Friday, May 09, 2008

contracts - good faith and fair dealing

Pierce v. QVC, Inc. - ED Pa. - May 5, 2008

Pennsylvania courts have adopted the general duty of good faith and fair dealing in the performance of a contract as found in the Restatement 2d, Contracts § 205, see, e.g., Somers v. Somers, 613 A.2d 1211, 1213 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1992), and the state UCC, 13 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1203, imposes a similar requirement.

UCC §1203 provides that “[e]very contract or duty within this title imposes an obligation of good faith in its performance or enforcement.” “Good faith” is defined by statute as “[h]onesty in fact in the conduct or transaction concerned.” 13 Pa. C.S. §1201. As Pennsylvania courts and the Third Circuit have explained, however, “[t]he obligation to act in good faith in the performance of contractual duties varies somewhat with the context.”

Noting the U.C.C. definition of good faith, the Restatement explains that “[g]ood faith performance or enforcement of a contract emphasizes faithfulness to an agreed common purpose and consistency with the justified expectations of the other party . . . .” Restatement 2d, Contracts § 205 Cmt. a.

As the Third Circuit has explained, with "rare exception, the courts use the UCC good faith requirements in aid and furtherance of the parties’ agreement, not to override the parties’ agreement for reasons of fairness, policy, or morality. Thus, courts generally utilize the good faith duty as an interpretive tool to determine the parties’ justifiable expectations, and do not enforce an independent duty divorced from the specific clauses of the contract."

The comment to 13 Pa. C.S. §1203 notes that “the doctrine of good faith merely directs a court towards interpreting contracts within the commercial context in which they are created, performed, and enforced, and does not create a separate duty of fairness and reasonableness which can be independently breached.”

In fact, the Third Circuit and this Court have recognized an independent duty of good faith under Pennsylvania law only in “limited situations,” such as a confidential or fiduciary relationship.
Courts should “utilize the good faith duty as an interpretive tool to determine the parties’ justifiable expectations” and not to “override the parties’ agreement for reasons of fairness, policy, or morality,” which "would be contrary to the meaning of the duty of good faith found in the Restatement and Pennsylvania’s U.C.C."

employment - "infamous crimes" - crimen falsi - Article II, sec. 7

Cmwlth. v. Griffin - Pennsylvania Supreme Court - May 6, 2008

This quo warranto case concerns Article II, sec. 7, of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which provides that "[n]o person convicted of embezzlement of public moneys, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime shall be eligible to the General Assembly, or capable of holding any office of trust or profit in this Commonwealth."

The Court held that the respondent, a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge, who was convicted of two felonies in 1984 related to fraudulently procuring a credit card, was disqualified under Article II, sec. 7, from continuing to hold her office as judge.

infamous crimes -
In "the seminal decision of Commonwealth v. Shaver (Pa. 1842) after a thorough historical review, this Court ultimately described the category of infamous offenses as follows: The offences which disqualify a person to give evidence, when convicted of the same, are treason, felony, and every species of the crimen falsi--such as forgery, subornation of perjury, attaint of false verdict, and other offences of the like description, which involve the charge of falsehood and affect the public administration of justice."

The court here rejected respondent's claims that "the inclusion of all felonies and crimen falsi offenses within the constitutional classification...'appears to go too far' [and] that such crimes should only be considered as prohibiting the holding of public office if they undermine the administration of justice." The Court said that it "has consistently adhered to an interpretation in which felonies and crimen falsi offenses are distinct (albeit overlapping) categories, both of which contribute to the definition of infamous crimes.""

This also comports with the understanding of the term 'infamous' at common law. As one commentator has observed: [U]nder the early common law certain crimes were called “infamous” on account of the shameful status which resulted to the person convicted of one of them. Crimes which were regarded as infamous were treason, felonies, any offense tending to pervert the administration of justice, and such crimes as came within the general scope of the term “crimen falsi” of the Roman law, such as perjury, subornation of perjury, barratry, conspiracy, swindling, cheating, and other crimes of a kindred nature. M. C. Dransfield, Annotation, What is an Infamous Crime or One Involving Moral Turpitude Constituting Disqualification to Hold Public Office, 52 A.L.R.2d 1514, §2(a)

laches -
Laches bars relief when the plaintiff’s lack of due diligence in failing to timely institute an action results in prejudice to another. Because it is an affirmative defense, the burden of proof is on the defendant or respondent to demonstrate unreasonable delay and prejudice....Thus, “[t]he party asserting laches as a defense must present evidence demonstrating prejudice from a lapse of time . . . [such as] that a witness has died or become unavailable, that substantiating records were lost, or that the defendant has changed [her] position in anticipation the opposing party has waived his claims.” ...Furthermore, “[t]he question of laches is factual and is determined by examining the circumstances of each case.” ....[L]aches may be invoked in disciplinary proceedings for professional misconduct [although] it is less clear that it should ordinarily be deemed available relative to an Article II, Section 7 quo warranto action.

“Where the time delay is grossly unreasonable, the defendant’s burden of proof may be proportionately eased and the ‘necessity for specifics regarding prejudice or injury becomes less crucial.’”