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Sales and Leases: A Problem-based Approach

Sales and Leases: A Problem-based Approach
1st Edition
Scott J. Burnham, Kristen Juras
© 2018 CALI eLangdell Press, www.cali.org. Subject to an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA
Table Of Contents
Introduction
Introduction

SALES AND LEASES:

A Problem-based Approach

 

Scott J. Burnham

Curley Professor of Law

Gonzaga University School of Law

 

Kristen Juras

Professor of Law

The University of Montana School of Law

 

CALI eLangdell Press 2016

About the Authors

Professor Scott J. Burnham teaches in the areas of contracts, commercial law, and intellectual property. Professor Burnham received his J.D. and LL.M. degrees from New York University School of Law in 1974 and 1981. Between degrees, he practiced in New York City with London, Buttenweiser, Bonem & Valente, and then as a sole practitioner. He has been a visiting professor at Santa Clara, Tennessee, Western New England, Memphis, UNLV, Hawaii, Ohio State, Cardozo, Montevideo (Uruguay), and Vytautas Magnus (Lithuania). He is the author of numerous law review articles in the fields of contracts, consumer law and legal education, and two books on drafting published by The Michie Company: The Contract Drafting Guidebook, which is written for practitioners, and Drafting Contracts, 2nd ed., which is written for law students. He is a member of the ALI.

Professor Kristen Juras has taught contracts, UCC Article 2, property, business, international law and other classes at the University of Montana School of Law since 2000. She is the coauthor of the Law of the Sea in a Nutshell (West 2009) and Cases and Materials on the Law of the Sea (Brill 2015). Prior to teaching, Professor Juras practiced transactional and commercial law for more than twenty years, including serving as general counsel for a publicly traded corporation.

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Notices

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Chapter One
Introduction to the Uniform Commercial Code and Article 1
1.1. History of the UCC

As interstate commerce grew, so did the need for national uniformity in laws applicable to commercial transactions. Under the leadership of Professor Karl Llewellyn, the American Law Institute (ALI) and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) (which is now known as the Uniform Law Commission or ULC) promulgated the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC or Code), which was first enacted by a state in 1953. Today, all states have enacted most parts of the UCC, although there are some variations. Louisiana is the only state that has not enacted Article 2.

1.1.1. Article 1 of the UCC contains general provisions that, according to Revised § 1-102, apply when a transaction is governed by another article of the UCC. For example, statements of purpose, rules of construction, and general definitions are contained in Article 1. In 2001, the ULC promulgated changes to Article 1; these changes are known as Revised Article 1. Most states have adopted Revised Article 1, although none has enacted it in its uniform version. For a tally of adopting states, see the web site of the Uniform Law Commission at http://www.uniformlaws.org.

Note the three significant changes that Revised Article 1 made to former Article 1. It (1) clarifies that Article 1 applies only to Code transactions, (2) clarifies that the concept of course of performance applies throughout the Code, and (3) redefines good faith. When a jurisdiction enacts Revised Article 1, it also makes a few changes to Article 2 to coordinate with the changes in Article 1.

1.1.2. In 1999, the ALI voted to support a draft Revised Article 2, but the ULC did not support it, probably because of the perceived difficulty of enacting such a substantial revision in the states. In 2003, the ULC drafted a less radical version known as Amended Article 2. In May 2011, the ULC and the ALI agreed to withdraw Amended Article 2 from consideration by the states. No state has enacted either Revised Article 2 or Amended Article 2. Nevertheless, reference to the proposed revisions may be valuable for seeing the clarifications that were made to the existing text.

The bottom line is that a statute more than 50 years old governs modern commercial transactions. As we will see, the Code has a great deal of flexibility in the joints to accommodate change, but there will be many strains put on it.

1.1.3. Unless otherwise indicated, when these materials cite sections from Article 1 and Article 2, this refers to the sections as found in Revised Article 1 and the pre-2003 version of Article 2 as amended to reflect Revised Article 1. When researching the law of a particular jurisdiction, you will have to determine (1) whether that jurisdiction has enacted Revised Article 1, and (2) whether that jurisdiction adopted any nonuniform provisions when it enacted the Code.

