ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Unilateral Contract to "Like"

Shades of Hamer v. Sidway!  A man offered his daughter $200 if she quits Facebook for five months.  It seems that the daughter was well aware of the irresistible time-wasting hazards of the popular social networking site, but needed an incentive to quit.  The father even had her sign a contract.  But, as contractsprofs know, it's not the written form that makes the contract but the bargain.  Even though quitting Facebook may be better for productivity (as I keep telling my students....), it is still a legal "detriment" so if she's successful, dad should pay up.


[Nancy Kim]

February 7, 2013 in Current Affairs, In the News, Miscellaneous, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ninth Circuit Affirms Denial of Toyota's Motion to Compel Arbitration of Class Action

PriusOwners of the model year 2010 Prius and Lexus HS 250h brought suit against Toyota alleging that defects in the cars' anti-lock brake systems (ABS) caused increased stopping distances.  They also allege that Toyota knew of the problem but failed to disclose that knowledge.

Members of the class entered into purchase agreements with Toyota dealerships that included arbitration provisions and also provided that owners of the cars would give up any right to participate in class action lawsuits if their disputes went to arbitration.  Toyota sought to compel arbitration, but the District Court denied the motion on multiple grounds. First, becasue Toyota had vigorously litigated the case in federal court for two years, the District Court found that it had waived its right to move for arbitration.  Second, the District Court found that, since Toyota was not a signatory to purchase agreements that contained the arbitration clauses, it could not move to compel arbitration.  Nor would the District Court hold that plaintiffs are equitably estopped from avoiding arbitration

On appeal in Kramer v. Toyota Motor Corp., Toyota argued that, since arbitrators may decide issues of interpretation, scope, and applicability of arbitration agreements, it was for the arbitrator to decide whether a non-signatory to the arbitration agreement could invoke it.  The Ninth Circuit distinguished cases that had permitted the arbiter to decide such issues on the ground that in those cases, the parties had agreed to have the arbiter decide them.  Here, plaintiffs had never agreed to submit any of their disputes with Toyota to arbitration.

The Ninth Circuit was equally unmoved by Toyota's argument that plaintiffs should be equitably estopped from resisting arbitration.  This doctrine applies where: 1) a signatory relies on the terms of a written agreement in asserting claims against the non-signatory or the claims are intertwined with the agreement and 2) a signatory alleges concerted action bewteen the non-signatory and a signatory and that action is intimately connected to the agreement.  

The Ninth Circuit found that none of plaintiffs claims inimately relied on the purchase ageements; they merely referenced the purchase agreements.   With respect to the second prong of the test, the Ninth Circuit noted that "California state contract law does not allow a nonsignatory to enforce an arbitration agreement based upon a mere allegation of collusion or interdependent misconduct bewteen a signatory and nonsignatory."  The Ninth Circuit found that the complaint did not allege systematic collusion between the dealerships and Toyota and that any collusion that was alleged was not inextricably related to the purchase agreement.  

Since the Ninth Circuit found that Toyota had no right to compel arbitration, it did not address the District Court's finding that it had waived that right.  


February 6, 2013 in Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Teaching Webster v. Blue Ship Tea Room

In a previous post, I shared a way to illustrate the differences between certain types of chicken for the frequently-used ambiguity case, Frigaliment.  For today's random teaching tip, I am leaving chicken behind and moving on to fish.  Because I have the luxury of a six-credit Contracts course, I have time to cover warranties, both express and implied, for sales of goods.  The case I use to teach the implied warranty of merchantability, Webster v. Blue Ship Tea Room, involves fish chowder.  The primary issue is whether a fish bone in a cup of New England fish chowder sold to Ms. Webster at the Blue Ship Tea Room resulted in a breach of the implied warranty of merchantability.  The court answered, "no," but not before going into the details of the way chowder is made in New England.  After I call on a student to share the facts of the case, I say that I've unearthed this clip showing exactly how the fish chowder was made (start at 0:17):  


I also encourage students to craft their own limericks for cases--just as our own Prof. Telman has done.  The latest student limerick submitted was for Webster.  Kudos to student Sareena Beasley for this one:

—Sat down for a bowl of fish chowder
—Ended up with a bone but they doubt her
—So don't pick a fight
—With the Fishermen's delight
When it's known that there’s bones in the flounder

And to those who say that Contracts is the driest 1L class, I say,"puh-shaw!"

