ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Monday, June 6, 2016

"Facebook Addendums": Does Your Landlord Want to Be Your Friend?

I'm one of those apparently rare people who doesn't really use Facebook. But Facebook was evidently very important to City Park Apartments in Salt Lake City, whose management company presented all of the tenants with a "Facebook addendum" to their lease. The addendum allegedly stated that all residents had to befriend the complex on Facebook or be found in breach of their lease agreement. 

This seems like an alarming development that I hope is going to be very limited. Is a Facebook account going to start being like a telephone number or an e-mail address, something it's assumed by everyone that you have and should hand over access to in exchange for goods or services? The reason I stopped using Facebook was because of privacy concerns. I wouldn't be thrilled about being told that I'm required by my lease to make sure my landlord can watch my Facebook activities (which often correspond, as we all know, to our real-life activities; if your landlord asked to follow you around through your daily life, or to get e-mailed your vacation photos, I would think many people would consider that a weird request).

And, since I don't do anything on Facebook, does that mean that I wouldn't be allowed to rent an apartment there unless I opened an account? Many people have legitimate, important, in some cases necessary reasons to limit their online presence. Let's hope "Facebook addendums" don't start sweeping the nation. 

June 6, 2016 in Current Affairs, In the News, True Contracts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Trump “University” - Fraud in the Inducement?

Donald Trump is currently attacked on many fronts, one of which for the potential re-launch as President of his now-defunct for-profit real estate training classes. The “playbook” used by the corporate recruiters for the business unit required them, among other things, to use such arguably despicable and potentially fraudulent recruiting language as the following:

“As one of your mentors for the last three days, it’s time for me to push you out of your comfort zone. It’s time for you to be 100% honest with yourself. You’ve had your entire adult life to accomplish your financial goals. I’m looking at your profile and you’re not even close to where you need to be, much less where you want to be. It’s time you fix your broken plan, bring in Mr. Trump’s top instructors and certified millionaire mentors and allow us to put you and keep you on the right track. Your plan is BROKEN and WE WILL help you fix it. Remember you have to be 100% honest with yourself!”

and

“Do you like living paycheck to paycheck? ... Do you enjoy seeing everyone else but yourself in their dream houses and driving their dreams cars with huge checking accounts? Those people saw an opportunity, and didn’t make excuses, like what you’re doing now.”

(Can you imagine reading those statements allowed for a living?)

Does promising potential students too much constitute fraud in the inducement? In a not entirely dissimilar case in our own field, law student Anna Alaburda recently lost her lawsuit against Thomas Jefferson School of Law.  Ms. Alaburda had argued that the law school had committed fraud by publishing deceptive post-graduation employment statistics and salary data in order to bait new students into enrolling. Alaburda claimed that despite graduating at the top of her class and passing the California bar exam, she was unable to find suitable legal employment, and had racked up more than $150,000 in student loan debt. An attorney for the school rejected the claims and said Alaburda never proved them. The attorney also reminded jurors that she had turned down a job offer, and that many Thomas Jefferson alumni have had successful careers. The verdict in that case was 9-3 in favor of Thomas Jefferson.

The cases are of course not similar, yet similar enough to remind us of the importance of not promising too much in the for-profit educational field (in Thomas Jefferson’s case, the school won, but a dozen other lawsuits have allegedly been filed against other schools). This makes sense from both an ethical and business risk-avoidance angle.

What about the use of the very word “University”? The media seems to stubbornly – probably for “sound bite” reasons – continue using the phrase even though the business was, in effect, forced to change its name to “The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative” after government pressure around 2010.   The business was just that, and not a certified university.

If Trump decides to start up the business again, does the media not help him do so again by using a much too favorable term? It seems like it. Linguistics matter in the law and beyond. May media PR inadvertently (or not) contribute to a potential fraud? Comment below!

June 2, 2016 in Commentary, Current Affairs, Famous Cases, In the News, Law Schools, Recent Cases, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Weekly Top Ten SSRN Contracts Downloads (June 2, 2016)

Top10DeskSign

SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo (small)
Contracts & Commercial Law eJournal

Rank Downloads Paper Title
1 2,725 Contract as Empowerment
Robin Bradley Kar
University of Illinois College of Law
2 533 What We Buy When We 'Buy Now'
Aaron Perzanowski and Chris Jay Hoofnagle
Case Western Reserve University School of Law and University of California, Berkeley - School of Information
3 134 (In)Efficient Breach of Contract
Daniel Markovits and Alan Schwartz
Yale Law School and Yale Law School
4 124 Illegality as a Defence in Contract
Andrew Burrows
University of Oxford - Faculty of Law
5 98 Understanding Privacy Policies: Content, Self-Regulation, and Markets
Florencia Marotta-Wurgler
New York University School of Law
6 94 Immoral Promises
Enrique Guerra-Pujol
University of Central Florida
7 73 Noncompetes in the U.S. Labor Force
Evan P Starr, Norman Bishara and J.J. Prescott
University of Maryland Robert H Smith School of Business, The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Law School
8 68 The Implications of Modern Business-Entity Law for the Regulation of Autonomous Systems
Shawn Bayern
Florida State University - College of Law
9 67 The Enforceability of Agreements to Negotiate in Good Faith: The Impact of Bhasin v Hrynew and the Organizing Principle of Good Faith in Common Law Canada
Tamara Buckwold
Faculty of Law, University of Alberta
10 64 Nudging and Autonomy. A Philosophical and Legal Appraisal
Philipp Hacker
Humboldt University of Berlin

