows many cases to be resolved and something can quickly be seen as an unlawful act! This is a complete extension of the concept of unlawful act.