Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Thursday, January 9, 2014
Only one article this week:
But also a new book:
Contract Law and Contract Practice: Bridging the Gap Between Legal Reasoning and Commercial Expectation
By Catherine Mitchell
An oft-repeated assertion within contract law scholarship and cases is that a good contract law (or a good commercial contract law) will meet the needs and expectations of commercial contractors. Despite the prevalence of this statement, relatively little attention has been paid to why this should be the aim of contract law, how these 'commercial expectations' are identified and given substance, and what precise legal techniques might be adopted by courts to support the practices and expectations of business people. This book explores these neglected issues within contract law. It examines the idea of commercial expectation, identifying what expectations commercial contractors may have about the law and their business relationships (using empirical studies of contracting behaviour), and assesses the extent to which current contract law reflects these expectations. It considers whether supporting commercial expectations is a justifiable aim of the law according to three well-established theoretical approaches to contractual obligations: rights-based explanations, efficiency-based (or economic) explanations and the relational contract critique of the classical law. It explores the specific challenges presented to contract law by modern commercial relationships and the ways in which the general rules of contract law could be designed and applied in order to meet these challenges. Ultimately the book seeks to move contract law beyond a simple dichotomy between contextualist and formalist legal reasoning, to a more nuanced and responsive legal approach to the regulation of commercial agreements.
Catherine Mitchell is a Reader in Law at the University of Hull.
December 2013 308pp Hbk 9781849461214 RSP: £50 / €65
Discount Price: £40 / €52
Hart Publishing is delighted to offer you 20% discount.
Order Online in the US
If you would like to place an order you can do so through the Hart Publishing website (link below). To receive the discount please mention ref: ‘CONTRACTSPROFBLOG’ in the special instructions field. Please note that the discount will not be shown on your order but will be applied when your order is processed.
Order Online in the UK, EU and ROW
If you would like to place an order you can do so through the Hart Publishing website (link below). To receive the discount please type the reference ‘CONTRACTSPROFBLOG’ in the voucher code field and click ‘apply’.
UK, EU and ROW website: http://www.hartpub.co.uk/BookDetails.aspx?ISBN=9781849461214
If you have any questions please contact Hart Publishing
Hart Publishing Ltd, 16C Worcester Place, Oxford, OX1 2JW
Telephone Number: 01865 517 530 Fax Number: 01865 510 710
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Friend of the blog, Steven Feldman (pictured), has recently published his critique of Richard R.W. Brooks and Alexander Stremitzer's Remedies on and off Contract, which appeared in the Yale Law Journal in 2011. Feldman's piece, Rescission, Restitution, and the Principle of Fair Redress: A Response to Professors Brooks and Stremitzer, appeared in the Valparaiso Law Review earlier this year. Feldman characterizes Brooks and Stremitzer as arguing that current legal doctrine does not allow for rescission often enough and is too liberal in granting restitution. They believe that these approaches to damages are based on an exaggerated estimate of the threat to contract stabilitiy posed by rescission. They contend that parties would often bargain for broad rescission rights even if damages for breach were fully enforceable and costless to enforce. Greater rights of rescission, they contend, would result in more efficient outcomes because rational parties would negotiate price to avoid breach.
According to Feldman, Brooks and Stremitzer's argument is not based on a comprehensive survey of case law and relevant statutes. Rather, Feldman contends, "[t]heir legal analysis consists mainly of isolated references to the U.C.C.," the CISG the Restatement (Third) of Restitution and Unjust Enrichment and the Restatement (Second) of Contracts. By contrast, Feldman surveys case law and finds that courts follow a principle of "fair redress" that permits equitable remedies rather than rigid formulas for calculating damages. Moreover, Brooks and Stremitzer's economic model ignores situational and relational considerations that often influence buyers' decisions to seek rescission or to breach.
