ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Friday, December 9, 2016

Weekly Top Ten SSRN Contracts Downloads (December 9, 2016)

A day late, but certainly not a dollar short: Here are this week's Top Ten SSRN Contracts downloads.

TopTen Stamp-808x455

SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo2
Contracts & Commercial Law eJournal

Rank Downloads Paper Title
1 314 The Role of the State in Contract Law: The Common-Civil Law Divide
Mariana Pargendler
Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School at São Paulo
2 264 Why Have M&A Contracts Grown? Evidence from Twenty Years of Deals
John C. Coates, IV
Harvard Law School
3 239 Online RPM and MFN Under Antitrust Law and Economics
Pinar Akman and D. Daniel Sokol
University of Leeds and University of Florida - Levin College of Law
4 159 The Promise and Problems of Universal, General Theories of Contract Law
Brian Bix
University of Minnesota Law School
5 97 Long-Term Business Relationships and Implicit Contracts in European Private Law
Ugljesa Grusic
Faculty of Laws, University College London
6 86 First or Second Best? Judicial Law-Making in European Private Law
Chantal Mak
University of Amsterdam - Centre for the Study of European Contract Law (CSECL)
7 83 Local Governments and Risky Home Loans
Kathleen C. Engel
Suffolk University Law School
8 77 The Death of Contract, Redux: Boilerplate and the End of Interpretation
Jason MacLean
Lakehead University - Bora Laskin Faculty of Law
9 75 'And So the Legal World Goes Round': The Search for a Meaningful Law of Restitution (in Response to Virgo, 'All the World's a Stage')
Steve Hedley
University College Cork
10 72 Excessive Contractual Penalties in Football
Despina Mavromati
Court of Arbitration for Sport

 


SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo2
Law & Society: Private Law - Contracts eJournal

Rank Downloads Paper Title
1 314 The Role of the State in Contract Law: The Common-Civil Law Divide
Mariana Pargendler
Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School at São Paulo
2 264 Why Have M&A Contracts Grown? Evidence from Twenty Years of Deals
John C. Coates, IV
Harvard Law School
3 159 The Promise and Problems of Universal, General Theories of Contract Law
Brian Bix
University of Minnesota Law School
4 97 Long-Term Business Relationships and Implicit Contracts in European Private Law
Ugljesa Grusic
Faculty of Laws, University College London
5 86 First or Second Best? Judicial Law-Making in European Private Law
Chantal Mak
University of Amsterdam - Centre for the Study of European Contract Law (CSECL)
6 77 The Death of Contract, Redux: Boilerplate and the End of Interpretation
Jason MacLean
Lakehead University - Bora Laskin Faculty of Law
7 75 'And So the Legal World Goes Round': The Search for a Meaningful Law of Restitution (in Response to Virgo, 'All the World's a Stage')
Steve Hedley
University College Cork
8 72 Excessive Contractual Penalties in Football
Despina Mavromati
Court of Arbitration for Sport
9 63 The New Lex Mercatoria: An Emerging Challenge to Legal Systems in Cross-Border Transactions
Jan H. Hendrik Dalhuisen
King's College London
10 59 Forced Arbitration: How Corporations Use the Fine Print to Bully Americans
AAJ Research
American Association for Justice

 

December 9, 2016 in Recent Scholarship | Permalink

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

KCON XII Reminder: December 15 Registration and Hotel Deadline Approaching

KCON12-Logo

From Danielle Hart via the AALS Contracts Listserv (NB: edited to fix hotel link on 12/9):

The 12th International Conference on Contracts is just around the corner and the substantive content of the conference is starting to take shape nicely.  Here are some highlights so far:

  •  Seana Shiffrin, Professor of Philosophy and Pete Kameron Professor of Law and Social Justice at UCLA, will be giving a keynote address currently entitled, “Enhancing Moral Relationships Through Strict Liability”
  • A panel of O’Melveny & Myers attorneys will give the second keynote address currently entitled, “Drafting Complex Contracts: Behind the Scenes of the LaGuardia Project”
  • There is a sizeable contingent of international contracts scholars joining us in February including, but certainly not limited to:

Mindy Chen-Wishart, the Associate Dean of Taught Graduate Studies at Oxford Law Faculty who also holds a fractional Professorship at the National University of Singapore and a Visiting Professorship at Hong Kong University, and

Eyal Zamir, Augusto Levi Professor of Commercial Law, Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law.

  •  And, of course, there are already some great panels to look forward to that run the gamut from behavioral law and economics to intimate contracts and commodification.

 So if you have not done so already, we would like to encourage you to please take advantage of the early bird registration deadline—December 15th (www.swlaw.edu/kconxii)—and to reserve a room at the Omni at your earliest convenience:

https://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/los-angeles-california-plaza/meetings/kcon-conference-southwestern-law-school.

Guests may also confirm their reservation at the negotiated rate by calling 1.800.THE.OMNI (843-6664) and referencing the “KCON Conf Southwestern Law School” guestroom block. 

If you have any questions or concerns before then, please feel free to get in touch with me, Hila Keren or Dov Waisman at kcon12@swlaw.edu. Wishing you all a very good end of the semester!

Danni 

Danielle Kie Hart

December 7, 2016 in Conferences | Permalink

Prince's Complicated Legal Legacy Continues

When the legendary musician Prince died suddenly, he left behind an enormous volume of music and no will. The courts have already been dealing with how to distribute Prince's assets to a complicated and squabbling cadre of potential heirs. The rights to all of his music have raised their own complicated issues that have most recently manifested themselves in a lawsuit in the District of Minnesota, NPG Records, Inc. v. Roc Nation LLC, Case No. 16-cv-03909

The case revolves around Roc Nation's streaming of Prince's music on its streaming service Tidal, and whether or not it had the contractual rights to do so. Roc Nation alleges yes, based on what it terms both written and oral agreements that it struck with Prince before his death. Commentators have tried to draw conclusions about these agreements based on Prince's statements and other behavior before his death. NPG, meanwhile, claims that there was a single contract between Prince and Roc Nation and that it only allowed Roc Nation to stream a very limited number of songs, which Roc Nation has now violated in streaming a much wider variety of Prince's song catalog. The case has been reported on in multiple places, including here and here and here and here.

