Legal Funnies: Mission: Impossible – Mailbox Rule Edition

If you’ve never visited the Failblog, I would highly suggest having a look around for some comic relief.  I came across this gem and it gave me that inner laughter and brain stimulation that keeps a good “funny” in your head for days.

What a ridiculous stamp for an envelope to have!  The craziest thing may be that someone created this stamp in a shop and sold it.  Now, I could wax philosophical for a while about alternate perceptions of reality: can you ever truly know if you did not receive something?  Or, how do you notify someone of an event that never took place?  But let’s take a look at the legal ramifications this stamp could have since, well, that’s the theme of this blog.

There’s a certain legal theory known as the Mailbox Rule.  In general, the Mailbox Rule allows for the formation of a valid contract at a certain moment in time when one party does not actually know the contract has been formed.  A practical example is a contract, say, to buy 1,500 lbs. of watermelons from a local supplier.  You picked up an order form at his grove-stand last week and filled it out at home to buy 1,500 lbs. of watermelons for a certain price.  You sign it, and drop it into the mailbox that gets picked up at 7:00 AM the next morning.  Well, you are in contract right now – the very moment you dropped the letter into the box.  The supplier does not know you signed it yet, but the Mailbox Rule deems the agreement valid from the moment you circulated the agreement into the mail.

The Mailbox Rule is a little dated by modern standards.  In the 1980’s we were getting used to faxing documents, which now is becoming a dated way to communciate.  Now, I can scan the contract and email it to the watermelon supplier and he will have actual knowledge of the agreement within minutes – not days.

So, what’s with this letter?  Is the sender trying to add some teeth to the Mailbox Rule in an, arguably, idiotic way?  “Yes, your honor, not only did I mail the contract to Jeff, but it said right on the envelope to call me if he did not receive it.  He never called me so….”

Can you think of a legitimate use for this stamp?  I would love to hear one.  But if you don’t think of one, please notify me immediately.

My lips are sealed: Why Conan O’Brien won’t run Jay down

Conan O’Brien gave his first interview since leaving NBC last night on 60 Minutes.  You can watch the interview and read the transcript on Deadline. I didn’t catch the interview last night, but listened to the CD101 morning show jocks talking about it on my way to the office.  They were debating Conan’s response to Steve Kroft’s question of whether Leno acted honorably in retaking The Tonight Show throne from Conan.  Conan’s response was:

I don’t think I can answer that. I don’t think– I can just tell you maybe how I would have handled it. And I would do it differently.

According to the radio jocks (and pretty much everyone I know), Jay was not honorable in the handling of the Tonight Show.  My ears perked up when one of the jocks wondered if Conan did not want to answer or whether, legally, he could not answer the question.

The Answer:  He probably cannot for legal reasons.

Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand or are one of those esoteric academics that refuses to own a television, you know that Conan was paid handsomely to leave The Tonight Show without a fight.  $32 million is the reported number.  That means there’s a contract, people.  This author would venture to guess that the contract has a hefty non-disparagement clause.

Yes, you can agree not to say nasty things about someone.  This elevated and more civilized version of playground justice boils down to simple language in a contract that says “Conan agrees not to say bad things about Jay Leno.”  The contract probably says that Conan is permitted to say he disagrees with the result or that it’s not what he wanted, but he can’t bad-mouth Jay.

So, when Conan said, “I don’t think I can answer that,” Conan is saying that it’s not worth giving up $32 million for the sweet revenge of calling Jay an unscrupulous, devious backstabber, like he probably wants to say.

My editorial is that Conan probably had two reasons for his answer, (1)  his contractual obligations, and (2) Conan has always displayed the qualities of a complete class-act.  So, while his contract is important to him and his future, his integrity probably keeps his lips sealed as well.  We wish you the best, Mr. O’Brien.

You Must Buy My House, But Don’t Have to Paint My Fence: Specific Performance

Contracts, contracts, contracts.  We all have a basic understanding of what a contract is: it’s an agreement to do something in exchange for something else.  The fundamental elements of a contract are:

Hey, Huck, how about you paint this fence?

Offer: I’ll pay you $50.00 to paint my fence.

Acceptance: Ok, it’s a deal.

Consideration: $50.00 paid to the painter.

Performance: The fence gets painted.

Now what happens if you pay the $50.00 and the painter runs off with it?  You can sue the painter for breaching the contract.  Have a look at my post on small claims court practice for information on how to do this.

Let’s say you sue and you win.  What is your remedy?  Can you get the $50.00 back?  Absolutely.  Can you force the painter to paint the fence (a remedy known as specific performance)?  No.  Ohio law is pretty clear that specific performance for a contract for personal services is not an available remedy.  The reasoning behind this is the “mischief” that could result by forcing a party to perform a service after breaching a contract. Continue reading

JK-Q&A: Landlord’s letting the place go! Can I get out?

I know I have 8 months left, but can I have one of these?

People seem to ask this question a lot and it often sounds like this: I’ve told my landlord several times that the kitchen sink is leaking, the cabinet doors are falling off, and my toilet starts making these crazy noises in the middle of the night and not because it’s in use.  He hasn’t done anything!  At best, he says “I’ll get to it,” but most of the time, he just ignores me.  I would love to move out of here, but I have 8 months left on my lease.  Can I get out with a clean break?

The Ohio Landlord-Tenant Act, Revised Code Chapter 5321, provides several statutory duties for a residential lease relationship that both the landlord and the tenant must follow. A proper Lease Agreement should spell out most of the duties and will be your “instruction manual” on how you can get relief. Some terms that may not appear in the Lease Agreement are nevertheless enforceable as they appear in the Revised Code.

For instance, the Landlord has a duty under the Act to keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition, including making repairs in a timely fashion. Most leases specifically spell out this duty by the Landlord. If you have notified your Landlord (notice in writing is always recommended and certified mail is not a bad idea either) that you need repairs in the unit and the Landlord fails or refuses to respond or make repairs, it is possible for a tenant to terminate the Lease Agreement without any further liability for the rent on the remainder of the Lease term.

It is not advisable to proceed on any course of action without referring to the Lease first or to follow a lawyer’s answer if that lawyer has not reviewed your lease agreement…(including this lawyer!). My best advice would be to read your Lease carefully and, if you are still not sure how best to proceed, to contact a lawyer and ask him or her to review your Lease Agreement.

Posted by Jerry