 

SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo (small)
LSN: Contracts (Topic)

Rank Downloads Paper Title
1 412 Major League Soccer as a Case Study in Complexity Theory
Steven A. Bank
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law
2 147 Algorithmic Contracts
Lauren Henry Scholz
Yale University - Information Society Project
3 136 The Logic of Contract in a World of Treaties
Julian Arato
Brooklyn Law School
4 125 Contracts Without Terms
Tess Wilkinson‐Ryan
University of Pennsylvania Law School
5 115 (Mis)perceptions of Law in Consumer Markets
Oren Bar-Gill and Kevin E. Davis
Harvard Law School and New York University School of Law
6 114 Contract as Empowerment
Robin Bradley Kar
University of Illinois College of Law
7 111 Illegality as a Defence in Contract
Andrew Burrows
University of Oxford - Faculty of Law
8 89 The Rise of the Platform Economy: A New Challenge for EU Consumer Law?
Christoph Busch, Hans Schulte-Nölke, Aneta Wiewiórowska-Domagalska and Fryderyk Zoll
University of Osnabrück - European Legal Studies Institute, European Legal Studies Institute Osnabrueck / Radboud University Nijmegen, Universität Osnabrück - European Legal Studies Institute and Universität Osnabruck
9 76 Farewell to Unjustified Enrichment?
Nils Jansen
University of Muenster
10 75 The Common Law of Contract and the Default Rule Project
Alan Schwartz and Robert E. Scott
Yale Law School and Columbia University - Law School

June 2, 2016 in Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Settlement Agreements: On the Other Hand...

I just blogged about a settlement agreement that the court found unenforceable because there was no meeting of the minds. As always, these cases revolve around the particular circumstances, as an opposite conclusion in a recent case out of the Eastern District of Tennessee, Hira v. New York Life Insurance Company, No. 3:13-cv-527 (behind paywall), illustrates.

In that case, the attorneys had agreed on the basic terms of the settlement (money in exchange for a release and waiver). Defendant's counsel sent a draft agreement to plaintiffs' counsel, and over the next few months counsel continued to correspond about the agreement. Eventually, plaintiffs' counsel informed defendant's counsel that one of the plaintiffs had traveled to India, fallen "gravely ill," was in no state to sign any settlement agreement, and had left no power of attorney to permit anyone else to sign the settlement agreement on his behalf. Defendant asked the court to enforce the settlement agreement, notwithstanding plaintiff's lack of signature. 

And the court agreed. It found that there was no dispute regarding the settlement agreement and it did not matter that plaintiff had never signed the draft document. Therefore, the court ordered that the settlement agreement be enforced. 

June 1, 2016 in Recent Cases, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Terms and Conditions: You Agree to What You've Agreed To

Watching terms and conditions litigations continue to play out is an interesting exercise. One of the things we learn is that the terms and conditions mean what they say, which should be obvious, but of course ignores the fact that basically nobody reads what they say. Consumers seem to be consistently caught off-guard by some of the terms. A recent Ninth Circuit decision, Geier v. M-Qube Inc., No. 13-36080, reinforces this (you can watch the oral argument here).

Geier sued m-Qube based on a mobile game it marketed called Bid and Win. m-Qube was not the provider of the game; rather m-Qube merely marketed the game. The other defendants in the case were all similarly removed from the actual content of the game, serving as "intermediaries" and "gateways." The game's actual content provider, Pow! Mobile, was not sued by Geier. 

The dispute in the case was over whether m-Qube and the other defendants were third-party beneficiaries of the terms and conditions of the game. Allegedly, when signing up for the game, subscribers, under the terms and conditions, waived all claims against Pow! Mobile's "suppliers." Despite this clause, Geier was attempting to sue m-Qube, et al., over text message abuses in violation of Washington law. (Geier, incidentally, was not alone in suing over this. A class action in the District of Nebraska was complaining about the same behavior.)

The Ninth Circuit's decision in this case is a matter of straightforward contract law: If you are an intended third-party beneficiary of the contract, you can enforce the contract. There is no real surprise there, except maybe to the consumer here, because it may sink Geier's entire case, which now hinges on whether m-Qube and the other defendants are Pow! Mobile's "suppliers." If they are, then they are intended third-party beneficiaries of the terms and conditions' waiver clause and can seek to enforce it. We may not be reading those terms and conditions, but we may be waiving lots of our rights nonetheless.  

May 30, 2016 in E-commerce, Recent Cases, True Contracts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Scholarship Spotlight: What We Buy When We 'Buy Now' (Aaron Perzanowski - Case Western & Chris Jay Hoofnagle - Cal-Berkeley)

BuyNowButtonBlueContracts in the digital age continue to raise novel issues of mutual assent and interpretation, and misunderstanding by individual users crosses over into consumer law as well.  In What We Buy When We 'Buy Now, authors Aaron Perzanowski (Case Western) and Chris Jay Hoofnagle (California - Berkeley) generate and analyze empirical data on consumer understanding of contracts for digital wares, concluding that this area is ripe for action by the Federal Trade Commission. Here is the authors' abstract:

Retailers such as Apple and Amazon market digital media to consumers using the familiar language of product ownership, including phrases like “buy now,” “own,” and “purchase.” Consumers may understandably associate such language with strong personal property rights. But the license agreements and terms of use associated with these transactions tell a different story. They explain that ebooks, mp3 albums, digital movies, games, and software are not sold, but merely licensed. The terms limit consumers' ability to resell, lend, transfer, and even retain possession of the digital media they acquire. Moreover, unlike physical media products, access to digital media is contingent — it depends on shifting business models, the success and failure of platforms, and often on the maintenance and availability of DRM authentication systems years after the consumer clicked “buy now.”

