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Jones v Star Credit Corp., 59 Misc.2d 189 (1969)
298 N.Y.S.2d 264, 6 UCC Rep.Serv. 76
KeyCite Yellow Flag – Negative Treatment
Distinguished by Whirlpool Corp. v. Grigoleit Co., W.D.Mich., August
31, 2011
59 Misc.2d 189, 298 N.Y.S.2d 264, 6 UCC Rep.Serv. 76
Clifton Jones et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Star Credit Corp., Defendant
Supreme Court, Special Term, Nassau County,
March 18, 1969
CITE TITLE AS: Jones v Star Credit Corp.
HEADNOTES
Sales
unconscionable sale
sale of $300 freezer for $1,439.69 on time, unconscionable;
contract is reformed to amount already paid, $619.88.
([1]) Plaintiffs purchased, for home use, a freezer unit,
which had a maximum retail value of about $300, on
time for an agreed total of $1,439.69. Plaintiffs are welfare
recipients and grossly unequal to the salesmen. The whole
contract was unconscionable (Uniform Commercial
Code, § 2-302). Plaintiffs have already paid a total
of $619.88. They are granted judgment reforming the
contract so as to total $619.88.
APPEARANCES OF COUNSEL
Nager & Korobow for plaintiffs. Keilson & Keilson for
defendant. *190
OPINION OF THE COURT
Sol Wachtler, J.
On August 31, 1965 the plaintiffs, who are welfare
recipients, agreed to purchase a home freezer unit for
$900 as the result of a visit from a salesman representing
Your Shop At Home Service, Inc. With the addition
of the time credit charges, credit life insurance, credit
property insurance, and sales tax, the purchase price
totaled $1,234.80. Thus far the plaintiffs have paid $619.88
toward their purchase. The defendant claims that with
various added credit charges paid for an extension of time
there is a balance of $819.81 still due from the plaintiffs.
The uncontroverted proof at the trial established that
the freezer unit, when purchased, had a maximum retail
value of approximately $300. The question is whether this
transaction and the resulting contract could be considered
unconscionable within the meaning of section 2-302 of the
Uniform Commercial Code which provides in part:
“(1) If the court as a matter of law finds the contract or
any clause of the contract to have been unconscionable at
the time it was made the court may refuse to enforce the
contract, or it may enforce the remainder of the contract
without the unconscionable clause, or it may so limit the
application of any unconscionable clause as to avoid any
unconscionable result.
“(2) When it is claimed or appears to the court that the
contract or any clause thereof may be unconscionable
the parties shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to
present evidence as to its commercial setting, purpose and
effect to aid the court in making the determination.” (L.
1962, ch. 553, eff. Sept. 27, 1964.)
There was a time when the shield of caveat emptor would
protect the most unscrupulous in the marketplace — a time
when the law, in granting parties unbridled latitude to
make their own contracts, allowed exploitive and callous
practices which shocked the conscience of both legislative
bodies and the courts.
The effort to eliminate these practices has continued to
pose a difficult problem. On the one hand it is necessary
to recognize the importance of preserving the integrity of
agreements and the fundamental right of parties to deal,
trade, bargain, and contract. On the other hand there is the
concern for the uneducated and often illiterate individual
who is the victim of gross inequality of bargaining power,
usually the poorest members of the community.
Concern for the protection of these consumers against
overreaching by the small but hardy breed of merchants
who would prey on them is not novel. The dangers of
inequality of bargaining power were vaguely recognized
in the early English common law when Lord Hardwicke
wrote of a fraud, which *191 “may be apparent from the
intrinsic nature and subject of the bargain itself; such as
no man in his senses and not under delusion would make”.
The English authorities on this subject were discussed in
© 2017 Thomson Reuters. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.
1
Jones v Star Credit Corp., 59 Misc.2d 189 (1969)
298 N.Y.S.2d 264, 6 UCC Rep.Serv. 76
Hume v. United States (132 U.S. 406, 411 [1889]) where the
United States Supreme Court characterized (p. 413) these
as “cases in which one party took advantage of the other’s
ignorance of arithmetic to impose upon him, and the fraud
was apparent from the face of the contracts.”
The law is beginning to fight back against those who
once took advantage of the poor and illiterate without
risk of either exposure or interference. From the commonlaw doctrine of intrinsic fraud we have, over the years,
developed common and statutory law which tells not only
the buyer but also the seller to beware. This body of laws
recognizes the importance of a free enterprise system but
at the same time will provide the legal armor to protect
and safeguard the prospective victim from the harshness
of an unconscionable contract.
Section 2-302 of the Uniform Commercial Code enacts the
moral sense of the community into the law of commercial
transactions. It authorizes the court to find, as a matter
of law, that a contract or a clause of a contract was
“unconscionable at the time it was made”, and upon so
finding the court may refuse to enforce the contract, excise
the objectionable clause or limit the application of the
clause to avoid an unconscionable result. “The principle”,
states the Official Comment to this section, “is one of the
prevention of oppression and unfair surprise”. It permits
a court to accomplish directly what heretofore was often
accomplished by construction of language, manipulations
of fluid rules of contract law and determinations based
upon a presumed public policy.
There is no reason to doubt, moreover, that this section
is intended to encompass the price term of an agreement.
