Harris v. Time, Inc. – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Harris v. Time, Inc., 191 Cal. App. 3d 449, 237 Cal. Rptr. 584 (1987).
Harris (P), a three year old boy, received junk mail with an offer for a free watch printed on the envelope. The free watch was in fact available only with a paid subscription to Fortune magazine. Harris’ demand to receive the watch without subscribing was refused.
Harris brought suit against Time, Inc. (D) and sought a declaration that all recipients of the junk mail were entitled to receive the watch or rescind any subscription, an injunction against distributing such mailers in the future, compensatory damages equal to the value of the watch, and $15,000,000 in punitive damages to be used for consumer protection education and advocacy. Time demurred to the complaint and the trial court sustained as to claims for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and fraud but overruled the demurrer for claims related to unfair advertising. Time subsequently obtained a summary judgment on the unfair advertising claim and Harris appealed.
What constitutes adequate consideration for a unilateral contract?
Holding and Rule
Any bargained for act or forbearance will constitute adequate consideration for a unilateral contract.
Time is incorrect in its argument that the mere act of opening an envelope was valueless and therefore was inadequate consideration to form a valid contract. The value of consideration exchanged need not be equivalent and courts will not question the adequacy of consideration. Time made an offer for a unilateral contract and Harris gave valuable consideration for the promise merely by opening the envelope.
Nevertheless, while the action is technically valid, the ruling below is affirmed under the legal maxim of “de minimis non curat lex” (translation: “the law is not concerned with trifles”) because this lawsuit is a waste of judicial resources. Harris was merely tricked into opening a piece of junk mail and the courts are too heavily burdened to punish those who merely make others feel foolish.
Judgment for Time affirmed.
Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. is another contract law case brief addressing the issue of the conditions under which an advertisement constitutes a unilateral offer.