April 15, 2009
Today in history
Contracts types remember the event because Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon’s quick thinking in getting himself and his wife Lucy (left) into a lifeboat will ultimately lead to the seminal decision in Wood v. Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon.
April 14, 2009
Today in history
On this date, April 14, 1828, lexicographer Noah Webster publishes the first edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language, a major landmark in the question to get Americans to use straightforward, proper English.
Lawyers immediately decide to ignore the new development.
March 30, 2007
Fifty Years Ago
Fifty years ago reading. THE UNIFORM COMMERCIAL CODE AND CONTRACT LAW: SOME SELECTED PROBLEMS, 105 U. Pa. L. Rev. 836 (1957). This is an interesting and long article on Article 2. If you are wondering about the changes to Article 1 and Article 2 and the adoption of the changes by the states, it is worth remembering that in 1957, six years after Article 2 was approved, only one state, Pennsylvania, had adopted it.
May 15, 2006
Today in History: Sherwood Buys a Cow
Exactly 120 years ago today, May 15, 1886, at Walkerville (now part of Windsor), Ontario, distiller and cattle breeder Hiram ("Canadian Club") Walker and banker Theodore C. Sherwood struck a deal over a polled Angus cow named Rose. Walker agreed to sell the cow, which he thought barren, for $80. When she turned out to be with calf (and therefore worth as much as $1,000), Walker reneged, leading to the most famous "mutual mistake" case in U.S. history, Sherwood v. Walker. In honor of the day, this lyric, to the tune of Bob Dylan's Just Like a Woman.
JUST LIKE A HEIFER
Now Sherwood needed a cow.
It's not clear if for breeding, or for chow.
He went to Walker's farm,
Thought there would be no harm --
But there he fell under Rose's fatal charm
And he knew --
She's the one.
She moos, just like a heifer (Yes she does)
And she chews grass just like a heifer (Yes she does)
And she woos bulls just like a heifer --
But she's priced just like a side of beef.
Now Sherwood offered to buy.
Old Walker pulled out a jug of rye.
Sherwood thought, "It's her I need!"
Walker thought, "She cannot breed."
The two men haggled and at last agreed
On a price --
For that Rose.
Sherwood went to get his cow,
Walker said, "Ah, now,
I won't let her go!
Eighty bucks? Don't make me laugh!
This cow is now with calf!
And I tell you here,
She's now too dear!
Let me make it clear -- that
I just won't sell.
And Sherwood, you can go to hell!
The contract I will break,
Advantage I will take
Of the doctrine known as ‘mutual mistake,'
And you -- you're just screwed."
May 07, 2006
Today in History: Sorry, No Harrier Jet
Exactly ten years ago, on this date, May 7, 2006, the Pepsi Cola Company refused to deliver a Harrier jet aircraft to John D. R. Leonard, who had sent in a check for $700,000 for 7 million “Pepsi Points” and demanded the jet. Leonard would subsequently sue, leading to one of the most famous contract law decisions of the last decade, Leonard v. Pepsico.
Pepsi had run a television commercial as part of its “Pepsi Stuff” marketing campaign, showing a schoolboy arriving at school in his own Harrier AV-8B VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) fighter jet, with the tag line, “Harrier Fighter 7,000,000 Pepsi Points.” The Harrier jet was presumably chosen because Arnold Schwarzenegger had flown one to destroy the bad guys in the 1994 hit True Lies. The $700,000 would have been a bargain, since according to the Internet Movie Database, the producers of True Lies had paid the Marine Corps more than $100,000 -- $2,410 an hour -- just to rent Harriers for the film.
The Pepsi Stuff campaign, by the way, extremely effective, being named Promo Magazine in 2002 as one of the “Ageless Wonders” of advertising, right up there with the prizes in Cracker Jack boxes. Leonard's suit probably didn't hurt.
