- Understand what purpose remedies serve under the UCC.
- Be able to see when the parties’ agreements as to limited remedies fail under the UCC.
- Recognize what the seller’s remedies are.
- Recognize what the buyer’s remedies are.
Remedies in General
The general policy of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) is to put the aggrieved party in a good position as if the other party had fully performed—as if there had been a timely delivery of conforming goods. The UCC provisions are to be read liberally to achieve that result if possible. Thus the seller has a number of potential remedies when the buyer breaches, and likewise the buyer has a number of remedies when the seller breaches.
The CISG provides, at Article 74:
Damages for breach of contract by one party consist of a sum equal to the loss, including loss of profit, suffered by the other party as a consequence of the breach. Such damages may not exceed the loss which the party in breach foresaw or ought to have foreseen at the time of the conclusion of the contract, in the light of the facts and matters of which he then knew or ought to have known, as a possible consequence of the breach of contract.
We have emphasized how the UCC allows people to make almost any contract they want (as long as it’s not unconscionable). Just as the parties may specify details of performance in the contract, so they may provide for and limit remedies in the event of breach.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-719(1) and 2A-503(1). The following would be a typical limitation of remedy: “Seller’s sole obligation in the event goods are deemed defective by the seller is to replace a like quantity of nondefective goods.” A remedy is optional unless it is expressly agreed that it is the exclusive remedy.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-719(1)(b) and 2A-503(2).
But the parties are not free to eliminate all remedies. As the UCC comment to this provision puts it, “If the parties intend to conclude a contract for sale within this Article they must accept the legal consequence that there be at least a fair quantum of remedy for breach of the obligations or duties outlined in the contract.” In particular, the UCC lists three exemptions from the general rule that the parties are free to make their contract up any way they want as regards remedies:
- When the circumstances cause the agreed-to remedy to fail or be ineffective, the default UCC remedy regime works instead.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-719(2) and 2A-503(2).
- Consequential damages may be limited or excluded unless the limitation or exclusion is unconscionable. Limitation of consequential damages for injury to the person in the case of consumer goods is prima facie unconscionable, but limitation of damages where the loss is commercial is not.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-719(3) and 2A-503(2).
- The parties may agree to liquidated damages: “Damages for breach by either party may be liquidated in the agreement but only at an amount which is reasonable in the light of the anticipated or actual harm caused by the breach, the difficulties of proof of loss, and the inconvenience or nonfeasibility of otherwise obtaining an adequate remedy. A term fixing unreasonably large liquidated damages is void as a penalty.”Uniform Commercial Code, Section 2-718. The Code’s equivalent position on leases is interestingly slightly different. UCC 2A-504(1) says damages may be liquidated “but only at an amount or by a formula that is reasonable in light of the then anticipated harm caused” by the breach. It leaves out anything about difficulties of proof or inconvenience of obtaining another adequate remedy.
Statute of Limitations
The UCC statute of limitations for breach of any sales contract is four years. The parties may “reduce the period of limitation to not less than one year but may not extend it.”Uniform Commercial Code, Section 2-725. Article 2A-506(1) is similar, but omits the prohibition against extending the limitation. Article 2-725(2) goes on: “A cause of action accrues when the breach occurs, regardless of the aggrieved party’s lack of knowledge of the breach. A breach of warranty occurs when tender of delivery is made, except that where a warranty explicitly extends to future performance of the goods and discovery of the breach must await the time of such performance the cause of action accrues when the breach is or should have been discovered.”
Article 2A-506(2) is similar to 2-725(2).
Article 2 in General
Article 2-703 of the UCC lists the four things the buyer can do by way of default, and it lists—here slightly paraphrased—the seller’s remedies (2A-523(1) is similar for leases):
Where the buyer wrongfully rejects or revokes acceptance of goods or fails to make a payment due on or before delivery or repudiates with respect to a part or the whole, then with respect to any goods directly affected and, if the breach is of the whole contract, then also with respect to the whole undelivered balance, the aggrieved seller may:
(1) withhold delivery of such goods;
(2) stop delivery by any bailee;
(3) identify to the contract conforming goods not already identified;
(4) reclaim the goods on the buyer’s insolvency;
(5) resell and recover damages;
(6) recover damages for non-acceptance or repudiation;
(7) or in a proper case recover the price;
Items (1)–(4) address the seller’s rights to deal with the goods; items (5)–(7) deal with the seller’s rights as regards the price, and item (8) deals with the continued existence of the contract.
