Both the late Dr. Jack and Mrs. Helmi Marquis were generous philanthropists, with the Brantford General Hospital being a significant beneficiary. Dr. Marquis' prior $2.8 million bequest had been recognized by naming the hospital's coronary and cardiac diagnostic unit after him.
In response to the province's restructuring of the health care system in the late 1990s, the Brantford General Hospital Foundation launched a campaign to raise funds to expand the hospital. Mrs. Marquis was approached by the hospital's Chief Executive Officer to become a potential lead donor for the campaign, the suggested amount being $1 million. In September 1998, she was presented with a formal proposal that outlined the project and the hospital's interest in honouring her and the memory of Dr. Marquis by naming the new critical care unit after them. After seeking the advice of her accountant on at least three occasions, Mrs. Marquis signed the document, pledging to donate $1 million over a five-year period to the Brantford General Hospital Foundation. She made the first instalment of $200,000 on April 14, 2000 and died a month later. After Mrs. Marquis died, her estate refused to pay the balance of $800,000 owing on the pledge.
- Is a pledge document a contract enforceable in law or merely "a naked promise"?
Milanetti reaffirmed that Canadian courts follow English common law concerning pledges, namely that a promise to subscribe to a charity is not enforceable in the absence of consideration. Brantford held that their commitment to name the entirety of the new unit in honour of Dr. and Mrs. Marquis constituted bona fide consideration. While there was clear evidence that Mrs. Marquis was adamant that Dr. Marquis' recognition in the coronary care portion of the unit be retained, including his name and picture, it did not find the larger naming opportunity to be of vital importance to Mrs. Marquis in her decision to pledge the funds as it was at the suggestion of the hospital. As the decision to name the unit in honour of the Marquis' was still subject to board approval, it was difficult to say that this constituted bona fide consideration.
- A promise to subscribe to a charity is not enforceable in the absence of a bargain.
- The doctrines of part performance and estoppel will not operate absent a pre-existing legal relationship between the parties.