If this case progresses, it seems like it's going to require an untangling of written contracts between the parties, whatever oral statements Prince will allege to have been made, and the interaction between the two. It adds an interesting layer to consider that Prince was notorious for fighting for artists' rights to their music and had a fraught relationship with online streaming of music. He does seem to have favored Tidal above the other Internet services. In any case, although NPG claims that there was never any such license and Tidal has been infringing the songs' copyright since it began streaming them, NPG has already proactively sought to cancel any license that Prince may have granted to Roc Nation to stream the music in question. 

(I'd post something Prince-related from YouTube, but Prince didn't like his music to be on YouTube. And, in fact, Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., the recent case that wended its way through the Ninth Circuit and is currently on petition to the Supreme Court, involves a Prince song in a YouTube video.)

December 7, 2016 in Celebrity Contracts, Commentary, Current Affairs, In the News, Music, Recent Cases, True Contracts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Air Force None?

Recently, Donald Trump famously tweeted that “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”  Trump has not said why he believes the planes will cost "more than $4 billion." Boeing says it currently has an Air Force One contract worth $170 million.

Air-force-one-3

This raises several contractual issues that could be used as an interesting issue-spotting practice for our students. At first blush, it seems like an impossible attempt at a breach of contract that would, conversely, at least give very reasonable grounds for insecurity if not constitute an anticipatory repudiation outright.

Needless to say, Trump’s remark that “[w]e want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money” finds no support in contract law. One contractual party has no control over how much money the other party should make. One would have thought that Trump – as a staunch “market forces” supporter – would have understood and embraced that idea, but that either was not the case or he is flip-flopping in that respect as well.

Digging deeper into the story, however, it turns out that “not even [Boeing] can estimate the cost of the program at this time, since the Pentagon has not even decided all the bells and whistles it wants on the new Air Force One." Further, “without knowing all the security features, it is hard to estimate the cost … and the Air Force isn't even sure whether it wants two or three of the planes.” Does a contract even exist at this point, then, when the essential terms have apparently not been mutually agreed upon, or is there simply an unenforceable agreement to agree? A valid argument cold be made for the latter, I think.

Mr. Trump has been accused of overestimating the cost of the planes. Does he, however, have a point? “So far[,] the Air Force has budgeted $2.9 billion through 2021 for two new Air Force Ones.” It is not inconceivable that the price tag may, in these circumstances, run higher than that. That circularity goes back to the essential terms – the price in this case – arguably not having been decided on yet.

There might, of course, be other issues in this that I have not seen in my admittedly hasty review of the story, but it is interesting how the media jumps at a legally related story without thoroughly or even superficially attempting to get the law right.

December 7, 2016 in Celebrity Contracts, Commentary, Contract Profs, Current Affairs, Government Contracting, In the News, Travel, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Considering Parol Evidence to Decide If There Was Ever a Contract

One of the things I find students struggle with when it comes to parol evidence is determining for what purpose they are considering the evidence. A recent case out of Maryland, Wiencek + Associates Architects + Planners v. Community Homes Housing, Inc., No. 0642 September Term 2015 (behind paywall), has a nice discussion on this. 

In the case, the parties both signed a document that was called "Agreement to Redevelop and Preserve Affordable Housing." The contract contained an integration clause. Both parties also admitted later that they had signed the document because it was required to obtain financing from the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), which the parties had both desired. HUD, however, refused to guarantee any financing for the project. Community Homes then took the position that there was no contract with Wiencek because the contract was not to take effect unless HUD financing was received. Wiencek disagreed and sued Community Homes for breach of contract.

The trial court considered parol evidence to determine whether the contract between the parties was enforceable. Wiencek argued this was improper because of the contract's integration clause. But Community Homes noted that the parol evidence was not being considered to add a term to the contract; rather,  it was being considered to determine if the contract even existed in the first place, and therefore was permissible. The court agreed with Community Homes that considering parol evidence was perfectly acceptable in this situation. The court noted that it could not enforce the contract's integration clause when what it was trying to determine was whether the contract containing the integration clause even existed. 

The parties here had agreed orally that the contract would not come into effect unless HUD guaranteed financing. Although there was nothing in the contract about that, the parol evidence admitted as to the intent of the parties was clear. The contract was only signed in order to try to obtain the HUD financing; once that objective had failed, the parties did not intend the contract to be enforceable any longer. 

Wiencek tried to make an argument that the law should have a policy to deter "fictitious" contracts. In effect, Wiencek claimed that the court was allowing the parties to "pretend" to have entered into a contract to try to "trick" HUD into providing financing, with no intention of actually entering into a contract with each other. The court, however, did not see any reason to enforce the contract between the parties in this circumstance. It was the court's view that, if HUD felt it had been harmed by the representation that there had been a contract between the parties (even though the court did not decide one way or the other whether that representation was incorrect), HUD should seek a remedy from the court for the harm, not Wiencek. 

December 5, 2016 in Government Contracting, Recent Cases, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Can a Breach of Contract Become Elder Abuse and Bad Faith?

A California Court of Appeals recently answered yes to this question, although finding that in the case at issue, the facts didn’t warrant a finding of actual elder abuse.