This article presents the results of the first-ever empirical study of consumers' perceptions of the marketing language used by digital media retailers. We created a fictitious Internet retail site, surveyed a nationally representative sample of nearly 1300 online consumers, and analyzed their perceptions through the lens of false advertising and unfair and deceptive trade practices. The resulting data reveal a number of insights about how consumers understand and misunderstand digital transactions. A surprisingly high percentage of consumers believe that when they “buy now,” they acquire the same sorts of rights to use and transfer digital media goods that they enjoy for physical goods. The survey also strongly suggests that these rights matter to consumers. Consumers are willing to pay more for them and are more likely to acquire media through other means, both lawful and unlawful, in their absence. Our study suggests that a relatively simple and inexpensive intervention — adding a short notice to a digital product page that outlines consumer rights in straightforward language — is an effective means of significantly reducing consumers’ material misperceptions.

Sales of digital media generate hundreds of billions in revenue, and some percentage of this revenue is based on deception. Presumably, if consumers knew of the limited bundle of rights they were acquiring, the market could drive down the price of digital media or generate competitive business models that offered a different set of rights. We thus turn to legal interventions, such as state false advertising law, the Lanham Act, and federal unfair and deceptive trade practice law as possible remedies for digital media deception. Because of impediments to suit, including arbitration clauses and basic economic disincentives for plaintiffs, we conclude that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could help align business practices with consumer perceptions. The FTC’s deep expertise in consumer disclosures, along with a series of investigations into companies that interfered with consumers’ use of media through digital rights management makes the agency a good fit for deceptions that result when we “buy now.”

Professors Perzanowski's and Hoofnagle's article is forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review in 2017, but you can download their current draft here.

May 27, 2016 in E-commerce, Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book Review: Drafting and Analyzing Contracts: A Guide to the Practical Application of the Principles of Contracts Law

Carolina Academic Press has just released the fourth edition of the above title by Professor Scott J. Burnham. I got a chance to review it and, although I have not used it in a classroom setting yet, share my impressions with you here.

The book is well organized into twenty clearly defined chapters. Each chapter boils the relevant contract law into nicely terse “blackletter” law segments with no cases (a plus!) or irrelevant matter. This may serve the dual function of reminding students taking a contract drafting class about the applicable law for purposes of such a class, but also to refresh their memories again before taking the bar.

The exercises alter between reading/understanding-style problems and actual drafting problems. For example, some problems will ask the students pointed questions about contract clauses (“Is nonperformance excused?,” “What does the company have to pay [an injured worker],?” “Which of the following clauses are enforceable?” Many more, though, ask for more student involvement and deeper analysis while drafting. For example, several exercises give students a range of objectives to be accomplished and ask the students to draft the appropriate language, others ask students to identify ambiguities and improving them, some deliberately provide overly complicated “legalese” clauses, asking students to modernize them without compromising the legal objectives, and yet others ask students to rely on certain passages in the book in order to draft certain clauses, taking into consideration certain concerns.

The book also asks students to address various ethical concerns, which is a plus.

The only activity that I saw that I personally do not care for is one asking the students to “research the law in your jurisdiction” to be draft a certain problem. For me, that is too open-ended. I would fear questions about substantive law provisions with which I am not personally familiar and the potential surprise when students find out that we do not know “everything” about the law. However, that was just one of many great, diverse exercises.

In short: this book contains much good substantive information and features a wealth of different types of exercises. I highly recommend that you examine this book for your potential classroom or other use.

May 26, 2016 in Books, Commentary | Permalink

Weekly Top Ten SSRN Contracts Downloads (May 26, 2016)

Top-10 Cube Letters

SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo (small)
Contracts & Commercial Law eJournal

1 2,708 Contract as Empowerment
Robin Bradley Kar
University of Illinois College of Law
2 467 What We Buy When We 'Buy Now'
Aaron Perzanowski and Chris Jay Hoofnagle
Case Western Reserve University School of Law and University of California, Berkeley - School of Information
3 187 How Do LLC Owners Contract Around Default Statutory Protections?
Peter Molk
Willamette University - College of Law
4 124 The Rise of the Platform Economy: A New Challenge for EU Consumer Law?
Christoph Busch, Hans Schulte-Nölke, Aneta Wiewiórowska-Domagalska and Fryderyk Zoll
University of Osnabrück - European Legal Studies Institute, European Legal Studies Institute Osnabrueck / Radboud University Nijmegen, Universität Osnabrück - European Legal Studies Institute and Universität Osnabruck
5 119 Illegality as a Defence in Contract
Andrew Burrows
University of Oxford - Faculty of Law
6 90 Understanding Privacy Policies: Content, Self-Regulation, and Markets
Florencia Marotta-Wurgler
New York University School of Law
7 84 (In)Efficient Breach of Contract
Daniel Markovits and Alan Schwartz
Yale Law School and Yale Law School
8 83 Immoral Promises
Enrique Guerra-Pujol
University of Central Florida
9 80 Probate Lending
David Horton and Andrea Cann Chandrasekher
University of California, Davis - School of Law and University of California, Davis - School of Law
10 70 Noncompetes in the U.S. Labor Force
Evan P Starr, Norman Bishara and J.J. Prescott
University of Maryland Robert H Smith School of Business, The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Law School