These materials sometimes include a Research Assignment that invites you to determine or apply the rule adopted in a particular jurisdiction.

1.1.4. Most of the Code sections are followed by Official Comments (which we often simply refer to as “Comment” throughout these materials). In most jurisdictions, these have not been enacted by the legislature. Therefore, they are only persuasive authority. However, because they are promulgated by the drafters of the statute, they are highly persuasive. The Official Comments can be useful for (1) putting the section in context, (2) elaborating on the principles involved in the section, and (3) guiding interpretation to preserve uniformity.

1.2. Purposes of the UCC

Always keep in mind the general purposes of the UCC, as set forth at § 1-103:

(1) To simplify, clarify, and modernize the law governing commercial transactions;

(2) To permit the continued expansion of commercial practices through custom, usage, and agreement of the parties; and

(3) To make uniform the law among various jurisdictions.

Regarding this last purpose, consider this analysis by Judge Posner in Northrop Corp. v. Litronic Industries, 29 F.3d 1173, 1175, 1178 (7th Cir. 1994):

Unfortunately, the Illinois courts – whose understanding of Article 2 of the UCC is binding on us because this is a diversity suit governed, all agree, by Illinois law – have had no occasion to choose among the different positions on the consequences of an acceptance that contains “different” terms from the offer. We shall have to choose....

The Uniform Commercial Code, as we have said, does not say what the terms of the contract are if the offer and acceptance contain different terms, as distinct from cases in which the acceptance merely contains additional terms to those in the offer. The majority view is that the discrepant terms fall out and are replaced by a suitable UCC gap-filler.… The leading minority view is that the discrepant terms in the acceptance are to be ignored.… Our own preferred view – the view that assimilates “different” to “additional,” so that the terms in the offer prevail over the different terms in the acceptance only if the latter are materially different, has as yet been adopted by only one state, California….

Because Illinois in other UCC cases has tended to adopt majority rules …, and because the interest in the uniform nationwide application of the Code – an interest asserted in the Code itself (see [§ 1-103(a)(3)]) – argues for nudging majority views, even if imperfect (but not downright bad), toward unanimity, we start with a presumption that Illinois, whose position we are trying to predict, would adopt the majority view.…    

Problem 1-1. You are litigating a case in the state of Washington involving a particular section of UCC Article 2 which has not been addressed by the Washington Supreme Court, but has been addressed by courts in other jurisdictions. What weight should the Washington Supreme Court give to the decisions of other jurisdictions? Mandatory, persuasive, or something in-between?

1.3. Variation of UCC Provisions by Agreement

Although some provisions of the UCC are mandatory and cannot be varied (discussed below), most provisions are intended to be “default” provisions that govern in the absence of a differing agreement by the parties. See Scott J. Burnham, Is UCC Article 2 Facilitatory or Regulatory? 68 Ohio St. L. J. 57 (2007).

1.3.1. The principle of freedom of contract (which you should always be prepared to argue to a court) is alive and well under the UCC. Section 1-302(a) provides:

  • Except as otherwise provided in subsection (b) or elsewhere in the UCC, the effect of provisions of the UCC may be varied by agreement. (emphasis added)

After they finished, the Code drafters realized that sometimes they stated that a provision governed “unless otherwise agreed” and sometimes they didn’t. They then included § 1-302(c) to make clear that when they failed to say it, they did not mean that the parties cannot otherwise agree.

Query: Do parties have the freedom of contract to opt out of the UCC when it would otherwise apply? To opt into the UCC when it would not otherwise apply? See § 1-302, Official Comment 2.

Problem 1-2. Although the UCC allows a buyer to recover reasonably foreseeable consequential damages arising from a breach, the UCC does not provide for a seller to recover consequential damages. See §§ 2-708, 2-713. In a transaction involving goods, the parties agree to the following provision: “In the event of a breach, both Seller and Buyer may recover from the breaching party all damages arising from the breach, including reasonably foreseeable consequential damages.” If all the elements of are established, will the seller be entitled to recover consequential damages? See also § 1-305.

