Sunday, March 30, 2008

contracts/torts - gist-of-the-action doctrine

Rahemtulla v. Hassam - MD Pa. - March 24, 2008

Courts are extremely cautious about permitting tort recovery based on contractual breaches.

"'While it is true that the mere existence of a contract between parties does not foreclose the possibility of a tort action arising between them, it does not follow that a plaintiff should be allowed to sue in tort for damages arising out of a breach of contract. To hold otherwise would be to blur one reasonably bright line between contract and tort, and hence introduce needless confusion into the judicial process, a step that Pennsylvania’s state and federal courts alike have refused to take.

"[T]he 'gist of the action' doctrine precludes plaintiffs from recasting ordinary breach of contract claims into tort claims, where such tort claims '(1) aris[e] solely from a contract between the parties; (2) when the duties allegedly breached were created and grounded in the contract itself; (3) where the liability stems from a contract; or (4) when the tort claim essentially duplicates a breach of contract claim or the success of which is wholly dependent on the terms of a contract.'"

The conceptual distinction between a breach of contract claim and a tort claim is that the former arises out of “breaches of duties imposed by mutual consensus agreements between particular individuals,” while the latter aries out of “breaches of duties imposed by law as a matter of social policy.”....“In other words...,a claim should be limited to a contract claim when the parties’ obligations are defined by the terms of the contracts, and not by the larger social policies embodied by the law of torts.”

contracts - parol evidence - Toy v. Metropolitan Life, etc.

Rahemtulla v. Hassam - MD Pa. - March 24, 2008

"It has long been held that the parol evidence rule bars evidence of prior representations in a fully integrated written agreement.....Where a written contract contains an integration clause, “the law declares the writing to not only be the best, but the only evidence of [the parties’] agreement....”

The purpose of an integration clause is to give effect to the parol evidence rule: “Thus, the written contract, if unambiguous, must be held to express all of the negotiations, conversations, and agreements made prior to its execution, and neither oral testimony, nor prior written agreements, or other writings, are admissible to explain or vary the terms of the contract.”....
Therefore, where a party claims fraud in the inducement and the written contract is fully integrated, the parol evidence rule works to bar evidence of any representations made about any matter covered by the agreement prior to the contract’s execution. Id. However, in a situation commonly referred to as fraud in the execution, where the party proffering the evidence contends that certain terms were supposed to be included in the contract, but were omitted because of fraud, accident, or mistake, then parol evidence is admissible. Id. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has concisely stated this rule of law:

[W]hile parol evidence may be introduced based on a party’s claim that there was fraud in the execution of a contract, i.e., that a term was fraudulently omitted from the contract, parol evidence may not be admitted based on a claim that there was fraud in the inducement of the contract, i.e., that an opposing party made false representations that induced the complaining party to agree to the contract. Toy v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 928 A.2d 186, 205 (Pa. 2007) (internal citations omitted); see also Dayhoff, Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Co., 86 F.3d 1287, 1300 (3d Cir. 1996).

The rationale behind this rule is “that a party cannot justifiably rely upon prior oral representations and then sign a contract containing terms that refute the alleged prior oral representations.” ....Otherwise, “the parol evidence rule would become a mockery, because all a party to the written contract would have to do to avoid, modify, or nullify it would be to aver (and prove) that the false representations were fraudulently made."

In this case...plaintiffs are not alleging fraud in the execution, which only applies to situations where the parties agree to include certain terms in an agreement, but such terms were omitted because of fraud, accident, or mistake.....Moreover, the plaintiffs failed to aver that [defendant's] alleged prior oral representations were fraudulently omitted from the integrated written contract; they should have insisted that the alleged representations made by Mr. Hassam be set forth in their integrated written agreements. [emphasis added]

[W]here a party asserts he relied on any understanding, promises, representations, or agreements made prior to the execution of the written contract or lease, that party should have protected himself by incorporating into the written agreement those promises or representations upon which he now relies)....[A plaintiff should protect] himself by incorporating the representations upon which he now purports to rely” into the agreement, because in light of the integration clause, he “cannot be bound by any representations other than those expressly contained within the Agreement”)....