 

SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo (small)
LSN: Contracts (Topic)

Rank Downloads Paper Title
1 412 Major League Soccer as a Case Study in Complexity Theory
Steven A. Bank
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law
2 147 Algorithmic Contracts
Lauren Henry Scholz
Yale University - Information Society Project
3 136 The Logic of Contract in a World of Treaties
Julian Arato
Brooklyn Law School
4 125 Contracts Without Terms
Tess Wilkinson‐Ryan
University of Pennsylvania Law School
5 115 (Mis)perceptions of Law in Consumer Markets
Oren Bar-Gill and Kevin E. Davis
Harvard Law School and New York University School of Law
6 114 Contract as Empowerment
Robin Bradley Kar
University of Illinois College of Law
7 111 Illegality as a Defence in Contract
Andrew Burrows
University of Oxford - Faculty of Law
8 89 The Rise of the Platform Economy: A New Challenge for EU Consumer Law?
Christoph Busch, Hans Schulte-Nölke, Aneta Wiewiórowska-Domagalska and Fryderyk Zoll
University of Osnabrück - European Legal Studies Institute, European Legal Studies Institute Osnabrueck / Radboud University Nijmegen, Universität Osnabrück - European Legal Studies Institute and Universität Osnabruck
9 76 Farewell to Unjustified Enrichment?
Nils Jansen
University of Muenster
10 75 The Common Law of Contract and the Default Rule Project
Alan Schwartz and Robert E. Scott
Yale Law School and Columbia University - Law School

May 26, 2016 in Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

31 Plus Hours of App Reading

The Norwegian consumer council spent over 31 hours reading the terms and condition of 33 apps (the number that an average consumer has).  It was all to prove the point that there's a good reason nobody reads those T&Cs - and that businesses should do something about it.  What does the council want?  Shorter, clearer terms and a common standard.  Sounds good to me.

May 25, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Scholarship Spotlight: Freedom of Contract Under the Federal Arbitration Act (Steven W. Feldman)

Arbitration-Shadow1For a topic that--superficially, at least--is a dry matter of procedure, arbitration provokes a great amount of spirited debate from both its proponents and detractors. I freely admit to falling on the side of the detractors, but that is not necessarily the home for all of our readers. A recently-published article in the Michigan State Law Review by Steven W. Feldman (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) not only provides a welcome perspective from a blog reader outside the bubble of academia, but he also articulates a position far more favorable to the current state of Supreme Court jurisprudence under the Federal Arbitration Act than do some of us who frequently find the sky to be falling.  Here is Feldman's abstract:

SteveFeldmanIn her article, Disappearing Claims and the Erosion of Substantive Law, published in the June 2015 issue of the Yale Law Journal, J. Maria Glover argues that the Court’s recent arbitration decisions reflect a “fundamental shift” in the normative prerogatives that support “the Court’s freedom-of-contract conception of arbitration.” The Court, she asserts, has devised the view that “such freedom enabled private parties to change the mechanisms of adjudication, but not to change the scope of obligations under substantive law.” Glover is especially critical that the Court’s recent decisions have “[a]bandoned [the] descriptive and normative premise that freedom of contract was justified in the arbitration context because it would result in more cost-effective procedures for ‘settling’ disputes.”

This Article responds that Glover’s key premises and conclusions are unsupported. Instead, the Court has endorsed the major principles of freedom of contract in its arbitration jurisprudence. The better view is that (1) freedom of contract in arbitration cases properly construed is not limited to devising streamlined cost-effective procedures but is broadly construed to allow parties the leeway to select the terms governing the arbitration; (2) the need to enforce the parties’ mutual assent exists independently from arbitral efficiency, and the enforcement of mutual assent takes priority over arbitral efficiency when there is a conflict; (3) pure freedom of contract (which Glover says is the current state of the law) does not exist because many limits from law and public policy (largely unmentioned by Glover) maintain the integrity of the arbitral process; and (4) Italian Colors is a legitimate evolution, and not a revolution, in FAA practice and procedure.

The complete article, Steven W. Feldman, Italian Colors and Freedom of Contract under the Federal Arbitration Act: Has the Supreme Court Enabled Disappearing Claims and the Erosion of Substantive Law?, is now in print at 2016 MICH. ST. L. REV. 109 and is available for download here.

 

May 25, 2016 in Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

No Implied Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose With Regard to Architectural and Design Services in Michigan...for Now

A recent case out of the Court of Appeals of Michigan, Albion College v. Stockade Buildings Inc., No. 322917 (behind paywall), gives us an example of a case where precedent was obeyed but one of the judges worried the precedent might provide the wrong result, setting up the potential for further examination by Michigan's Supreme Court. 

Plaintiff hired Defendant to build an equestrian facility. Defendant allegedly informed Plaintiff that it had "the necessary experience and expertise" to build the facility that Plaintiff required and promised it would be backed by a warranty. 

Because this is a case I'm writing up here, we all know that the story of this equestrian center does not go smoothly. The roof leaked badly. The problem was evident during construction and theoretically repaired but the roof continued to leak badly even after construction was completed. Reviews of the structure blamed the persistent problem on poor design of the facility by Defendant. 

The crux of the case was whether the agreement between Plaintiff and Defendant contained an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. In Michigan, such an implied warranty is found in sales of goods governed by the UCC and sales of electricity. The court was reluctant to extend such a warranty to the architectural and design services at issue here. 