What difference does it make that Amended Article 2 provides in § 2-708 that “the measure of [seller’s] damages for nonacceptance by the buyer is the difference between the contract price and the market price at the time and place for tender together with any incidental or consequential damages provided in Section 2-710”?

1.3.2. Although § 1-302(a) provides the general rule that the parties may vary the UCC default rules by agreement, under § 1-302(b) the parties may not disclaim any of the following obligations prescribed by the UCC:

  • (1) good faith (see § 1-304);
  • (2) diligence (see, for example, the use of “due diligence” in the context of notice at § 1-202(f) and “reasonable diligence” in the context of notice of dishonor at § 3-504);
  • (3) reasonableness (see, for example, the requirement of reasonable notice of termination at § 2-309(3)); and
  • (4) care (see, for example, buyer’s duty to hold rejected goods with reasonable care at § 2-602(b)).

Although these obligations cannot be disclaimed by agreement of the parties, standards of performance intended to satisfy these requirements may be specified, as long as such standards are not manifestly unreasonable. See Scott J. Burnham, Setting Standards under Sections 1-302 and 9-603, 1 The Transactional Lawyer 3 (Aug. 2011), available at http://www.law.gonzaga.edu/files/Transactional-Lawyer-Aug2011.pdf.

Problem 1-3. In defining when a buyer’s acceptance of goods occurs, § 2-606 refers to a “reasonable opportunity to inspect.” Your client has recently opened a retail computer store, and he wants you to draft a standard purchase agreement governing the sale of personal computers to his customers.

(1) Can the agreement provide that the buyer waives the reasonable opportunity to inspect?

(2) Can the agreement provide that the purchaser has a certain minimum time to inspect? What factors would you consider in coming up with this time frame?

1.3.3. In addition to providing that the obligations of good faith, diligence, reasonableness and care prescribed by the UCC may not be disclaimed, § 1-302(a) contains a second limitation on the parties’ freedom to contract: “except as otherwise provided ... elsewhere in the UCC.” (emphasis added) In other words, throughout the UCC there are mandatory provisions which may not be modified by contract. Some provisions expressly state that they may not be varied by contract. However, others may not be so labeled.

Problem 1-4. Determine whether the following provisions of Article 2 may be varied by agreement of the parties:

(1) The statute of limitations in § 2-725(1).

(2) The statute of frauds in § 2-201(1).

(3) The requirement in § 2-309(3) that a terminating party provide notice of termination of a contract.

(4) The requirement in § 2-511 that tender of payment is a condition to seller’s duty to deliver the goods.

(5) The requirement in § 2-602 that a buyer seasonably notify the seller of rejection.

1.4. Good Faith

Section 1-304 states that the obligation of good faith applies throughout the Code, and § 1-201(b)(20) defines it. Recall that § 1-302(b) states that this obligation cannot be disclaimed by the parties.

1.4.1. Good faith is defined at § 1-201(b)(20) as “honesty in fact and the observance of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing.” The pre-2001 version of Article 1 applied the subjective standard of “honesty in fact” to all parties. However, for purposes of Article 2, former § 2-103(1)(b) applied the additional objective requirement of “observance of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing” to merchants (the definition of which is discussed in Chapter 2). Thus, it is very important in applying this concept to ascertain what version of Article 1 has been adopted in the jurisdiction involved. Before applying precedent, determine whether the case you are citing applies the old standard or the new standard. For non-merchants, if there was not good faith under the old standard, then there would not be good faith under the new standard; but if there was good faith under the old standard, then there is not necessarily good faith under the new standard.

Research Assignment 1-1. Which version of the definition of “good faith” applies in your chosen jurisdiction?

