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15.5 Cases

Limitations of Remedy Results in No Remedy

Hartzell v. Justus Co., Inc.

693 F.2d 770 (8th Cir. S.D. 1982)

Arnold, J.

This is a diversity case arising out of the purchase by Dr. Allan Hartzell of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, of a log home construction kit manufactured by the defendant Justus Homes. Dr. Hartzell purchased the package in 1977 for $38,622 [about $135,000 in 2010 dollars] from Del Carter, who was Justus Homes’ dealer for the Sioux Falls area. He also hired Carter’s construction company, Natural Wood Homes, to build the house. Hartzell, who testified that the home eventually cost about $150,000, was dissatisfied with the house in many respects. His chief complaints were that knotholes in the walls and ceiling leaked rain profusely, and that the home was not weather tight because flashings were not included in the roofing materials and because the timbers were not kiln-dried and therefore shrank. He also complained that an undersized support beam, which eventually cracked, was included in the package. This latter defect was alleged to have resulted in cracks in the floor and inside doors that would not close. Hartzell further alleged that these structural defects were only partially remediable, and that the fair market value of the house was reduced even after all practicable repairs had been made. Alleging breach of implied and express warranties and negligence, he sought damages for this loss in value and for the cost of repairs. After a two-day trial, the jury returned a plaintiff’s verdict for $34,794.67.

Justus Homes contends the District Court erred in failing to instruct the jury on a limitation-of-remedies clause contained in its contract with the plaintiff. The defendants rely on Clause 10c of the contract, which says Justus will repair or replace defective materials, and Clause 10d, which states that this limited repair or replacement clause is the exclusive remedy available against Justus [emphasis added]. These agreements, Justus asserts, are valid under the Uniform Commercial Code 2-719(1). Section 2-719(1) states:

(1) Subject to the provisions of subsections (2) and (3) of this section and of § 57A-2-718 on liquidation and limitation of damages,

(a) The agreement may provide for remedies in addition to or in substitution for those provided in this chapter and may limit or alter the measure of damages recoverable under this chapter, as by limiting the buyer’s remedies to return of the goods and repayment of the price or to repair and replacement of nonconforming goods or parts; and

(b) Resort to a remedy as provided is optional unless the remedy is expressly agreed to be exclusive, in which case it is the sole remedy.

Subsection (1) of section 2-719 is qualified by subsection (2): “Where circumstances cause an exclusive or limited remedy to fail of its essential purpose, remedy may be had as provided in this title.”…

The jury’s verdict for the plaintiff in an amount almost exactly equal to the plaintiff’s evidence of cost of repairs plus diminution in market value means it must have found that the structural defects were not entirely remediable. Such a finding necessarily means that the limited warranty failed of its essential purpose.

Two of our recent cases support this conclusion. In Soo Line R.R. v. Fruehauf Corp., 547 F.2d 1365 (8th Cir.1977), the defendant claimed, relying on a limitation-of-remedies clause similar to the one involved here, that the plaintiff’s damages should be limited to the reasonable cost of repairing the railroad cars that plaintiff had bought from defendant. The jury verdict included, among other things, an award for the difference between the value of the cars as actually manufactured, and what they would have been worth if they had measured up to the defendant’s representations. This Court affirmed the verdict for the larger amount. We held, construing the Minnesota U.C.C., which is identical to § 2-719 as adopted in South Dakota, that the limitation-of-remedies clause was ineffective because the remedy as thus limited failed of its essential purpose. The defendant, though called upon to make the necessary repairs, had refused to do so, and the repairs as performed by the plaintiff itself “did not fully restore the cars to totally acceptable operating conditions.”

Here, Justus Homes attempted to help with the necessary repairs, which is more than Fruehauf did in the Soo Line case, but after the repairs had been completed the house was still, according to the jury verdict, not what Justus had promised it would be. The purpose of a remedy is to give to a buyer what the seller promised him—that is, a house that did not leak. If repairs alone do not achieve that end, then to limit the buyer’s remedy to repair would cause that remedy to fail of its essential purpose.…

An analogous case is Select Pork, Inc. v. Babcock Swine, Inc. [Citation], applying § 2-719 as adopted in Iowa. The defendant had promised to deliver to plaintiff certain extraordinary pigs known as Midwestern Gilts and Meatline Boars. Instead, only ordinary pigs were delivered. Plaintiff sued for breach of warranty, and defendant claimed that its damages, if any, should be limited to a return of the purchase price by an express clause to that effect in the contract. The District Court held that the clause was unenforceable because it was unconscionable, see § 2-719(3), and because it failed of its essential purpose. We affirmed,…“Having failed to deliver the highly-touted special pigs, defendants may not now assert a favorable clause to limit their liability.” So here, where the house sold was found by the jury to fall short of the seller’s promises, and where repairs could not make it right, defendant’s liability cannot be limited to the cost of repairs. If the repairs had been adequate to restore the house to its promised condition, and if Dr. Hartzell had claimed additional consequential damages, for example, water damage to a rug from the leaky roof, the limitation-of-remedies clause would have been effective. But that is not this case.

