December 18, 2014

"Just as people are free to contract, they are also free from contract, and we find it neither prudent nor permissible to impose contractual liability for offhand remarks or grandstanding."

Said the 11th Circuit today, denying $1 million to the law student about whom I said, 5 years ago, "Give this law student a million dollars."

A criminal defense lawyer had argued that his client could not have committed the murder he was accused of because the time frame was impossible. From the opinion (PDF):
[F]or the last leg of the journey, Serrano would have had to get off a flight in Atlanta’s busy airport, travel to the La Quinta several miles away, and arrive in that hotel lobby in only twenty- eight minutes. After extensively describing the delays that would take place to render that twenty-eight-minute timeline even more unlikely,[the lawyer James Cheney] Mason stated, “I challenge anybody to show me, and guess what? Did they bring in any evidence to say that somebody made that route, did so? State’s burden of proof. If they can do it, I’ll challenge ‘em. I’ll pay them a million dollars if they can do it.”
A law student, Dustin S. Kolodziej, made the trip within 28 minutes, demanded the million dollars, and when it was not forthcoming, sued Mason's law firm for breach of contract. Kolodziej's theory was that Mason's challenge was an offer to form a unilateral contract and that he could and did accept by performing the task. According to the court (applying Florida law), that depended on whether "a reasonable, objective person would have understood [Mason's words] to be an invitation to contract."
The exaggerated amount of “a million dollars”—the common choice of movie villains and schoolyard wagerers alike—indicates that this was hyperbole….

We could just as easily substitute a comparable idiom such as “I’ll eat my hat” or “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” into Mason’s interview in the place of “I’ll pay them a million dollars,” and the outcome would be the same. We would not be inclined to make him either consume his headwear or assume a simian relationship were he to be proven wrong; nor will we make him pay one million dollars here.
ADDED: Werner Herzog did eat his shoe:

30 comments:

Skipper said...

Law students. What good are they?

traditionalguy said...

A Freshman at Law School KNOWS Unilateral Contracts. But the Casebook on Contracts is the last time he will see one.

I am proud of the Fla Supremes who laughed him out of court.

Larry J said...

We can't have lawyers being held accountable for their words, now can we? Why, that's just crazy talk. Had it been anyone else, such as a doctor or business executive, the outcome likely would've been different because lawyers are special, especially to other lawyers. Just ask some lawyers, they'll tell you.

Ann Althouse said...

"the Fla Supreme"

It was the 11th Circuit... federal court... applying Florida law.

Larry J said...

Admittedly, there are exceptions for companies who hire expensive lawyers. One example was the famous "Buy Pepsi, Get Stuff" commercial back in the 1990s what claimed you could get a Harrier jet for 7 million points. When a young guy found a way to quickly raise the 7 million points, Pepsi refused to give him a Harrier. When he sued, Pepsi won. Of course, Pepsi couldn't have delivered on the contract and the guy likely would've been killed had he tried to fly a Harrier, which has a high accident rate. If you want a Harrier of your very own, it's said the best way is to buy some acreage near a Marine air base and wait for one to crash on your property.

Rob said...

Wrongly decided. Violates the fundamental principle of law fatuus criminalibus defensionem legisperitis redderet, clownish criminal defense lawyers should pay.

MadisonMan said...

The lawyer never specified the actual denomination of the Million Dollars. There are roughly 200 Guyanese dollars to every 1 American dollar, meaning you cut the payout to $5000, and that is probably less than was spent on a lawyer.

Rocketeer said...

The words of Lawyers and Judges carry Great Weight, unless those words stand to cost them Some Serious Money.

Fernandinande said...

State’s burden of proof. If they can do it... I’ll pay them a million dollars if they can do it.

Was Dustin S. Kolodziej part of the "State"?

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

At the beginning of Chesterton's "Tales of the Long Bow," a man solemnly pulls out a growing cabbage, hollows it out, and wears it on his head everywhere for a week, at which point he then sits down and eats it for lunch, with (IIRC) a drizzle of vinaigrette dressing.

The context is that he has made a statement to a young friend of his. It ran something like this: "Well, you may be very clever, but you'll never set the Thames on fire. I'll eat my hat if you do." Naturally, the young friend has in fact set the Thames on fire (because the nearby part of it's covered in effluents from a dye works), so the other has to eat the hat.