At bottom, the facts were as follows: an elderly couple – the wife was in her 80s – suffered rain damage to their house and claimed repair benefits under an insurance policy. The insurance company initiated investigations as to whether the damage was covered. The investigations were, among other things, hampered by the couple having discarded debris from the damaged room although the insurance company had requested an immediate investigation and announced its arrival two days later. Unknown

The couple first claimed bad faith in the insurance company subsequently denying part of the insurance claim. The court granted the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment in this respect, finding that a mere incorrect denial of insurance policy benefits does not constitute bad faith. Said the court: “[A]n insurer denying or delaying the payment of policy benefits due to the existence of a genuine dispute with its insured as to the existence of coverage liability or the amount of the insured's coverage claim is not liable in bad faith even though it might be liable for breach of contract.”

The bad faith issue also came up in another case where a husband died from a lethal dose of a prescription drug, the insurer assigned an investigator, who unsuccessfully attempted to obtain information from the plaintiff wife regarding the husband's state of mind before his death and the source of the fatal drugs. Where the insurer simply tried to “do all it reasonably could” to determine the cause of death, no bad faith was at issue in simply denying benefits.

California law broadly defines financial abuse of an elder as “occurring when a person or entity takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains, or retains real or personal property of an elder for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud, or both,” as well as “by undue influence.” See Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 15610.30, subds. (a)(1), (a)(3).)). Additionally, the wrongdoer must have known or should have known that the conduct was likely to be harmful to the elder. In this case, however, the improper conduct was missing: there was no evidence that the insurance company acted in subjective bad faith or unreasonably denied policy benefits. This stands in contrast to cases where, for example, insurance companies have employed deceptive practices in executing contract such as annuity agreements with senior citizens.

December 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Miscellaneous, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Weekly Top Ten SSRN Contracts Downloads (December 1, 2016)

Our SSRN Top Ten Downloads lists now return after a Thanksgiving hiatus last Thursday.

Top-10-3D

SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo2
Contracts & Commercial Law eJournal

Rank Downloads Paper Title
1 506 The Reform of the French Law of Obligations: Les Jeux Sont Faits
Jan M. Smits and Caroline Calomme
Maastricht University Faculty of Law - Maastricht European Private Law Institute (M-EPLI) and Maastricht European Private Law Institute (M-EPLI)
2 368 The Law of Smart Contracts
Max Raskin
New York University (NYU), School of Law
3 308 The Role of the State in Contract Law: The Common-Civil Law Divide
Mariana Pargendler
Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School at São Paulo
4 278 Inside Safe Assets
Anna Gelpern and Erik F. Gerding
Georgetown University Law Center and University of Colorado Law School
5 236 Online RPM and MFN Under Antitrust Law and Economics
Pinar Akman and D. Daniel Sokol
University of Leeds and University of Florida - Levin College of Law
6 222 Why Have M&A Contracts Grown? Evidence from Twenty Years of Deals
John C. Coates, IV
Harvard Law School
7 128 The Promise and Problems of Universal, General Theories of Contract Law
Brian Bix
University of Minnesota Law School
8 127 Crowdfunding Investment Contracts
Jack Wroldsen
Oklahoma State University Spears School of Business
9 108 The Illiberty of Contract
Donald J. Smythe
California Western School of Law
10 189 'All the World's a Stage': The Seven Ages of Unjust Enrichment
Graham Virgo
University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law

 

SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo2
Law & Society: Private Law - Contracts eJournal

Rank Downloads Paper Title
1 506 The Reform of the French Law of Obligations: Les Jeux Sont Faits
Jan M. Smits and Caroline Calomme
Maastricht University Faculty of Law - Maastricht European Private Law Institute (M-EPLI) and Maastricht European Private Law Institute (M-EPLI)
2 368 The Law of Smart Contracts
Max Raskin
New York University (NYU), School of Law
3 308 The Role of the State in Contract Law: The Common-Civil Law Divide
Mariana Pargendler
Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School at São Paulo
4 222 Why Have M&A Contracts Grown? Evidence from Twenty Years of Deals
John C. Coates, IV
Harvard Law School
5 189 'All the World's a Stage': The Seven Ages of Unjust Enrichment
Graham Virgo
University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law
6 128 The Promise and Problems of Universal, General Theories of Contract Law
Brian Bix
University of Minnesota Law School
7 127 Crowdfunding Investment Contracts
Jack Wroldsen
Oklahoma State University Spears School of Business
8 108 The Illiberty of Contract
Donald J. Smythe
California Western School of Law
9 91 Long-Term Business Relationships and Implicit Contracts in European Private Law
Ugljesa Grusic
Faculty of Laws, University College London
10 86 First or Second Best? Judicial Law-Making in European Private Law
Chantal Mak
University of Amsterdam - Centre for the Study of European Contract Law (CSECL)

December 1, 2016 in Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Outlandish Contract Decision re. ADA-related Construction

How is this for a most bizarre contract law decision: The Chicago Housing Authority (“CHA”) contracted with architectural and engineering company DeStefano and Partners (“DeStefano”) for consulting services in connection with the construction of seven multifamily residential buildings. CHA required a certain percentage of the homes to comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and other federal law (some of the housing was to be accessible by mobility impaired individuals, some by elderly residents). Among other things, DeStefano was made contractually aware that the company was to “certify that all work was performed under the direct supervision of the Project Architect and that it conforms to… the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 … [and] Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.”

During the construction, CHA was notified by HUD that the project did not meet the various federal requirements. CHA hired another architecture firm to perform the work necessary to comply with its obligations under the voluntary compliance agreement with HUD. CHA incurred more than $4.3 million to bring the buildings into compliance with federal standards and brought suit against DeStefano for material breach of contract.

