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Sunday, November 21, 2004

Mara Kent's Recent Cases Roundup

Kent_headshot_1 Sandra Bullock, parenting contracts, Bart Simpson, cell phones, Madonna, toys, Van Halen, and the Baltimore Orioles—Mara Kent (Thomas Cooley) looks at them all in her forthcoming column in the AALS Contracts Newsletter.

Click the link below for the full article.

by Mara Kent

Kent_headshot Welcome to the newest column dealing with recent contracts cases—interesting, funny, noteworthy, or even exam-worthy cases from around the country. Enjoy!

Contract to Parent Unenforceable—Despite an implied-in-fact agreement between domestic partners to co_parent a child, "parenthood by contract" is not available in Massachusetts, according to the Supreme Judicial Court. The plaintiff, a woman who lived as a couple with the defendant, also a woman, became pregnant through artificial insemination. While pregnant, the couple separated, and the plaintiff subsequently gave birth to a child. The biological mother alleged the defendant breached an implied-in-fact contract to co-parent the child and to pay for the child’s support. The court noted that "parenthood by contract" was not the state’s law, and to the extent that the couple entered into either an express or implied agreement to co-parent a child, the contract was against public policy. It further concluded that the additional agreement to support the child would likewise be unenforceable for lack of consideration. T.F. v. B.L., 813 N.E.2d 1244 (Mass. 2004).

One-Sided Arbitration Clauses Zapped—An arbitration clause in cell-phone giant Centennial’s contract was unenforceable, according to the Fifth Circuit, because it was one-sided. The clause provided in part, "You agree that instead of suing in court, you will arbitrate any and all disputes and claims arising out of this agreement or the service." The court noted the arbitration clause required customers to arbitrate their claims, but it did not require the cell_phone company to do so. The court stated that recent state appellate cases have deemed similar arrangements unconscionable. However, the court did uphold two other arbitration clauses contained in the agreements of Cannular and Sprint, because those contracts more clearly bound both parties to arbitration. The court noted that small type, confidentiality provisions, change-in-term provisions, and a provision barring arbitrator’s ordering of consolidation or class arbitration did not render clauses unconscionable. Iberia Credit Bureau, Inc. v. Cannular Wireless LLC, 379 F.3d 159 (5th Cir. 2004).

"Miss Congeniality" Wins Big—Sandra Bullock won $7 million in damages from an Austin-based developer over a contract to build her luxury home in the exclusive Lake Austin area. Bullock claimed she spent millions on a house that was unlivable, and that the home needed massive repairs; the builder claimed it was fine. One potential juror "said she didn't realize [Bullock] was a movie star but had though instead she was former wife of the late Texas political giant Bob Bullock, a former lieutenant governor and state comptroller." Another potential juror "said she enjoyed Bullock’s movies and questioned whether she could be impartial when hearing the evidence. ‘I loved Speed. I love Miss Congeniality,’ she said. ‘I’m not in love with her, but she's a movie star.’" CNN.com, Aug. 19, 2004; Houston Chronicle, Oct. 14, 2004.

Toys-R-Us Won’t Play With Amazon—In May, 2004, Toysrus.com, a subsidiary of Toys "R" Us, Inc., filed suit against Amazon.com to protect its exclusivity rights in the toy, game, and baby products categories sold on Amazon.com. The contract between the two online companies states that TRU is the only authorized seller of toys, games, and baby products on Amazon through 2010. TRU claims that as of May, 2004, there were more than 4,000 products being offered through competitors on Amazon.com, allegedly in violation of the parties’ agreement. TRU made significant quarterly payments to Amazon over the last four years for exclusive rights to the toy, game, and baby products categories. The company says that it"would be happy to compete with other vendors in these categories, but [it is] not willing to pay for exclusivity that [it is] not receiving." PR Newswire 16:57:00, May 24, 2004.

Bart Simpson Speechless—Six members of the cast of The Simpsons held out for more money in a contract dispute with Fox, this past spring. The six actors are responsible for dozens of characters on the cartoon show, including Bart, Homer, Marge, Krusty, and everyone’s favorite neighbor, Ned Flanders. The actors demanded a raise and vowed not to show up to work for a month. Each actor earns $125,000 an episode, a fraction of what other actors on live sitcoms make. The Simpson actors were seeking $360,000 an episode, plus a share of syndication profits. The parties reportedly reached a compromise. Seattle Times, April 20, 2004.

Material Girl Strikes a Pose—Madonna sells her stake in Maverick Recording to Warner Music for $10 million. She co_founded the joint venture with Warner Music Group, but things went sour between the two when the Material Girl sued Warner Music over its alleged cheating of her and her partners out of millions of dollars. Madonna claimed that Warner’s conduct amounted to "treason," and she accused Warner music of repeatedly "sacrificing the interests of the partnership and its partners for [its] own selfish financial interests." Maverick Recording, which includes such acts as Michelle Branch and Alanis Morrissette, will continue as a separate label under the Warner Music family. L.A. Times, June 15, 2004.

Van Halen Rocks the Boat—Rock band Van Halen sued the Baltimore Orioles baseball team in August over a scheduled first-ever concert inside Camden Yards, after the Orioles allegedly backed out of the deal. The band’s touring company sued for "at least" $2 million in damages, claiming it rearranged the band’s schedule and lost other opportunities to perform in Baltimore. The contract would have paid Van Halen $1.5 million plus 80 percent of ticket and merchandise sales for a September concert. Baltimore Sun, August 19, 2004.

If you have an interesting or noteworthy case you would like to include in an upcoming newsletter, please let Mara Kent know at kentm@cooley.edu.

Thomas Cooley Law School

Bart Simpson, Sandra Bullock
Can’t "Co-Parent" Love Child

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