The CISG’s take is similar. Article 61 and following state,
If the buyer fails to perform any of his obligations under the contract or this Convention, the seller may:…(a) require the buyer to pay the price. (b) Fix an additional period of time of reasonable length for performance by the buyer of his obligations; unless the seller has received notice from the buyer that he will not perform within the period so fixed, the seller may not, during that period, resort to any remedy for breach of contract. (c) Declare the contract avoided if the failure by the buyer to perform any of his obligations under the contract or this Convention amounts to a fundamental breach of contract or if the buyer does not, within the additional period of time fixed by the seller [above], perform his obligation to pay the price or take delivery of the goods, or if he declares that he will not do so within the period so fixed. (d) The seller also has the right to damages.
To illustrate the UCC’s remedy provision, in this and the following section, we assume these facts: Howard, of Los Angeles, enters into a contract to sell and ship one hundred prints of a Pieter Bruegel painting, plus the original, to Bunker in Dallas. Twenty-five prints have already been delivered to Bunker, another twenty-five are en route (having been shipped by common carrier), another twenty-five are finished but haven’t yet been shipped, and the final twenty-five are still in production. The original is hanging on the wall in Howard’s living room. We will take up the seller’s remedies if the buyer breaches and if the buyer is insolvent.
Remedies on Breach
Bunker, the buyer, breaches the contract. He sends Howard an e-mail stating that he won’t buy and will reject the goods if delivery is attempted. Howard has the following cumulative remedies; election is not required.
Withhold Further Delivery
Howard may refuse to send the third batch of twenty-five prints that are awaiting shipment.
Howard may also stop the shipment. If Bunker is insolvent, and Howard discovers it, Howard would be permitted to stop any shipment in the possession of a carrier or bailee. If Bunker is not insolvent, the UCC permits Howard to stop delivery only of carload, truckload, planeload, or larger shipment. The reason for limiting the right to bulk shipments in the case of noninsolvency is that stopping delivery burdens the carrier and requiring a truck, say, to stop and the driver to find a small part of the contents could pose a sizeable burden.
Identify to the Contract Goods in Possession
Howard could “identify to the contract” the twenty-five prints in his possession. Section 2-704(1) of the UCC permits the seller to denote conforming goods that were not originally specified as the exact objects of the contract, if they are under his control or in his possession at the time of the breach. Assume that Howard had five hundred prints of the Bruegel painting. The contract did not state which one hundred of those prints he was obligated to sell, but once Bunker breached, Howard could declare that those particular prints were the ones contemplated by the contract. He has this right whether or not the identified goods could be resold. Moreover, Howard may complete production of the twenty-five unfinished prints and identify them to the contract, too, if in his “reasonable commercial judgment” he could better avoid loss—for example, by reselling them. If continued production would be expensive and the chances of resale slight, the seller should cease manufacture and resell for scrap or salvage value.
Howard could resell the seventy-five prints still in his possession as well as the original. As long as he proceeds in good faith and in a commercially reasonable manner, per Section 2-706(2) and Section 2A-527(3), he is entitled to recover the difference between the resale price and the contract price, plus incidental damages (but less any expenses saved, like shipping expenses). “Incidental damages” include any reasonable charges or expenses incurred because, for example, delivery had to be stopped, new transportation arranged, storage provided for, and resale commissions agreed on.
The seller may resell the goods in virtually any way he desires as long as he acts reasonably. He may resell them through a public or private sale. If the resale is public—at auction—only identified goods can be sold, unless there is a market for a public sale of futures in the goods (as there is in agricultural commodities, for example). In a public resale, the seller must give the buyer notice unless the goods are perishable or threaten to decline in value speedily. The goods must be available for inspection before the resale, and the buyer must be allowed to bid or buy.