DeStefano defended itself by, at bottom, arguing that since CHA had a nondelegable duty to comply with the federal accessibility standards, it should not be able to recover damages from DeStefano for CHA’s failure to do so. In other words: “It’s your own fault that you have this problem, not ours, even though we were the designers and the problem was with the design.” Yah.

But wait, it gets better than that: the court agreed! It apparently bought wholesale defendant’s argument that “permitting CHA to proceed with its state-law breach of contract action would discourage CHA from fulfilling its own obligations to prevent discrimination under Section 504 and the ADA, directly undermining the goal and purpose expressed by Congress in enacting those statutes.” It also stated that “notably, however, … there are no provisions within the ADA, or its accompanying regulations, that permit indemnification or the allocation of liability between the various entities subject to the ADA.” The court found that CHA’s duties were, as mentioned, nondelegable and, because the duties were imposed on CHA by HUD, CHA’s failure to comply was the problem. “CHA was a ‘wrongdoer’ in the sense that it failed to ensure the subject premises complied with the applicable federal accessibility standards in order to prevent discrimination.”

Wait a minute! So, in trying to make sure that the housing in fact complied with the law, the housing authority was found to have violated it! That’s just crazy.

This case may work as a good example if you want to train your students how to identify faulty reasoning and logic by courts.

The case is can be found here. Hat tip to Justen Hansen of WesTech Engineering for bringing this to my attention. http://www.westech-inc.com/en-usa

December 1, 2016 in Commentary, Government Contracting, Labor Contracts, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Settlement Agreement That's Too Vague Doesn't Settle Much At All

I am always saying to my students that if they care about something, they should put it in their contract, and they should be specific about what it is they want. I think sometimes people might think there's something to gain strategically by being vague, but introducing ambiguity into a contract can work out very poorly (and also takes control out of the hands of the parties). A recent case out of Florida, Boardwalk at Daytona Development, LLC v. Paspalakis, Case No. 5D15-1944, is a case where the court, faced with an ambiguous description of the land at issue in a contract, just threw up its hands in frustration. 

The dispute between these two parties has been long and contentious. According to this article, it's dragged on for over a decade. It was originally rooted in an eminent domain proceeding in which Boardwalk at Daytona ("BDD")'s predecessor obtained property belonging to Paspalakis and the other appellees. The appellees contested BDD's acquisition of their land and eventually that lawsuit was settled. The settlement agreement provided the appellees with an option to purchase and operate 7500 square feet of retail space on the Daytona Boardwalk. The agreement contained no legal description or street address for the property at issue. The agreement said that the land would: (1) be adjacent to another particular business; (2) have a minimum of 50 boardwalk frontage feet; and (3) have sufficient land to build a 7500-square-foot, one-story building. Unfortunately for the appellees, there were at least three parcels of land that met this description, and they ranged drastically in size from around 7700 square feet to over 17,000 square feet. 

The problem with the description of the land in the settlement agreement was exposed when the appellees tried to operate their option. BDD offered a piece of property that met all three criteria set forth in the settlement agreement. However, the property required unusual structural design features that troubled the appellees and also came with a negative easement for light, air, and unobstructed view that benefitted the BDD property next door. The appellees therefore objected to this plot of land and asked for another one. 

BDD sought a declaratory judgment that the plot of land it proposed was sufficient under the settlement agreement and that it did not have to provide another plot of land. The appellees, in response, sought specific performance that BDD provide  a plot of land fitting the description in the settlement agreement, without the restrictions of the land BDD had offered. In the face of the counterclaim, BDD shifted stance and argued that the settlement agreement was too ambiguous to be enforced. 

The trial court sided with the appellees and ordered BDD to convey the largest possible plot of land to the appellees. BDD appealed, and this court agreed with BDD. The court noted that a description of the land in question is usually considered an essential part of any land purchase agreement, and that without any such description there are serious doubts whether the parties reached a meeting of the minds. The description of the land in the settlement agreement here was ambiguous. The trial court correctly examined parol evidence to try to resolve the ambiguity, but it didn't help. The contract terms at issue here simply could have been fulfilled by any of three very different parcels of land.  To this court, there was no contractual way to choose between them and no parol evidence that shed light on which parcel of land the parties had in mind. Indeed, the court was skeptical the parties ever really agreed on which parcel of land would be conveyed, and so the parties never reached a meeting of the minds that could be enforced. Therefore, the court reversed the order of specific performance and entered judgment for BDD instead. 

A bitter pill here for the appellees, who doubtless thought that they were getting something of value in the settlement agreement they struck and end up with nothing to show for it. But it does seem like there was considerable confusion about which land was affected by the situation here. I guess it's a lesson to all of us: try to be as specific as possible. I tell my students drafting contracts is frequently like playing a game of what-if with yourself. What if BDD offers this parcel of land instead of that parcel of land? If the answer to that question is that you would prefer one parcel of land over the other, best to be specific in the contract. 

November 30, 2016 in Commentary, Current Affairs, In the News, Law Schools, Recent Cases, Teaching, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (2)

Trump: Contractual Landlord and Lessee at the Same Time

The lease for the Trump International Hotel, housed in Washington’s historic Old Post Office Pavilion owned by the federal General Services Administration (“GSA”), contains a clause forbidding elected officials from involvement. Trump, as president, essentially would be both landlord and tenant.

That may be an ethical problem as well as a federal contract law violation. Trump would oversee the GSA and appoint its administrator ― a conflict of interest with his hotel interest. GSA officials are looking into the matter.

Steven Schooner and Daniel Gordon, former government officials who specialize in federal contract law, have recommended that GSA “immediately end the hotel lease relationship, before Trump becomes president” to avoid ethics problems. Of course, if GSA terminates the lease contract, it risks litigation potentially with… Trump as a winner.

