Morrison v. Thoelke (or, “The Mailbox Rule” Illustrated)

Fla.Ct.App.1963

155 So.2d 889.

Facts

In this case, the Offeree signed the offer and put the contract in the mail, thus sealing the deal, or having the deal become “made” in terms of the “deposited acceptance rule.” The Offeree, just hours later after placing the agreement in the mail, and well before the Offeror knew of the alleged acceptance.

Procedural History

Lower court found for Plaintiff, contract was not accepted by Plaintiff/Offeree. Appelate court here in the instant case found for Defendant/Offeror.

Issue

When does a contract become accepted when negotiations and deliberations take place via mail? Is there a context or an exception to the mailbox rule?

Arguments for Both Parties

Opponents argue that while the rule allows for offerees to officially accept binding agreements, there is no power of acceptance until the mail is received by the offeror. They also argue that this rule can cause loss and inconvenience to the offeror’s interests.

The people who agree say that one of the parties is going to carry the risk, but when the rule asks for the offeror to carry the risk has the merit of closing the deal more quickly and enabling performance more quickly, and that the offeror can take steps to prevent loss in the present case.

Opponents also contend that the law is outdated and that if parties are worried about time lags they can communicate by other, quicker means to assure that this does not happen, and that instead of a hard/fast/artificial rule, use a reasonable person to determine what the court should do, just like in many other aspects of law.

Agreeants of the rule state that the post acts as the wax on the seal of a document, a time sensitive notarization of the agreement.

Holding

Outlived precedents may be discarded every once in a while and common law should not perpetuate error, but traditional rules that business people know to be true should not oft be discarded. It is better to have a rule that people can anticipate rather than no rule at all, so it is good for people in general, that the court uphold precedent, even as artificial as the law behind the precedent stands.

Rule

A contract is considered accepted and made at the time the letter of acceptance is put into the possession of the post, or deposited with the post. The case Adams v. Lindsell, 1818 England is credited with the demarcation of this rule.

This historical case did three things:

  1. The court wanted to draw a line in the sand, establishing at a certain point a contract is deemed complete
  2. Say that revocation is permitted even after an unqualified assent, unless the assent was deemed effective upon posting in mail.

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