“I would pay a million dollars if that happened” might seem like an empty boast. However, if you took the trouble to make happen what the boasting party wanted to have happen, could you claim the million dollars? The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit addressed that issue in Kolodziej v. Mason, Case No. 14-10644 (decided December 18, 2014). In the circumstances presented, the Court held that the empty boast could not form the basis of an enforceable contract.
In the course of a murder prosecution in Florida, the prosecution advanced a theory that the defendant, in a ten-hour period, had left a hotel in the Atlanta area, gotten on a plane and flown to Tampa, committed the crime, flown back to Atlanta and returned to the hotel where he began. Defense counsel claimed that the prosecution’s theory would have required that the defendant get off a flight at the Atlanta Airport and travel to the hotel in only 28 minutes. Opinion, p. 3. Prior to the criminal trial, to emphasize the implausibility of the prosecution’s theory, the defendant’s lawyer stated publicly that he would pay a million dollars if someone could actually get off of a plane and to the hotel in 28 minutes. Opinion, pp. 4-5. That boast was shown on a television broadcast after the defendant had been convicted. An enterprising law school student saw the broadcast, took up the challenge, and proceeded to document how he had gotten from the airport to the hotel location in 28 minutes. He then wrote the lawyer to claim his prize, which was refused.
Litigation ensued. The district court granted summary judgment to the defense counsel, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The core of the Court’s holding was that no reasonable person could have understood the defense counsel’s statement to be an enforceable contract. Opinion, p. 9. Citing Judge Learned Hand and various legal authorities such as the Restatement, Corbin and Williston, the Court concluded that the defense lawyer’s statement could not be deemed as intended to create a binding contract.
Although the circumstances recounted, in this case, are bizarre, the principles behind it are sound. This is perhaps an authority to remember the next time you hear a lawyer say that if he loses a case, he will eat his hat.
The Opinion is available at http://media.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/files/201410644.pdf