However, says Schooner, that’s a risk worth running. “In the end, it’s just a frigging lease.” It would also be a president heavily involved in private business affairs over which he would exercise significant power, real and perceived. But that may just be how our country is developing these days. We frown on similar behaviors in relation to other countries, but when it comes to our own, we are apparently either becoming accepting of unacceptable behaviors or powerless to do much about them.

November 30, 2016 in Celebrity Contracts, Commentary, Contract Profs, Government Contracting, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Rights of First Refusal to License Mineral Rights and Unconscionability

If you are looking for a case with a nice analysis of procedural and substantive unconscionability, a recent case out of Ohio, Christ Holdings, LLC v. Schleappi, Case No. 15 NO 0427, has one. 

The case involved a right of first refusal that the defendants claimed was unconscionable. The trial court agreed with the defendants, but this court reversed the finding. The court started by looking at procedural unconscionability and noting that it requires consideration of "age, education, intelligence,  business acumen and experience," etc. The court then presented in some amount of detail the education and employment history of both parties, concluding that their educational level is roughly equivalent but that the plaintiff did have more business acumen and experience than the defendant. 

However, importantly for this decision, the court noted that the parties actually had a history of conducting real estate transactions between them without the aid of any attorneys, negotiating several times over the course of several years. To the court, this was an indication that both parties were knowledgeable in the particular type of real estate transaction at issue here, even if the plaintiff had more general business acumen. 

The trial court had also been very concerned about the fact that the defendant had been operating under time constraints. But this court noted that the time constraints were not the plaintiff's fault: he gave no indication that he wouldn't have given her time to read the contract over if she had requested it (which she did not). 

After finding no procedural unconscionability, the court then turned to substantive unconscionability. The trial court had found substantive unconscionability for a number of reasons, most notably, though, because this right of first refusal involved the licensing of mineral rights. The trial court asserted that rights of first refusal should be limited to real estate purchases, not to the leasing or licensing of real estate as was at issue here. The trial court seemed to think that rights of first refusal to license were unconscionable in and of themselves, without further inquiry into their terms. This court, however, said that there was no reason to so narrowly restrict the ability of the parties' to use rights of first refusal in their agreements. It found the right of first refusal to be enforceable and remanded for further proceedings. 

 

November 28, 2016 in Recent Cases, Teaching, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Sad and Regrettable Loss to Contract Law Academia

As our friends on the Faculty Lounge just announced, Dean Schwartz was just forced to step down as Dean of the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, School of Law. Why? After the recent presidential election, he sent an email to students offering counseling to those upset by the results. Similar initiatives were undertaken around the nation in places so politically and geographically different as the University of South Dakota and Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Apparently, what really cost Dean Schwartz his position was his personal opinion given in the email, namely that the services would be offered to students who “feel upset” following the “most upsetting, most painful, most disturbing election season of my lifetime.”

A colleague of Schwartz's, Robert Steinbuch, who previously tussled with Schwartz over diversity in admissions, explained [cite to FL]: “If you tell people every time they lose they’re entitled to counseling, you elevate the perceived level of wrong beyond what it is. Most assuredly, Democrats are disappointed a Republican won. I recall when the Democratic Party won the Presidency twice each of the previous two elections. I knew plenty of people who were disappointed at that time, but I didn’t know anybody that needed grief counseling. I think when we tell people that they need some form of grief counseling we are normalizing hysteria and suggesting there’s something immoral or wrong about our democratic process.”

How incredibly misunderstood and off point. First, there really is something wrong about our democratic process when repeatedly, the person winning most of the popular votes in an election does not become the president. Similarly, our two-party only, “winner takes it all” system is arguably not a sufficiently faceted system that can be considered to be a true representative, deliberative democracy. But I get that, the system should then be changed before the next election. That won’t happen, just like time after time, mass shooting episodes don’t cause a change to our gun laws or the mass murder situation in general. Such is our country, and so be it, apparently.

What is incredible to me in relation to the above is not Schwartz’ alleged normalization of “hysteria” (read: justified outrage), it is attempts to make this particular election appear normal. It simply was not. Everyone seems to agree on that, Democrats and Republicans alike. In fact, note that many Republicans were outraged as well – and for good reason. Should it be acceptable that we now have a President who, for example, is proud that he “grabs women by the pussy” and “just start[s] kissing them” whether or not they want it? Someone who claims that he is “smart” for not paying taxes for, apparently, many years to a country that he wants to lead, even though he could easily afford doing so? A person who, in spite of sound science proving otherwise until at least yesterday claimed that climate change is a “hoax made up by the Chinese”?

I would hope not. But as we see, apparently that is what we just have to put up with and not even opine about, even in legal academia, in the form of a sentence as innocuous as one that refers to simple, but honest, feelings shared by millions of other people as well.

Throughout history, censorship has never proved particularly effective. As a nation, if we seek to revert to such strategies, we are truly in trouble. Schwartz’ comments may well have upset Republican law students, but maybe that in and of itself would have had some value, especially in an academic setting where thoughts are valued for being just that; thoughts that just might help improve our nation.

On an up note: Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks to Michael Schwartz for being a such a courageous, thoughtful dean and legal scholar!

Greetings from Berlin.

November 24, 2016.

November 24, 2016 in Commentary, Contract Profs, Current Affairs, In the News, Labor Contracts, Law Schools | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Here's a Nice Anticipatory Repudiation Case for the Next Time You Teach That

A recent case out of West Virginia, Stiles Family Limited Partnership v. Riggs and Stiles, Inc., No. 16-0220, does a nice job analyzing the fact that an anticipatory breach must be unequivocal. The fairly straightforward facts could be a useful way of helping to illustrate this topic the next time you teach it. 