The seller may sell the goods item by item or as a unit. Although the goods must relate to the contract, it is not necessary for any or all of them to have exited or to have been identified at the time of breach.
The seller does not owe the buyer anything if resale or re-lease results in a profit for the buyer.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-706 and 2A-527.
The seller may recover damages equal to the difference between the market price (measured at the time and place for tender of delivery) and the unpaid contract price, plus incidental damages, but less any expenses saved because of the buyer’s breach. Suppose Howard’s contract price was $100 per print plus $10,000 for the original and that the market price on the day Howard was to deliver the seventy-five prints was $75 (plus $8,000 for the original). Suppose too that the shipping costs (including insurance) that Howard saved when Bunker repudiated were $2,000 and that to resell them Howard would have to spend another $750. His damages, then, would be calculated as follows: original contract price ($17,500) less market price ($13,625) = $3,875 less $2,000 in saved expenses = $1,875 plus $750 in additional expenses = $2,625 net damages recoverable by Howard, the seller.
The CISG puts it similarly in Article 75: “If the contract is avoided and if, in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable time after avoidance, the buyer has bought goods in replacement or the seller has resold the goods, the party claiming damages may recover the difference between the contract price and the price in the substitute transaction as well as any further damages recoverable.”
If the formula would not put the seller in as good a position as performance under the contract, then the measure of damages is lost profits—that is, the profit that Howard would have made had Bunker taken the original painting and prints at the contract price (again, deducting expenses saved and adding additional expenses incurred, as well as giving credit for proceeds of any resale).Uniform Commercial Code, Section 2-708(2); Section 2A-528(2) is similar. This provision becomes especially important for so-called lost volume sellers. Howard may be able to sell the remaining seventy-five prints easily and at the same price that Bunker had agreed to pay. Then why isn’t Howard whole? The reason is that the second buyer was not a substitute buyer but an additional one; that is, Howard would have made that sale even if Bunker had not reneged on the contract. So Howard is still short a sale and is out a profit that he would have made had Bunker honored the contract.
Recover the Price
Howard—the seller—could recover from Bunker for the price of the twenty-five prints that Bunker holds. Or suppose they had agreed to a shipment contract, so that the risk of loss passed to Bunker when Howard placed the other prints with the trucker and that the truck crashed en route and the cargo destroyed. Howard could recover the price. Or suppose there were no market for the remaining seventy-five prints and the original. Howard could identify these prints to the contract and recover the contract price. If Howard did resell some prints, the proceeds of the sale would have to be credited to Bunker’s account and deducted from any judgment. Unless sold, the prints must be held for Bunker and given to him upon his payment of the judgment.
Cancel the Contract
When Bunker repudiated, Howard could declare the contract cancelled. This would also apply if a buyer fails to make a payment due on or before delivery. Cancellation entitles the nonbreaching party to any remedies for the breach of the whole contract or for any unperformed balance. That is what happens when Howard recovers damages, lost profits, or the price.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-703(f) and 2A-524(1)(a).
Again, the CISG is similar. Article 64 provides that the seller may declare the contract avoided “if the failure by the buyer to perform any of his obligations under the contract or this Convention amounts to a fundamental breach of contract; or if the buyer does not, within the additional period of time fixed by the seller perform his obligation to pay the price or take delivery of the goods, or if he declares that he will not do so within the period so fixed.”
Note again that these UCC remedies are cumulative. That is, Howard could withhold future delivery and stop delivery en route, and identify to the contract goods in his possession, and resell, and recover damages, and cancel.
Remedies on Insolvency
The remedies apply when the buyer breaches the contract. In addition to those remedies, the seller has remedies when he learns that the buyer is insolvent, even if the buyer has not breached. Insolvency results, for example, when the buyer has “ceased to pay his debts in the ordinary course of business,” or the buyer “cannot pay his debts as they become due.”Uniform Commercial Code, Section 1-201(23).
