- Understand what the general duties of the buyer are.
- Recognize what rights the buyer has if the seller tenders a nonconforming delivery.
General Duties of Buyer
The general duty of the buyer is this: inspection, acceptance, and payment.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-301 and 2-513. But the buyer’s duty does not arise unless the seller tenders delivery.
Under Sections 2-513(1) and (2) of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), the buyer has a qualified right to inspect goods. That means the buyer must be given the chance to look over the goods to determine whether they conform to the contract. If they do not, he may properly reject the goods and refuse to pay. The right to inspect is subject to three exceptions:
- The buyer waives the right. If the parties agree that payment must be made before inspection, then the buyer must pay (unless the nonconformity is obvious without inspection). Payment under these circumstances does not constitute acceptance, and the buyer does not lose the right to inspect and reject later.
- The delivery is to be made C.O.D. (cash on delivery).
- Payment is to be made against documents of title.
If the buyer fails to inspect, or fails to discover a defect that an inspection would have revealed, he cannot later revoke his acceptance, subject to some exceptions.
Acceptance is clear enough: it means the buyer takes the goods. But the buyer’s options on improper delivery need to be examined, because that’s often a problem area.
The buyer may accept goods by words, silence, or action. Section 2-606(1) of the UCC defines acceptance as occurring in any one of three circumstances:
- Words. The buyer, after a reasonable opportunity to inspect, tells the seller either that the goods conform or that he will keep them despite any nonconformity.
- Silence. The buyer fails to reject, after a reasonable opportunity to inspect.
- Action. The buyer does anything that is inconsistent with the seller’s ownership, such as using the goods (with some exceptions) or selling the goods to someone else.
Once the buyer accepts, she is obligated to pay at the contract rate and loses the right to reject the goods.Uniform Commercial Code, Section 2-607. She is stuck, subject to some exceptions.
The parties may specify in their contract what payment means and when it is to be made. If they don’t, the UCC controls the transaction.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-511 and 2-512.
A Buyer’s Right on Nonconforming Delivery
Obviously if the delivery is defective, the disappointed buyer does not have to accept the goods: the buyer may (a) reject the whole, (b) accept the whole, or (c) accept any commercial unit and reject the rest (2-601, 2A-509), or (d)—in two situations—revoke an acceptance already made.
Rejection and a Buyer’s Duties after Rejection
Under UCC, Section 2-601(a), rejection is allowed if the seller fails to make a perfect tender. The rejection must be made within a reasonable time after delivery or tender. Once it is made, the buyer may not act as the owner of the goods. If he has taken possession of the goods before he rejects them, he must hold them with reasonable care to permit the seller to remove them. If the buyer is a merchant, then the buyer has a special duty to follow reasonable instructions from the seller for disposing of the rejected goods; if no instructions are forthcoming and the goods are perishable, then he must try to sell the goods for the seller’s account and is entitled to a commission for his efforts. Whether or not he is a merchant, a buyer may store the goods, reship them to the seller, or resell them—and charge the seller for his services—if the seller fails to send instructions on the goods’ disposition. Such storage, reshipping, and reselling are not acceptance or conversion by the buyer.
Acceptance of a Nonconforming Delivery
The buyer need not reject a nonconforming delivery. She may accept it with or without allowance for the nonconformity.
Acceptance of Part of a Nonconforming Delivery
The buyer may accept any commercial unit and reject the rest if she wants to. A commercial unit means “such a unit of goods as by commercial usage is a single whole for purposes of sale and division of which materially impairs its character or value on the market or in use. A commercial unit may be a single article (as a machine), a set of articles (as a suite of furniture or an assortment of sizes), a quantity (as a bale, gross, or carload), or any other unit treated in use or in the relevant market as a single whole.”Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-105 and 2A103(1).
A contract for an installment sale complicates the answer to the question, “What right does the buyer have to accept or reject when the seller fails to deliver properly?” (An installment contract is one calling for delivery of goods in separate lots with separate acceptance for each delivery.) The general answer is found in the UCC at Section 2-612, which permits the buyer to reject any nonconforming installment if the nonconformity cannot be cured if it substantially impairs the value of that particular installment. However, the seller may avoid rejection by giving the buyer adequate assurances that he will cure the defect, unless the particular defect substantially impairs the value of the whole contract.
Suppose the Corner Gas Station contracts to buy 12,000 gallons of regular gasoline from Gasoline Seller, deliverable in twelve monthly installments of 1,000 gallons on the first of each month, with a set price payable three days after delivery. In the third month, Seller is short and can deliver only 500 gallons immediately and will not have the second 500 gallons until midmonth. May Corner Gas reject this tender? The answer depends on the circumstances. The nonconformity clearly cannot be cured, since the contract calls for the full 1,000 on a particular day. But the failure to make full delivery does not necessarily impair the value of that installment; for example, Corner Gas may know that it will not use up the 500 gallons until midmonth. However, if the failure will leave Corner Gas short before midmonth and unable to buy from another supplier unless it agrees to take a full 1,000 (more than it could hold at once if it also took Seller’s 500 gallons), then Corner Gas is entitled to reject Seller’s tender.