The parties (all members of the same family) entered into a lease under which Riggs and Stiles agreed to farm the property at issue. The lease has been in effect since 2006 without dispute until 2013, when Riggs and Stiles allowed a production company to file an application for a permit to hold a music festival on the farm property. When Stiles Family Limited Partnership learned of the application, they objected; the following month, when they failed to convince the Partnership to allow them to hold the music festival, Riggs and Stiles withdrew the application, and no music festival was ever held on the property. However, the Partnership tried to terminate the lease, arguing that Riggs and Stiles had anticipatorily repudiated the lease when it permitted the filing of the application.  The Partnership claimed that this permission by Riggs and Stiles demonstrated an unequivocal intent on their part to use the land for something other than farming, in violation of the terms of the lease, and it made sense to treat the lease as breached as the moment of application rather than having to wait for the music festival to actually take place.  

The court disagreed, however. It was undisputed that Riggs and Stiles had at all times farmed on the land, never stopping and continuing to farm on the land even after the filing of the application. The application alone was not a breach of the promise to use the land only for farming, as it was undisputed that it was all Riggs and Stiles ever did. And continuing to farm the land was not consistent with an unequivocal repudiation of the lease, because it was actually what Riggs and Stiles was required to do under the lease. Performing consistent with the lease couldn't be considered an unequivocal repudiation of the lease. Moreover, when the Partnership informed Riggs and Stiles that it didn't agree to the music festival being held on the land, Riggs and Stiles withdrew the application for the permit. Rather than being an unequivocal intent to breach the contract, that displayed equivocation on the part of Riggs and Stiles: they sought to take actions to not breach the contract.  

November 23, 2016 in Commentary, Recent Cases, Teaching, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Top Gear, Grand Tour, Non-Competes--What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

My love for the British car show "Top Gear" over the past few years was deep and abiding, despite the fact that I am not interested in cars at all. Like most of the people I know, I watched Top Gear for the hosts, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May--a trio of men whose friendly and hilarious chemistry was, I thought, a little like capturing lightning in a bottle; it comes around so infrequently that it's striking when it does. 

For a taste of what this version of Top Gear was like, please enjoy my personal favorite, one of the caravan episodes: 

 

Or maybe you would prefer one of the boat-car episodes: 

 

The Top Gear Wikipedia entry details that the show's popularity resulted in consistently high ratings, a waiting list for tickets to the stage-filmed portion of the show that numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and a Guinness World Record for the world's most widely watched factual television show

There have been a number of high-profile Top Gear events over the years that I could document here, from Richard Hammond's terrifying crash while filming the show to the fascinating contractual dispute over the Stig, the show's famously anonymous racing driver, revealing his true identity

But what I'm really focusing on in this entry is the fact that the Top Gear hosts have a new show, "The Grand Tour," that looks a whole lot like their old show, and it made me wonder what their contracts looked like. 

The hosts left Top Gear over controversially. The BBC declined to renew Jeremy Clarkson's contract in March 2015, following an attack by Clarkson on one of the producers on the show (later the subject of a lawsuit that Clarkson settled for a hundred thousand pounds and a formal apology). The other two presenters, Hammond and May, also had contracts up for renewal and chose not to re-sign with the BBC, instead following Clarkson to Amazon, where the trio have launched a show called The Grand Tour

I didn't know what to expect from The Grand Tour but it turns out to be Top Gear by a different name. Where Top Gear had a Stig, The Grand Tour has "the American" -- and they tell us who he is right off the bat, rather than get embroiled in that kind of controversy again. Top Gear had a segment called, simply, "The News"; The Grand Tour launched a similar segment called "Conversation Street." Top Gear had a segment called "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car"; The Grand Tour...well, you should watch the show for its take on that segment. This review does a nice job running down all the similarities between the old show and the new. 

This all fascinated me from a contract perspective. I knew that Clarkson had previously co-owned the commercial rights to Top Gear. He sold them to the BBC in 2012 for fourteen million pounds. So, having given up those rights and left the BBC, Clarkson clearly couldn't keep making "Top Gear." But he is making a motoring show that is almost identical in every cheeky winking respect to the one he left behind (right down to a simple title highlighting a prominent "T" and "G"). 

I do think, from an IP point of view, the new show seems safe: they've been careful to avoid any trademarks and only seem to resemble Top Gear in the uncopyrightable idea level, i.e., being a playful show about cars. But I assumed that Clarkson, Hammond, and May had to have had a non-compete with the BBC, so I went looking for it, and I did find evidence that there was one. It apparently prohibited the three from presenting a competing car program for a period of two years. The two years aren't up yet, leaving lawyers to speculate that a conclusion was drawn that the non-compete only applied to terrestrial broadcast stations and not to Amazon's streaming Internet television. The entertainment industry is changing so quickly, it doesn't surprise me that the contracts are having trouble keeping up. 

Surely the BBC would have preferred to keep Clarkson, Hammond, and May from kicking a rival car show into production so quickly, especially while the BBC's relaunched Top Gear has reportedly struggled. But apparently their contracts failed to give them sufficient protection to save them from the result. 

I will leave for another day the issues of contracts made during the filming of Top Gear itself; like, for instance, the time Clarkson offered to save Hammond from a sinking boat in exchange for a bucket...that turned out to have holes. 

And instead I will leave this entry with an acknowledgment that Jeremy Clarkson is a problematic and controversial figure who is not a stranger to making offensive statement. That's beyond the scope of this article about the BBC's contracts, but this review, I think, does a decent job of capturing the internal tension of a former Top Gear fan contemplating the new Grand Tour.  