Upon learning of Bunker’s insolvency, Howard could refuse to deliver the remaining prints, unless Bunker pays cash not only for the remaining prints but for those already delivered. If Howard learned of Bunker’s insolvency within ten days of delivering the first twenty-five prints, he could make a demand to reclaim them. If within three months prior to delivery, Bunker had falsely represented that he was solvent, the ten-day limitation would not cut off Howard’s right to reclaim. If he does seek to reclaim, Howard will lose the right to any other remedy with respect to those particular items. However, Howard cannot reclaim goods already purchased from Bunker by a customer in the ordinary course of business. The customer does not risk losing her print purchased several weeks before Bunker has become insolvent.Uniform Commercial Code, Section 2-702 (3).
In the lease situation, of course, the goods belong to the lessor—the lessor has title to them—so the lessor can repossess them if the lessee defaults.Uniform Commercial Code, Section 2A-525(2).
In this section, let us assume that Howard, rather than Bunker, breaches, and all other circumstances are the same. That is, Howard had delivered twenty-five prints, twenty-five more were en route, the original painting hung in Howard’s living room, another twenty-five prints were in Howard’s factory, and the final twenty-five prints were in production.
The buyer can do the following three things by way of defaulting: repudiate the contract, fail to deliver the goods, or deliver or tender nonconforming goods. Section 2-711 of the UCC provides the following remedies for the buyer:
Where the seller fails to make delivery or repudiates, or the buyer rightfully rejects or justifiably revokes, then with respect to any goods involved, and with respect to the whole if the breach goes to the whole contract, the buyer may
(1) cancel the contract, and
(2) recover as much of the price as has been paid; and
(3) “cover” and get damages; and
(4) recover damages for nondelivery.
Where the seller fails to deliver or repudiates, the buyer may also:
(5) if the goods have been identified recover them; or
(6) in a proper case obtain specific performance or
(7) replevy the goods.
On rightful rejection or justifiable revocation of acceptance, a buyer:
(8) has a security interest in goods in his possession or control for any payments made on their price and any expenses reasonably incurred in their inspection, receipt, transportation, care and custody and may hold such goods and resell them in like manner as an aggrieved seller.
If the buyer has accepted non-conforming goods and notified seller of the non-conformity, buyer can
(9) recover damages for the breach;Uniform Commercial Code, Section 2-714.
and in addition the buyer may
(10) recover incidental damages and
(11) recover consequential damages.Uniform Commercial Code, Section 2-715.
Thus the buyer’s remedies can be divided into two general categories: (1) remedies for goods that the buyer does not receive or accept, when he has justifiably revoked acceptance or when the seller repudiates, and (2) remedies for goods accepted.
The CISG provides similar remedies at Articles 45–51:
If the seller fails to perform any of his obligations under the contract, buyer may (1) declare the contract avoided if the seller’s breach is fundamental; or (2) require performance by the seller of his obligations unless the buyer has resorted to a remedy which is inconsistent with this requirement; (3) require delivery of substitute goods if the non-conformity constitutes a fundamental breach of contract; (4) may require the seller to remedy the lack of conformity by repair, unless this is unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances; (5) may fix an additional period of time of reasonable length for performance by the seller of his obligations and unless the buyer has received notice from the seller that he will not perform within the period so fixed, the buyer may not, during that period, resort to any remedy for breach of contract; (6) in case of non-conforming delivery, reduce the price in the same proportion as the value that the goods actually delivered had at the time of the delivery bears to the value that conforming goods would have had at that time.
Goods Not Received
The UCC sets out buyer’s remedies if goods are not received or if they are rightfully rejected or acceptance is rightfully revoked.
If the buyer has not yet received or accepted the goods (or has justifiably rejected or revoked acceptance because of their nonconformity), he may cancel the contract and—after giving notice of his cancellation—he is excused from further performance.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-711(1), 2-106, 2A-508(1)(a), and 2A-505(1).
Recover the Price
Whether or not the buyer cancels, he is entitled to recover the price paid above the value of what was accepted.