Problem 1-5. Aunt Martha is not a merchant. She recently sold her car to her nephew, a law student. The written purchase agreement provides that the purchase price of $10,000 shall be paid in 36 monthly installments. However, there is a provision that gives Aunt Martha the option to accelerate the payment date and declare the entire amount due “at will.” See § 1-309. When Aunt Martha learned that her nephew failed his Sales and Leases Class in his second year of law school, Aunt Martha declared the entire unpaid balance of the purchase price due. The nephew had insufficient funds to pay her back in full. The nephew sued Aunt Martha for breach of the duty of good faith.

(1) Under the old definition of good faith, what would the nephew have to prove? How could he prove it?

(2) Under the new definition of good faith, what would the nephew have to prove? How could he prove it?

1.5. Unconscionability

Section 2-302 addresses unconscionability in contracts for the sale of goods. Although unconscionability is expressly found in the Code only in Article 2 and in Article 2A (Leases) at § 2A-108, as explained in the Williams case discussed below, it is a common law concept and probably supplements all Code transactions under § 1-103(b). Curiously, California did not enact § 2-302. This seems shocking until your realize that the provision was codified with the general Contracts statutes at Civil Code § 1670.5 to make clear that it applies to all contracts and not just to those involving transactions in goods.

1.5.1. The statute does not define “unconscionability,” probably because defining it might limit it and the concept is intended to be applied in many different circumstances. However, Official Comment 1 states:

  • The basic test is whether, in the light of the general commercial background and the commercial needs of the particular trade or case, the clauses involved are so one-sided as to be unconscionable under the circumstances existing at the time of the making of the contract.

It is not exactly helpful to say that a term is unconscionable if it is unconscionable.

The case of Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co., 350 F.2d 445, 449 (D.C. Cir. 1965) laid out the two elements courts usually look for when confronted with an issue of unconscionability:

  • Unconscionability has generally been recognized to include an absence of meaningful choice on the part of one of the parties together with contract terms which are unreasonably favorable to the other party.

The element of “absence of meaningful choice” is sometimes referred to as procedural unconscionability. The inquiry is into how the parties came to enter into the transaction. The element of “unreasonably favorable terms” is sometimes referred to as substantive unconscionability. As the Williams court went on to say, the inquiry is “whether the terms of the contract are so unfair that enforcement should be withheld.” Id. at 450. Many, but not all, courts require both elements to be present to support a finding of unconscionability. See, e.g., Arrowhead School Dist. No. 75, Park Co., Montana v. Klyap, 79 P.3d 250, ¶ 48 (Mont. 2003).

  • 1.5.1.1. Procedural unconscionability: Generally, courts find unconscionability only when there is a “contract of adhesion,” a contract that is prepared in advance of the transaction by a stronger party who offers it to a weaker party who has no alternative but to agree to the terms. Of course, one alternative is to walk away, so some courts are less willing to find unconscionability when the market offers a choice.
  • 1.5.1.2. Substantive unconscionability: A claim of unconscionability usually arises when the party with all the bargaining power uses that power to include unfair terms in a contract with which the other party must agree. What makes a term so unfair that a court refuses enforcement? Obviously, the standard is subjective and flexible. However, § 2-302(2) provides some guidance:
    • When it is claimed or appears to the court that the contract or any clause thereof may be unconscionable the parties shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to present evidence as to its commercial setting, purpose and effect to aid the court in making the determination.

1.5.2. Most cases of unconscionability involve a consumer who agreed to a contract of adhesion. This makes sense, for if a party were able to negotiate the terms of a contract, it should not later be heard to complain that it agreed to unfair terms. Although business owners may have a more difficult time establishing procedural unconscionability because they are often viewed by courts as possessing “a greater degree of commercial understanding and substantially more economic muscle than the ordinary consumer …, generalizations are always subject to exceptions and categorization is rarely an adequate substitute for analysis.” Several courts have recognized that “experienced but legally unsophisticated businessmen may be unfairly surprised by unconscionable contract terms.” A & M Produce Co. v. FMC Corp., 135 Cal. App. 3d 473, 489 (1982). See also Bridge Fund Capital Corp. v. Fastbucks Franchise Corp., 622 F.3d 996, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010), in which the court found certain terms in a franchise agreement between two businesses to be unconscionable, noting that “California courts have long recognized that franchise agreements have some characteristics of contracts of adhesion because of the ‘vastly superior bargaining strength’ of the franchisor.”