A concurrence, however, expressed hesitation with the conclusion. While reasonably correct as a matter of simple legal precedent, the concurrence had policy concerns and thought that Michigan's supreme court should review the case and extend the warranty to this situation because of the "egregious facts" of this case.  Stay tuned for what happens next!

May 25, 2016 in Current Affairs, Recent Cases, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How Bad Can a New Law Graduate’s Representation Be?

Pretty darned bad! Imagine this: A law student starts giving professional legal advice while still in law school. The advice is rendered to a 78-year-old Chinese-American with limited English skills and experience with the American legal system. The student renders the advice in person, over the phone, and in extensive e-mail exchanges. He even persuades the client to “assign” the lawsuit to the student so that the student would be “better able to control the suit and properly advise” the client. In doing so, the student promises to “minimize any legal costs to [the client] before [the student] getting [sic] his license by doing all the work he can carry on for said case.” The students subsequently graduates (from a California law school not accredited by the ABA, according to the website of the State Bar of California), passes the bar, and becomes the formally retained lawyer for the client.

The new graduate sues a party on behalf of his client. The graduate also names his own client on a lawsuit for an unrelated matter “only as a matter of legal procedure.” Additionally, the graduate sues his client’s defendants! The advice he renders is thought to be legally incorrect by a mediator. The client thus fires the graduate. The State Bar of California brings disciplinary proceedings against the new graduate for conflict of interest matters as well as the unauthorized practice of law. The graduate stipulates to the charges and is suspended for some time.  Trial is brought against the graduate by his former client for professional negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, unlawful business practice, breach of contract, and fraud. The client wins a judgment of $552,412.

You guessed it! The graduate does not pay. Rather, he appears in some subsequent judgment debtor proceedings, but disputes the court’s personal jurisdictions (that argument is waived once an appearance has been made, by the way). He submits briefs to the court misciting passages from outdated Matthew Bender Civil Procedure practice treaties. He refuses to produce tax returns to show his income. The court has to order him to do so. He goes bankrupt, and produces a “myriad” of inconsistent stories in the case. As the court said, “a few examples should suffice:

  • Yan testified he sold his membership in an LLC to two persons for $650,000, but could not remember their names.
  • Yan testified that his mother provided him checks, but could not remember: whether the checks numbered more than a hundred; when the most recent check was received; or when his mother last worked or her last job.
  • Yan testified that he was the sole support for his children, supported solely by his income, which for 2014 was “less than [$]10,000.” The support included rent, which included $8,400 in 2014, but he refused to provide the identity of the person to whom the rent was paid. Yan was asked the source of the money to pay his children's rent, and he said it was from his “income.” Asked if that was from legal fees, Yan said, “I don't know.”
  • Enough is enough.”

The monetary judgment against the graduate was affirmed. Years later, at least one other disciplinary matter has been brought against the graduate.

The question is: is this just one example of an unusually rotten apple? Or does this point to the assertion made by many that California really does not need a number of unaccredited law schools on top of the already large amount of ABA-accredited ones? (But note too that even the trial court record contains “no evidence of anything, only assertions as to what occurred, though [the plaintiff’s] assertions are supported by various exhibits” and not disputed by the defendant. There were, for example, “no reporter’s transcript, nor any real evidence – that is, sworn evidence….”

Comment below! The case Th is Charles Li v. Demas Yan, 2016 WL 1757283.

May 24, 2016 in Commentary, Contract Profs, Law Schools, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Wait a Minute, George Zimmerman is Not a Man of His Words?

Is it unthinkable to you that George Zimmerman would seek to profit from killing Trayvon Martin? No? How about reneging on one contract if he were to get an even more lucrative one?

The latter has recently been shown to be the case. The former Florida neighborhood watchman who shot the unarmed teenager in 2012 has confirmed that he has accepted an auction bid for $250,000 for the gun with which he killed Mr. Martin. Before that, he had accepted a bid for $150,000 from a Florida bar owner for the same gun, but backed out of that deal when he got a better one. Says the bar owner, “I thought [Mr. Zimmerman] was a man of his word.”

The sale drew heavy criticism from people claiming that Mr. Zimmerman was seeking to profit from the sale. Gun rights advocates claim that Mr. Zimmerman is simply exercising his legal rights under the law.

Meanwhile, Mr. Zimmerman has displayed his apparent usual lack of social skills by accusing one gun auction website that refused to sell the gun of being “Nazi loving liberal liars Unknown” (Huh? How would that work?). At least he promises to give some of the proceeds of the sale to “fight Black Lives Matter violence against law enforcement officers”…

No further comments are needed for this story.

 

May 23, 2016 in Commentary, In the News, True Contracts | Permalink

From a Colonial Cemetery to a World War II Factory to Condos and a Spa: Environmental Concerns, Contract Releases, and Secret Underground Containers Are Just the Latest Chapter

North Jersey

(Photo from northjersey.com)

I use a lot of hypos in my class based on undiscovered buried containers of environmental hazards, and I feel like sometimes my students wonder if this is a thing that actually happens. Unfortunately, yes, as a recent case out of New Jersey, North River Mews Associates v. Alcoa Corp., Civil Action No. 14-8129, proves. 