May 01, 2006
Today in History: Katie Gets a Present
On this date, May 1, 1891, John C. Ricketts signs a $2,000 promissory note in favor of his niece Katie Scothorn. He goes to the Mayer Bros. Clothing Co. in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Left: Contemporary post card image.) A witness describes what happens:
A. Well the old gentleman came in there one morning about 9 o’clock, -- probably a little before or a little after, but early in the morning, -- and he unbuttoned his vest and took out a piece of paper in the shape of a note; that is the way it looked to me; and he says to Miss Scothorn, “I have fixed out something that you have not got to work any more.” He says, “None of my grandchildren work and you don’t have to.”
Q. Where was she?
A. She took the piece of paper and kissed him; and kissed the old gentleman and commenced to cry.
Katie proceeds to quit, and when the old gentleman dies without delivering the cash, executor Andrew D. Ricketts (the old man's son) refuses to pay the note. Katie sues. The decision, Ricketts v. Scothorn -- allowing her to recover in contract for what would then have been considered a failed gift -- is one of the staples of promissory estoppel.
For those interested, a biography of Andrew is here. There is some question about how much $2,000 in 1891 would be worth today. Using the unskilled wage -- probably the best measure given that it was supposed to replace Katie's earnings as a bookkeeper -- that $2,000 would be worth about $220,000.
April 20, 2006
Today in History: Crunden-Martin Asks for a Quote
Please advise us the lowest price you can make us on our order for ten car loads of Mason green jars, complete, with caps, packed one dozen in case, either delivered here, or f. o. b. cars your place, as you prefer. State terms and cash discount.
Crunden-Martin W. W. Co.
Fairmount's reply, couched as a price quote, will nevertheless be found by the Kentucky Court of Appeals (how did Kentucky get involved in this?) to be an offer. The case of Crunden-Martin Wooden Ware Co. v. Fairmount Glass Works is a casebook staple. The Crunden-Martin facility is a proposed National Historic Site -- you can see lots of pictures here. The "F" in a hexagon (above, right) was the Fairmount trademark. You can click on "continue reading" for the text of the decision.
Fairmount Glass Works v. Crunden-Martin Wooden Ware Co.
Court of Appeals of Kentucky
106 Ky. 659; 51 S.W. 196
May 24, 1899, Decided
On April 20, 1895, appellee wrote appellant the following letter:
“St. Louis, Mo., April 20, 1895. Gentlemen: Please advise us the lowest price you can make us on our order for ten car loads of Mason green jars, complete, with caps, packed one dozen in case, either delivered here, or f. o. b. cars your place, as you prefer. State terms and cash discount. Very truly, Crunden-Martin W. W. Co.”
To this letter appellant answered as follows:
“Fairmount, Ind., April 23, 1895. Crunden-Martin Wooden Ware Co., St. Louis, Mo. -- Gentlemen: Replying to your favor of April 20th, we quote you Mason fruit jars, complete, in one-dozen boxes, delivered in East St. Louis, Ill.: Pints, $ 4.50; quarts, $ 5.00; half gallons, $ 6.50 per gross, for immediate acceptance, and shipment not later than May 15, 1895; sixty days’ acceptance, or 2 off, cash in ten days. Yours truly, Fairmount Glass Works.
“Please note that we make all quotations and contracts subject to the contingencies of agencies or transportation, delays or accidents beyond our control.”
For reply thereto, appellee sent the following telegram on April 24, 1895:
“Fairmount Glass Works, Fairmount, Ind.: Your letter twenty-third received. Enter order ten car loads as per your quotation. Specifications mailed. Crunden-Martin W. W. Co.”
In response to this telegram, appellant sent the following:
“Fairmount, Ind., April 24, 1895. Crunden-Martin W. W. Co., St. Louis, Mo.: Impossible to book your order. Output all sold. See letter. Fairmount Glass Works.”
Appellee insists that, by its telegram sent in answer to the letter of April 23d, the contract was closed for the purchase of ten car loads of Mason fruit jars. Appellant insists that the contract was not closed by this telegram, and that it had the right to decline to fill the order at the time it sent its telegram of April 24th. This is the chief question in the case. The court below gave judgment in favor of appellee, and appellant has appealed, earnestly insisting that the judgment is erroneous.
