The traditional contract law rule is that an acceptance must be the mirror image of the offer. Attempts by offerees to change the terms of the offer or to add new terms to it are treated as counteroffers because they impliedly indicated an intent by the offeree to reject the offer instead of being bound by its terms. However, recent years have witnessed a judicial tendency to apply the mirror image rule in more liberal fashion by holding that only material (important) variances between an offer and a purported acceptance result in an implied rejection of the offer.
Even under the mirror image rule, no rejection is implied if an offereee merely asks about the terms of the offer without indicating its rejection (an inquiry regarding terms), or accepts the offer’s terms while complaining about them (a grumbling acceptance). Distinguishing among a counteroffer, an inquiry regarding terms, and a grumbling acceptance is often a difficult task. The fundamental issue, however, remains the same: Did the offeree objectively indicate a resent intent to be bound by the terms of the offer?
Communication of Acceptance To accept an offer for a bilateral contract, the offeree must make the promise requested by the offer. An offeror must communicate the terms of his proposal to the offeree before an offer results. This is so because communication is a necessary component of the present intent to contract required for the creation of an offer. For similar reasons, it is generally held that an offeree must communicate his intent to be bound by the offer before a contract can be created. To accept an offer for a unilateral ontract, however, the offeree must perform the requested act. The traditional contract law rule on this point assumes that the offeror will learn of the offeree’s performance and holds that no further notice from the offeree is necessary to create a contact unless the offeror specifically requests notice. Mailbox rule Under the so-called “mailbox rule,” properly addressed and dispatched acceptances can become effective when they are dispatched, even if they are lost and never received by the offeror.
The mailbox rule protects the offeree’s reasonable belief that a binding contract was created when the acceptance was dispatched. By the same token, it exposes the offeror to the risk of being bound by an acceptance that she has never received. The offeror, however, has the ability to minimize this risk by stipulating in her offer that she must actually receive the acceptance for it to be effective. Offerors who do this maximize the time they have to revoke their offers and ensure that they will never be bound by an acceptance that they have not received.
As traditionally applied by the common law of contracts, the mailbox rule would make acceptances effective upon dispatch when the offeree used a manner of communication that was expressly or impliedly authorized (invite) by the offeror. Any manner of communication suggested by the offeror (e. g. , “You may respond by mail”) would be expressly authorized, resulting in an acceptance sent by the suggested means being effective on dispatch. Unless circumstances indicated to the contrary, a manner of communication used by the offeror in making the offer would be impliedly authorize (e. . , an offer sent by mail would impliedly authorize an acceptance by), as would a manner of communication common in parties’ trade or business (e. g. , a trade usage in the parties’ business that offers are made by mail and accepted by telegram would authorize an acceptance by telegraph). Conversely, an improper dispatched acceptance or one that was nonauthorized would be effective when received, assuming that the offer was still open at that time. This placed on the offeree the risk of the offer being revoked or the acceptance being lost.
The mailbox rule is often applied more liberally by courts today. A modern version applied of the mailbox rule that is sanctioned by the Restatement (Second) holds that an offer that does not indicate otherwise is considered to invite acceptance by any reasonable means of communication, and a properly dispatched acceptance sent by a reasonable means of communication within a reasonable time is effective on dispatch. The Cantu case illustrates the more liberal version of the mailbox rule. Special Acceptance Problem Areas Acceptance in Unilateral Contracts
A unilateral contract involves the exchange of a promise for an act. To accept an offer to enter such a contract, the offeree must perform the requested act. As you learned in the last chapter, however, courts applying modern contract rules may prevent an offeror from revoking such an offer once the offeree has begun performance. This is achieved by holding either that a bilateral contract is created by the beginning of performance or that the offeror’s power to revoke is suspended for the period of time reasonably necessary for the offeree to complete performance.
Acceptance in Bilateral Contracts A bilateral contract involves the exchange of a promise for a promise. As a general rule, to accept an offer to enter such a contract, an offeree must make the promise requested by the offer. This may be done in a variety of ways. For example, Wallace sends Stevens a detailed offer for the purchase of Steven’s business. Within the time period prescribed by the offer, Steven sends Wallace a letter that says, “I accept your offer. ” Stevens has expressly accepted Wallace’s offer, creating a contract on the terms of the offer.
Acceptance, however, can be implied as well as expressed. Offerees who take action that objectively indicates agreement risk the formation of a contract. For example, offerees who act in a manner that is inconsistent with an offeror’s ownership of offered property are commonly held to have accepted the offeror’s terms. So, if Arnold, a farmer, leaves 10 bushels of corn with Porter, the owner of a grocery store, saying, “Look this corn over. If you want it, it’s $5 a bushel,” and Porter sells the corn, he has mpliedly accepted Arnold’s offer. But what if Porter just let the corn sit and, when Arnold returned a week later, Porter told Arnold that he did not want it? Could Porter’s failure to act ever amount to an acceptance? Silence as Acceptance Since contract law generally requires some objective indication that an offeree intends to contract, the general rule is that an offeree’s silence, without more, is not an acceptance. In addition, it is generally held that an offeror cannot impose on the offeree a duty to respond to the offer.
