Contracts

… says Professor Eric Goldman, in his apologetically belated comments on Harris v. Blockbuster Inc., (N.D. Tex. April 15, 2009).  I discussed this case briefly in April, shortly after the decision was published.  To reprise, the court held that an arbitration clause in Blockbuster’s online t’s and c’s was unenforceable because Blockbuster was permitted to unilaterally amend the contract without notice.

Prof. Goldman’s take on it (in addition to the title of this post), is –

This language has a significant risk of killing the entire contract, which would strip away a lot of very important provisions that should be/need to be in the contract. So far Blockbuster has only lost its mandatory arbitration clause, but it’s possible other important risk management clauses (warranty disclaimer, liability limits, dollar caps, etc.) will similarly fall. If those clauses fail, let the plaintiff feasting begin!

Professor Goldman has commented on a Ninth Circuit case to similar effect, Douglas v.Read the full article

Here’s an interesting case out of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas.  In Harris v. Blockbuster the court refused to enforce an arbitration provision in Blockbuster’s online click-wrap agreement. The reason was that Blockbuster’s click-wrap contract was unilaterally modifiable by Blockbuster.  Here is the key paragraph, which is still on the Blockbuster Online site as of today:

These Online Rental Terms and Conditions are subject to change by Blockbuster at any time, in its sole discretion, with or without advance notice. The most current version of the Online Rental Terms and Conditions, which will supersede all earlier versions, can be accessed through the hyperlink at the bottom of the blockbuster.com site. You should review the Online Rental Terms and Conditions regularly, to determine if there have been changes. Continued use of your BLOCKBUSTER Online membership constitutes acceptance of the most recent version of the Online Rental Terms and Conditions.… Read the full article

First Circuit Weighs in on the Law of Unjust Enrichment in Massachusetts

The terms “unjust enrichment,” “restitution,” “quasi-contract” and “constructive trust” cause the average lawyer to recoil with apprehension (although she doesn’t show it, of course). We were forced to grapple with some of these ancient legal concepts in law school, but we quickly migrated to more modern legal principles, and although we may have remembered the terms (any lawyer worth his salt can throw around the terms unjust enrichment and restitution), the depth of knowledge of most lawyers on these topics is shallow at best. We were relieved when we could move on to things like the Uniform Commercial Code, which dates back only to the early 1950’s.

In fact, it’s easy to trace “unjust enrichment” and related terms back as far as the 1600s, and earlier. A search on Google Book Search reveals a volume titled “Unjust Enrichment in England before 1600.” References to Roman Law are also not difficult to find.… Read the full article

For more years than I can remember we’ve been warning clients that an employee handbook can create unintended legal obligations.  A case decided by the Supreme Judicial Court late last year (December 2008), serves as a reminder of this hazard. The court found that a sick day policy contained in a handbook bound the Mass Turnpike Authority to pay certain benefits.

The case attempts to leave the issue of whether a handbook creates a binding obligation open to a case-by-case analysis (especially when it comes to promises of employment to at-will employees, where it seems less likely that a handbook can get employers in trouble), but the fact remains that this is an area fraught with risk. Who even wants to go through the hassle and expense of defending one of these cases, when they are so easy to avoid? Placing a prominent “disclaimer” at the front of the book will do the job:

“This handbook is is presented as a matter of information only and its contents should not be interpreted as a contract or other form of obligation between the firm and any of its employees”

Rarely does the law make avoiding a legal headache so simple.… Read the full article