The case centers around a piece of land on which Alcoa had operated a manufacturing facility from 1917 to 1968, a facility once so central to East Coast industry that it had actually been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The piece of land had been vacant since 1978 and became a popular site for people looking to photograph "modern ruins." It was eventually sold to North River Mews Associates and 38 COAH Associates (the Plaintiffs). Twenty years ago, the New York Times reported optimistically that the development deal would be a "win-win" the would help clean up the Hudson River shoreline. The site, however, has been plagued by a number of challenges and tragedies (several fires, workman injuries from freak accidents, etc.) that have led some people to talk about curses. (Well, it apparently had been built on an old graveyard dating back to colonial times.) The latest obstacle has now emerged in the form of, yes, previously undiscovered buried containers of environmental hazards.  

The parties were well aware that the land would have environmental contamination, as the Times article makes clear. But the Plaintiffs had worked with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and believed that the property had been remediated. In 2013, however, the Plaintiffs discovered two previously unknown underground storage tanks filled with hazardous materials. The property around the tanks seemed to indicate that at one point the tanks had attempted to be burned instead of properly disposed of. The presence of these tanks, needless to say, was never disclosed by Alcoa to the Plaintiffs. 

Alcoa's stance, however, is that the purchase contracts for the land released them from liability for various claims brought against them. The court disagreed at this motion to dismiss stage, finding that the language was ambiguous. The release in the contract stated that the Plaintiffs waived the rights "to seek contribution from [Alcoa] for any response costs or claims." The court said that it was unclear whether the contribution language modified only response costs or whether it modified both response costs and claims. Was this a blanket release of all claims, or only a release of the right to seek contribution? This question, the court concluded, could not be determined on a motion to dismiss. 

At any rate, the Plaintiffs also alleged that Alcoa concealed the presence of the underground tanks, fraudulently inducing them to enter into the contracts, and the court concluded that, if true, that would be grounds for the release to be vitiated. 

This case is a great example of how long environmental issues, development deals, and contractual disputes can drag on. In 1997, the parties signed the purchase contract. Today, the parties are still trying to clean up the site and fighting over which of them ought to pay for it, with language drafted twenty years ago taking center stage. As the case continues, it will of course likely become relevant who knew about the storage tanks and when, and I am curious to see if the tanks can be dated. Since Alcoa apparently ceased using the site for manufacture in the 1960s, it will be interesting to see how much knowledge from that time period still exists. It's the latest chapter in the history of a plot of land that seems to have been a busy place for centuries. 

May 23, 2016 in Commentary, Current Affairs, In the News, Recent Cases, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Attempt to Pass on the Hot Potato Nixed

In a perhaps somewhat unsurprising but good holding, the Seventh Circuit has nixed a company’s attempt to not live up to its contractual promises regarding the technical functions and warranties of one of its products.

The plaintiff bought an industrial refrigeration system. The contract provided that if the system “does not meet the [contractually stipulated] requirements, defendants shall immediately, upon notice, replace or repair same or remedy any deficiency without expense to [plaintiffs].” When it came to living up to that promise, however, defendants produced a slew of other excuses for the problem such as installation errors, problems with the conditions at the facility where the system was installed, flawed wiring performed by other parties, etc.

The court found that even though defendant had presented evidence of a number of equally plausible causes, it had not provided proof that those alternative causes in fact caused the problem. Defendant, said the court, had promised to “meet requirements [sic] of plan and specifications.” Since the system did not work, defendants were liable for fixing the problem under the plain language of the contract.

It’s nice to see that at least some courts do not let contractual parties get away with such attempted, after-the-fact shirking of responsibility after the fact. A contractual promise is a promise. Surely, major industrial companies have internalized the costs of potentially having to do an odd repair here and there that they don’t believe is their fault (if that truly were the case here…). It’s somewhat amazing to see the lengths some companies will go to in order not to live up to their ends of the bargain. In this case, that attempt was nixed.

The case is Dual Temp of Illinois v. Hench Control, Inc., 2016 WL 2642030.

May 20, 2016 in True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Implied Warranties of Habitability on Houses Do Not Apply to Second Buyers If the First Buyers Waived Them

A recent case out of Illinois, Fattah v. Bim, Docket No. 119365 (behind paywall), allowed the court to clarify whether an initial home buyer's waiver of the implied warranty of the house's habitability applied to subsequent buyers, or whether the second purchaser of the house could nevertheless assert a breach of warranty claim against the builder of the home. The Supreme Court of Illinois concluded that a waiver of the warranty on the part of the first buyer eliminated the second buyer's ability to exert such a claim, overturning an appellate court decision that had sent reactionary ripples through the home-building blogosphere.

In 2005, Masterklad built a house that contained a brick patio. In 2007, Masterklad sold the house to Beth Lubeck. The sale of the house included a "Waiver and Disclaimer of Implied Warranty of Habitability" in which Lubeck "knowingly, voluntarily, fully and forever" waived the implied warranty of habitability that the State of Illinois reads into all contracts involving newly constructed houses. In exchange for the waiver of the implied warranty, Masterklad provided Lubeck with an express warranty on the house. The express warranty was limited to a one-year term. There was no allegation in the case that Lubeck's waiver of the implied warranty wasn't effective and enforceable, and there were also no allegations that Masterklad hadn't complied fully with the terms of the express warranty. 

In 2010, a couple of years after the expiration of Masterklad's express warranty on the house, Lubeck sold the house to John Fattah. The sale of the house stated that it was "as is." A few months later, the brick patio that Masterklad had installed collapsed. Fattah sued Masterklad, alleging that the patio had had latent defects that violated the implied warranty of habitability. 

