Putnam's Handy Law Book for the Layman

Sale. - By a contract to sell goods the seller agrees to transfer the property in them to the buyer for a consideration called the price. There is an important distinction between a contract to sell in the future and a present sale. The first is called an executor, the other an executed, sale. If the goods are to be transferred, there is an executed sale even though the price is not to be paid at the same time. But if the price is paid, and the goods are not then to pass, the transaction is a contract to sell, or an executory sale. Both kinds of sales may be by deed or sealed contract as well as by parol or orally.

Sales and contracts to sell are based on mutual assent, the intent, therefore, of the parties fixes the nature and terms of the bargain. If the offerer understood the transaction to differ from that which his words plainly expressed, it is immaterial, "as his obligation must be measured by his overt acts." Thus, if an offer to buy or sell is sent by telegraph, and is improperly transmitted by the telegraph company, an acceptance by the offeree creates a binding bargain. By using the telegraph as an agency of communication, the offerer makes himself responsible for the offer actually delivered. Of course the telegraph company would be responsible to the offerer for any damage he may have suffered unless relieved by some neglect or fault of the sender of the message.

A contract of sale may be conditional, for example, that the property shall not be transferred until the price is paid. Though the property is [228]transferred by the sale, promises or obligations may still be unperformed by the seller. Or the transfer of the title may be conditional on payment of the price. In such sales the goods are delivered to the buyer, but the title is retained by the seller until payment.

The capacity to buy and sell is regulated by the general law concerning the capacity to contract, transfer and acquire property. When necessaries are sold and delivered to a minor, or to an insane or drunken person, or to a married woman, who is lacking in mental capacity to make a contract, he must, by the general Sales Act, pay a reasonable price therefor. Necessary goods by this act mean those suitable to the condition of the life of the minor or other persons above mentioned at the time of their purchase and delivery.

As we have seen (See Minor) a minor may avoid his contracts. The right to do this is given for his protection, and should not be stretched beyond his needs. Therefore the right is confined to himself or his legal representatives. Neither creditors, nor trustees, nor assignees in bankruptcy can do this, but his heirs can do this, and probably his guardian. By the common law a purchaser for value who did not know that the seller bought them of a minor could not retain them if the minor wished to reclaim them as his own. This rule has been changed by the Sales Act, and a bona fide purchaser is therefore safe in purchasing such goods even though the seller did buy them from a minor.

As a minor may disaffirm his contract, any act clearly showing this intent is sufficient. "It was early settled," says Williston, "that an infant's conveyance of realty could be avoided only after he attained his majority. In the case of personal [229]property a sale may be avoided during his minority by an infant seller or buyer. Though an infant may thus avoid his sales, purchases or contracts during infancy, he can make no effective ratification until he becomes of age, for an infant's ratification clearly can be no more effective than his original bargain."

In the Sales Act the Statute of Frauds (See Statute of Frauds) has been reŽnacted, and provides that in a sale or contract to sell goods amounting to five hundred dollars or more, it cannot be enforced unless the buyer shall accept a part of the goods, or give something in earnest to bind the contract, or in part payment, or makes some note or memorandum in writing of the sale which is signed by the party or his agent against whom the other party seeks enforcement.

This statute applies to a contract for goods that may be intended for future delivery, but not to goods that are to be manufactured by the seller especially for the buyer and are not suitable for sale to others in the ordinary course of the seller's business.

The Sales Act contains an important section relating to the sale of an undivided share of goods. If the parties intend to effect a present sale, the buyer becomes an owner in common with the owner of the remaining shares. How important is this section may be easily learned. The grain of many owners is often mingled in an elevator. It is delivered to those who call for it, the kinds and quantities mentioned in the receipts given to them at the times of storing it. The grain in the elevator may be delivered many times before a particular depositor makes his demand. The elevator company must keep on hand enough grain to meet all [230]outstanding receipts. Each depositor thus retains title to some portion of the grain in the elevator. The company is the bailee with the power to change the bailor's separate ownership into an ownership in common with others of a larger mass, and back again. At any given moment all the holders of receipts for the grain are tenants in common of the amount in store, each owning a share and all owning the entire amount, each having the right to sell his share and demand its separation and delivery in accordance with custom and the terms of the receipt.

When a party has specific goods which, without his knowledge, have perished partly or wholly, the buyer may treat the sale as avoided, or as transferring the property in all of the existing goods and as binding him to pay the full agreed price if the sale was indivisible, or if divisible the agreed price for the goods in which the property passes. One can readily imagine trouble when none of the goods have been destroyed but all are in a condition inferior to that supposed at the time of the bargain. In such a case the "only question is whether the article has been so far destroyed as no longer to answer the description of it given by the contract."

The price may be fixed by the contract or in such a manner as the parties may agree, and may be made payable in personal or real property. When the price is not determined in the way mentioned in the Sales Act, the buyer must pay a reasonable price. This is a question of fact in each case. Usually, the price, either in an executed sale or in a contract to sell, is fixed by the parties at the time of making the bargain. In the agreement to sell there must be a consideration on both sides to sustain it. Sometimes the parties agree that the amount of the price shall vary according to the happening, or failure to [231]happen, of a future event. Such a contract may be a wager, which is forbidden by law, or it may be legal, as we shall soon learn. Whenever no price has been fixed the law has established a rule, a reasonable price. It is the intention and understanding of the parties that a buyer who orders a barrel of flour from his grocer will pay a reasonable price. Likewise a buyer who orders a carriage to be made for him and says nothing about the price.

What is a reasonable price? Generally the market price at the time and place fixed by the contract or by law for delivering the goods, but not always. Under unusual conditions the market price does not furnish the only test. Said the court in one of these cases: a reasonable price may or may not agree with the current price of the commodity at the place of shipment at the precise time of making it. The current price of the day may be highly unreasonable from accidental circumstances, by the action of the seller himself in purposely keeping back the supply.