1.5.3. Several courts employ a sliding scale between the two elements of unconscionability. If there is a great deal of procedural unconscionability, then less substantive unconscionability is needed to support the finding of unconscionability. On the other hand, if there is little procedural unconscionability, then a great deal of substantive unconscionability is needed to support the finding. See, for example, Donovan v. RRL Corporation, 27 P.3d 702, 723 (Cal. 2001), in which the court refused to enforce a contract for the sale of a car advertised at a mistaken purchase price because of substantive unconscionability, even though there was little evidence of procedural unconscionability.

1.5.4. Note that the determination of whether a contract or a term is unconscionable is to be made as of “the time [the contract] was made.” § 2-302(1). If the effect of a term turns out to be unfair later, it is probably not unconscionable. For example, in J.L. McEntire & Sons, Inc. v. Hart Cotton Co., Inc., 511 S.W.2d 179 (Ark. 1974), cotton growers agreed to sell their crop at a certain price when the crop was delivered at harvest time. When that time came, the market price had doubled. The sellers claimed that the contract was unconscionable, but the court held that it was fair at the time, and “prices could have fallen as easily as they could have risen.” Id. at 183.

1.5.5. What can a court do if it determines that a clause is unconscionable? The alternatives set forth in § 2-302(1) are:

  • (1) refuse to enforce the contract in its entirety;
  • (2) enforce the contract without the unconscionable clause; or
  • (3) limit the application of an unconscionable clause (i.e., partial enforcement in a way which is not unconscionable).

1.5.6. Unconscionability is one of the provisions in the Code that the parties are not free to disclaim.

Practice Tip: If a drafter is concerned that a term may appear to be unfair, the drafter may wish to include some recitals that explain why it is reasonable in light of commercial practices or the circumstances of the parties.

Problem 1-6. Educational Materials Company sells a package of educational materials entitled "Junior Institute," which is advertised to prepare toddlers for elementary school. Company employees solicit sales door-to-door in areas that the company has identified as having high numbers of residents with limited education and economic means. The purchase price of $600 is three to four times higher than comparable educational products. Ninety-nine percent of purchasers elect to pay the purchase price in 36 monthly installments (rather than cash); interest is charged at the highest rate allowed by law. The salesman allows the consumer to examine the materials at the time of solicitation, and immediately delivers a complete set of materials to the purchaser if a sale is concluded. At the time of sale, the consumer is presented with a contract containing three pages of fine print. Salesmen are not authorized to make any changes to the contract. In compliance with federal consumer protection laws, the contract allows the consumer to cancel the contract within three business days after the purchase for a full return of the purchase price. The contract provides that the contract may not be terminated after this three-day cancellation period for any reason, and disclaims in bold print in the middle of the contract any express or implied warranties.

After making three of her monthly installment payments, a 22-year old purchaser terminated the contract, after reading a review rating the Junior Institute program at 1.5 on a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (superior). She also discovered, while reading the review, that several similar but more highly rated toddler packages could be purchased for prices ranging between $150 and $200. Educational Materials Company filed a judicial proceeding to collect the balance owing on the contract, plus all of its attorney’s fees and expenses, pursuant to a clause requiring the consumer to pay any attorney’s fees and expenses incurred by the company in any legal proceeding arising under the contract (and which does not contain a reciprocal attorneys fee clause in favor of the consumer). The mother raised the argument that the contract should not be enforced against her because it is unconscionable.

(1) What factors should the consumer’s attorney rely upon to support an argument that the contract is procedurally unconscionable?

(2) What factors should the consumer’s attorney rely upon to support an argument that the contract is substantively unconscionable? 

(3) If you determine that the contract or portions thereof are unconscionable, what would be the appropriate remedy?