November 21, 2016 in Celebrity Contracts, Commentary, Current Affairs, Film Clips, In the News, Television, True Contracts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Scholarship Spotlight: "The Promise and Problems of Universal, General Theories of Contract Law" (Brian Bix - Minnesota)

Do theories of contract law actually explain what they purport to explain? Legal philosopher and contracts scholar Brian Bix (University of Minnesota) suggests in a concise but content-packed piece entitled The Promise and Problems of Universal, General Theories of Law that the answer to that question is usually no.

 Here is Professor Bix's abstract:

Brian Bix (Minnesota)There is a growing literature offering (competing) theories of particular doctrinal areas – theories of contract law, tort law, property law, criminal law, restitution law, etc. As theories of doctrinal areas – and, not limited in title or description to the doctrinal area of a particular jurisdiction or time period – they purport to describe, explain, or (and) justify all past, present, and possible versions of that doctrinal area. The audacious ambition of such claims has done little to slow the supply of these theories, though it may explain why so few among these projects pause to consider explicitly their methodology and grounds. In this paper, I explore what may justify these sorts of theories, and what problems they need to overcome. I use examples primarily from contract law, as it is the area I know best, but I suspect that the promise and problems of general theories of other areas of law will be similar. Part I examines what is meant by general and universal theories. Part II considers the practice of rational reconstruction, a practice that is both often at the core of what theorists of doctrinal areas do, and central to how they justify their project. Part III reflects more generally on the factors that might cause caution about the project of general theory. Part IV comes from the other direction, looking at the considerations that motivate or ground general theories. And Part V adds a few comments on prescriptive theories.

Contract theories thus provide useful paradigms for explaining and understanding doctrine, but they might do better to disclaim their implicit claim to universality. Bix concludes, in part, with the observation that "[t]he mere fact that theories of doctrinal areas that are implicitly or explicitly universal and general are taken seriously, and not dismissed immediately as nonsense, indicates that they have some grounding in the rules and practices of legal systems."

Professor Bix's article, The Promise and Problem of Universal, General Theories of Contract Law is available for SSRN download here.

November 18, 2016 in Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Weekly Top Ten SSRN Contracts Downloads (November 17, 2016)

 

  Top-10-handwritten



SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo2
Contracts & Commercial Law eJournal

1 488 The Reform of the French Law of Obligations: Les Jeux Sont Faits
Jan M. Smits and Caroline Calomme
Maastricht University Faculty of Law - Maastricht European Private Law Institute (M-EPLI) and Maastricht European Private Law Institute (M-EPLI)
2 326 The Law of Smart Contracts
Max Raskin
New York University (NYU), School of Law
3 293 The Role of the State in Contract Law: The Common-Civil Law Divide
Mariana Pargendler
Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School at São Paulo
4 269 Inside Safe Assets
Anna Gelpern and Erik F. Gerding
Georgetown University Law Center and University of Colorado Law School
5 223 Online RPM and MFN Under Antitrust Law and Economics
Pinar Akman and D. Daniel Sokol
University of Leeds and University of Florida - Levin College of Law
6 174 Is Privacy Policy Language Irrelevant to Consumers?
Lior Strahilevitz and Matthew B. Kugler
University of Chicago Law School and Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law
7 171 Optimal Fee-Shifting Bylaws
Albert H. Choi
University of Virginia School of Law
8 171 'All the World's a Stage': The Seven Ages of Unjust Enrichment
Graham Virgo
University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law
9 166 Tort Reform through the Backdoor: A Critique of Law & Apologies
Yonathan A. Arbel and Yotam Kaplan
Harvard Law School and Hebrew University of Jerusalem
10 119 Crowdfunding Investment Contracts
Jack Wroldsen
Oklahoma State University Spears School of Business

 

SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo2
Law & Society: Private Law - Contracts eJournal

Rank Downloads Paper Title
1 488 The Reform of the French Law of Obligations: Les Jeux Sont Faits
Jan M. Smits and Caroline Calomme
Maastricht University Faculty of Law - Maastricht European Private Law Institute (M-EPLI) and Maastricht European Private Law Institute (M-EPLI)
2 326 The Law of Smart Contracts
Max Raskin
New York University (NYU), School of Law
3 293 The Role of the State in Contract Law: The Common-Civil Law Divide
Mariana Pargendler
Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School at São Paulo
4 171 Optimal Fee-Shifting Bylaws
Albert H. Choi
University of Virginia School of Law
5 171 'All the World's a Stage': The Seven Ages of Unjust Enrichment
Graham Virgo
University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law
6 141 Signing Without Reading
Gerrit De Geest
Washington University in Saint Louis - School of Law
7 119 Crowdfunding Investment Contracts
Jack Wroldsen
Oklahoma State University Spears School of Business
8 106 The Illiberty of Contract
Donald J. Smythe
California Western School of Law
9 92 Financial Contracting in Crowdinvesting: Lessons from the German Market
Lars Klöhn, Lars Hornuf and Tobias Schilling
Humboldt University of Berlin - Faculty of Law, University of Trier and Humboldt University of Berlin - Faculty of Law
10 84 First or Second Best? Judicial Law-Making in European Private Law
Chantal Mak
University of Amsterdam - Centre for the Study of European Contract Law (CSECL)

 

November 17, 2016 in Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Contracts, Product Liability and Driverless Cars

When it comes to networked and code-controlled products, such as driverless cars and household appliances (the Internet of Things), as I've written elsewhere, contract law can go in two different directions, depending upon how responsive it is to the needs of society.  In this essay, Professors Michael Rustad and Thomas Koenig address the problem of contractual limitations of liability when it comes to driverless cars and other software controlled and networked products.  They place the current era of networked products into historical context and argue that companies "should not be permitted to use contract law to shift the cost of defective code to the end user or consumer." Their essay is an important reminder that contracts - especially mass consumer adhesive form contracts - are not the solution when it comes to consumer products.

