Contract law developed as the status-centered organization of feudal society faded and people began to make choices about how they might order their lives. In the capitalistic system, people make choices about how to interact with others, and—necessarily—those choices expressed as promises must be binding and enforceable.
The two fundamental sources of contract law are (1) the common law as developed in the state courts and as summarized in the Restatement (Second) of Contracts and (2) the Uniform Commercial Code for the sale of goods. In general, the UCC is more liberal than the common law in upholding the existence of a contract.
Types of contracts can be distinguished by four criteria: (1) express and implied, including quasi-contracts implied by law; (2) bilateral and unilateral; (3) enforceable and unenforceable; and (4) completed (executed) and uncompleted (executory). To understand contract law, it is necessary to master these distinctions and their nuances.
- Mr. and Mrs. Smith, an elderly couple, had no relatives. When Mrs. Smith became ill, the Smiths asked a friend, Henrietta, to help with various housekeeping chores, including cleaning and cooking. Although the Smiths never promised to pay her, Henrietta performed the chores for eighteen months. Henrietta now claims that she is entitled to the reasonable value of the services performed. Is she correct? Explain.
- Assume instead that the Smiths asked Mrs. Smith’s sister, Caroline, who lived nearby, to help with the housekeeping. After eighteen months, Caroline claims she is entitled to the reasonable value of the services performed. Is she correct? Explain.
- A letter from Bridge Builders Inc. to the Allied Steel Company stated, “We offer to purchase 10,000 tons of No. 4 steel pipe at today’s quoted price for delivery two months from today. Your acceptance must be received in five days.” Does Bridge Builders intend to create a bilateral or a unilateral contract? Why?
- Roscoe’s barber persuaded him to try a new hair cream called Sansfree, which the barber applied to Roscoe’s hair and scalp. The next morning Roscoe had a very unpleasant rash along his hairline. Upon investigation he discovered that the rash was due to an improper chemical compound in Sansfree. If Roscoe filed a breach of contract action against the barber, would the case be governed by the Uniform Commercial Code or common law? Explain.
- Rachel entered into a contract to purchase a 2004 Dodge from Hanna, who lived in the neighboring apartment. When a dispute arose over the terms of the contract, Hanna argued that, because neither she nor Rachel was a merchant, the dispute should be decided under general principles of common law. Rachel, on the other hand, argued that Hanna was legally considered to be a merchant because she sold the car for profit and that, consequently, the sale was governed by the Uniform Commercial Code. Who is correct? Explain.
- Lee and Michelle decided to cohabit. When they set up house, Michelle gave up her career, and Lee promised to share his earnings with her on a fifty-fifty basis. Several years later they ended their relationship, and when Lee failed to turn over half of his earnings, Michelle filed suit on the basis of Lee’s promise. What kind of contract would Michelle allege that Lee had breached? Explain.
- Harry and Wilma were divorced in 2008, and Harry was ordered in the divorce decree to pay his ex-wife $10,000. In 2009 and 2010 Harry was hospitalized, incurring $3,000 in bills. He and Wilma discussed the matter, and Wilma agreed to pay the bill with her own money, even though Harry still owed her $5,000 from the divorce decree. When Harry died in late 2010, Wilma made a claim against his estate for $8,000 (the $3,000 in medical bills and the $5,000 from the decree), but the estate was only willing to pay the $5,000 from the decree, claiming she had paid the hospital bill voluntarily and had no contract for repayment. Is the estate correct? Explain.
- Louie, an adult, entered into a contract to sell a case of scotch whiskey to Leroy, a minor. Is the contract void or voidable? Explain.
- James Mann owned a manufacturing plant that assembled cell phones. A CPA audit determined that several phones were missing. Theft by one or more of the workers was suspected. Accordingly, under Mann’s instructions, the following sign was placed in the employees’ cafeteria:
Reward. We are missing phones. I want all employees to watch for thievery. A reward of $500 will be paid for information given by any employee that leads to the apprehension of employee thieves.
Waldo, a plant employee, read the notice and immediately called Mann, stating, “I accept your offer. I promise to watch other employees and provide you with the requested information.” Has a contract been formed? Explain.
- Almost every day Sally took a break at lunch and went to the International News Stand—a magazine store—to browse the newspapers and magazines and chat with the owner, Conrad. Often she bought a magazine. One day she went there, browsed a bit, and took a magazine off the rack. Conrad was busy with three customers. Sally waved the magazine at Conrad and left the store with it. What kind of a contract, if any, was created?
- Joan called Devon Sand & Gravel and ordered two “boxes” (dump-truck loads) of gravel to be spread on her rural driveway by the “shoot and run” method: the tailgate is partially opened, the dump-truck bed is lifted, and the truck moves down the driveway spreading gravel as it goes. The driver mistakenly graveled the driveway of Joan’s neighbor, Watson, instead of Joan’s. Is Devon entitled to payment by Watson? Explain.
- An implied contract
- must be in writing
- is one in which the terms are spelled out
- is one inferred from the actions of the parties
- is imposed by law to avoid an unjust result
- may be avoided by one party
- The Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods is
- an annual meeting of international commercial purchasing agents.
- contract law used in overseas US federal territories
- a customary format or template for drafting contracts
- a kind of treaty setting out international contract law, to which the United States is a party
- the organization that develops uniform international law
- An unenforceable contract is
- void, not a contract at all
- one that a court will not enforce for either side because of a rule of law
- unenforceable by one party but enforceable by the other
- one that has been performed by one party but not the other
- too indefinite to be valid
- Betty Baker found a bicycle apparently abandoned near her house. She took it home and spent $150 repairing and painting it, after which Carl appeared and proved his ownership of it. Under what theory is Betty able to get reimbursed for her expenditures?
- express contract
- implied contract
- apparent or quasi-contract
- executory contract
- none: she will not get reimbursed
- Alice discusses with her neighbor Bob her plan to hire Woodsman to cut three trees on her side of their property line, mentioning that she can get a good deal because Woodsman is now between jobs. Bob says, “Oh, don’t do that. My brother is going to cut some trees on my side, and he can do yours too for free.” Alice agrees. But Bob’s brother is preoccupied and never does the job. Three weeks later Alice discovers Woodsman’s rates have risen prohibitively. Under what theory does Alice have a cause of action against Bob?
- express contract
- promissory estoppel
- implied contract
- none: she has no cause of action against Bob