1.6. Hierarchy of Construction

The UCC provides rules of construction in interpreting the terms of the parties’ contract.

1.6.1. First, you need to understand the definition of both contract and agreement under the UCC. Let’s start with the term agreement, which is defined at § 1-201(b)(3) as comprising the following elements:

  • (1) the bargain of the parties in fact as determined from their language and the circumstances;
  • (2) course of performance;
  • (3) course of dealing; and
  • (4) usage of trade.

1.6.2. Under § 1-201(b)(12), a contract, as distinguished from an agreement, means the total legal obligation that results from the agreement as determined by the UCC (such as gap-fillers) and supplemental laws. For example, if I say that I will sell you ten grams of cocaine for $1,000 and you agree, we have made an agreement on those terms and you have probably impliedly agreed to pay cash on delivery, but we have not made a contract.

1.6.3. Note that the definitions in § 1-201 apply throughout the UCC, including, for example, Article 2A (Leases), Article 3 (Commercial Paper), and Article 9 (Secured Transactions). A separate list of definitions also appears within each Article. See, for example, §§ 2-103 through 2-106. If you run across an unfamiliar term, always check for a definition provided elsewhere in the UCC. You should even check for definitions of familiar terms. You might assume, for example, what constitutes a writing or what the term “signed” means. Now look at how those terms are defined at § 1-201. Look also at the Official Comment for the term “signed” for further insight. Note, however, that § 1-201(a) provides that the definition applies “unless the context requires otherwise.”

1.6.4. Now, let’s go back to the term “agreement.” In addition to the “bargain of the parties,” (i.e., terms specifically agreed upon by language, conduct, or other circumstances), the UCC incorporates three important other sources of terms into the parties’ agreement: course of performance, course of dealing, and usage of trade. These terms are defined at § 1-303:

  • 1.6.4.1. Course of performance arises when there are repeated occasions for performance of this particular contract by the parties, and the repeated performance by one party is accepted by or acquiesced in by the other. For example, an installment contract would give rise to course of performance. See § 1-303(a).
  • 1.6.4.2. Course of dealing is a sequence of conduct concerning previous transactions between the parties that is fairly to be regarded as establishing a common basis of understanding for interpreting a future agreement. See § 1-303(b).
  • 1.6.4.3. Usage of trade is any practice or method of dealing having such regularity of observation in a place, vocation, or trade as to justify an expectation that it will be observed with respect to the transaction in question. See § 1-303(c).
  • Query: Are you bound by a trade usage if you are not in the trade? See § 1-303, Official Comments 3 and 4.

Problem 1-7. Identify each of the following as course of performance, course of dealing, or usage of trade:

(1) On several previous occasions, a law firm has ordered stationery from a local paper company. The orders are less than $500 each, and the offer and acceptance are completed orally over the phone each time. On each prior sale, the law firm paid within 30 days of delivery. When the company delivered the next order, it insisted on payment upon delivery. When is payment due?

(2) An agreement provides for monthly delivery of books by Caselaw Publishing Group to Cheapbooks.com for resale. The agreement is silent as to the delivery date. The publisher delivered between the 5th and the 10th day of each month for the first three months of the agreement, and Cheapbooks.com accepted the deliveries without complaint. In the 4th month, Cheapbooks.com complained that a delivery made on the 10th is late. Is it?

(3) Poulsen’s Hardware Store ordered 1,000 feet of 2"x4" lumber boards from Seeley Swan Mill. A recognized industry publication allows a variance of up to 10% in the number of feet delivered. Seeley Swan Mill delivered 950 feet. Is the mill in breach?

1.6.5. Now read § 1-303(e). What happens if there is a conflict between the terms of the parties’ agreement, and, for example, usage of trade? What if there is a conflict between, for example, the parties’ course of performance and any mandatory provisions of the UCC?

