From Lefkowitz via lines to Limerick

One of the fur coats at issue in Lefkowitz, via the St Thomas courseweb site.It has become a rite of passage to stand in lines overnight or longer to be early in line to buy concert tickets, or houses off the plans (at least during now extinct Celtic Tiger years), or places in a school, or early into a sale in a favourite shop. Indeed, sometimes, shops advertise (in the shop window, a newspaper, etc) extra-special offers for the first few people in line. Have you ever wondered whether the shop’s advertisment of the special offer is enforceable? If so, you will consider that Lefkowitz v Great Minneapolis Surplus Store 251 Minn. 188, 86 N.W.2d 689 (Minn. 1957) (pdf | pdf | pdf | summary | wikipedia) is an entertaining contract law case (no, really, it is).

The store advertised in a Minneapolis newspaper that it would sell 3 fur coats for $1 each on a first-come first-served basis the following Saturday; the following week similarly advertised that it would sell 2 mink scarves and 1 lapin stole for $1 each on a first-come first-served basis the following Saturday (the image on the top left might or might not be one of the furs). On each occasion, Mr Lefkowitz was first through the door; on the first occasion, the store refused to sell on the grounds that the offer was intended for women; on the second, the store refused on the grounds that he now knew the store’s rules. The question was whether the newspaper advertisements were offers which accepted by turning up, with the effect that the store had a contract to sell. The case is a staple on the ContractsProf blog (see eg here | here), where Jeremy Telman has recently summed it up in a limerick:

Mo Lefkowitz made his career
Finding ads explicit and clear.
He’s the first to the store;
Now he’s got furs galore,
And the price that he pays isn’t dear.

Bonus links: the leading case on this issue is Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co [1893] 1 QB 256, [1892] EWCA Civ 1 (07 December 1892) (which has featured on ContractsProf here, here, here and here); the leading Irish case is Tansey v College of Occupational Therapists Ltd [1995] 2 ILRM 601, [1986] IEHC 2 (27 August 1986) (which – unaccountably – doesn’t seem to have featured on ContractsProf!); and the most recent entertaining illustration of the principle is provided by Leonard v PepsiCo 88 F.Supp.2d 116, (S.D.N.Y. 1999), aff’d 210 F.3d 88 (2d Cir. 2000) (which has featured on ContractsProf here, here, here and here).

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