November 17, 2016 in Commentary, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Remember: Things That Are "Routine" to Lawyers Can Be Confusing to Pro Se Plaintiffs

A recent case out of the Eastern District of Michigan, Bucciarelli v. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, No. 15-13900, is an illustration of the confusion that can sometimes occur when two parties talk past each other and never really understand each other. The result is that there is no enforceable contract between these parties who never seem to be on the same page.

This is a mortgage foreclosure case in which settlement was attempted but complicated by the fact that there was a lawyer on one side and a pro se plaintiff on the other and they never seemed to be speaking the same language. The defendant's counsel tried to settle the case by by proposing a "routine" settlement to the plaintiff of $500. The plaintiff responded to the proposal by calling the defendant's counsel leaving the following message:

I don't know where it stands but I got it couple days ago regarding the settlement offer of $500 from Countrywide. We can go ahead and do that. So if you wanna give me a call back. My number is []. I do have a lot of mistakes in the Countrywide financial [unclear]. Of those funds that were applied and misapplied to my account but my main focus is Wells Fargo who purchased the loans from Countrywide after Countrywide made some substantial mistakes. Give me a call back. Mary. Thanks bye.

The defendant focused on the "We can go ahead and do that," but the court pointed out that the plaintiff went on after that statement to make allegations regarding Countrywide's mistaken behavior toward her. The court characterized this voicemail as "ambiguous as to her acceptance of all the proposed terms" of the settlement agreement, especially considering that, once the plaintiff received an actual draft of the entire settlement agreement, she refused to execute it. When the defendant moved to enforce the settlement agreement on the basis of the voice message (and subsequent other telephone calls whose contents seem to be disputed), the plaintiff countered that there was no agreement to settle the case. 

In this situation, the court said that it did not feel that the parties had ever agreed on all of the material terms of the settlement. There was no mutual understanding between the parties. The court concluded that each party "heard only what it wanted to hear," and pushed back on defendant's characterization of the settlement offer as "routine": "[I]t must be remembered that Ms. Bucciarelli is appearing pro se, and therefore it is likely that nothing in this litigation is 'routine' to her." 

November 16, 2016 in Recent Cases, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, November 14, 2016

If You're Going to Plead Promissory Estoppel, Be Specific!

I just wrote up a promissory estoppel case last week, and here's another one out of Connecticut, Sorrentino v. Rizza, Docket Number CV156013599 (behind paywall). In this case, the plaintiff failed to allege specific enough statements to form the foundation of her promissory estoppel claim. The case is a dispute over a promise of employment, and the relevant part of the complaint alleged that the defendant had promised the plaintiff "on several occasions" that she would be given "a similar position" with the defendant's company as the plaintiff already held in another company, with "a salary plus a percentage of any advertisement revenue she generated." 

This was, in the court's view, "nebulous at best." No specific dates or locations were given for the promises in question, there was no explanation of the salary that was discussed, and there were no details about what percentage of revenues the plaintiff had been promised. The plaintiff's allegations were about indefinite statements that seemed to lack any material terms. The court said those could not be construed as any "clear and definite promise" that could the plaintiff could reasonably have relied on. 

So if you think you have a promissory estoppel claim, the lesson from this case is to make sure you are very specific in relaying to the court exactly what was said and when. 

November 14, 2016 in Commentary, Labor Contracts, Recent Cases, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Scholarship highlight: Climate change and the "Act of God" doctrine

Allow me to highlight my most recent article, An “Act of God”? Rethinking Contractual Force Majeure in an Era of Anthropogenic Climate Change.

Given anthropogenic climate change, what were previously considered to be inexplicable and unpredictable “acts of God” cannot reasonably be said to be so anymore. They are acts of man. “Extreme” weather events have become the new normal. Accordingly, the contractual force majeure defense, which largely rests on the notion that contractual parties may be exculpated from liability for failed or delayed performances if supervening unforeseen events that the party could not reasonably control or foresee have made a performance impracticable, is becoming outdated in the weather context. It makes little sense to allow contractual parties to escape contractual performance liability for events that are highly foreseeable given today’s knowledge about climate change. Parties can and should take reasonable steps to contractually assess and allocate the risks of severe weather events much more accurately than ever before. Further, they should be better prepared to take reasonable steps to alleviate the effects of severe weather on their contractual performances instead of seeking to avoid liability at the litigation stage.

Time has come for the judiciary to rethink the availability of the impracticability defense based on “extreme” weather for public policy purposes. Perhaps most importantly, by taking a hard look at the doctrine and modernizing it to reflect current on-the-ground reality, the judiciary may help instigate a broader awareness of the underlying pollution problem and need for action at many scales. Meanwhile, a more equitable risk-sharing framework that might become known as “comparative risk sharing” and which would resemble the notion of comparative negligence in torts could be introduced where parties have failed to reach a sufficiently detailed antecedent agreement on the issue. This is surprisingly often the case. Parties often use mere boilerplate phrases that do not reflect today’s highly volatile weather and appurtenant risks.

The law is never static. It must reflect real world phenomena. Climate change is a super-wicked problem that requires attention and legal solutions at many fronts to many problems, including contractual ones. The general public is often said to have lost faith in the judiciary. Given this perception, courts could regain some of that faith in the context of contracts law and force majeure caused by events for which no “God,” other supernatural power, or even nature can be blamed.

The article can be downloaded here.

I apologize that I have not been able to post very many blogs recently and that I will, for family and work reasons, also not be able to do so until January.  I trust it that my lovely assistant Ashley and my co-bloggers will keep you intrigues until then!

November 13, 2016 in About this Blog, Commentary, Contract Profs, Current Affairs, Legislation, Miscellaneous, Science, True Contracts | Permalink