Whether a legally valid contract was formed depends on a number of factors, including whether the parties reached agreement, whether consideration was present, and whether the agreement was legal. Agreement may seem like an intuitive concept, but intuition is not a sufficient guide to the existence of agreement in legal terms. The most common way of examining an agreement for legal sufficiency is by determining whether a valid offer and acceptance were made.
An offer is a manifestation of willingness to enter into a bargain such that it would be reasonable for another individual to conclude that assent to the offer would complete the bargain. Offers must be communicated and must be definite; that is, they must spell out terms to which the offeree can assent.
An important aspect of the offer is its duration. An offer can expire in any one of several ways: (1) rejection, (2) counteroffer, (3) acceptance with counteroffer, (4) lapse of time, (5) death or insanity of the offeror or destruction of an essential term, (6) illegality, and (7) revocation. No understanding of agreement is complete without a mastery of these conditions.
To constitute an agreement, an offer must be accepted.
The offeree must manifest his assent to the terms of the offer in a manner invited or required by the offer. Complications arise when an offer is accepted indirectly through correspondence. Although offers and revocations of offers are not effective until received, an acceptance is deemed accepted when sent if the offeree accepts in the manner specified by the offeror. But the nuances that arise because of the mailbox rule and acceptance by silence require close attention to the circumstances of each agreement.
- Sarah’s student apartment was unfurnished. She perused Doug’s List, an online classified ad service (for nonmerchants), and saw this advertisement: “Moving. For sale: a very nice brown leather couch, almost new, $600.” There was an accompanying photo and contact information. Sarah e-mailed the contact, saying she wanted to buy the couch. Does Sarah have a contract with the seller? Explain.
- Seller called Buyer on the telephone and offered to sell his used stereo. Buyer agreed to buy it without asking the price. The next day Buyer changed her mind and attempted to back out of the agreement. Do the parties have a contract? Explain.
- On August 1, Ernie wrote to Elsie offering to sell Elsie his car for $7,600, and he promised to hold the offer open for ten days. On August 4 Ernie changed his mind; he sent Elsie a letter revoking the offer. On August 5 Elsie e-mailed Ernie, accepting the offer. Ernie’s letter of revocation arrived on August 6. Is there a contract? Explain.
- On August 1 Grover visited a local electronics shop to purchase a new television. He saw one he liked but wasn’t sure if he could afford the $750. The store owner agreed to write up and sign an offer stating that it would be held open for ten days, which he did. On August 2 the owner changed his mind and sent Grover an e-mail revoking the offer, which Grover received immediately. On August 3 Grover sent a reply e-mail accepting the original offer. Is there a contract? Explain.
- Acme Corporation sent the following letter, here set out in its entirety:
January 2, 2012
We hereby offer you 100 Acme golden widgets, size 6. This offer will be good for 10 days.
[Signed] Roberta Acme
Owner, Acme Corporation
Is this offer irrevocable for the time stated? Explain.
- On November 26, Joe wrote to Kate offering to purchase a farm that she owned. Upon receiving the letter on November 28, Kate immediately sent Joe a letter of acceptance. However, shortly after mailing the letter, Kate had second thoughts and called Joe to advise him that she was rejecting his offer. The call was made before Joe received the letter of acceptance. Has a contract been formed? Why?
- On a busy day just before April 15, Albert Accountant received a call from a local car dealer. The dealer said, “Hi, Mr. Accountant. Now, while you have income from doing clients’ taxes, I have an excellent offer for you. You can buy a new Buick Century automobile completely loaded for $36,000. Al, I know you’re busy. If I don’t hear from you by the end of the day, I’ll assume you want the car.” Albert, distracted, did not respond immediately, and the dealer hung up. Then followed an exhausting day of working with anxiety-ridden tax clients. Albert forgot about the conversation. Two days later a statement arrived from the dealer, with instructions on how Albert should pick up the car at the dealership. Is there a contract? Explain.
- Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell, the owners of a small secondhand store, attended an auction where they bought a used safe for $50. The safe, part of the Sumstad estate, had a locked compartment inside, a fact the auctioneer mentioned. After they bought the safe, the Mitchells had a locksmith open the interior compartment; it contained $32,000 in cash. The locksmith called the police, who impounded the safe, and a lawsuit ensued between the Mitchells and the Sumstad estate to determine the ownership of the cash. Who should get it, and why?
- Ivan Mestrovic, an internationally renowned artist, and his wife lived for years in a house in Indiana. Ivan died in 1982. His widow remained in the house for some years; upon her death the contents of the house were willed to her children. When the Wilkens bought the house from the estate, it was very cluttered. A bank representative (the executor of the estate) said, “You can clean it yourself and keep whatever items you want, or we—as executor of Mrs. Mestrovic’s estate—will hire a rubbish removal service to dispose of it.” The Wilkens opted to clean it up themselves, and amid the mess, behind sofas and in odd closets, were six apparently valuable paintings by Mestrovic. The estate claimed them; the Wilkens claimed them. Who gets the paintings, and why?
- David Kidd’s dog bit Mikaila Sherrod. On June 14, 2010, the Kidds offered to settle for $32,000. On July 12 the Sherrods sued the Kidds. On July 20 the Kidds bumped their offer up to $34,000. The suit was subject to mandatory arbitration, which proceeded on April 28, 2011. On May 5 the arbitrator awarded the Sherrods $25,000. On May 9 the Sherrods wrote to the Kidds and purported to accept their last offer of $34,000, made the year before. The Sherrods’ attorney moved to enforce that purported $34,000 “settlement agreement.” The court concluded that the offer was properly accepted because it had not been withdrawn and entered judgment against the Kidds for $34,000. The Kidds appealed. What result should obtain on appeal, and why?Sherrod ex rel. Cantone v. Kidd, 155 P.3d 976 (Wash. Ct. App., 2007).
- In interpreting agreements for the purpose of establishing whether a valid contract exists, courts generally apply
- subjective standards
- objective standards
- either a subjective or an objective standard
- none of the above
- A valid offer must be
- written and intended
- communicated by letter
- communicated and definite
- An offer
- must specify time, place, and manner of acceptance
- must be accepted immediately to be valid
- need not be accepted immediately
- can only be accepted by the same means it was made
- An offer generally
- is rejected by a counteroffer
- can be revoked if the offeror changes his or her mind
- can lapse after a reasonable period of time
- involves all of the above
- An acceptance is generally considered effective
- when a letter is received by the offeror
- when a letter is mailed
- when the offeree is silent
- only when the acceptance is transmitted in writing