There was no double recovery here: the verdict was not for cost of repair plus the entire decrease in market value, but rather for cost of repair plus the decrease in market value that still existed after all the repairs had been completed.

[T]he evidence in the record all demonstrate[s] that the repair or replacement clause was a failure under the circumstances of this case. Some of the house’s many problems simply could not be remedied by repair or replacement. The clause having failed of its essential purpose, that is, effective enjoyment of implied and express warranties, the plaintiff was entitled, under UCC § 2-719(2), to any of the buyer’s remedies provided by the Code. Among these remedies are consequential damages as provided in §§ 2-714 and 2-715(2).…

The judgment is affirmed.

Case Questions

  1. What did the seller here limit itself to do in case of defects? What was the limitation of remedy?
  2. Did Justus Homes disclaim implied and expressed warranties with its contract language regarding limitation of remedies?
  3. Was the essential purpose of the limitation of remedy to protect the party benefiting from it—here, the seller of the log home kit—or was the essential purpose of the limitation of remedy, as the court said, “effective enjoyment of implied and expressed warranties”?
  4. In a part of the opinion excised, the court wrote, “A finding of unconscionability is, as a matter of logic, simply unnecessary in cases where § 2-719(2) applies.” Would it be easier simply to say that the limitation of liability here was unconscionable?

Cure for Improper Delivery

Wilson v. Scampoli

228 A.2d 848 (D.C. App. 1967)

Myers, J.

This is an appeal from an order of the trial court granting rescission of a sales contract for a color television set and directing the return of the purchase price plus interest and costs.

Appellee [Mrs. Kolley’s father] purchased the set in question on November 4, 1965, paying the total purchase price in cash. The transaction was evidenced by a sales ticket showing the price paid and guaranteeing ninety days’ free service and replacement of any defective tube and parts for a period of one year. Two days after purchase the set was delivered and uncrated, the antennae adjusted and the set plugged into an electrical outlet to “cook out.” When the set was turned on however, it did not function properly, the picture having a reddish tinge. Appellant’s delivery man advised the buyer’s daughter, Mrs. Kolley, that it was not his duty to tune in or adjust the color but that a service representative would shortly call at her house for that purpose. After the departure of the delivery men, Mrs. Kolley unplugged the set and did not use it.

On November 8, 1965, a service representative arrived, and after spending an hour in an effort to eliminate the red cast from the picture advised Mrs. Kolley that he would have to remove the chassis from the cabinet and take it to the shop as he could not determine the cause of the difficulty from his examination at the house. He also made a written memorandum of his service call, noting that the television ‘\”Needs Shop Work (Red Screen).” Mrs. Kolley refused to allow the chassis to be removed, asserting she did not want a ‘repaired’ set but another ‘brand new’ set. Later she demanded the return of the purchase price, although retaining the set. Appellant refused to refund the purchase price, but renewed his offer to adjust, repair, or, if the set could not be made to function properly, to replace it. Ultimately, appellee instituted this suit against appellant seeking a refund of the purchase price. After a trial, the court ruled that “under the facts and circumstances the complaint is justified. Under the equity powers of the Court I will order the parties put back in their original status, let the $675 [about $4500 in 2010 dollars] be returned, and the set returned to the defendant.”

Appellant does not contest the jurisdiction of the trial court to order rescission in a proper case, but contends the trial judge erred in holding that rescission here was appropriate. He argues that he was always willing to comply with the terms of the sale either by correcting the malfunction by minor repairs or, in the event the set could not be made thereby properly operative, by replacement; that as he was denied the opportunity to try to correct the difficulty, he did not breach the contract of sale or any warranty thereunder, expressed or implied.

[The District of Columbia UCC 2-508] provides:

(1) Where any tender or delivery by the seller is rejected because non-conforming and the time for performance has not yet expired, the seller may seasonably notify the buyer of his intention to cure and may then within the contract time make a conforming delivery.