We are referred to a number of authorities holding that a quotation of prices is not an offer to sell, in the sense that a completed contract will arise out of the giving of an order for merchandise in accordance with the proposed terms. There are a number of cases holding that the transaction is not completed until the order so made is accepted. 7 Am. & Eng. Enc. Law (2d Ed.), p. 138; Smith v. Gowdy, 8 Allen 566; Beaupre v. P. & N. A. Telegraph Co., 21 Minn. 155.
But each case must turn largely upon the language there used. In this case we think there was more than a quotation of prices, although appellant’s letter uses the word “quote” in stating the prices given. The true meaning of the correspondence must be determined by reading it as a whole. Appellee’s letter of April 20th, which began the transaction, did not ask for a quotation of prices. It reads: “Please advise us the lowest price you can make us on our order for ten car loads of Mason green jars. . . . State terms and cash discount.” From this appellant could not fail to understand that appellee wanted to know at what price it would sell it ten car loads of these jars; so when, in answer, it wrote: “We quote you Mason fruit jars . . . pints $ 4.50, quarts $ 5.00, half gallons $ 6.50 per gross, for immediate acceptance; . . . 2 off, cash in ten days,” -- it must be deemed as intending to give appellee the information it had asked for. We can hardly understand what was meant by the words “for immediate acceptance,” unless the latter was intended as a proposition to sell at these prices if accepted immediately. In construing every contract, the aim of the court is to arrive at the intention of the parties. In none of the cases to which we have been referred on behalf of appellant was there on the face of the correspondence any such expression of intention to make an offer to sell on the terms indicated.
In Fitzhugh v. Jones, 20 Va. 83, 6 Munf. 83, the use of the expression that the buyer should reply as soon as possible, in case he was disposed to accede to the terms offered, was held sufficient to show that there was a definite proposition, which was closed by the buyer’s acceptance. The expression in appellant’s letter, “for immediate acceptance,” taken in connection with appellee’s letter, in effect, at what price it would sell it the goods, is, it seems to us, much stronger evidence of a present offer, which, when accepted immediately closed the contract. Appellee’s letter was plainly an inquiry for the price and terms on which appellant would sell it the goods, and appellant’s answer to it was not a quotation of prices, but a definite offer to sell on the terms indicated, and could not be withdrawn after the terms had been accepted.
It will be observed that the telegram of acceptance refers to the specifications mailed. These specifications were contained in the following letter:
“St. Louis, Mo., April 24, 1895. Fairmount Glass Works Co., Fairmount. Ind. - - Gentlemen: We received your letter of 23d this morning, and telegraphed you in reply as follows: ‘Your letter 23d received. Enter order ten car loads as per your quotation. Specifications mailed,’ - - which we now confirm. We have accordingly entered this contract on our books for the ten cars Mason green jars, complete, with caps and rubbers, one dozen in case, delivered to us in East St. Louis, at $ 4.50 per gross for pint, $ 5.00 for quart, $ 6.50 for one-half gallon. Terms, sixty days’ acceptance, or 2 per cent, for cash in ten days, to be shipped not later than May 15, 1895. The jars and caps to be strictly first quality goods. You may ship the first car to us here assorted: Five gross pint, fifty-five gross quart, forty gross one-half gallon. Specifications for the remaining nine cars we will send later. Crunden-Martin W. W. Co.”
It is insisted for appellant that this was not an acceptance of the offer as made; that the stipulation, “The jars and caps to be strictly first-quality goods,” was not in their offer; and that, it not having been accepted as made, appellant is not bound. But it will be observed that appellant declined to furnish the goods before it got this letter, and in the correspondence with appellee it nowhere complained of these words as an addition to the contract. Quite a number of other letters passed, in which the refusal to deliver these goods was placed on other grounds, none of which have been sustained by the evidence. Appellee offers proof tending to show that these words, in the trade in which parties were engaged, conveyed the same meaning as the words used in appellant’s letter, and were only a different form of expressing the same idea. Appellant’s conduct would seem to confirm this evidence.