With respect to warranties the Sales Act provides that when the sale is made on a condition which is not performed, the party for whose benefit the condition was made may refuse to proceed with the contract or sale, or may waive performance of the condition. The nonperformance may be treated as a breach of warranty. Thus time may be an important element in a contract, and an agreement to deliver goods by a specified time is a condition or warranty. And if there is a delay in delivering, unless it may be a trifling one, the buyer may refuse to accept the goods.

A common condition in more recent times qualifying the obligation of the buyer is that the goods shall be satisfactory to him. By this is [232]meant the satisfaction of the buyer after the exercise of an honest judgment. In New York and some other states a somewhat different rule prevails. Unless the things covered by the contract involve personal taste, the contract imposes on the seller the requirement only that a reasonable man would be satisfied with performing it, thus not leaving the question of its satisfactory performance entirely to the buyer. This, Williston says, is an arbitrary refusal of the court to enforce the contract that the parties made and seems unwarranted.

Warranties may be express or implied. By the Sales Act any affirmation of fact or any promise by the seller relating to the goods is an express warranty if the natural tendency of such affirmation or promise is to induce the buyer to purchase the goods, and if the buyer purchases the goods relying thereon.

In a contract to sell or a sale, unless a contrary intention appears, there is an implied warranty on the part of the seller that in the case of a sale he has the right to sell the goods, also, in the case of a contract to sell them, he will have the right to do this at the time of passing the property. More briefly the seller warrants the title to the property which is the subject of sale. Whether the seller is in or out of possession of the property, he can by appropriate words sell such interest as he may have therein. But persons also sell property not owned by themselves by authority of others or of the law. Unless they expressly warrant the title they are not liable for lack of it. Sales of this nature are made by a sheriff, or other judicial officer, auctioneer or mortgagee, assignee in bankruptcy, executor or administrator, guardian, or simply an agent.

When there is a contract to sell, or a sale of goods [233]by description, there is an implied warranty that they shall correspond with the description; and if the contract or sale is by sample, as well as by description, it is not sufficient that the bulk of the goods corresponds with the sample if these do not also correspond with the description. The Sales Act contains elaborate provisions relating to implied warranties of the quality of things sold. There is no implied warranty of the quality or fitness of goods for any particular purpose unless the buyer makes known to the seller the purpose for which they are required, and he also relies on the seller's judgment of their fitness for the use he intends to make of them. Again, if the buyer has examined the goods there is no implied warranty of the defects which such an examination ought to have revealed. An implied warranty as to quality or fitness for a particular purpose may also be annexed by the usage of trade. There is an implied warranty that the bulk shall correspond with the sample in quality, and that the buyer shall have a reasonable opportunity of comparing the bulk with the sample.

When does the transfer of ownership occur? When there is an unconditional contract to sell them the property therein passes to the buyer on the making of the contract, regardless of the time of payment or delivery or both. When goods are delivered to the buyer "on sale or return," giving the buyer an option to return them instead of paying the price, the property passes to the buyer on delivery, but the property may go back to the seller by returning or tendering the goods within the time specified in the contract. When the goods are delivered to the buyer on approval or on trial or other similar terms, the property passes to the buyer, [234](1) when he signifies his approval or acceptance of them, (2) or if he retains them beyond the time fixed for their return, or if none has been fixed, beyond a reasonable time.

It is the duty of the seller to deliver the goods, and of the buyer to accept and pay for them, in accordance with the terms of the contract of sale. Unless otherwise agreed, delivery of the goods and payment of the price are concurrent conditions, the seller, therefore, must be ready and willing to give possession of the goods to the buyer in exchange for the price, and the buyer must be willing and ready to pay the price in exchange for the possession of the goods.

Whether it is for the buyer to take possession of the goods or for the seller to send them to the buyer, is a question depending in each case on the contract, express or implied, between the parties. Apart from contract, or usage of trade to the contrary, the place of delivery is the seller's place of business, if he have one, and if not, his residence. Again, when by the contract of sale of goods no time for sending them has been fixed, the seller must send them within a reasonable time.

Vast quantities of goods are bought and sent forward to buyers, which are not to be delivered until payment. The Sales Act provides that where goods are shipped and by the bill of lading that is given for them they are to be delivered to the order of the buyer or of his agents, but possession of the bill of lading is to be retained by the seller or his agent, he thereby reserves his right to the possession of the goods as against the buyer. Very often a buyer of wheat, for example, will draw a bill of exchange on his principal or company living in the place where the goods are to be delivered and will [235]have it discounted by a bank using the money to pay the seller. The wheat may be in an elevator, or it may be in transit. In either case the bank receives a document, elevator receipt, or bill of lading, and thus becomes the real owner of the wheat, and can control it afterward until it is actually delivered to the consignee, whoever he may be. This is the bank's security for making the loan. The bank sends forward the bill of exchange to its correspondent bank in the place where the consignee lives and the wheat is to be delivered with instructions to deliver it when the bill is paid.

With respect to speculative sales of stock, so well known by every one, a contract, says Williston, giving one party or the other an option to carry out the transaction or not at pleasure, is not a wager, unless forbidden, as in some states is done by statute. A contract to sell goods in the future, which the seller does not own at the time is, aside from the statute, not only legal but common. "The test," says Williston, "adopted in the absence of statute, distinguishes between contracts to buy and sell in which the actual delivery of the property is contemplated, and similar contracts in which it is contemplated merely that a settlement shall be made between the parties based on fluctuations in the market price. A contract of the former kind is legal; one of the latter kind is a wagering contract, and illegal."

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Law for the Laymen - Sale
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