Prüfungsmaßstäbe zum Thema Unconsionability (beim Kaufpreis für Firmenanteile)

Im folgenden stellen wir stichpunktartig die Prüfungsmaßstäbe zum Thema Unconsionability in Englisch dar. Zudem haben wir für den, der sich zum Meinungsstand in Delaware über die nachfolgenden Ausführungen hinaus informieren möchte, drei Entscheidungen beigefügt, wovon zwei den Staat Delaware betreffen, und eine – nur um einen staatenübergreifenden Überblick zu geben – aus dem Staate Kalifornien.

(ROBERT W. RYAN v. NORMAN D. WEINER, COURT OF CHANCERY OF DELAWARE, NEW CASTLE, 1992 03 Ryan DE case ; OLYMPUS HEALTHCARE GROUP, INC, et al v. PACIFIC EMPLOYERS INSURANCE et al, UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE, 2006 02 Olympus DE case ; CONNIE A. NAGRAMPA v. D.C. No. MAILCOUPS, INC, UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT, 200604 Calif. decision).

Ausgangspunkt ist Delaware Code Title 6 — Commerce and Trade, ARTICLE 2 — SALES,  PART 3

§ 2-302. Unconscionable contract or clause.

(1) If the court as a matter of law finds the contract or any clause of the contract to have been unconscionable at the time it was made the court may refuse to enforce the contract, or it may enforce the remainder of the contract without the unconscionable clause, or it may so limit the application of any unconscionable clause as to avoid any unconscionable result.

(2) When it is claimed or appears to the court that the contract or any clause thereof may be unconscionable the parties shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to present evidence as to its commercial setting, purpose and effect to aid the court in making the determination. (5A Del. C. 1953, § 2-302; 55 Del. Laws, c. 349.)

Die Definition erfolgt via Fallrecht. Für unsere Überlegungen und zum allseitigen Verständnis des Konzeptes Unconscionability haben wir die  anwendbare US.amerikanischen Rechtsliteratur und Diskussionsstand nachfolgend zusammengefasst.

The Official Comments accompanying the UCC are useful aids in interpretation. The principle is one of prevention of oppression and unfair surprise and not of disturbance of allocation of risks because of superior bargaining power. The basic test is whether, in the light of the general commercial background … the term or contract involved is so one-sided as to be unconscionable …;  The Official Comment indicates that unconscionability is very context dependent — conduct that in one context is unconscionable may not be unconscionable in another.

Courts and academics came to identify both procedural and substantive unconscionability as relevant to § 2- 302. Generally, for a finding of behaviour contrary to § 2-302, there must be both ‘bargaining naughtiness’ (procedural unconscionability such as unfair surprise and oppression) and ‘evils in the resulting contract’ (substantive unconscionability such as unduly harsh contractual terms).] Although, on occasions, particularly egregious contractual terms alone have been sufficient for a finding of unconscionability, it would be rare for a contract to be so one-sided as to be substantively unfair in the absence of evidence of unfair surprise or abuse of unequal bargaining power during contract formation. That is, as a general rule, for a finding of unconscionability under the UCC a plaintiff must demonstrate the existence of both procedural and substantive unconscionability.

Folgendes sind in etwa die Fragen, die im Rahmen der Prüfung zu stellen sind.

Procedural unconscionability is about unfairness in the formation of the contract with the central concern being the likelihood of either an absence of meaningful choice or potential surprise. Did the term get into the contract because there was no other choice or was it intended to mislead? Factors to be considered include:

1. Is the contract standard form?

2. Is the suspect clause boilerplate?

3. Was the clause hidden or made non-conspicuous?

4. Is the language used incomprehensible to a lay person?

5. Was there gross inequality in bargaining power?

6. Was there exploitation of a weakness such as lack of sophistication or education?

Substantive unconscionability is about the operation of a suspect clause. The focus here is on the fairness and reasonableness of the provision at issue. The list of clauses with a potential to offend is long and always being added to. It includes clauses that impose:

1. significant price disparity;

2. private penalties;

3. a denial of a basic right or remedy;

4. liquidated damages;

5. disclaimers;

6. covenants not to compete;

7. limitations on remedies;

8. absence of mutuality concerning access to the judicial system;

9. pre-dispute mandatory arbitration.