Feldman's article sets out to show that existing precedent supports a status quo that adequately protects both buyers and sellers. Based on his review of the case law and statutory authority, Feldman argues:
- Courts are far more liberal in granting rescission than Brooks and Stremitzer suggest;
- case law interpreting UCC Sections 2-601 and 2-608 is "decidedly "pro-buyer, allowing buyers to reject goods and to revoke acceptance, both of which are species of rescission that Brooks and Stremitzer overlook;
- Brooks and Stremitzer ignore both federal statutes and regulations and state consumer protection laws that promote a broad right of consumer rescission;
- the doctrine of material breach has always been a porous barrier against buyer's rescission rights;
- merchants often allow customers to rescind in order to maintain good customer relations;
- courts often allow buyers to rescind as an equitable remedy that accords with the principle of fair redress;
- while Brooks and Stremitzer contend that allowing buyers to recover in restitution overcompensates them, the election of remedies doctrine generally prevents duplicate recovery for the promisee;
- allowing both rescission and damages do not create a windfall but simply make the injured party whole; and
- allowing redress in excess of the contract price in cases such as Boomer v. Muir, 24 P.2d 570 (Cal. Dst. Ct. App. 1933), has a sound legal, normative and economic basis.
In the concluding sections of the article, Feldman contends that Brooks and Stremitzer's approach neglects what Feldman terms "the moral imperative " that would permit recovery in excess of losses on the contract in order to protect the innocent victims of legal wrongs. He then proceeds to attack their rational choice model by reminding readers of numerous criticisms of rational choice theory, especially of those sounding in relational contracts theory.
Feldman has undertaken a fundamental and multi-pronged critique of a very prominent article on contracts remedies that ought to be be considered by any scholar interested in Brooks and Stremitzer's model.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
This week's installment includes a new publication by one of our own. Jeffrey Harrison provides an introduction to his article in a recent post.
Shawn J. Bayern & Melvin A. Eisenberg, The Expectation Measure and Its Discontents, 2013 Mich. St. L. Rev. 1
M. Neil Browne & Lauren Biksacky, Unconscionability and the Contingent Assumptions of Contract Theory, 2013 Mich. St. L. Rev. 211-255
Benjamin P. Cooper, Taking Rules Seriously: The Rise of Lawyer Rules as Substantive Law and the Public Policy Exception in Contract Law, 35 Cardozo L. Rev. 267 (2013)
Jeffrey L. Harrison, A Nihilistic View of the Efficient Breach, 2013 Mich. St. L. Rev. 167
Manuel Willington, Hold up under Costly Litigation and Imperfect Courts of Law, 29 J.L. Econ. & Org. 1023 (2013)
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Christopher M. Foulds, For Whom Should the Corporation Be Sold? Diversified Investors and Efficient Breach in Omnicare v. NCS, 38 J. Corp. L. 733 (2013)
Sean J. Griffith, The Omnipresent Specter of Omnicare, 38 J. Corp. L. 753 (2013)
Hon. J. Travis Laster, Omnicare's Silver Lining, 38 J. Corp. L. 795 (2013)
Brian J.M. Quinn, Omnicare: Coercion and the New Unocal Standard, 38 J. Corp. L. 835 (2013)
Megan W. Shaner, Revisiting Omnicare: What Does Its Status 10 Years Later Tell Us? 38 J. Corp. L. 865 (2013)
Hon. E. Norman Veasey, Ten Years after Omnicare: The Evolving Market for Deal Protection Devices, 38 J. Corp. L. 891 (2013)
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Thursday, December 12, 2013
I happen to agree with the recent New York Times article on the usefulness of legal research. As many will recall, the basic idea was that a great deal of what is published is only that -- it exists in print and is largely unread or impractical. Part of the problem is that writing is a bit like hazing. Young people must do it to join the fraternity even if they have little new to say. Another problem is the actor and audience problem. Law professors appear are both. As writers they are the actors and as readers they are the audience -- the only audience. So they play their part and then rush back to the audience to applaud the "acts" of others. In these instances the work may be so theoretical that it is only of interest to very few, if any, and perhaps useful to no one at all. This is related to or the same as the skyhook problem as described by Monroe Freedman. As I understand it, work that is too theoretical and too burdened by assumptions is comparable to engineers talking about the impossible. Monroe H. Freedman, A Critique of Philosophizing About Lawyers' Ethics," 25 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 91 (2012).