Appellant also insists that the contract was indefinite, because the quantity of each size of the jars was not fixed, that ten car loads is too indefinite a specification of the quantity sold, and that appellee had no right to accept the goods to be delivered on different days.
The proof shows that “ten car loads” is an expression used in the trade as equivalent to 1,000 gross, 100 gross being regarded a car load. The offer to sell the different sizes at different prices gave the purchaser the right to name the quantity of each size, and, the offer being to ship not later than May 15th, the buyer had the right to fix the time of delivery at any time before that. Sousely v. Burns’s Adm’r, 73 Ky. 87, 10 Bush 87; Williamson’s Heirs v. Johnston’s Heirs, 4 T.B. Mon. 253; Wheeler v. N. B. Railroad Co., 115 U.S. 29.
The petition, if defective, was cured by the judgment, which is fully sustained by the evidence.
April 14, 2006
Today in History: Nephew Gets the Money
On this date, April 14, 1891, the New York Court of Appeals decides the famous consideration case of Hamer v. Sidway, a staple of contracts casebooks. It's the one where the uncle promises his namesake nephew $5,000 if the young man will "refrain from drinking, using tobacco, swearing, and playing cards or billiards for money until he became 21 years of age." It doesn't sound like much of a deal today, but using the unskilled wage as a measuring stick that $5,000 in 1869 would be worth about $500,000 today.
The opinion in the case was written by Judge Alton Brooks Parker (left), who would become even more famous in 1904 when he was the Democratic candidate for President of the United States against Theodore Roosevelt.
April 13, 2006
Today In History: Minneapolis Surplus Rides Again
Exactly fifty years ago today, on Friday, April 13, 1956, the Great Minneapolis Surplus Store shoots itself in the foot a second time, running the following ad:
2 Brand New Pastel Mink 3-Skin Scarfs
Selling for $89.50
Out they go Saturday ... Each $1.00
1 Black Lapin Stole, Beautiful, worth $139.50 ... $1.00
First Come First Served
When the store refuses to sell the items to Morris Lefkowitz, the result will be Lefkowitz v. Great Minneapolis Surplus Store, Inc., the classic case on whether an advertisement is an "offer" in contract law.
April 09, 2006
Today in History: Arguing Unconscionability
On this date, April 9, 1965, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit hears oral argument in Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co., the landmark unconscionability case. Judges David Bazelon and Skelly Wright seem amenable to the claims of the indigent plaintiff, but Judge John Danaher (the only one on the panel to have served as a legislator himself) is dubious, noting it's the legislature's job to make such calls.
The 2-1 decision, adopting unconscionability as part of the common law of the District of Columbia, will come down in August.
April 07, 2006
Today in History: Lonergan Writes a Letter
On this date, April 7, 1954, Joseph A. Lonergan of New York wrote to Albert Scolnick regarding 40 acres of land near Joshua Tree, California. It was only one step in a longer correspondence that would eventually raise the issue whether describing land and stating that your "rock-bottom" price for selling it is $2,500 amounts to an offer to sell. The case, in several casebooks, is Lonergan v. Scolnick.
April 06, 2006
Today in History: Minneapolis Surplus Runs an Ad
Exactly fifty years ago, on Friday, April 6, 1956, the Great Minneapolis Surplus Store runs a newspaper ad for its sale the following day, Saturday.
Saturday 9 A.M. Sharp 3 Brand New Fur Coats Worth to $100.00
First Come First Served $1 Each
One week later, on Friday the 13th, the company will run a second ad,
Saturday 9 A.M. 2 Brand New Pastel Mink 3-Skin Scarfs
Out they go Saturday. Each ... $1.00
1 Black Lapin Stole Beautiful, worth $139.50 ... $1.00
First Come First Served
When the store refuses to sell the goods to Morris Lefkowitz, on the grounds that only women customers could by, he'll sue, leading to Lefkowitz v. Great Minneapolis Surplus Store, Inc., the classic case of advertisement-as-offer.