There is some disagreement about the need for both types of unconscionability. While the majority of jurisdictions require both (Gillman v. Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A., 73 N.Y.2d 1 (N.Y. 1988), many rely on a sliding scale as a guideline for magnitude of each. The stronger the substantive unconscionability component, the less the need for procedural unconscionability and vice versa.

In Delaware ist vom Erfordernis des Gegebenheit beider Voraussetzungen (Substantive Unconscionability und Procedural Unconscionability) auszugehen.,

Interessant sind die Ergebnisse eine empirischen Analyse (Consent Theory of Unconscionability: An Empirical Study of Law in Action
LA DiMatteo, BL Rich – FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW, 2006), die 148 Fälle (insbes. statistisch) ausgewertet hat.

1.      Hypothesis 1A: Claims of unconscionability are difficult to win.

2.      Hypothesis 2A: The number of decisions finding unconscionability in sales cases is small.

3.      Hypothesis 3A: Merchants rarely win claims of unconscionability compared to consumers.

4.      Hypothesis 4A: The likelihood that a successful unconscionability case involves a standard form contract is greater than that for a non-standard form contract case.

5.      Hypothesis 5A: Findings of unconscionability require both procedural and substantive unconscionability.

6.      Hypothesis 6A: A party represented by an attorney in the negotiation or preparation of a contract rarely succeeds with an unconscionability claim.

7.      Hypothesis 7A: Unconscionability allegations rarely succeed in cases where the alleged unconscionable term was negotiated or conspicuous.

8.      Hypothesis 8A: A substantial percentage of successful unconscionability claims involve cases where another policing doctrine, such as fraud, misrepresentation, bad faith is also applied.

9.      Hypothesis 9A: A substantial percentage of successful unconscionability claims involve highly scrutinized clauses, such as limitation of liability, limitation of remedy, liquidated damages, penalty, attorney fees, disclaimer, warranty or arbitration.

10.  Hypothesis 10A: Unconscionable clauses or contracts are rarely reformed.

11.  Hypothesis 11A: Decisions of unconscionability will be more likely when the case involves excessive price or undue profits.

12.  Hypothesis 12A: Decisions of unconscionability will be more likely when the case involves an unsophisticated/uneducated/low socio-economic status (SES) party.

Independent Variables Expected Sign Number of Cases
1.     Consumer Plaintiff + 98
2.     Merchant Plaintiff 50
3.     Attorney Representation 8
4.     Party Was Unsophisticated + 26
5.     Party Was Uneducated + 21
6.     Party Was from Low SES + 20
7.     Form Contract + 105
8.     Clause Was Negotiated or Conspicuous 36
9.     Excessive Price or Undue Profits + 22
10.  Grossly One-sided + 48
11.  Sale of Goods + 44
12.  Limitation of Liability + 43
13.  Liquidated Damages + 10
14.  Disclaimer of Warranty + 22
15.  Arbitration Clause + 16
16.  Other Policy Doctrines + 54

Weiterer Prüfungsansatz: Good Faith –  Unconscionability

Obwohl das US.Recht stark auf den Grundsatz der Privatautonomie und der Eigenverantwortlichkeit des Handelnden (insbesondere des Kaufmannes) ausgerichtet ist, werden an verschiedenen Stellen Rechtskonzepte diskutiert, die einen besseren Rechte-Ausgleich ermöglichen sollen, so auch das Konzept von Good Faith.