At the trial court level, Fattah lost, with the court concluding that the policy that permitted knowing waivers of the implied warranty would be frustrated if subsequent buyers could resurrect the claims. The appellate court, as has been mentioned, reversed, though, finding that Fattah could assert breach of the implied warranty. 

Illinois' Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court's decision. While Illinois has previously determined that the implied warranty extends to subsequent purchasers of a house where the first purchaser has not waived the warranty, this was a different situation: Fattah was seeking to recover damages that the first buyer would not have been entitled to. Allowing Fattah to do this alters Masterklad's risk exposure in an unfair way. Masterklad sought to manage its level of financial risk by providing an express warranty with a clear termination date, as it was permitted to do under Illinois precedent. It was unfair to switch everything up on Masterklad at this late date. In fact, allowing Fattah to bring this claim would effectively mean that the implied warranty of habitability could never be waived, as it could be resurrected by any subsequent buyer--which was the opposite of what Illinois had decided when it concluded that the implied warranty could be waived. 

The disagreements within the Illinois court system about this come down very explicitly to a policy decision. The appellate court seemed uneasy with waivers of the implied warranty because of public policy concerns, and one can see its point: You like to assume the houses you buy can generally be lived in. But the supreme court's point here also makes sense: If you buy a house "as is," you've usually gotten some kind of discount. If your gamble doesn't pay off, the courts are reluctant to revive arguments you bargained away. This might boil down to, much of the time, the maxim that a deal that seems too good to be true might, indeed, be untrue, and wariness should be employed.  

May 20, 2016 in Commentary, Recent Cases, True Contracts, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Scholarship Spotlight: "The Arbitration Bootstrap" (Christopher R. Leslie, UC-Irvine)

Arbitration-clause-300x200The federal law of arbitration has become an increasingly prominent intruder into the state law of contracts over the last few decades, largely because of the Supreme Court's interpretive morphing of the Federal Arbitration Act into a super-statute that elevates contractual arbitration clauses to a privileged and practically unassailable realm. In a recently published article in the Texas Law Review, Christopher R. Leslie (University of California - Irvine) posits--correctly, in my opinion--that courts have overreached in construing congressional intent behind the FAA. He also proposes specific limitations on otherwise unconscionable contract terms that have been "bootstrapped" onto an arbitration clause in the post-Concepcion era. Here is the abstract:

ChristopherRLeslie(UCIrvine)Arbitration clauses in contracts require consumers to waive their rights to bring litigation in court. The clauses are often unavoidable because firms include arbitration clauses in contracts of adhesion. In recent years, firms have begun to load their arbitration clauses with unconscionable terms unrelated to arbitration itself. For example, firms insert terms that shorten statutes of limitations, reduce damages, or prohibit injunctive relief. These contract terms are considered unconscionable – and, thus, unenforceable – in many states. However, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Federal Arbitration Act (the FAA) to require judicial deference to arbitration clauses. Consequently, many courts allow firms to bootstrap unenforceable contract terms into an enforceable arbitration clause in order to make those unconscionable contract terms enforceable.

The Supreme Court has invoked the legislative intent of the 1925 Congress in order to assert that the FAA applies to consumer contracts. Courts have further suggested that Congress intended arbitration clauses to be enforced as written and that this requires deference to anti-consumer terms that would otherwise be found unconscionable under state law. Finally, the Supreme Court has asserted that the FAA preempts all state efforts to police arbitration clauses, including basic notification requirements.

This Article examines the actual legislative history of the FAA and explains that Congress never intended the FAA to apply to consumer contracts. Congress was exclusively concerned with the enforceability of arbitration agreements between sophisticated businesses in commercial disputes. Congress never considered the possibility that retailers would impose mandatory arbitration clauses on their customers, let alone that these arbitration clauses would be structured to limit damages, to truncate statutes of limitation, or to otherwise remove procedural protections from consumers. The congressional intent that courts should enforce anti-consumer terms in arbitration clauses is an imagined one.

The Article concludes that courts should stop asserting that the FAA mandates enforcement of unconscionable terms so long as they reside in an arbitration clause. When confronting unconscionable terms in arbitration clauses, courts can take one of three actions: enforce the unconscionable terms; sever the unconscionable terms; or strike the arbitration clause as a whole because it is so overrun by unconscionable terms. The Article explains why only the latter two options are consistent with Congressional intent and good public policy.

The Arbitration Bootstrap is available for SSRN download here, and it is in print as 94 Texas L. Rev. 265 (2016).

May 20, 2016 in Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Settlement Agreements "in Principle" Are Not Enforceable Settlement Agreements

Negotiating a settlement can be a tricky business, with drafts going back and forth and language tweaking continually occurring. All of that document tweaking means that there's plenty of opportunity for the whole thing to fall apart, as a recent case out of Connecticut, AREH Windsor Locks, LLC v. Tops Markets, LLC, Docket Number HDSP172841 (behind paywall), reminds us. 

In the case, the parties had reached a settlement agreement "in principle," in the words used in an e-mail by one of the defendants' attorneys. The "in principle" language underlined the fact that, in fact, no true meeting of the minds had ever actually occurred. Defendants' attorneys' e-mails had warned of additional changes that would be made to the settlement agreement draft--even if those e-mails did characterize those changes as "a few" and "very minor." The last e-mail sent by defendants' attorneys before the agreement fell apart referred to the draft as "final" but explicitly noted that it was subject to the plaintiff's approval and that it needed the plaintiff's "green light." 

