Instances of Civil Law in North American
Common Law Tradition: Cause and Consideration
in Quebec and Louisiana Civil Codes

by Francesco Delfini

A practical comparison between the two main legal system families can profit from some unique instances of civil law that lie in the vast North American continent. Reference is made to Quebec, for Canada, and Louisiana, for the US. Both locales are part of federal states ruled mainly by common law. The Canadian and US legal systems embed civil codes that refer to and define a requirement for the validity of the contract, the cause, that European civil codes mentioned, but did not dare to define. The first Italian Civil Code, enacted in 1865, was consistent with the Napoleonic Code: the paragraph called ‘upon the cause of contracts’ contained section 1119 and section 1120, which read ‘An obligation without cause or with a false cause, or with an unlawful cause, may not have any effect’ and ‘A contract is valid, although its cause is not expressed’, following quite literally what section 1131 and section 1132 Code Napoleon stated. In the second and current generation of the Italian Civil Code, enacted in 1942, the rules changed in wording and now cause is referred to the contract (without any explanation of its meaning) and no more to the obligation. After 1942, therefore, scholars and Courts started to refer to the concept of cause, also (or exclusively) as the due control of the legal system on the lawfulness of the legal operation the parties to the contract are seeking, and on the practical results they wish to achieve. Following these paths, the meaning of the term cause also lost its certainty in the civil law systems themselves and often became a duplication of the concept of object (or subject matter): the concept of cause has lost its clarity to the extent that, given a proposal of European restatement or uniform codification, it is doubtful whether it would be worth maintaining the concept or not. In such a situation, the provisions in the Louisiana and Quebec Civil Codes that mention and even define the cause are of great interest also for the civil lawyer from different points of view. 

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