Duke Tries to Enforce a Dead Man's Promise

With almost $10 million at stake, the university wades into a messy area of law.

The old alma mater.

Photographer: Jim R. Bounds/Bloomberg

The news that Duke University has filed a probate claim against the estate of Aubrey McClendon should warm the heart of every lawyer. Duke is seeking close to $10 million that it says the oil and gas magnate had pledged before he died in a car crash in March. For anyone who has attended law school, the report must surely conjure memories of the Allegheny College v. Chautauqua County Bank, a mainstay of the first-year contracts curriculum. Although Justice Benjamin Cardozo’s 1927 opinion for the New York Court of Appeals has met unbridled criticism from law professors, the method he outlines may still be the key to whether Duke University is entitled to the money.

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