Update (December 2, 2016): This post is unsolicited grandstanding about the just, fair, and proper application of U.S. contract law.
Here’s the deal: there is something fundamentally unfair about the “click-through” contracts that we all experience when we make consumer on-line purchases, sign lengthy rental car contracts, and receive small print, light-gray inked disclaimers on the backs of receipts, plane tickets, and the like. The small print is literally impossible (and I use “literally” in its real sense) for many contracting parties (that is, retail consumers) to read and understand.
As to the “micro contract terms” in the small print, any suggestion that these consumer warnings are contracts in the strict sense (that is, that they involve an offer, acceptance, consideration, mutuality of obligation, competence and capacity) is an illusion. Assuming that consumers read and understand the fine print denies reality; to the extent our law is premised on this assumption, it is indulgent and self-serving fantasy. And the result is that such terms are coercive, since in order, say, to rent a car, the consumer has no choice but to sign the supposed agreement including the micro contract terms that the consumer cannot realistically have read or understood.
On the other hand, it seems far more fair and important to hold so-called “sophisticated parties,” otherwise known as businesses or business people, those who engage in repeated and specialized transactions in the course of their work, to the fine print in their transactions. For one thing, we can and do recognize that these are businesses. Businesses are more often in a position to hire lawyers to look after their interests, and specifically, to vet contracts. Even if their lawyers let them down or if they cannot afford a lawyer, businesses cannot starve to death or be homeless as a result of a bad deal. At worst, they go out of business. Again, they’re businesses, so we should not protect them from market forces. Competitors all have to abide by the same rules. So, to the extent we let businesses off on “the fine print defense,” we are setting up incentives for businesses to ignore contractual terms and penalizing others who agree to abide by the terms.
This is all by way of saying that I will again predict that Plaintiff/Farmer Nielsen will not be allowed to argue in federal court that his soy beans had clean coats. Plaintiff/Farmer Nielsen, I predict, will be held to have agreed to have the decision go to arbitration under the Trade Rules of the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), notwithstanding his lawyers’ dogged efforts to keep his case in court…