(Over the subsequent course of the book, pigs fly, a cow jumps over the moon, silk purses are made from sow's ears, &c.)

What I want to know in this case is whether the student's efforts had any legal effect. Surely he has shown that the "impossible" 28-min. time wasn't.

Curious George said...

So in addition to lawyers I can now hate law students. Awesome.

Fernandinande said...

"Just as people are free to contract, they are also free from contract, ...

Unless you're making wedding cakes.

PS: These reCAPTCHA prompts have been either really easy or next to IMPOSSIBLE.
(About 20 tries for this post...too much free time, I guess)

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I should add that I call BS on "the exaggerated amount of 'a million dollars.'" The first thing that occurs to me on hearing that figure is this.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Fernandinande,

I don't know what you're seeing wrt Captcha. What I'm getting currently is a box labeled "Please prove you're not a robot," containing a big box to check, next to which it says "I'm not a robot." I did wonder whether it was a joke; the last few days have been the usual house numbers.

Unknown said...

You are free from contract except when if comes to purchasing health insurance Apparently...which is why judges cannot be taken seriously as non political actors

Left Bank of the Charles said...

So The Donald's offer of $5 million for President Obama's education and travel records would also be unenforceable.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

"Werner Herzog" reviews a hotel on Yelp:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRSe2LODPNg

khematite@aol.com said...

Charlie Chaplin long before Herzog:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcYE5Dt4Hso

NotquiteunBuckley said...

One of leftists top arguments is "oh c'mon you know."

"You know Republicans are racist."

"You know the rich don't pay taxes."

"You know he didn't literally mean $1 million."

"You know lawyers hold society togetherand should be much better compensated across the board."

Titus said...

Do you know I never attend any outside event with my co-workers? No holiday party, boat cruise, hike, skiing event, musueum day, happy hour.

I don't want to know them personally and I don't want them to know me.

I am actually an introvert outside of work but an extrovert inside work-very bubbly, no foes, everyone loves me...but I keep a distance.

I have only total the SVP I am fag, and that is because she asked-she's nosy like that. She also asks the women if they are pregnant

love ya,

Beldar said...

I'd have ruled that the contract was unenforceable in the first place — meaning the court need not trouble itself about whether a reasonable person would have viewed it as an invitation to contract — because it's a wager whose resulting liability would be a gambling debt.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Beldar: Buzzkill.

Michael K said...

Law students are so obnoxious that there should be a bounty on them.

When my daughter was a law student, she rented a house with three other law students. They were always threatening to sue each other.

Wilbur said...

"So The Donald's offer of $5 million for President Obama's education and travel records would also be unenforceable."

I believe you are correct. Trump merely is offering a price he would pay for the records if available. It's like advertising a price on a car.

It does not yet create a contract with anyone individually which could be specifically enforced.

(From a '81 LS grad, who has done almost no contract law. No fees, no guarantees.)

cubanbob said...

I find the story of someone traveling commercial can leave from the Orlando Fl airport and arrive at the Atlanta GA airport in 28 minutes never mind getting to the final destination in 28 minutes.

Beldar said...

This is the first or maybe second day of 1L Contract Law, and the case in the casebook is Carbolic Smoke Ball. As best I recollect, it was in both the movie and TV versions of "Paper Chase."

Birches said...

This reminds me of an Amelia Bedelia book.

William said...

I betcha a million dollars Werner Herzog never actually ate that shoe. Was that meant to be whimsical? Werner doesn't do whimsy. That accent is suitable for revealing the dark, sour truths about the human condition but he's not the go to guy to narrate a Disney cartoon.......Could the law students sue for reimbursement of the cost and expenses of their trip and maybe for the time and trouble it took them to arrange it? Maybe at some other trail, the opposing attorney could introduce them as expert witnesses to rebut the claims and reliability of the other atTorney.

richard mcenroe said...

Those lawyers better not ever run into that Economics professor who sued the Thai restaurant over their Groupon or they'll REALLY be in trouble...

Achilles said...

Obligatory...

Just remember it is 98% of the lawyers that give the other 2% a bad name.