In the example case, Bunker—the buyer—may “cover” and have damages: he may make a good-faith, reasonable purchase of substitute goods. He may then recover damages from the seller for the difference between the cost of cover and the contract price. This is the buyer’s equivalent of the seller’s right to resell. Thus Bunker could try to purchase seventy-five additional prints of the Bruegel from some other manufacturer. But his failure or inability to do so does not bar him from any other remedy open to him.
Sue for Damages for Nondelivery
Bunker could sue for damages for nondelivery. Under Section 2-713 of the UCC, the measure of damages is the difference between the market price at the time when the buyer learned of the breach and the contract price (plus incidental damages, less expenses saved). Suppose Bunker could have bought seventy-five prints for $125 on the day Howard called to say he would not be sending the rest of the order. Bunker would be entitled to $1,875—the market price ($9,375) less the contract price ($7,500). This remedy is available even if he did not in fact purchase the substitute prints. Suppose that at the time of breach, the original painting was worth $15,000 (Howard having just sold it to someone else at that price). Bunker would be entitled to an additional $5,000, which would be the difference between his contract price and the market price.
For leases, the UCC, Section 2A-519(1), provides the following: “the measure of damages for non-delivery or repudiation by the lessor or for rejection or revocation of acceptance by the lessee is the present value, as of the date of the default, of the then market rent minus the present value as of the same date of the original rent, computed for the remaining lease term of the original lease agreement, together with incidental and consequential damages, less expenses saved in consequence of the lessor’s default.”
Recover the Goods
If the goods are unique—as in the case of the original Bruegel—Bunker is entitled to specific performance—that is, recovery of the painting. This section is designed to give the buyer rights comparable to the seller’s right to the price and modifies the old common-law requirement that courts will not order specific performance except for unique goods. It permits specific performance “in other proper circumstances,” and these might include particular goods contemplated under output or requirements contracts or those peculiarly available from one market source.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-716(1) and 2A-521(1).
Even if the goods are not unique, the buyer is entitled to replevy them if they are identified to the contract and after good-faith effort he cannot recover them. Replevin is the name of an ancient common-law action for recovering goods that have been unlawfully taken; in effect it is not different from specific performance, and the UCC makes no particular distinction between them in Section 2-716. Section 2A-521 holds the same for leases. In our case, Bunker could replevy the twenty-five prints identified and held by Howard.
Bunker also has the right to recover the goods should it turn out that Howard is insolvent. Under UCC, Section 2-502, if Howard were to become insolvent within ten days of the day on which Bunker pays the first installment of the price due, Bunker would be entitled to recover the original and the prints, as long as he tendered any unpaid portion of the price.
For security interest in goods rightfully rejected, if the buyer rightly rejects nonconforming goods or revokes acceptance, he is entitled to a security interest in any goods in his possession. In other words, Bunker need not return the twenty-five prints he has already received unless Howard reimburses him for any payments made and for any expenses reasonably incurred in their inspection, receipt, transportation, care, and custody. If Howard refuses to reimburse him, Bunker may resell the goods and take from the proceeds the amount to which he is entitled.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-711(3), 2-706, 2A-508(5), and 2A-527(5).
The buyer does not have to reject nonconforming goods. She may accept them anyway or may effectively accept them because the time for revocation has expired. In such a case, the buyer is entitled to remedies as long as she notifies the seller of the breach within a reasonable time.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-714(1) and 2A-519(3). In our example, Bunker can receive three types of damages, all of which are outlined here.
Bunker may recover damages for any losses that in the ordinary course of events stem from the seller’s breach. Suppose Howard had used inferior paper that was difficult to detect, and within several weeks of acceptance the prints deteriorated. Bunker is entitled to be reimbursed for the price he paid.