It has been suggested both judicially and academically that the standard of conduct demanded by § 2-302 can be measured against the concept of good faith. It was argued that § 2-302 should not be considered in a vacuum. Since § 1-203 of the UCC also ‘imposes an obligation of good faith in … performance or enforcement’ of every contract, this must inform the standard expected under § 2-302. The UCC defines ‘good faith’ as ‘honesty in fact’and, in the case of a merchant, ‘the observance of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing’. Despite the fact that § 2-302 specifically mentions the time of formation and § 1-203 describes performance or enforcement, there have been many instances of judges applying a finding of fact that indicated a lack of ‘good faith’ in performance as a means of finding conduct contrary to § 2-302 — even though § 2-302 is ostensibly only concerned with the time of formation. For example, the New Jersey Supreme Court (279 A 2d 640, 652 (NJ, 1971); 541 A 2d 1063, 1067 (NJ, 1988)) noted that ‘[t]he standard of conduct contemplated by the unconscionability clause is good faith, honesty in fact and observance of fair dealing’. Since it seems that the ‘good faith’ standard informs the unconscionability provision, it is necessary to examine briefly what this standard entails in the context of US contract law.

It is clear that good faith under the UCC encompasses subjective and objective tests. ‘Honesty in fact’ under § 1 requires subjective honesty, often described as the ‘pure heart and empty head’ standard, or an absence of dishonesty, deceit or improper purposes, whilst ‘reasonable standards’ under § 2 requires conduct measured against objective standards of commercial reasonableness and trade practices and customs.

A source of persuasive influence when interpreting the UCC is the American Law Institute’s Restatement (Second) of Contracts (‘Restatement (Second)

[The original Restatements drafted by the American Law Institute restate the common law into black-letter rules, and provide recommendations of policy. The Restatement (Second) updates the original, in light of new authorities and updated concepts. Therefore, the Restatement (Second) is highly regarded and is thus persuasive in interpreting the UCC.]

The current version of the document provides that there is a prohibition against unconscionability in all contracts, couched in almost identical terms to that found in the UCC. It too contains no definition of unconscionability.To the extent that it represents the law, § 205 of the Restatement (Second) codifies an obligation on all contracts identical to a merchant’s obligation under the UCC.

The Official Comment to § 205 is quite illuminating: Good faith performance or enforcement of a contract emphasizes faithfulness to an agreed common purpose and consistency with the justified expectations of the other party; it excludes a variety of types of conduct characterized as involving ‘bad faith’ because they violate community standards of decency, fairness or reasonableness. This definition supports an academic / legal’s thesis that standards of good faith protect the reasonable expectations of the contracting parties by inhibiting the subsequent discretion that they enjoy once in a contractual relationship.

The Appellate Court of Illinois ( 141 Ill App 3d 684 (1986)).adopted this approach: Good faith between the contracting parties requires the party vested with contractual discretion to exercise it reasonably and he may not do so arbitrarily, capriciously or in a manner inconsistent with the reasonable expectations of the parties.

An alternative but compatible view of the standard required by good faith is provided by supports an academic opinion, indicating that it might be more appropriate to describe what is not good faith. The standard required simply excludes conduct in bad faith.

This approach has been incorporated into the Official Comment to § 205 of the Restatement  (Second) :A complete catalogue of types of bad faith is impossible, but the following types are among tose which have been recognized in judicial decisions: evasion of the spirit of the bargain, lack of diligence and slacking off, willful rendering of imperfect performance, abuse of power to specify terms, and interference with or failure to cooperate in the other party’s performance.

Neither the UCC nor the Restatement (Second) directly import the good faith standard to contractual formation. American law is limited to, inter alia, duties to act honestly, diligently, and in the spirit of the bargain, but not necessarily to bargain in good faith. Further, the Restatement (Second) makes no specific reference to good faith in the bargaining process. However, the Official Comment to § 205 of the Restatement (Second) indicates that there are many existing rules, such as fraud and duress, to deal with particular forms of bad faith conduct during negotiations.

[Ansprüche wegen Duress und / oder Fraud, etc. ,also Anspruchsgrundlagen aus dem Bereich „Torts“ drängen sich oftmals im Zusammenhang mit Fällen von Unconscionability auf.]

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