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American Contract Law in a Comparative Perspective Professor Nathan M. Crystal University of South Carolina School of Law.

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Presentation on theme: "American Contract Law in a Comparative Perspective Professor Nathan M. Crystal University of South Carolina School of Law."— Presentation transcript:

1 American Contract Law in a Comparative Perspective Professor Nathan M. Crystal University of South Carolina School of Law

2 Overview 10 lectures examining fundamental concepts in US contract law Leading US cases Current US Law

3 Overview Comparison with International and European Law as reflected in –Convention on International Sale of Goods (CISG) –International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), Principles of International Commercial Contracts (2004) (UNIDROIT Principles) –Principles of European Contract Law ( ), prepared by Commission on European Contract Law (European Principles)

4 Mi Dispiace For my inability to give these lecture in Italian Please let me know if I am talking too fast by raising your hand. I welcome questions at any time during the lectures. I will post these power points on a website so that you can review them.

5 Bases of Contractual Obligation and Sources of Law I: Objective Theory of Contract and II. the Doctrine of Consideration

6 I. Objective Theory of Contract

7 Leading case Raffles v. Wichelhaus (England 1864) (the Peerless case)

8 Facts Contract for sale of 125 bales of cotton Shipment from Bombay to Liverpool via ship Peerless Two ships Peerless Seller had in mind delivery on December Peerless Buyer had in mind delivery on October Peerless Buyer rejected and seller sued

9 Decision Court found no contract because noconsensus ad idem no agreement on same thing

10 Subjective theory of contract Raffles usually cited as example of subjective theory of contract Existence of contract requires actual agreement of parties Must have meeting of the minds

11 Some consequences of subjective theory Contract making less secure –Question of fact whether party intended to be bound Possibility of strategic behavior when contract turns out to be undesirable –Do you think the price of cotton rose or fell between October and December?

12 Shift to objective theory of contract First third of 20 th century, shift in US to objective theory of contract

13 Judge Learned Hand A contract has, strictly speaking, nothing to do with the personal, or individual, intent of the parties. A contract is an obligation attached by the mere force of law to certain acts of the parties, usually words, which ordinarily accompany and represent a known intent. >

14 Hand quote continued If, however, it were proved by twenty bishops that either party, when he used the words, intended something else than the usual meaning which the law imposes upon them, he would still be held, unless there were some mutual mistake, or something else of the sort. Hotchkiss v. National City Bank, D.C., 200 F. 287, 293.

15 Restatement (First) of Contracts, §230, illus. 1 (1932)... A promises to sell, and B promises to buy certain patents. A intends to sell only English patents on a certain invention. B understands that A promises to sell the English, French, and American patents on the invention. If a reasonably intelligent person... would understand the agreement to state a promise to sell the English and American patents, but not the French patents, there is a contract and A and B are bound by that meaning.

16 Arthur Corbin criticism of objective theory [T]to hold that, although A intends to sell Blackacre and B intends to buy Whiteacre, A must convey and B must accept Greenacre because their [contract] would so be understood by C or by a large community of third persons, is to hold justice up to ridicule. 3 Corbin on Contracts §539, at 81.

17 Other possible applications of subjective/objective theory One party claims no contract, just a joke Agreements to agree when one party says did not intend to be bound until formal agreement signed Language used in contract has special meaning between parties or in the trade

18 Current US Law Restatement (Second) of Contracts §201 (1981), Whose Meaning Prevails

19 Restatement §201(1) Where the parties have attached the same meaning to a promise or agreement or term thereof, it is interpreted in accordance with that meaning.

20 Restatement §201(2) Where the parties have attached different meanings to a promise or agreement or a term thereof, it is interpreted in accordance with the meaning attached by one of them if at the time the agreement was made

21 Restatement §201(2)(a), (b) (a) that party did not know of any different meaning attached by the other, and the other knew the meaning attached by the first party; or (b) that party had no reason to know of any different meaning attached by the other, and the other had reason to know the meaning attached by the first party.

22 Restatement §201(3) (3) Except as stated in this Section, neither party is bound by the meaning attached by the other, even though the result may be a failure of mutual assent.

23 Analyzing the Restatement approach Has subjective element, §1. Has objective element, §2. Best characterized as modified, objective approach.

24 International and European Contract Law Convention on International Sale of Goods (CISG) Art. 8

25 CISG Article 8(1) For the purposes of this Convention statements made by and other conduct of a party are to be interpreted according to his intent where the other party knew or could not have been unaware what that intent was.

26 CISG Article 8(2) If the preceding paragraph is not applicable, statements made by and other conduct of a party are to be interpreted according to the understanding that a reasonable person of the same kind as the other party would have had in the same circumstances.

27 CISG Article 8(3) In determining the intent of a party or the understanding a reasonable person would have had, due consideration is to be given to all relevant circumstances of the case including the negotiations, any practices which the parties have established between themselves, usages and any subsequent conduct of the parties.