[Heidi R. Anderson]

February 5, 2013 in Famous Cases, Limericks, Teaching | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

NY Appellate Court Enforces No Oral Modification Clause

AppDiv1DeptBuyer and seller enter into a contract of sale for property in Manhattan for a purchase price of over $56 million.  The contract sets a closing date and contains a no oral modification clause.  The parties had extended the closing date numerous times by written agreement.  The buyer, however, did not appear at the scheduled closing. Later that day, the parties began negotiating an amendment to the contract of sale.  While the parties communicated by email, their negotiations did not result in a written modification agreement.  The seller declared the buyer in breach of contract for failure to close and notified the buyer that the seller would retain the down payment (upwards of $9 million).  The buyer sued for its return.

After the trial court granted the seller’s motion for summary judgment, the buyer appealed.  Judge Saxe writing for a unanimous appellate court (App Div 1st Dep’t) began the decision:

A standard provision included in many commercial contracts is one requiring any modification of the agreement to be in writing. Nevertheless, courts are presented over and over again with litigation arising out of circumstances where one party to a contract wrongly presumes, based on past practice, that an oral modification will be sufficient. This appeal illustrates the problem.

The Appellate Division affirmed:

The question then becomes whether [the buyer’s] evidence suffices to create an issue of fact as to whether the parties’ written agreement was modified by an agreement extending the closing date. Since the contract of sale provided that any amendments or modifications must be in a signed writing, under General Obligations Law §15-301, the contract cannot be changed by an executory agreement that is not in a signed writing.

The court rejected the buyer’s argument that the existence of a modification was proved by the parties' full (or at least partial) performance of the alleged oral modification:

We reject [the buyer’s] contention that the parties fully performed the oral modification of the contract providing for the adjournment of the closing, since they met at 3:00 p.m. on [the date of the scheduled closing]. At best, that 3:00 p.m. meeting could qualify as partial performance of the alleged oral modification. But, while partial performance of an alleged oral modification may permit avoidance of the requirement of a writing, any such partial performance must be unequivocally referable to the modification (see Rose v. Spa Realty Assoc., 42 NY2d 338, 341 [1977]). The "unequivocally referable" standard requires that the conduct must be "explainable only with reference to the oral agreement." Where the conduct is "reasonably explained" by other possible reasons, it does not satisfy this standard (Anostario v. Vicinanzo, 59 NY2d 662, 664 [1983]). If "the performance undertaken by plaintiff is also explainable as preparatory steps taken with a view toward consummation of an agreement in the future," then that performance is not "unequivocally referable" to the new contract (id.).

* * *

[The buyer’s] submissions fail to satisfy this standard. None of the documents and events that [the buyer] relies on are unequivocally referable to the alleged oral extension. The unexecuted proposed fifth amendment to the contract, the emails exchanged between the parties after noon on [the scheduled closing date], and the 3:00 p.m. meeting attended by the parties that day are insufficient. Not only do the emails fail to even indicate that the closing was adjourned by agreement, but all these items were clearly explainable as preparatory steps taken with a view of attempting to arrive at a possible agreement in the future (see Sutphin Mgt. Corp. v. REP 755 Real Estate, LLC, 73 AD3d 738 [2d Dept 2010]; RAJ Acquisition Corp. v. Atamanuk, 272 AD2d 164 [1st Dept 2000]). In the absence of a resulting written modification, the mere fact that the parties met at 3:00 p.m. does not negate [the buyer’s] default at the 12:00 p.m. closing, or reflect an adjournment of that scheduled closing; it may be understood to merely reflect that [the seller] was willing to attempt to negotiate a new modification, as the parties had done once before, and which, if accomplished, would have nullified the default. Since [the buyer] had already invested $9 million into the project, it had many reasons to continue meeting and negotiating in order to attempt to salvage the deal despite the expiration of the closing deadline, so meetings held after the time set for the closing do not establish that an extension was orally agreed to.

The court also held that estoppel was inapplicable.

Get those modifications in writing! As Beyonce says, "if you liked it then you should've put a pen to it."

Nassau Beekman, LLC v. Ann/Nassau Realty, LLC, 116402/08 (NY App. Div. 1st Dep’t Jan. 31, 2013).

