No agreement is enforceable if the parties did not enter into it (1) of their own free will, (2) with adequate knowledge of the terms, and (3) with the mental capacity to appreciate the relationship.
Contracts coerced through duress will void a contract if actually induced through physical harm and will make the contract voidable if entered under the compulsion of many types of threats. The threat must be improper and leave no reasonable alternative, but the test is subjective—that is, what did the person threatened actually fear, not what a more reasonable person might have feared.
Misrepresentations may render an agreement void or voidable. Among the factors to be considered are whether the misrepresentation was deliberate and material; whether the promisee relied on the misrepresentation in good faith; whether the representation was of fact, opinion, or intention; and whether the parties had a special relationship.
Similarly, mistaken beliefs, not induced by misrepresentations, may suffice to avoid the bargain. Some mistakes on one side only make a contract voidable. More often, mutual mistakes of facts will show that there was no meeting of the minds.
Those who lack capacity are often entitled to avoid contract liability. Although it is possible to state the general rule, many exceptions exist—for example, in contracts for necessities, infants will be liable for the reasonable value of the goods purchased.
- Eulrich, an auto body mechanic who had never operated a business, entered into a Snap-On Tools franchise agreement. For $22,000 invested from his savings and the promise of another $22,000 from the sale of inventory, he was provided a truck full of tools. His job was to drive around his territory and sell them. The agreement allowed termination by either party; if Eulrich terminated, he was entitled to resell to Snap-On any new tools he had remaining. When he complained that his territory was not profitable, his supervisors told him to work it harder, that anybody could make money with Snap-On’s marketing system. (In fact, the evidence was the system made money for the supervisors and little for dealers; dealers quickly failed and were replaced by new recruits.) Within several months Eulrich was out of money and desperate. He tried to “check in” his truck to get money to pay his household bills and uninsured medical bills for his wife; the supervisors put him off for weeks. On the check-in day, the exhausted Eulrich’s supervisors berated him for being a bad businessman, told him no check would be forthcoming until all the returned inventory was sold, and presented him with a number of papers to sign, including a “Termination Agreement” whereby he agreed to waive any claims against Snap-On; he was not aware that was what he had signed. He sued to rescind the contract and for damages. The defendants held up the waiver as a defense. Under what theory might Eulrich recover?Eulrich v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 853 P.2d 1350 (Or. Ct. App. 1993).
- Chauncey, a college student, worked part-time in a restaurant. After he had worked for several months, the owner of the restaurant discovered that Chauncey had stolen $2,000 from the cash register. The owner called Chauncey’s parents and told them that if they did not sign a note for $2,000, he would initiate criminal proceedings against Chauncey. The parents signed and delivered the note to the owner but later refused to pay. May the owner collect on the note? Why?
- A restaurant advertised a steak dinner that included a “juicy, great-tasting steak, a fresh crisp salad, and a warm roll.” After reading the ad, Clarence visited the restaurant and ordered the steak dinner. The steak was dry, the lettuce in the salad was old and limp with brown edges, and the roll was partly frozen. May Clarence recover from the restaurant on the basis of misrepresentation? Why?
- Bert purchased Ernie’s car. Before selling the car, Ernie had stated to Bert, “This car runs well and is reliable. Last week I drove the car all the way from Seattle to San Francisco to visit my mother and back again to Seattle.” In fact, Ernie was not telling the truth: he had driven the car to San Francisco to visit his paramour, not his mother. Upon discovery of the truth, may Bert avoid the contract? Why?
- Randolph enrolled in a business law class and purchased a new business law textbook from the local bookstore. He dropped the class during the first week and sold the book to his friend Scott. Before making the sale, Randolph told Scott that he had purchased the book new and had owned it for one week. Unknown to either Randolph or Scott, the book was in fact a used one. Scott later discovered some underlining in the middle of the book and attempted to avoid the contract. Randolph refused to refund the purchase price, claiming that he had not intentionally deceived his friend. May Scott avoid the contract? Why?