(2) Where the buyer rejects a nonconforming tender which the seller had reasonable grounds to believe would be acceptable with or without money allowance the seller may if he seasonably notifies the buyer have a further reasonable time to substitute a conforming tender.

Removal of a television chassis for a short period of time in order to determine the cause of color malfunction and ascertain the extent of adjustment or correction needed to effect full operational efficiency presents no great inconvenience to the buyer. In the instant case, appellant’s expert witness testified that this was not infrequently necessary with new televisions. Should the set be defective in workmanship or parts, the loss would be upon the manufacturer who warranted it free from mechanical defect. Here the adamant refusal of Mrs. Kolley, acting on behalf of appellee, to allow inspection essential to the determination of the cause of the excessive red tinge to the picture defeated any effort by the seller to provide timely repair or even replacement of the set if the difficulty could not be corrected. The cause of the defect might have been minor and easily adjusted or it may have been substantial and required replacement by another new set—but the seller was never given an adequate opportunity to make a determination.

We do not hold that appellant has no liability to appellee, but as he was denied access and a reasonable opportunity to repair, appellee has not shown a breach of warranty entitling him either to a brand new set or to rescission. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court granting rescission and directing the return of the purchase price of the set.


Case Questions

  1. Why did the seller “have reasonable grounds to believe [the television] would be acceptable”?
  2. What did Mrs. Kolley want?
  3. Does this case require a buyer to accept patchwork goods or substantially repaired articles in lieu of flawless merchandise?

Seller’s Remedies When Buyer Defaults

Santos v. DeBellis

901 N.Y.S.2d 457 (N.Y. Sup.App. 2010)

Molia, J.

On March 1, 2008 and March 11, 2008, plaintiff made payments to defendant of $3,000 each, in connection with the purchase of a mobile home located in Fort Pierce, Florida. Thereafter, on March 13, 2008, plaintiff and defendant signed an agreement which had been prepared by defendant. The agreement described the subject property by its location, recorded the fact that plaintiff had paid defendant deposits totaling $6,000, set forth a closing date of March 25, 2008, and specified that “the remaining $27,000.00” was payable at closing to defendant by a guaranteed financial instrument. Plaintiff never paid the outstanding balance and brought this action to recover the $6,000 deposit she paid to defendant. Following a nonjury trial, judgment was awarded in favor of defendant dismissing the complaint.

Because the sale of a mobile home constitutes a contract for the sale of goods rather than of real property [Citations], the parties’ agreement was governed by the Uniform Commercial Code. The agreement, which was made after plaintiff had made the two $3,000 “deposit” payments, constituted a memorandum in confirmation of an oral agreement and, even though it omitted some terms, was sufficient to satisfy the statute of frauds [Citations].

Section 2-718 of the Uniform Commercial Code specifies that in the absence of a contractual provision with respect to the liquidation or limitation of damages and the return of deposits,

(2) Where the seller justifiably withholds delivery of goods because of the buyer’s breach, the buyer is entitled to restitution of any amount by which the sum of his payments exceeds…

(b) [in the absence of contractually fixed terms] twenty per cent of the value of the total performance for which the buyer is obligated under the contract or $500, whichever is smaller.

(3) The buyer’s right to restitution under subsection (2) is subject to offset to the extent that the seller establishes

(a) a right to recover damages under the provisions of this Article other than subsection (1), and

(b) the amount or value of any benefits received by the buyer directly or indirectly by reason of the contract.

Here, notwithstanding the fact that plaintiff, as buyer, had breached the contract, defendant failed to demonstrate any damages resulting therefrom; nor did defendant establish that plaintiff had received any benefits directly or indirectly by reason of the parties’ agreement (see UCC 2-718[3]). Therefore, pursuant to UCC 2-718(2), plaintiff was entitled to the return of all but $500 of her deposit.

The order of the District Court dismissing the complaint is accordingly reversed, and judgment is awarded to plaintiff in the principal sum of $5,500.

Case Questions

  1. If the plaintiff had been a dealer in mobile homes and the unit here had been part of his inventory, he would be entitled to claim lost profits on the sale of one unit. Here, apparently, the plaintiff seller was a private party. Why was he not entitled to any damages greater than $500?
  2. New York adopted the UCC in 1964. Five hundred dollars in 1964 would be worth about $3,500 in 2010. Why isn’t the change in the dollar’s value recognized here?

Buyer’s Remedies When Seller Breaches

[Note: this case is slightly edited by the authors.]