Problem 1-8. Number from 1 through 6 the priority of the following sources of terms of the parties’ contract:

___Course of dealing              ___Course of performance                 ___Express terms

 

___Usage of trade                  ___Mandatory UCC provisions          ___UCC default provisions

Problem 1-9. Apply the § 1-303 hierarchy to the following situations:

(1) You sell me a machine. The contract provides you will service it “every week.” You find out that in the trade, these machines are serviced monthly, so you want to switch to monthly service. Can you?

(2) You sell me a machine. The contract provides you will service it “regularly.” For a year, you service it every week. You find out that in the trade, these machines are serviced monthly, so you want to switch to monthly service. Can you?

(3) You sell me a machine every year for three years. Each contract provides you will service it “regularly.” During each of these three years, you have serviced the machine every week. In the fourth year, you sell me another machine. The contract provides you will service it “regularly.” When you don’t show up the first week, I call and ask you to come service the machine. You say you only have to service it monthly, because that is the trade practice. Are you right?

(4) In the fifth year, you sell me a machine. The contract provides you will service it “regularly.” You service it monthly for the first six months, and I don’t object until the seventh month, when I claim you are in breach because you serviced the previous machines every week. Are you in breach?

1.6.6. In the hierarchy, the express terms of the parties’ agreement trumps course of performance. However, under § 1-303(f), if the parties’ course of performing a particular agreement varies from the express terms of the agreement, the conduct may constitute a waiver or modification of the term. We discuss waiver and modification in Chapter 9.

Problem 1-10. An agreement provides for monthly delivery of books by Caselaw Publishing Group to Cheapbooks.com for resale. The agreement provides for delivery on the 1st day of each month. The publisher delivered between the 5th and the 10th day of each month for the first three months of the agreement, and Cheapbooks.com accepted the deliveries without complaint. In the 4th month, Cheapbooks.com complained that a delivery made on the 10th is late. Is it? Does Cheapbooks.com have any recourse?

1.7. Supplementation by Other Law

Section 1-103(b) provides that unless displaced by a particular provision of the UCC, the principles of law and equity supplement the provisions of the UCC. Specific examples given of such supplementing laws and equitable principles include:

(1) the law merchant (what the heck is that?);

(2) capacity to contract, duress, coercion, mistake (issues going to the validity of a contract);

(3) estoppel;

(4) fraud and misrepresentation;

(5) bankruptcy;

(6) principal and agency relationships; and

(7) “other validating or invalidating cause” (huh?).

For example, in Daniels-Sheridan Federal Credit Union v. Bellanger, 36 P.3d 397 (Mont. 2001), Smith, a seller of cattle on credit who did not secure his interest under Article 9, claimed that he had an “equitable” interest in the cattle that was superior to the interest of a creditor who had a perfected security interest in the cattle pursuant to Article 9, and that the secured creditor would be “unjustly enriched” if Smith’s prior equitable interest were not recognized. In rejecting his arguments, the court stated:

40 In Northwest Potato Sales, Inc. v. Beck (1984), 208 Mont. 310, 678 P.2d 1138, a potato dealer appealed a district court's dismissal of its breach of contract claim which was based on Charles Beck's failure to honor a contract to sell it seed potatoes. Beck asserted a statute of frauds defense on the basis he had never signed the written contract signed by the potato dealer and forwarded to him. The potato dealer raised estoppel as a bar to the defense. We reversed, holding that Beck had both actively and passively led the potato dealer to believe the written contract would be honored and, as a result, Beck was estopped from asserting a statute of frauds defense to the contract action. In doing so, we rejected Beck's argument that estoppel cannot apply to a UCC statute of frauds transaction, noting that § 30-1-103, MCA, expressly mentions estoppel as one of the general principles of law that supplements the UCC, absent an express displacement of the principle elsewhere. We ultimately determined that no provision of the UCC precludes application of estoppel to defeat a statute of frauds defense.…

41 Smith attempts to apply our recognition in Northwest that equitable remedies can supplement the UCC to the present case, but Northwest is readily distinguishable. Northwest did not address the priority of secured interests and, indeed, did not relate to secured interests in any way. Moreover, unlike in Northwest, the equitable principle of unjust enrichment urged by Smith – and adopted by the District Court – is not mentioned in the UCC as one of the general principles of law which can supplement the UCC's specific hierarchy of priorities for security interests at issue here.