- Langstraat was seventeen when he purchased a motorcycle. When applying for insurance, he signed a “Notice of Rejection,” declining to purchase uninsured motorist coverage. He was involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist and sought to disaffirm his rejection of the uninsured motorist coverage on the basis of infancy. May he do so?
- Waters was attracted to Midwest Supply by its advertisements for doing federal income taxes. The ads stated “guaranteed accurate tax preparation.” Waters inquired about amending past returns to obtain refunds. Midwest induced him to apply for and receive improper refunds. When Waters was audited, he was required to pay more taxes, and the IRS put tax liens on his wages and bank accounts. In fact, Midwest hired people with no knowledge about taxes at all; if a customer inquired about employees’ qualifications, Midwest’s manual told the employees to say, “Midwest has been preparing taxes for twenty years.” The manual also instructed office managers never to refer to any employee as a “specialist” or “tax expert,” but never to correct any news reporters or commentators if they referred to employees as such. What cause of action has Waters, and for what remedies?
- Mutschler Grain Company (later Jamestown Farmers Elevator) agreed to sell General Mills 30,000 bushels of barley at $1.22 per bushel. A dispute arose: Mutschler said that transportation was to be by truck but that General Mills never ordered any trucks to pick up the grain; General Mills said the grain was to be shipped by rail (railcars were in short supply). Nine months later, after Mutschler had delivered only about one-tenth the contracted amount, the price of barley was over $3.00 per bushel. Mutschler defaulted on, and then repudiated, the contract. Fred Mutschler then received this telephone call from General Mills: “We’re General Mills, and if you don’t deliver this grain to us, why we’ll have a battery of lawyers in there tomorrow morning to visit you, and then we are going to the North Dakota Public Service (Commission); we’re going to the Minneapolis Grain Exchange and we’re going to the people in Montana and there will be no more Mutschler Grain Company. We’re going to take your license.”
Mutchsler then shipped 22,000 bushels of barley at the $1.22 rate and sued General Mills for the difference between that price and the market price of over $3.00. Summary judgment issued for General Mills. Upon what basis might Mutschler Grain appeal?
- Duke decided to sell his car. The car’s muffler had a large hole in it, and as a result, the car made a loud noise. Before showing the car to potential buyers, Duke patched the hole with muffler tape to quiet it. Perry bought the car after test-driving it. He later discovered the faulty muffler and sought to avoid the contract, claiming fraud. Duke argued that he had not committed fraud because Perry had not asked about the muffler and Duke had made no representation of fact concerning it. Is Duke correct? Decide and explain.
- At the end of the term at college, Jose, talking in the library with his friend Leanne, said, “I’ll sell you my business law notes for $25.” Leanne agreed and paid him the money. Jose then realized he’d made a mistake in that he had offered his notes when he meant to offer his book. Leanne didn’t want the book; she had a book. She wanted the notes. Would Leanne have a cause of action against Jose if he refused to deliver the notes? Decide and explain.
- Misrepresentation that does not go to the core of a contract is
- fraud in the execution
- fraud in the inducement
- undue influence
- an example of mistake
- In order for a misrepresentation to make a contract voidable,
- it must have been intentional
- the party seeking to void must have relied on the misrepresentation
- it must always be material
- none of the above is required
- A mistake by one party will not invalidate a contract unless
- the other party knew of the mistake
- the party making the mistake did not read the contract closely
- the parties to the contract had never done business before
- the party is mistaken about the law
- Upon reaching the age of majority, a person who entered into a contract to purchase goods while a minor may
- ratify the contract and keep the goods without paying for them
- disaffirm the contract and keep the goods without paying for them
- avoid paying for the goods by keeping them without ratifying or disaffirming the contract
- none of these
- Seller does not disclose to Buyer that the foundation of a house is infested with termites. Upon purchasing the house and remodeling part of the basement, Buyer discovers the termites. Has Buyer a cause of action against Seller?