Court Considers Offer And Acceptance In The Age Of Email
Picking up where last week’s “Done… thanks!” story left off, there’s a case in progress in the Ninth Circuit focused on emails, and specifically whether the act of receiving one constitutes assent to a contract. From law.com:
[Plaintiff] argued that a machine company’s product guarantee was binding on its corporate parent because the president of the corporate parent had been cc’d on an email promising the guarantee and didn’t raise any objection. [Defendant] argued that just because the email was sent to the company president doesn’t mean he read it, let alone ratified it.
The case offers a new take on that old chestnut from the first year of law school, the mailbox rule, which generally establishes that acceptance happens as soon as an offer is mailed to the offeree. (Ugh, just had all manner of bad flashbacks). Extending that logic, it should stand to reason that an offer is automatically accepted once the “send” button is hit, but this overlooks many particular complications of email. What if the recipient’s address is misspelled? What if it bounces back? What if it shows up in the recipient’s spam folder, and they never see it? This particular exchange between the chief judge and plaintiff’s counsel sums things up:
“There’s nothing that verifies, swears, et cetera that the email actually went to” the president, Fernandez told Heinke.
“If what the court is saying is that sending an email does not create a presumption of receipt, then I respectfully disagree with you,” Heinke protested, mildly. “We all do this all the time, and when we send the email we expect it to arrive.”
You can listen to an audio recording of some of the oral arguments here, and it appears that, although is a relatively unexplored area of law, the justices are reluctant to embrace the plaintiff’s argument. No ruling has come through as of yet, but the implications of accepting an mailbox rule equivalent for emailed communications seem fairly massive.