The court concluded that the defendants never received the requested "green light." So, although the defendants' attorneys seemed to view the agreement as "final," there had in fact never been a final agreement between the party. The defendants, it turns out, may have been counting the settlement chickens before they hatched. 

May 19, 2016 in Recent Cases, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gasgate

Another one bites the dust. GM is the most recent car company having to admit Unknown that it has reported overly optimistic figures about the gas mileage of, in this case, some of its 2016 SUVs sold in retail trade. Before GM, there was obviously VW, but also Mitsubishi, Hyundai, and Ford, all in the span of the past two years.

GM is temporarily halting sales of about 60,000 new 2016 SUVs because the vehicles' labels overstated their fuel efficiency. The 1-2 miles per gallon mileage overstatement was the result of improper calculations, according to GM. The company plans to compensate owners for the difference in miles per gallon and announce the program in the coming week.

Does this suffice as a remedy? Arguably, no one buys an SUV because of its low gas mileage, so in this case in contrast to the VW “dieselgate,” an argument that a customer bought a car because of its fuel efficiency is less plausible. But should that let GM off the hook in this case simply by saying that it will compensate for the fuel difference? How can an accurate prediction of what that will be over the time the SUV owners keep the car even be made? - For presumably, GM is not only planning to compensate the owners for the past difference, thinking that owners can now simply sell the cars if they are no longer satisfied with them? That seems unfair to the buyers as it is common knowledge that one cannot recover the value paid for a brand new case as with these 2016 models. Should criminal liability lie? OK, perhaps not for the 1-2 mile difference, but what about the systematic fraud committed by VW? Shouldn’t someone be held criminally liable for that?

Of course, a class-action lawsuit has been brought by some buyers. Has time come for everyone – the EPA, car makers, and car buyers – to realize that there is really only so much that can be done with the fuel efficiency of regular-engine cars? After all, hybrids and now electric cars are widely available and will probably cover the needs of the vast majority of car buyers, few of whom really need an SUV. They get much better “fuel” mileage than cars with traditional engines. Still, extreme consumer fraud is committed by at least some (or one…) of these car makers. Reckoning time seems to have come.

May 19, 2016 in Current Affairs, Famous Cases, In the News, Legislation, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Weekly Top Ten SSRN Contracts Downloads (May 19, 2016)

TopTen Stamp-808x455

SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo (small)
Contracts & Commercial Law eJournal

Rank Downloads Paper Title
1 423 Major League Soccer as a Case Study in Complexity Theory
Steven A. Bank
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law
2 180 How Do LLC Owners Contract Around Default Statutory Protections?
Peter Molk
Willamette University - College of Law
3 167 Algorithmic Contracts
Lauren Henry Scholz
Yale University - Information Society Project
4 138 The Logic of Contract in a World of Treaties
Julian Arato
Brooklyn Law School
5 119 (Mis)perceptions of Law in Consumer Markets
Oren Bar-Gill and Kevin E. Davis
Harvard Law School and New York University School of Law
6 118 Contract as Empowerment
Robin Bradley Kar
University of Illinois College of Law
7 118 Illegality as a Defence in Contract
Andrew Burrows
University of Oxford - Faculty of Law
8 116 The Rise of the Platform Economy: A New Challenge for EU Consumer Law?
Christoph Busch, Hans Schulte-Nölke, Aneta Wiewiórowska-Domagalska and Fryderyk Zoll
University of Osnabrück - European Legal Studies Institute, European Legal Studies Institute Osnabrueck / Radboud University Nijmegen, Universität Osnabrück - European Legal Studies Institute and Universität Osnabruck
9 83 Understanding Privacy Policies: Content, Self-Regulation, and Markets
Florencia Marotta-Wurgler
New York University School of Law
10 78 (In)Efficient Breach of Contract
Daniel Markovits and Alan Schwartz
Yale Law School and Yale Law School

 

SSRN Top Downloads For SSRN Logo (small)
LSN: Contracts (Topic)

Rank Downloads Paper Title
1 412 Major League Soccer as a Case Study in Complexity Theory
Steven A. Bank
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law
2 147 Algorithmic Contracts
Lauren Henry Scholz
Yale University - Information Society Project
3 136 The Logic of Contract in a World of Treaties
Julian Arato
Brooklyn Law School
4 125 Contracts Without Terms
Tess Wilkinson‐Ryan
University of Pennsylvania Law School
5 115 (Mis)perceptions of Law in Consumer Markets
Oren Bar-Gill and Kevin E. Davis
Harvard Law School and New York University School of Law
6 114 Contract as Empowerment
Robin Bradley Kar
University of Illinois College of Law
7 111 Illegality as a Defence in Contract
Andrew Burrows
University of Oxford - Faculty of Law
8 89 The Rise of the Platform Economy: A New Challenge for EU Consumer Law?
Christoph Busch, Hans Schulte-Nölke, Aneta Wiewiórowska-Domagalska and Fryderyk Zoll
University of Osnabrück - European Legal Studies Institute, European Legal Studies Institute Osnabrueck / Radboud University Nijmegen, Universität Osnabrück - European Legal Studies Institute and Universität Osnabruck
9 76 Farewell to Unjustified Enrichment?
Nils Jansen
University of Muenster
10 75 The Common Law of Contract and the Default Rule Project
Alan Schwartz and Robert E. Scott
Yale Law School and Columbia University - Law School

May 19, 2016 in Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)