Furlong v. Alpha Chi Omega Sorority

657 N.E.2d 866 (Ohio Mun. 1993)

Bachman, J.

In late September through mid-October 1992, plaintiff Johnathan James Furlong (“Furlong”) contacted defendant Alpha Chi Omega Sorority (“AXO”), by phoning the chairperson of its social committee, Emily Lieberman (“Emily”), between a dozen and a dozen and a half times.

Ultimately (about the first week in October), Furlong received Emily’s order for one hundred sixty-eight imprinted sweaters at $21.50 each (plus one free sweater) for delivery on Friday, October 23, 1992, so as to arrive in time for AXO’s Midnight Masquerade III on the evening of Saturday, October 24, 1992.

The price was to be $3,612, [about $5600 in 2010 dollars] payable as follows: $2,000 down payment when the contract was made, and $1,612 balance when the sweaters were delivered.

An oral contract for the sale of goods (the imprinted sweaters) was made between Furlong and AXO, at a definite price and with specified dates for payment and for delivery.

At some point in those phone calls with Furlong, Emily said that the sweaters were to be custom designed with the following specified design: namely, with three colors (hunter green letters on top of maroon letters outlined in navy blue, and hunter green masks). Furlong promised to have them so imprinted (by a third party whom he would select).…Thereafter, he delivered to Emily an Ohio Wesleyan sweater with maroon letters to show her the maroon color.…Additionally, he faxed to Emily a two-page description of the sweaters, which not only included the designs for the fronts and the backs of the sweaters, but also included arrows showing where each of the three colors would go (hunter green letters on top of maroon letters outlined in navy blue, and hunter green masks).

Furlong and Emily created an express warranty by each of the above three statutory means: namely, by affirmation of fact (his initial phone calls); by sample (the maroon sweater) by description (the fax).This express warranty became part of the contract. Each of the three methods of showing the express warranty was not in conflict with the other two methods, and thus they are consistent and cumulative, and constitute the warranty. [2-317]

The design was a “dickered” aspect of the individual bargain and went clearly to the essence of that. Thus, the express warranty was that the sweaters would be in accordance with the above design (including types of colors for the letters and the mask, and the number of colors for the same). Further, the express warranty became part of the contract.

On October 13, 1992, AXO mailed Furlong a $2,000 check for the down payment; he deposited it in his bank account on October 16, 1992. Thereafter, as discussed below, Furlong had the sweaters imprinted (on Thursday, October 22) and delivered to AXO (on Friday, October 23). Upon receipt of the delivery, AXO gave a check to Furlong’s agent in the amount of $1,612 for the balance of the purchase price. However, later on that day, AXO inspected the sweaters, discovered the design changes (mentioned below), caused AXO’s bank to stop payment on the check, and stated AXO’s objections in a phone call with Furlong. AXO has never paid Furlong that balance on the purchase price.

Furlong’s obligation as the seller was to transfer and deliver the goods in accordance with the contract. AXO’s obligation was to accept and pay in accordance with that contract. [2-301] We will now discuss whether it legally did so.

Furlong was a jobber for Argento Bros., Inc. (“Argento”) and had Argento print the sweaters. In doing so, Furlong worked with Argento’s artists. Early in the morning of Thursday (October 22, 1992), the artist(s) began to prepare the art work and recommended changes to the design. Furlong authorized the artist(s) to change the design without the knowledge or consent of AXO. Argento spent about eight hours printing the sweaters all day Thursday. Furlong did not phone AXO about the changes until the next day, Friday (October 23), after the sweaters were printed with those changes. Here are the five design changes that he made:

  • The first change was to delete the agreed-upon outline for the letters (namely, the navy blue outline).
  • The second change was to reduce the agreed-upon number of colors for the fronts and the backs (from three colors per side to two colors per side).
  • The third change was to alter one of the agreed-upon colors (from maroon to red).
  • The fourth change was to alter the agreed-upon scheme of colors for the letters on the fronts and the backs (namely, both sides were to have the same two colors of maroon and hunter green; whereas in fact the backs had neither of those colors, and instead had a navy blue color for the letters).
  • The fifth change was to alter the agreed-upon color of the masks (from hunter green to maroon—actually red).

The court specifically finds that the color was red (actually, scarlet) and was not maroon (like the maroon-colored letters on the Ohio Wesleyan sweater).