April 05, 2006
Today in History: Happy Birthday, Seth
On this date, April 5, 1758, Seth Wyman is born to Ross and Dinah Wyman at the farming community of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. Capt. Ross Wyman will be one of the Minute Men of Shrewsbury, and will command an artillery detachment company on the march against the British at Lexington, April 19, 1775 (left).
Seth will later marry Mary Brown in 1782, and their son Levi will eventually run away to sea. An exaggerated report of Levi's subsequent alleged death in Hartford will lead to his father's historical fame as the defendant in Mills v. Wyman.
March 28, 2006
Today in History: Skelly Wright
On this date, March 28, 1962, James Skelly Wright was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to become a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Wright, a prominent judge during the civil rights movement in the south, is best known in contract circles for his 1965 decision in Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co., in which he used the new doctrine of "unconscionability" to strike down a cross-collateralization clause in a consumer purchase.
March 09, 2006
Today in History: Ollie Jr. is Born
On this date, March 8, 1841, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born at Boston, Massachusetts. Holmes had a significant influence on contract law, through is writings in The Common Law and his theory that a contract was not a moral obligation, but merely an option to either perform the promised action or pay damages.
He is best remembered by Americans, however, as having the best mustache of any Supreme Court justice.
February 15, 2006
Today in History: Jeremy Bentham
No intellectual current has had more of an impact on contract theory in the past forty years than the law and economics movement. An important strand in that movement is utilitarian analysis. And utilitarianism, in a way, started on this date, February 15, 1748, when Jeremy Bentham was born at Houndsditch, London, the son and grandson of attorneys. Bentham was a prototype for the modern law professor: he qualified to practice at Lincoln's Inn but never actually practiced, spending his time instead writing about law.
He left his estate to help found University College, London, where his cadaver -- embalmed, dressed, and seated in a chair wearing a big hat -- still greets visitors. (Image: Michael Reeve, GNU License, Wikipedia)
February 13, 2006
Today in History: Karl Llewellyn Dies
On this date, February 13, 1962, Karl Nickerson Llewellyn, principal architect of the Uniform Commercial Code, died at Chicago. In addition to his work in commercial law, Llewellyn had been the only person to have served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Review for three years, and the only American citizen to win the Iron Cross fighting for the Kaiser in World War I.
February 12, 2006
Today in History: Happy Birthday, Rog
On this date, February 12, 1900, Roger John Traynor was born at Park City, Utah. He earned his Ph.D. and J.D. from Cal-Berkeley in 1927, and spent his entire career working for the State of California, as a professor at Boalt Hall, as a state tax official (credited for introducing the vehicle registration fee, the state sales tax, the state income tax, the use tax, the state corporate income tax, and the state fuel tax), and from 1940-70 as a Justice and then Chief Justice (1964-70) of the California Supreme Court. In that latter position he authored such casebook staples as Drennan v. Star Paving and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. G. W. Thomas Drayage Co.
February 08, 2006
Today in History: A Record Contract
On this date, February 8, 1991, pitcher Roger Clemens of the Boston Red Sox signs the most lucrative contract in baseball history to that time: $5,380,250 a year for four years. That's more than $600,000 a year more than the previous record, held by Jose Canseco of the Oakland Athletics. Clemens’s record will last only a year, however, before the Chicago Cubs give $7 million a year to second baseman Ryne Sandberg. (Image: Clemens in 2004 as a member of the Houston Astros, by Rick Dikerman, GNU License, from Wikipedia)
February 07, 2006
Today in History: Saintly Lawyer
On this date, February 7, 1478, St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, was born at Milk Street, London, the son of a lawyer and judge of the King’s Bench. In his most famous work, Utopia, More envisions a nation in which there seems to be no private contracts at all and loans from the state may be called in at any time if someone needs the money more.
This makes us think that C.S. Lewis was probably right when he argued that Utopia is a satire, not a philosophical tract. (Image: Statute in Notre Dame Law School Library)