That was how an Article by Daniel Markovits and Alan Schwartz, "The Myth of the Efficient Breach: New Defenses of the Expectancy Interest," 97 Va. L. Rev. 1939 (2011), struck me. Why write anything further about the efficient breach? Of course, as always the joke was on me. I immediately set out to write yet another article about efficient breach which essentially says it does not exist, and Markovits and Schwartz are covering ground that is in large part both old and irrelevant. And with that I became the actor, the audience, and an actor acting out the roles of the actor an audience. I think this means my article, "A Nihilistic View of the Efficient Breach" 2013 Mich St.L. Rev. 167 , was a skyhook for skyhooks. If any of this interest to you and I hope not. Here is the link.
I realized why we do much of our writing. It's fun and we are addicted to ideas. It's a pretty good job! But are we at times too self indulgent?
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Alan S. Kaplinsky & Mark J. Levin, Consumer Financial Services Azrbitration: What Does the Future Hold after Concepcion? 8 J. Bus. & Tech. L. 345 (2013)
Nicole F. Munro & Peter L. Cockrell, Drafting Arbitration Agreements: A Practitioner's Guide for Consumer Credit Contracts, 8 J. Bus. & Tech. L. 363 (2013)
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Eli Bukspan, Trust and the Triangle Expectation Model in Twenty-First Century Contract Law, 11 DePaul Bus. & Com. L.J. 379 (2013)
Veronica J. Finkelstein, Dollars and Horse Sense: Why Prudent Buyers and Sellers Should Account for Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code in Their Equine Sales Contracts, 5 Ky. J. Equine, Agri., & Nat. Resources L. 181 (2012-2013)
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Unconscionability and the Contingent Assumptions of Contract Theory, 2013 Mich. St. L. Rev. 211 (2013), by Dr. M. Neil Browne and Lauren Biksacky, argues that basic assumptions of liberal contract theory – for example, that contracts are made by rational and informed parties – don’t hold. Therefore, courts should find more contracts unconscionable.
This short article would be a nice primer for law students on basic liberal contract theory, especially in conjunction with some Judge Posner readings. The authors argue that people often yield to irrational motives. They get in bar fights. They have road rage. They buy books on feng shui. Judge Posner might respond that the human rationality economists speak of is that of pigeons or rats, not angels. Dr. Browne, himself an economist, seems to take exception to that conception of human beings.
The article argues courts can do better than simply making people keep their ratty promises. Courts can allow people to be their best, most-informed selves by invalidating “irrational” promises made under distorting influences like advertising and cognitive biases. Courts can and should step in like adults over wayward children and guide them toward eudaimonia.
Yet the article notes that despite research showing people are often irrational and ill-informed, courts are not finding more contracts unconscionable. Why? The article doesn’t answer, but the reason is probably that to do so seems unworkable. If human irrationality were grounds for invalidating a contract, how many contracts would be secure? The law tends to be a great guardian of the status quo, and apparently some people like books about feng shui.
[Image by Vicky TGAW]
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Theodoros Chiou, On Royalties and Transfers without (Monetary) Consideration -- Looking for the "Magic Formula" for Assessing the Validity of Renumeration Clauses of Copyright Transfers under French Copyright Law. 44 IIC: Int'l Rev. Intell. Prop. & Competition L. 585 (2013)
Louise Longdin & Phen Hoon Lim, Inexhaustible Distribution Rights for Copyright Owners and the Foreclosure of Secondary Markets for Used Software, 44 IIC: Int'l Rev. Intell. Prop. & Competition L. 541 (2013)
Michael Pressman, The Two-Contract Approach to Liquidated Damages: A New Framework for Exploring the Penalty Clause Debate, 7 Va. L. & Bus. Rev. 651 (2013)
Thomas J. Lilly, Jr. Participation in Litigation as a Waiver of the Contractual Right to Arbitrate: Toward a unified Theory. 92 Neb. L. Rev. 86 (2013)
Andrea M. Matwyshyn, The Law of the Zebra. 28 Berkeley Tech. L.J. 155-225 (2013)
Debra Pogrund Stark, Jessica M. Choplin & Eileen Linnabery, Dysfunctional Contracts and the Laws and Practices that Enable Them: An Empirical Analysis. 46 Ind. L. Rev. 797-847 (2013) [and check out Kenneth Ching's review of this article here]
George G. Triantis, Improving Contract Quality: Modularity, Technology, and Innovation in Contract Design. 18 Stan. J.L. Bus. & Fin. 177 (2013)
William Wood, It Wasn't an Accident: The Tribal Sovereign Immunity Story, 62 Am. U. L. Rev. 1587 (2013)
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Today’s mini-review is of Dysfunctional Contracts and the Laws and Practices that Enable Them: An Empirical Analysis, 46 Ind. L. Rev. 797 (2013), by Debra Pogrund Stark, Dr. Jessica M. Choplin, and Eileen Linnabery.