The sweaters did not conform to the contract (specifically, the express warranty in the contract). Thus (in the words of the statute), the sweaters did “fail in any respect to conform to the contract.” Actually, the sweaters failed in at least five respects. [2-601] Further, not only did they “fail in any respect,” they failed in a substantial respect. In either event, they were a nonconforming tender of goods. [2-601]

On Friday morning (October 23), Furlong picked up the five to six boxes of sweaters from Argento and had a friend deliver them from Columbus to Bowling Green. The boxes arrived at the AXO house around midday. Sometime thereafter on the same day, Emily inspected one of them and screamed her dismay upon discovering that the sweaters were not what AXO had ordered.

The court rejects Furlong’s assertion that he did all that he could do under the circumstances. The obvious answer is that he did not do enough. He should have gotten AXO’s prior consent to the changes. He could have done this by providing for more lead time-between the time that Argento prepared the art work and the time that it printed the sweaters. Instead, he had both done at the same time (Thursday morning).

Finally, and alternatively, plaintiff should have entered into a contract that gave him discretion to make design changes without AXO’s consent. We must remember that “these sweaters,” as Furlong himself admits (and describes), were to be “custom-designed” for AXO. Thus, they were to be printed according to AXO’s specifications, and not according to Furlong’s discretion.

Next, Furlong asserts that AXO—after learning of the changes—should have agreed to his offer of compromise: namely, that he would reduce the unit price of the sweaters in exchange for AXO’s keeping them and paying the reduced price. Also, Furlong asserts that AXO should have communicated his compromise offer to AXO’s members and pledges. In both respects, the court disagrees: Although the law allowed AXO to do so, it did not require AXO to do. Instead, AXO did exactly what the law allowed: AXO rejected the nconforming goods in whole.

About 4:00 p.m. on the same day that the sweaters arrived at the AXO house (Friday, October 23), Amy—as the AXO president—phoned Furlong. She said that the sweaters were not what AXO had ordered. She stated the specifics as to why the sweaters were not as ordered. She offered to return the sweaters to him, but he said “No.” AXO still has possession or custody of the boxes of sweaters.

[The UCC] provides: “Rejection of goods must be within a reasonable time after their delivery * * *. It is ineffective unless the buyer seasonably notifies the seller.” [2-602] AXO did what this statute requires.

That statute further provides: “[I]f the buyer has before rejection taken physical possession of goods * * *, he is under a duty after rejection to hold them with reasonable care at the seller’s disposition for a time sufficient to permit the seller to remove them[.]” [2-602(2)(b)] AXO has done this, too. From the above, it is seen that AXO legally rejected the sweaters on the same day that AXO received physical possession of them.

The court disagrees with Furlong’s assertion that AXO accepted the sweaters. He is confusing a layman’s understanding of the term accept (“to receive a thing [with a consenting mind]),” Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (5 Ed.1947), at 6, with the statutory meaning of the term. The mere fact that AXO took physical possession of the sweaters does not, by itself, mean that AXO legally “accepted” them.

In regard to…seller’s remedies, Furlong has no legal remedies because AXO did not breach the contract. Thus, he is not entitled to an award for the $1,612 balance that he claims is due on the contract price.

As concluded above, AXO rightfully rejected the sweaters, after having paid part of the purchase price: namely, $2,000. AXO is entitled to cancel the contract and to recover the partial payment of the purchase price. [2-606]

Also, as concluded above, AXO still has rightful possession or control of the sweaters. AXO has a security interest in the sweaters in its possession or control for the part payment made on the purchase price—but when reimbursed for that part payment AXO must return the sweaters to Furlong.

The court will prepare, file, and serve a judgment entry as follows: dismissing with prejudice Furlong’s claim against all defendants; dismissing with prejudice Emily Lieberman’s and Amy Altomondo’s counterclaims against Furlong; granting AXO’s counterclaim (for $2,000, plus ten percent per annum postjudgment interest and costs).

Further, that entry will order AXO’s attorney (Mr. Reddin) to retain possession of the sweaters either until further court order or until AXO’s judgment is satisfied in full (whereupon he shall surrender the sweaters to Furlong if Furlong picks them up within thirty days thereafter, or, if Furlong does not, he may then dispose of them as abandoned property without any liability).

Judgment accordingly.

Case Questions

  1. Surely the plaintiff could not have thought that the radically altered design would be acceptable for the young women’s masquerade ball. On what basis did he think he would be entitled to the full payment contracted for?
  2. Whether Amy Altomondo knew it or not, she did what the UCC says a buyer should do when nonconforming goods are delivered. What are those steps?
  3. What does it mean that AXO has a security interest in the sweaters? Security for what?