So, even if Arnold made an offer to sell corn to Porter and said, “If I don’t hear from you in three days, I’ll assume you’re buying the corn,” Porter’s silence would still not amount to acceptance. On the other hand, the circumstance of a case sometimes impose a duty on the offeree to reject the offer affirmatively or be bound by its items. These are cases in which the offeree’s silence objectively indicates an intent to accept. Customary trade practice or prior dealings between the parties may indicate that silence signals acceptance.
So, if Arnold and Porter had dealt with each other on numerous occasion and Porter has always promptly returned items that her did not want, Porter’s silent retention of the goods for a week would probably constitute an acceptance. Likewise, an offeree’s silence can also operate as an acceptance if the offeree has indicated that it will. For example, Porter (the offeree) tells Arnold, “If you don’t hear from me in three days, I accept. ” Finally, it is generally held that offerees who accept an offeror’s performance knowing what the offeror expects in return for his performance have impliedly accepted the offeror’s terms.
So, if Apex Paving Corporation offers to do the paving work on new subdivision being developed by Majestic Homes Corporation, and Majestic fails to respond to Apex’s offer but allows Apex to do the work, most courts would hold that Majestic is bound by the terms of Apex’s offer. Acceptance When a Writing Is Anticipated Frequently, the parties to a contract intend to prepare a written draft of their agreement for both parties to sign. This is a good idea not only because the law requires written evidence of some contracts, but also ecause it provides written evidence of the terms of the agreement if a dispute arises at a later date. If a dispute arises before such a writing has been prepared or signed, however, a question may arise concerning whether the signing of the agreement was a necessary condition to the creation of a contract. A party to the agreement who now wants out of the deal may argue that the parties did not intend to be bound until both parties signed in writing. A clear expression of such intent by the parties during the negotiation process prevents the formation of a contract until both parties have signed.
However, in the absence of such a clear expression of intent, the courts ask whether a reasonable person familiar with all the circumstances of the parties’ negotiations would conclude that the parties intended to be bound only when a formal agreement was signed. If it appears that the parties had concluded their negotiations and reached agreement on all the essential aspects of the transaction, most courts would probably find a contract at the time agreement was reached, even though no formal agreement had been signed.
Acceptance of Ambiguous Offers. Although offerors have the power to specify the manner in which their offers can be accepted by requiring that the offeree make a return promise (a bilateral contract) or perform a specific act (a unilateral contract), often an offer is unclear about which form of acceptance is necessary to create a contract. In such a case, the offer may be accepted in any manner that is reasonable in light of the circumstances surrounding the offer. Thus, either a promise to perform or performance, if reasonable , creates a contract.
Acceptance by Shipment. The Code specifically elaborates on the rule stated in the preceding section by stating that an order requesting prompt or current shipment of goods may be accepted either by a prompt promise to ship or by a prompt or current shipment of the goods [2-206(1)(b)]. So, if Apex Corporation orders 500 IBM personal computers from Marks Office Supply, to be shipped immediately, Marks could accept either promptly promising to ship the goods or by promptly shipping them. If Marks accepts by shipping, any subsequent attempt by Ampex to revoke the order will be ineffective. What if Marks did ot have 500 IBMs in stock and Marks knew that Ampex desperately needed the goods? Marks might be tempted to ship another brand of computers (that is, nonconforming goods – goods different from what the buyer ordered), hoping that Ampex would be forced by its circumstances to accept them because by the time they arrived it would be too late to get the correct goods elsewhere. Marks would argue that by shipping the wrong goods it had made a counteroffer because it had not performed the act requested by Ampex’s order. If Ampex accepts the goods, Marks could argue that Ampex has impliedly accepted the counteroffer.
If Ampex rejects the goods, Marks would arguably have no liability since it did not accept the order. The Code prevents such a result by providing that prompt shipment of either conforming goods (what the order asked for) or nonconforming goods (something else) operates as an acceptance of the order [2-206(1)(b)]. This protects buyers such as Ampex because, sellers who ship the wrong goods have simultaneously accepted their offers and breached the contract by sending the wrong merchandise. But what if Marks is an honest seller merely trying to help out a customer that has placed a rush order?
Must Marks expose itself to liability for breach of contract in the process? The Code prevents such a result by providing that no contract is created if the seller notifies the buyer within a reasonable time that the shipment of nonconforming goods is intended as an accommodation (an attempt to help the buyer) [2-206(1)(b)]. In this case, the shipment is merely a counteroffer that the buyer is free to accept or reject and the seller’s notification gives the buyer the opportunity t seek the goods he needs elsewhere. Who Can Accept an Offer?
As the masters of their offers, offerees have the right to determine who can bind them in a contract. So, the only person with the legal power to accept an offer and create a contract is the original offeree. An attempt to accept by anyone other than the offeree is treated as an offer, because the party attempting to accept is indicating a present intent to contract on the original offer’s terms. For example, Price offers to sell his car to Waterhouse for $5,000. Anderson learns of the offer, calls Price, and attempts to accept. Anderson has made an offer that Price is free to accept or reject