Was the court correct to distinguish the two cases as it did? Are the principles of law and equity that are enumerated in § 1-103(b) exclusive? See Official Comment 4. Could a court apply the equitable principle of unjust enrichment in a Code case? Is there a better reason why the court should not have applied the principle in Daniels-Sheridan?

1.8. Choice of Law

Prior to its revision in 2001, former § 1-105 allowed the parties to designate a jurisdiction whose law governs the contract if the transaction bears a “reasonable relation” to that jurisdiction. As noted in Official Comment 1, any jurisdiction in which “a significant enough portion of the making or performance of the contract is to occur” is appropriate. For example, if a seller of goods enters into a contract at its headquarters in Delaware, has a California warehouse from which goods are to be shipped under the contract, the goods are manufactured in South Dakota, the buyer is located in Montana, and the goods are to be shipped to Texas, any one of those jurisdictions would have a “reasonable relation” to the contract, and the parties could choose to apply the law of any of those jurisdictions.

Revised Article 1 proposed a regime in which parties to a transaction that did not involve a consumer were free to choose the applicable law without limitation. After this proposal was rejected by every jurisdiction that enacted Revised Article 1, the Uniform Law Commission gave in and revised § 1-301 to restore the original regime.

1.8.1. Section 1-301(c) sets forth a narrow list of limitations on the parties’ right to designate their choice of governing law. For example, under § 2A-106(1), a consumer lease may only designate the law of the jurisdiction where the consumer resides or in which the goods are to be used.

1.8.2. In the absence of an effective choice of law, § 1-301(b) directs the courts to apply the UCC to transactions having an “appropriate relationship” to that jurisdiction. Official Comment 1 notes that it would not be appropriate to apply the UCC if, for example, the parties have “clearly contracted on the basis of some other law.” Due to the uniformity and widespread adoption of the UCC, its application by the forum state should not present difficulties, unless the forum state has adopted a non-uniform version of the applicable UCC provisions that may affect the outcome of the case.

1.8.3. Note that choice of law differs from choice of forum. Choice of forum resolves the issue of where the case will be heard. Once that is determined, either by the parties or by the rules of civil procedure, then choice of law determines the law that the court will apply to the transaction. If the parties have not exercised their freedom of contract to determine the applicable law, then the courts will use principles of conflict of laws to make the determination.

1.8.4. Recall that § 1-103(b) provides that principles of law and equity supplement the UCC, unless displaced. Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 187(2) sets forth a widely accepted principle: 

  • (2) The law of the state chosen by the parties to govern their contractual rights and duties will be applied …, unless either
    • (a) the chosen state has no substantial relationship to the parties or the transaction and there is no other reasonable basis for the parties' choice, or
    • (b) application of the law of the chosen state would be contrary to a fundamental policy of a state which has a materially greater interest than the chosen state in the determination of the particular issue and which … would be the state of the applicable law in the absence of an effective choice of law by the parties.

Problem 1-11. The parties have chosen the law of a jurisdiction that has a reasonable relation to the transaction. The forum state (which is a different state than the jurisdiction whose law governs) also has a reasonable relation to the transaction. The forum court has determined that the law of the chosen jurisdiction applicable to certain non-UCC elements of the claim is contrary to an important public policy of the forum state. Under § 1-301, must the court honor the choice of law clause? Applying §187 of the Restatement, under what circumstances would the court be allowed to disregard the parties’ choice of law provision and apply the law of the forum state?

Chapter 1 Additional Sources.

Scott J. Burnham, Glannon Guide to Sales: Learning Sales Through Multiple-Choice Questions and Analysis (Wolters Kluwer 2d ed., 2012), Chapter 2

James J. White and Robert S. Summers, Uniform Commercial Code (West 6th ed., 2010), Introduction

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