- Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co.
"Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co.", 350 F.2d 445 (C.A. D.C. 1965), was a court opinion, written by
J. Skelly Wright, that had a definitive discussion of unconscionabilityas a defense to enforcement of contracts. As a staple of first-year law school contract lawcourses, it has been briefed extensively. [ [http://www.4lawschool.com/contracts/will.shtml Briefs for Law school web site] . Accessed March 27, 2008.] [ [http://www.diaryofalawstudent.com/2006/10/15/williams-v-walker-thomas-furniture-co-350-f2d-445-dc-cir-1965/ Diary of a Law Student] . Accessed March 27, 2008.] [Russell B. Korobkin, "A 'Traditional' and 'Behavioral' Law-and-Economics Analysis of Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Company," UCLA School of Law, Law & Econ. Research Paper No. 03-24 and University of Hawaii Law Review, Vol. 26, p. 441, 2004, found at [http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=471961 SSRN papers web site] . Accessed March 27, 2008.] [ [http://contracts.etouch.net/cm/wiki/Contracts%20Section%20G.wiki/home/Unconscionability.html?type=include&iframeid=inc10 eTouch Briefs web site] . Accessed March 27, 2008.]
The case involved Walker-Thomas extending credit from 1957 to 1962 to Williams for a series of furniture purchases. The contract was written in such a way that no furniture could be paid off until all of it was. When Williams defaulted on the contract in 1962, Walker-Thomas tried to repossess all the furniture sold since 1957. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court could rule the contract unconscionable and refuse to enforce it, and returned the case to the lower court to decide whether or not the contract was in fact unconscionable.
As with "
Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad", it is often used by professors to question their students' ideology or presumptions. [ [http://www.theconglomerate.org/2005/11/lets_ask_alito_.html The Conglomerate web site] . Accessed March 27, 2008.] It is also used as a case studyin some economicsclasses. [ [http://www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/kinnaman/cases.htm Course syllabus, ECON 330, Bucknell University official web site] . Accessed March 27, 2008.]
Discussion of "Unconscionability as a Contract Defense to Enforcement"
From the case:
...we hold that where the element of unconscionability is present at the time a contract is made, the contract should not be enforced....Unconscionability has generally been recognized to include an absence of meaningful choice on the part of one of the parties together with contract terms which are unreasonably favorable to the other party....In many cases the meaningfulness of the choice is negated by a gross inequality of bargaining power....The manner in which the contract was entered is also relevant to this consideration. Did each party to the contract, considering his obvious education or lack of it, have a reasonable opportunity to understand the terms of the contract, or were the important terms hidden in a maze of fine print and minimized by deceptive sales practices? Ordinarily, one who signs an agreement without full knowledge of its terms might be held to assume the risk that he has entered a one-sided bargain. But when a party of little bargaining power, and hence little real choice, signs a commercially unreasonable contract with little or no knowledge of its terms, it is hardly likely that his consent, or even an objective manifestation of his consent, was ever given to all the terms. In such a case the usual rule that the terms of the agreement are not to be questioned should be abandoned and the court should consider whether the terms of the contract are so unfair that enforcement should be withheld.
Points of interest
* The old "Walker Thomas Furniture" red brick building can still be found in Washington, D.C. at 7th St. & M St. (as of August 2007).
* The parties may have settled out of court. [ [http://blawgcoop.com/wisdom/archives/2004/11/request_william.html Blawg Coiop blog] . Accessed March 27, 2008.]
Non est factum
Sherwood v. Walker"
* [http://www.scu.edu/law/FacWebPage/Neustadter/e-books/abridged/main/cases/Williams.html Abridged text of case at SCU law school web site]
* [http://www.aalscontracts.org/Cases/Williams.htm Photographs of the building in question]
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