Is Corner Gas entitled to reject the entire contract on the grounds that the failure to deliver impairs the value of the contract as a whole? Again, the answer depends on whether the impairment was substantial. Suppose other suppliers are willing to sell only if Corner Gas agrees to buy for a year. If Corner Gas needed the extra gasoline right away, the contract would have been breached as whole, and Corner Gas would be justified in rejecting all further attempted tenders of delivery from Seller. Likewise, if the spot price of gasoline were rising so that month-to-month purchases from other suppliers might cost it more than the original agreed price with Seller, Corner Gas would be justified in rejecting further deliveries from Seller and fixing its costs with a supply contract from someone else. Of course, Corner Gas would have a claim against Seller for the difference between the original contract price and what it had to pay another supplier in a rising market (as you’ll see later in this chapter).
A revocation of acceptance means that although the buyer has accepted and exercised ownership of the goods, he can return the goods and get his money back. There are two circumstances in which the buyer can revoke an acceptance if the nonconformity “substantially impairs its value to him”:Uniform Commercial Code, Section 2-608.
- if the buyer reasonably thought the nonconformity would be cured and it is not within a reasonable time; or
- if the acceptance was due to a latent defect that could not reasonably have been discovered before acceptance.
Consider two examples illustrated in the next paragraph. The first deals with point a (buyer thought nonconformity would be cured and it was not within a reasonable time), and the second gets to point b (latent defect).
In August 1983, the Borsages purchased a furnished mobile home on the salesperson’s assertion that it was “the Cadillac of mobile homes.” But when they moved in, the Borsages discovered defects: water leaks, loose moldings, a warped dishwasher door, a warped bathroom door, holes in walls, defective heating and cooling systems, cabinets with chips and holes, furniture that fell apart, mold and mildew in some rooms, a closet that leaked rainwater, and defective doors and windows. They had not seen these defects at the time of purchase because they looked at the mobile home at night and there were no lights on in it. The Borsages immediately complained. Repairmen came by but left, only promising to return again. Others did an inadequate repair job by cutting a hole in the bottom of the home and taping up the hole with masking tape that soon failed, causing the underside of the home to pooch out. Yet more repairmen came by but made things worse by inadvertently poking a hole in the septic line and failing to fix it, resulting in a permanent stench. More repairmen came by, but they simply left a new dishwasher door and countertop at the home, saying they didn’t have time to make the repairs. In June 1984, the Borsages provided the seller a long list of uncorrected problems; in October they stopped making payments. Nothing happened. In March 1986—thirty-one months after buying the mobile home—they told the seller to pick up the mobile home: they revoked their acceptance and sued for the purchase price. The defendant seller argued that the Borsages’ failure to move out of the house for so long constituted acceptance. But they were repeatedly assured the problems would be fixed, and moreover they had no place else to live, and no property to put another mobile home on if they abandoned the one they had. The court had no problem validating the Borsages’ revocation of acceptance, under the section noted earlier, if they ever had accepted it. The seller might have a right to some rental value, though.North River Homes, Inc., v. Borsage, Mississippi (1992).
In April 1976, Clarence Miller ordered a new 1976 Dodge Royal Monaco station wagon from plaintiff Colonial Dodge. The car included a heavy-duty trailer package with wide tires. The evening of the day the Millers picked up the new car, Mrs. Miller noticed that there was no spare tire. The following morning, the defendant notified the plaintiff that he insisted on a spare tire, but when he was told there were no spare tires available (because of a labor strike), Mr. Miller told the plaintiff’s salesman that he would stop payment on the check he’d given them and that the car could be picked up in front of his house. He parked it there, where it remained until the temporary registration sticker expired and it was towed by the police to an impound yard. Plaintiff sued for the purchase price, asserting that the missing spare tire did not “substantially impair the value of the goods to the buyer.” On appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, the plaintiff lost. “In this case the defendant’s concern with safety is evidenced by the fact that he ordered the special package which included spare tires. The defendant’s occupation demanded that he travel extensively, sometimes in excess of 150 miles per day on Detroit freeways, often in the early morning hours.…He was afraid of a tire going flat…at 3 a.m. Without a spare, he would be helpless until morning business hours. The dangers attendant upon a stranded motorist are common knowledge, and Mr. Miller’s fears are not unreasonable.” The court observed that although he had accepted the car before he discovered the nonconformity, that did not preclude revocation: the spare was under a fastened panel, concealed from view.Colonial Dodge v. Miller, 362 N.W.2d 704 (Mich. 1984).
The duty of the buyer in a sales contract is to inspect, accept, and pay. Failure to discover a defect that an inspection would have revealed is a waiver of right to complain. Normally the goods are conforming and the buyer accepts them, but upon discovery of a defect the buyer may reject the whole nonconforming delivery, part of it (the buyer has some duties if she has possession of the rejected goods), or in some cases reject one installment of an installment sale or, if one defective installment is serious enough to vitiate the whole contract, the buyer may consider the contract terminated. If goods have been accepted because the seller promised to fix defects or because the defects were latent, then the buyer may revoke the acceptance where the nonconformity substantially impairs the value of the contract to the buyer.
- If a buyer takes possession of goods and shortly thereafter discovers they are nonconforming, what duty does the nonmerchant buyer have with respect to the goods? What duty does the merchant buyer have with respect to the goods?
- What is the difference between rejection and revocation?
- Under what circumstances will a defective installment allow the buyer to reject that installment? Under what circumstances would a defective installment allow the buyer to terminate the contract?