Bunker is also entitled to consequential damages.Uniform Commercial Code, Sections 2-714(3), 2-715, and 2A-519(3). These are losses resulting from general or particular requirements of the buyer’s needs, which the seller had reason to know and which the buyer could not reasonably prevent by cover or otherwise. Suppose Bunker is about to make a deal to resell the twenty-five prints that he has accepted, only to discover that Howard used inferior ink that faded quickly. Howard knew that Bunker was in the business of retailing prints and therefore he knew or should have known that one requirement of the goods was that they be printed in long-lasting ink. Because Bunker will lose the resale, he is entitled to the profits he would have made. (If Howard had not wished to take the risk of paying for consequential damages, he could have negotiated a provision limiting or excluding this remedy.) The buyer has the burden or proving consequential damages, but the UCC does not require mathematical precision. Suppose customers come to Bunker’s gallery and sneer at the faded colors. If he can show that he would have sold the prints were it not for the fading ink (perhaps by showing that he had sold Bruegels in the past), he would be entitled to recover a reasonable estimate of his lost profits.
In De La Hoya v. Slim’s Gun Shop the plaintiff purchased a handgun from the defendant, a properly licensed dealer. While the plaintiff was using it for target shooting, he was questioned by a police officer, who traced the serial number of the weapon and determined that—unknown to either the plaintiff or the defendant—it had been stolen. The plaintiff was arrested for possession of stolen property and incurred, in 2010 dollars, $3,000 in attorney fees to extricate himself from the criminal charges. He sued the defendant for breach of the implied warranty of title and was awarded the amount of the attorney fees as consequential damages. On appeal the California court held it foreseeable that the plaintiff would get arrested for possessing a stolen gun, and “once the foreseeability of the arrest is established, a natural and usual consequence is that the [plaintiff] would incur attorney’s fee.”De La Hoya v. Slim’s Gun Shop, 146 Cal. Rptr. 68 (Super. 1978). Compare with In re Stem in the exercises later in this chapter.
Section 2-715 of the UCC allows incidental damages, which are “damages resulting from the seller’s breach including expenses reasonably incurred in inspection, receipt, transportation and care and custody of goods rightfully rejected, any commercially reasonable charges, expenses or commissions in connection with effecting cover and any other reasonable expense incident to the delay or other breach.” Section 2A-520(1) of the UCC is similar for leases.
Parties to a contract for the sale of goods may specify what the remedies will be in case of breach. They may limit or exclude remedies, but the UCC insists that there be some remedies; if the parties agree to liquidated damages, the amount set cannot be a penalty.
If the parties do not agree to different remedies for the seller in case the buyer defaults, the UCC sets out remedies. As to the seller’s obligation, he may cancel the contract. As to the goods, he may withhold or stop delivery, identify conforming goods to the contract, or reclaim goods upon the buyer’s insolvency. As to money, he may resell and recover damages or lost profits and recover the price. Unless they are inconsistent, these remedies are cumulative. The point of the range of remedies is, as much as possible, to put the nonbreaching seller in the position she would have been in had there been no breach. The aggrieved lessor is entitled to similar remedies as the seller.
The UCC also provides a full panoply of remedies available to a buyer if the seller fails to deliver goods or if the buyer rightfully rejects them or revokes her acceptance. As to the buyer’s obligations, she may cancel the contract. As to the goods, she may claim a security interest in those rightfully rejected, recover goods identified if the seller is insolvent, or replevy or seek specific performance to get goods wrongfully withheld. As to money, she may recover payments made or cover and recover damages for nondelivery. If the buyer accepts nonconforming goods, she is entitled to damages for breach of warranty. These remedies are cumulative, so the aggrieved buyer may pursue any of them, unless the remedies are mutually exclusive. The Article on leases provides basically the same remedies for the aggrieved lessee (UCC 2A 520–523).
- What are the four things a breaching seller could do to cause the buyer grief, commercially speaking?
- If the buyer breaches, what rights does the seller have in regard to the goods?
- In regard to the money owed to her?
- In regard to the continued existence of the contract?
- What are the four things a breaching buyer could do to cause the seller grief, commercially speaking?
- If the seller breaches, what rights does the buyer have in regard to the goods?
- In regard to the money owed to him?
- In regard to the continued existence of the contract?