28 International and European Contract Law International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), Principles of International Commercial Contracts (2004)

29 UNIDROIT Principles, Art. 4.1, Intention of the Parties (1) A contract shall be interpreted according to the common intention of the parties. (2) If such an intention cannot be established, the contract shall be interpreted according to the meaning that reasonable persons of the same kind as the parties would give to it in the same circumstances.

30 International and European Contract Law Principles of European Contract Law ( ), prepared by Commission on European Contract Law

31 European Principles, Art. 2:102, Intention The intention of a party to be legally bound by contract is to be determined from the party's statements or conduct as they were reasonably understood by the other party.

32 European Principles, Art. 5:101, General Rules of Interpretation (1) A contract is to be interpreted according to the common intention of the parties even if this differs from the literal meaning of the words.

33 European Principles, Art. 5:101, General Rules of Interpretation (2) If it is established that one party intended the contract to have a particular meaning, and at the time of the conclusion of the contract the other party could not have been unaware of the first party's intention, the contract is to be interpreted in the way intended by the first party.

34 European Principles, Art. 5:101, General Rules of Interpretation (3) If an intention cannot be established according to (1) or (2), the contract is to be interpreted according to the meaning that reasonable persons of the same kind as the parties would give to it in the same circumstances.

35 II. Doctrine of Consideration

36 Why should promises be enforced? Both Civil Law and Anglo-American Law (the common law) have long provided legal remedy for breach of contract But reasons for enforcement continue to be debated Traditional answer of common law was doctrine of consideration: promise is legally enforceable if supported by consideration

37 Doctrine and Policy Distinguished Doctrine: legal principle used by courts and scholars to resolve legal issue Policy: reason for acceptance of legal principle Consideration is a doctrine, but what is the policy?

38 Brief History of Consideration Doctrine 13 th Century English law recognized two predecessors to modern contract: –Writ of covenant: sealed instrument –Writ of debt: required specific sum of money owed Neither provided full remedy equivalent to modern breach of contract –In particular, debt required specific sum owed and not available if promisor had died

39 History of Consideration continued During 15 th and 16 th century, English courts gradually recognized new writ that is basis of modern contract, the writ of assumpsit Assumpsit replaced covenant and debt.

40 History of Consideration continued Unlike earlier writs, which had clear limits, assumpsit did not. Courts gradually developed requirements. Plaintiff must plead factors defendant considered in making promise. These factors or considerations became formal requirements.

41 Leading case Hamer v. Sidway (NY 1891)

42 Facts Wedding celebration William Story, Sr. uncle of William Story, 2d Uncle, in presence of guests and family, promised that if nephew would refrain from drinking, using tobacco, swearing and playing cards or billiards for money until he became twenty-one years of age he would pay him a sum of $5,000 Nephew assented and fully performed Uncle died and estate refused to pay.

43 Analysis of Hamer Estate argued no consideration because nephew benefited rather than harmed by refraining from various activities. Court finds promise enforceable. Consideration consists of either a benefit received by promisor or detriment suffered by promisee because of promise. Nephew suffered detriment because refrained from doing things that had right or power to do.

44 Modern US Law US law still requires consideration to enforce standard contract. Restatement (Second) of Contracts §17.

45 Restatement (Second) of Contracts §17 Requirement of a Bargain (1)Except as stated in Subsection (2), the formation of a contract requires a bargain in which there is a manifestation of mutual assent to the exchange and a consideration. (2)...

46 Modern US Law Modern law has moved away from benefit/detriment test. Consideration consists of any performance or promise that is bargained for and given in exchange for promise. Restatement §71.

47 Restatement (Second) of Contracts §71 Requirement of Exchange, Types of Exchanges (1) To constitute consideration, a performance or a return promise must be bargained for. (2) A performance or return promise is bargained for if it is sought by the promisor in exchange for his promise and is given by the promisee in exchange for that promise....

48 International and European Contract Law CISG §11 A contract of sale need not be concluded in or evidenced by writing and is not subject to any other requirements as to form. It may be proved by any means, including witnesses.

49 International and European Contract Law UNIDROIT Principles, Article 2.1 (Manner of Formation) A contract may be concluded either by the acceptance of an offer or by conduct of the parties that is sufficient to show agreement.

50 International and European Contract Law European Principles, Art. 2:101, Conditions for the Conclusion of a Contract (1) A contract is concluded if: (a) the parties intend to be legally bound, and (b) they reach a sufficient agreement without any further requirement. (2) A contract need not be concluded or evidenced in writing nor is it subject to any other requirement as to form. The contract may be proved by any means, including witnesses.

51 International and European Contract Law European Principles, Art. 2:107, Promises Binding Without Acceptance A promise which is intended to be legally binding without acceptance is binding.

52 Analysis of US and International Approaches No legal system will enforce all promises. Need to be able to distinguish between promises that should be enforced and those that should not. Consideration doctrine does poorly: –historically based rather than on policy –under doctrine many serious commercial promises not enforceable

53 Analysis of US and International Approaches International approach seems better as mater of policy. –If intention to be legally bound, should be sufficient. –If have concern about particular types of agreements, e.g. charitable donations or real estate, have special rules for these.


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