Create A Legally Binding Contract
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In 1985, Congress passed the Statue of Liberty- Ellis Island Commemorative Coin Act. Congress intended to authorize the U.S. government to sell special, limited edition commemorative coins in order to raise money for the maintenance of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island. Shortly after the passage of this Act, the Department of Treasury sent advertisements to coin collectors who had previously bought commemorative coins from the U.S. government. The advertisements stated that a discount was available to buyers that submitted an order form by a deadline of December 31, 1985.
Because the Department of Treasury had difficulty processing credit card transactions, the U.S. government rejected the order forms of many buyers that stated that they would pay by credit card despite the order forms stating that credit card would be an acceptable method of payment. Mary and Anthony Mesaros submitted an order form but their order was rejected due to the difficulty of processing credit card payments. Mr. and Ms. Mesaros then claimed that the Treasury had breached a contract by refusing to sell the coins to Mr. and Mrs. Mesaros, because the advertising materials sent to Mr. and Ms Mesaros constituted an offer that was binding on the offeror by the offeree’s acceptance; in this case Mr. and Mrs. Mesaros argued that acceptance was communicated by the buyer submitting the order form.
The U.S. Court of Appeals fairly bluntly stated that the advertisements did not constitute an offer that could create a contract upon acceptance. The Court cited previous cases in which advertisements were not construed as offers and also stated that in a world where advertisements did constitute offers, then sellers would legally bound in many scenarios to sell more of their product than they actually own, and possibly more of their product than they could ever possibly exist in their inventory. The Court clarifies that in this particular case, the actual offer is the submission of the order form, and it is the acceptance of the order form that would have created a contract.
The idea that the buyer’s submission of the order form, rather than the government’s issuing of the order form, creating the offer is consistent with the theory that offers should entail a certain threshold of specificity for the formation of the contract. Prior to the Treasury receiving the order form, the Treasury could not have known the quantity of coins being ordered, the location to ship the coins to, whether there are enough coins left in inventory to fulfill the order, or other possible requests such as a warranty or shipping deadline. If the Treasury had sent a standard form contract in the mail with the terms and conditions of purchase, then the court may have ruled differently in this case.
If you or your business sends standard form contracts or advertisements through the mail, you may want to consult with an experienced contracts lawyer people trust to ask if these advertisements would constitute an offer such that a buyer’s agreement would create a legally binding contract.