Tuesday, January 13, 2004

It didn't take long for the Uniform Electronic Transfer Act to make its way into a judge's decision. The January 12 issue of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly leads with "E-Mail Did Not Bind Seller To Home Price." The issue in the case was whether email messages between agents for the buyer and seller formed a binding contract on the parties. Land Court Judge Gordon Piper ruled there was no contract on the grounds that there was no offer and acceptance - that the basic elements of a contract never existed. Judge Piper went on to address a claim that email would meet the requirements of the Statute of Frauds (i.e., to be enforceable, certain contracts must be in writing, signed by the party to be bound). The judge concluded that the email in this case did not meet such a requirement, noting that these events preceded the enactment of UETA but volunteering his opinion that even UETA might not change the result. Several lawyers with expertise in electronic transactions law who were interviewed for the story disagreed with the judge's doubts about the ability of email to satisfy the Statute of Frauds. It's always risky to comment on a case from afar (as I'm doing here), but it seems that this case should have ended when the judge found there was no contract in the first place. His speculation about the effect of UETA certainly was not an essential part of his findings. Those who practice real estate law tend to be very conservative when it comes to embracing new things, but just as type-written documents replaced those written with a quill pen, so will electronic documents soon supplant those that exist on paper.

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