[Meredith R. Miller]

February 5, 2013 in Recent Cases, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Weekly Top Tens from the Social Science Research Council

RECENT HITS (for all papers announced in the last 60 days) 
TOP 10 Papers for Journal of Contracts & Commercial Law eJournal 

December 6, 2012 to February 4, 2013

RankDownloadsPaper Title
1 318 Choice of Law in the American Courts in 2012: Twenty-Sixth Annual Survey 
Symeon C. Symeonides
Willamette University - College of Law
2 230 Arbitration and Access to Justice: Economic Analysis 
Omri Ben-Shahar
University of Chicago Law School
3 194 Monism and Dualism in International Commercial Arbitration: Overcoming Barriers to Consistent Application of Principles of Public International Law 
S.I. Strong
University of Missouri School of Law
4 90 Class, Mass and Collective Arbitration in National and International Law 
S.I. Strong
University of Missouri School of Law
5 86 Sovereign Debt after NML v. Argentina 
Mark C. Weidemaier
University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - School of Law
6 84 Sea Changes in Consumer Financial Protection: Stronger Agency and Stronger Laws 
Dee Pridgen
University of Wyoming College of Law
7 83 Protecting Consumers from Add-On Insurance Products: New Lessons for Insurance Regulation from Behavioral Economics 
Tom BakerPeter Siegelman
University of Pennsylvania Law School, University of Connecticut - School of Law
8 81 Is Corporate Law 'Private' (and Why Does it Matter)? 
Marc Moore
University College London - Faculty of Laws
9 76 Redress for a No-Win Situation: Using Liquidated Damages in Comparable Coaches' Contracts to Assess a School's Economic Damage from the Loss of a Successful Coach 
Richard T. Karcher
Florida Coastal School of Law
10 74 Contract Hope and Sovereign Redemption 
Anna Gelpern
American University Washington College of Law

RECENT HITS (for all papers announced in the last 60 days) 
TOP 10 Papers for Journal of LSN: Contracts (Topic)  

December 6, 2012 to February 4, 2013

RankDownloadsPaper Title
1 83 Protecting Consumers from Add-On Insurance Products: New Lessons for Insurance Regulation from Behavioral Economics 
Tom BakerPeter Siegelman
University of Pennsylvania Law School, University of Connecticut - School of Law
2 66 Problems of Uniform Sales Law – Why the CISG May Not Promote International Trade 
Jan M. Smits
Maastricht University Faculty of Law - Maastricht European Private Law Institute (M-EPLI)
3 66 Transnational Private Regulatory Governance: Ambiguities of Public Authority and Private Power 
Peer Zumbansen
York University - Osgoode Hall Law School
4 63 A Lesson on Some Limits of Economic Analysis: Schwartz and Scott on Contract Interpretation 
Steven J. Burton
University of Iowa - College of Law
5 53 Would Enactment of the Uniform Premarital and Marital Agreement Act in All Fifty States Change U.S. Law Regarding Premarital Agreements? 
J. Thomas Oldham
University of Houston - Law Center
6 52 A Legal Overview of Utah's H.B. 148 – The Transfer of Public Lands Act 
Donald J. Kochan
Chapman University School of Law
7 48 Norms and Law: Putting the Horse Before the Cart 
Barak D. Richman
Duke University - School of Law
8 45 The Principle of Proportionality and European Contract Law 
Caroline Cauffman
Maastricht University
9 42 Taking Outcomes Seriously 
Daphna Lewinsohn-Zamir
Hebrew University - Faculty of Law
10 35 The Consumer Rights Directive 
Joasia LuzakVanessa Mak
University of Amsterdam - Centre for the Study of European Contract Law (CSECL), Tilburg University - Tilburg Law School



February 5, 2013 in Recent Scholarship | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Did Bill Maher Offer Donald Trump $5mill for Proof that Trump Was Not Born of an Orangutan?

File this under "objective theory" example that even a law professor could not invent.

On national tv Bill Maher challenged Donald Trump to come forward with Trump's birth certificate to prove that Trump was in fact born from a human father (not an orangutan).  Apparently Trump provided his birth certificate and then requested that Maher remit the $5 million.  The discussion on Fox News: what did Donald Trump reasonably believe? Was this an offer to enter into a unilateral contract?  Watch it here:

Who wins: Trump or Maher?

[Meredith R. Miller h/t Steven Crosley]

February 4, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, Current Affairs, Television | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)