Apparently, many real estate contracts limit buyers’ remedies to return of earnest money, and many courts enforce such limitations. The problem is that if a buyer’s only remedy for breach of contract is the return of earnest money, then the seller hasn’t really bound himself to anything. If the seller doesn’t want to perform, all he has to do is return the earnest money. This encourages the kind of strategic behavior that contracts are supposed to prevent. For example, a seller may agree to sell real estate, but if the property's market value increases, the seller can breach the contract, return the earnest money, and sell the property to a second buyer at a higher price. The seller essentially gets to speculate on the buyer's dime.
Further, many buyers don’t understand the meaning of these limitation of remedy clauses, even if they read them. The authors conducted a study which suggests more than a third of people who read a limitation of remedies clause fail to comprehend that their remedies have been limited. The authors use this finding to challenge some courts’ reasoning that buyers knowingly consent to the limitation of their remedies.
The authors offer several reforms, and two are particularly interesting: (1) enacting legislation that prohibits limiting buyers’ remedies to the return of earnest money, and (2) replacing the exacting standards of unconscionability with a "reasonable limitation of remedy” test similar to that used in evaluating liquidated damages.
This article is state-of-the-art in its use of empirical research to aid legal analysis. It not only provides interesting data, but it also marshals that data against flimsy intuitive arguments still common wherever people talk about contracts.
[Image by thinkpanama]
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Friday, November 22, 2013
Our seventh guest blogger, Theresa Amato, is the executive director Citizen Works which she started with Ralph Nader in 2001. After earning her degrees from Harvard University and the New York University School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden Scholar, Amato clerked in the Southern District of New York for the Honorable Robert W. Sweet. She was a consultant to the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (Human Rights First) and wrote an influential human rights report on child canecutters in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. She then became the youngest litigator at Public Citizen Litigation Group, where she was the Director of the Freedom of Information Clearinghouse in Washington D.C. In 1993, Amato founded the nationally-recognized, Illinois-based Citizen Advocacy Center and served as its executive director for eight years. She currently serves as its Board President. Most recently, she has launched Fair Contracts.org to reform the fine print in standard form contracts. In 2009, The New Press (New York) published her book, Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny. She also appears prominently in the Sundance-selected and Academy Awards short-listed documentary “An Unreasonable Man.”
“Yes,” writes Professor Nancy S. Kim. “As strange as it may seem, under contract law you can legally bind yourself without knowing it.”
In her valuable book, Wrap Contracts, Foundations and Ramifications, Professor Kim does a service to all by explaining how courts enforce these online contracts “where consumers have no intent of entering into a contract.” She points out that “[t]he requirement of manifestation of consent seems to be subsumed in wrap contract cases with the issue of notice.” As a result, “the nondrafting party does not actually need to either receive notice or understand or intend the meaning attributed by the courts to a particular action.”
courts have constructed consent in an entirely unreasonable fashion by twisting doctrinal rules, conjuring up notice, inferring action from inaction, and blithely ignoring the central role of intent in contracts. They engage in this hocus pocus in order to enforce transactions that they believe provide a net benefit to society.
These “wrap contracts” consumers often unknowingly “agree” to may be buried in the hyperlinks and are not merely proprietary instructions for how to use the product or service. As Professor Kim explains, consumers are not only under affirmative obligations in these “wrap contracts,” they may be subject to a smorgasbord of rights-reducing language. Exclusive jurisdiction, forced arbitration, waived class actions, and the vendor’s one-way reserved rights to change the terms whenever it wants to are aggressive consumer rights reducers, often eviscerating decades of public policy and legal decisions that have afforded consumers their rights. In some cases, consumers are agreeing to muzzle themselves from complaining about the product or service. Fine print contracts may not only strip mine the legal rights of consumers, but they can also take or “steal” their property and privacy.
