Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Contracts and Happily ever after

The intersection of Contract Law and children's fiction.

As I come to the end of the semester, I'd like to share a few of the thoughts that've crossed my mind during Contracts classes. Contracts is one of the required classes for our Foundation Curriculum. Taken in first-semester by most 1Ls throughout the US.

And it's a wonderful class. Not only did I learn how Contracts protect my freedom and liberty even more effectively than the "War on Terror," I also made poignant connections from Contracts class to the familiar fairy tales and cartoons of my childhood days.

There is SO MUCH that my favorite characters could have learned from Contracts. It's not a knight in shining armor or a Prince Charming that they needed. What fairy tales need to solve most (if not ALL) of their woes, is a skilled and adept contracts lawyer. Hopefully one who is very good at drafting.

I didn't do it on purpose, but somehow learning contracts doctrines reminded me of all the problems that my favorite fairy tale and other fictional characters had. Going through my notes to create my end-of-semester OUTLINE to study from, I came across the little notes I had written in the margin, trying desperately, perhaps futilely to figure out HOW my fairy tale friends could've been saved from their miserable fates by the prudence and foresight that modern contract doctrine provides.

Example 1.
Rumpelstiltskin. This is the one where the idiot farmer tells the prince that his daughter can spin GOLD out of STRAW or something like that so she gets locked in a room full of straw with a spinning wheel. And of course she caN'T. So she's all crying and then Rumpelstiltskin shows up and tells her that he'll spin the straw into gold for her in exchange for her firstborn child. Anyway the day comes when she has a child and Rumpelstiltskin comes to collect and the girl goes all berserk and so R cuts her a new deal where if she can guess his name, she can keep her child and the original deal is off. Luckily she stalks him to find him singing his name to himself and then is able to keep her child. Happily ever for her (even w/o contract) and poor old R who actually did all the hard work gets stuck alone in the woods.
ISSUES spotted 1. unconscionability (the kind on steroids), duress, constructive fraud, no consideration for modification on contract

Example 2.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The thing here is Willy Wonka's unilateral offer involving the Golden Tickets and an exclusive tour of his uber-secret factory. However, that spoiled brat Veruca Salt has her ridiculously rich dad just buy up a TON of chocolate and he has his factory workers just ripping them open until someone finds the Golden Ticket.
ISSUES spotted 2. who is the offeree who actually "accepted" the offer of the Golden Ticket? the factory worker. can you contract to have someone else perform (accept) on your behalf and then you get the offeror's performance? does not seem justicey at all...

Example 3.
The Little Mermaid. Ok, so in The Little Mermaid Ariel falls in love with Prince Eric (look forward to my love at first sight entry based on Gossip Girl) and following her father's total spaz-out because Eric's a human she goes to visit Ursula, the sea witch. The witch has an ulterior motive of blackmailing Ariel's father, King Triton, but first she has to make Ariel her captive. So Ursula names the price of her giving Ariel legs: Ariel's uniquely beautiful voice. If Ariel is unable to get Eric to kiss her, she becomes a little sea cretin - Ursula's prisoner.
ISSUES spotted 3. ok there are SO many things wrong here. again: unconscionability, constructive fraud (elements present: duress, unequal bargaining power, conflict of interests), liquidated damages that look totally like a penalty, nearly illusory promise (Ursula attempts to have complete control over the next few days' events), and DEFINITELY some tort claims thrown in there.

Example 4.
Rugrats. As children, my sister and I were avid fans of Rugats. So much so that my dad (who is like, totally pop culture illiterate) knew the characters on the show by description (i.e. "oh that potato head baby). There's this episode where Angelica saves Chuckie's life and so tells him that the "rule" is that he is now her slave for life. In a plot twist, he saves her life at the end of the episode and now she must be HIS slave for life.
ISSUES spotted 4. so anyway, given a few tweaks this would be an ideal "moral" consideration/past consideration case. however, Angelica's demand that Chuckie be her slave for life in "exchange" for her having saved his life is completely unenforceable. Even if he had been the one to make the offer, it would be treated as a gratuitous promise. Although, given Angelica's character, it's very likely that she didn't act "purely" gratuitously and expected something out of her act. In that case this could be an example of when the court recognizes "moral" consideration or restitution. Especially since he (was coerced into) actually performed - it could be read as his intent to enforce the "past promise" (Webb v. McGowin).

Example 5.
Pirates of the Caribbean. So the contract here was that Davy Jones would raise the Pearl and allow Jack Sparrow to captain her for 13 years in consideration for Sparrow's eternal service on Davy Jones' damned crew. Obviously, Sparrow tries to get out of it and in the end he does, but only after several years and a trip to Davy Jones' locker and the world's end and multiple battles costing lots of lives.
ISSUES spotted 5. Perhaps if he had brought suit for rescission of an admiralty contract he would've had better luck and avoided a lot of death and high-risk adventure. I would've suggested going with frustration of purpose or unconscionability (v.2.0) and maybe statute of frauds. Frustration of purpose b/c Barbossa stages a mutiny and Sparrow doesn't get to be captain for the specified period. In addition, there are only hints of how the agreement was reached but I imagine that Davy Jones was taking the Pearl as he does other ships that run aground (POTC 2) and Sparrow somehow bargained his way so's to postpone joining Jones' crew (serving for eternity rather than the typical 100 years). So maybe this would be considered a modification w/o separate consideration even. And anyway neither's performance could be completed within a year so statute of frauds is sure to block enforcement (no writing).

Ok. Tired from actual contract exam today. (haha rather than forgetting the course i'm all like YAYY more contracts examples!) - CivPro time starts tomorrow w/exam on Friday. (then 2/3 done!)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rumpelstiltskin also implicates family law. You can't take someone's kid like that!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory implicates agency law. The factory workers are agents of Veruca's father.

Rugrats implicates Con Law. Specifically the 13th amendment's prohibition against involuntary servitude.

You're crazy. You should be a professor. There aren't many people who actually enjoy this stuff.