Thank you, Professor Kim for spelling it out for all to read. Not only do consumers not need a pen to sign on a dotted line, or in some cases even a button to click that one “agrees” to terms certainly not read, but “wrap contracts” take it even further. Consumers don’t even need to know they are agreeing, much less to what set of terms. Nonetheless, “wrap contracts,” now often “multi-wrap contracts,” as Professor Kim notes, “by their form, permit companies to impose more objectionable terms than paper contracts of adhesion.”
When people begin to understand how their rights are treated in the “wrap contract” rabbit hole, this offends sensibilities. For those not attuned to the “degradation of consent,” so aptly explained in Professor Margaret Jane Radin’s book Boilerplate, The Fine Print, Vanishing Rights, and The Rule of Law, this sort of contract peonage is not only unwelcome, it runs counter to everything the non-drafting parties think of as fair play.
Professor Kim’s use of the term “crook provisions” should not be understated and aligns with popular sentiment when consumers are fully informed of this state of affairs. Companies now grant themselves the right to “appropriate” -- once known otherwise as “stealing” or, charitably, “taking”-- from consumers for no payment. They then turn around and make a profit on what heretofore we would have considered the possessions of the consumer, e.g. their content, images, personal information and shopping habits.
As Professor Kim explains: “a crook provision anticipates no such offensive action by the consumer and has no direct relationship with the product or services offered by the company. It is simply an attempt to sneak an entitlement from the user without payment, either in terms of money or goodwill.” Indeed.
So where is the counteraction to this outright mugging of consumer rights and property? The ubiquity of these contracts has masked the reality of their potential to do serious harm to consumers such that consumers are not even aware of the magnitude of the problem.
For lack of a better term at the moment, I think we should nonetheless stop calling them “contracts” and start treating them as the equivalent of “online asbestos.” Like asbestos in its heyday, manufacturers and service providers use “wrap contracts” everywhere. They have properties that facilitate commerce but that does not mean that they are not toxic and dangerous for those exposed to them.
Moreover, like asbestos, some of the dangers will not necessarily emerge for decades when content thieves and data aggregators use consumer information to the detriment of the consumers. Perhaps due attention will be paid when the content providers, i.e. the consumers/users, begin to realize they cannot expunge those posts from their teens or more uncensored moments that now prevent them from getting hired or getting credit. Or perhaps regulators will begin to pay sufficient attention to the one-sided misappropriations when serious amounts of data are compromised by those with criminal intent (already it is happening) and with frequency for millions of users.
The question is, how long will it take for U.S. regulation and the courts to catch up to the need to ban or strictly limit the use of these offensive sword and crook provisions? For asbestos it took at least half a century, while manufacturers whined the whole way about regulation even as they knew for decades of its dangers much as “wrap contract” apologists do now. No, these “contracts” may not kill you, but they can make your life miserable and we would all breathe better if consumers were treated more fairly.
Professor Kim’s doctrinal adjustments (“a duty to draft reasonably; replacing blanket assents with specific assent; considering contract function when apply existing doctrinal rules, and reinvigorating unconscionability”) are a very solid start, though they are only a beginning. In some cases, such as replacing blanket assent with specific assents, the proposed remedy may only devolve into the Pavlovian clicking response now exercised by consumers with routine oblivion to the consequences, believing they have little choice if they want the product or service behind the click.
Courts should be helping consumers enforce their intent, not creating doctrinal chaos as Kim writes by reciting, “law that originates from the paper-based contracting world to this brave new digitally based world when they might be better off acknowledging the difference that contract form and function make to the reasonable expectations of the parties.” The courts have instead largely given corporations a judicial pass thus far and Professor Kim’s rebalancing of burdens (from the nondrafting party to the drafting party) is the least that they could begin to impose to adjust the invocation of the judicial force of the state.
I think we should be asking for much more on behalf of consumers and could take cues from other countries with more advanced notions of consumer protection and data privacy. Not only should legislators, regulators and courts protect consumers from exposure to online asbestos by outright banning, or at minimum reforming, many of these harmful provisions, but corporations who have taken rights from consumers should also be required to begin remediation efforts – immediately. These corporations can start by returning the misappropriated property and other stolen goods to their rightful owners.
[Posted, on Theresa Amato's behalf, by JT]