In addition to the fact that it has already been so applied
(Matter of State of New York v. ITM, Inc., 52 Misc 2d
39; Frostifresh Corp. v. Reynoso, 52 Misc 2d 26, revd. 54
Misc 2d 119; American Home Improvement v. MacIver,
105 N.H. 435), the statutory language itself makes it clear
that not only a clause of the contract, but the contract
in toto, may be found unconscionable as a matter of
law. Indeed, no other provision of an agreement more
intimately touches upon the question of unconscionability
than does the term regarding price.
Fraud, in the instant case, is not present; nor is it necessary
under the statute. The question which presents itself is
whether or not, under the circumstances of this case, the
sale of a freezer unit having a retail value of $300 for
$900 ($1,439.69 including *192 credit charges and $18
sales tax) is unconscionable as a matter of law. The court
believes it is.
Concededly, deciding the issue is substantially easier
than explaining it. No doubt, the mathematical disparity
between $300, which presumably includes a reasonable
profit margin, and $900, which is exorbitant on its face,
carries the greatest weight. Credit charges alone exceed
by more than $100 the retail value of the freezer. These
alone, may be sufficient to sustain the decision. Yet, a
caveat is warranted lest we reduce the import of section
2-302 solely to a mathematical ratio formula. It may, at
times, be that; yet it may also be much more. The very
limited financial resources of the purchaser, known to the
sellers at the time of the sale, is entitled to weight in the
balance. Indeed, the value disparity itself leads inevitably
to the felt conclusion that knowing advantage was taken
of the plaintiffs. In addition, the meaningfulness of choice
essential to the making of a contract can be negated by a
gross inequality of bargaining power. (Williams v. WalkerThomas Furniture Co., 350 F. 2d 445.)
There is no question about the necessity and even the
desirability of installment sales and the extension of credit.
Indeed, there are many, including welfare recipients, who
would be deprived of even the most basic conveniences
without the use of these devices. Similarly, the retail
merchant selling on installment or extending credit is
expected to establish a pricing factor which will afford a
degree of protection commensurate with the risk of selling
to those who might be default prone. However, neither of
these accepted premises can clothe the sale of this freezer
with respectability.
Support for the court’s conclusion will be found in a
number of other cases already decided. In American Home
Improvement v. MacIver (supra) the Supreme Court of
New Hampshire held that a contract to install windows,
a door and paint, for the price of $2,568.60, of which
$809.60 constituted interest and carrying charges and
$800 was a salesman’s commission was unconscionable
as a matter of law. In Matter of State of New York v.
ITM, Inc. (supra) a deceptive and fraudulent scheme was
involved, but standing alone, the court held that the sale
of a vacuum cleaner, among other things, costing the
defendant $140 and sold by it for $749 cash or $920.52
on time purchase was unconscionable as a matter of law.
Finally, in Frostifresh Corp. v. Reynoso (supra) the sale of
© 2017 Thomson Reuters. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.
2
Jones v Star Credit Corp., 59 Misc.2d 189 (1969)
298 N.Y.S.2d 264, 6 UCC Rep.Serv. 76
a refrigerator costing the seller $348 for $900 plus credit
charges of $245.88 was unconscionable as a matter of law.
*193
One final point remains. The defendant argues that the
contract of June 15, 1966, upon which this suit is based,
constitutes a financing agreement and not a sales contract.
To support its position, it points to the typed words
“Refinance of Freezer A/C #6766 and Food A/C #56788”
on the agreement and to a letter signed by the plaintiffs
requesting refinance of the same items. The request for
“refinancing” is typed on the defendant’s letterhead. The
quoted refinance statement is typed on a form agreement
entitled “Star Credit Corporation — Retail Instalment
Contract”. It is signed by the defendant as “seller” and
by the purchasers as “buyer”. Above the signature of the
buyers, they acknowledge “receipt of an executed copy
of this Retail Instalment Contract”. The June 15, 1966
contract by defendant is on exactly the same form as the
End of Document
original contract of August 31, 1965. The original, too,
is entitled “Star Credit Corporation — Retail Instalment
Contract”. It is signed, however, by “Your Shop At
Home Service, Inc.” Printed beneath the signatures is the
legend “Duplicate for Star”. In substance and effect, the
agreement of June 25, 1966 constitutes a novation and
replacement of the earlier agreement. It is, in all respects,
as it reads, a “Retail Instalment Contract”.
Having already paid more than $600 toward the purchase
of this $300 freezer unit, it is apparent that the defendant
has already been amply compensated. In accordance with
the statute, the application of the payment provision
should be limited to amounts already paid by the plaintiffs
and the contract be reformed and amended by changing
the payments called for therein to equal the amount of
payment actually so paid by the plaintiffs.
Copr. (C) 2017, Secretary of State, State of New York
© 2017 Thomson Reuters. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.
© 2017 Thomson Reuters. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.
3
Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462 (1985)
105 S.Ct. 2174, 85 L.Ed.2d 528, 53 USLW 4541
treated as a petition for writ of certiorari,
which would be granted. 28 U.S.C.A. §
1254(2).
KeyCite Yellow Flag – Negative Treatment
Disagreement Recognized by TXU Energy Retail Co., LP v. Emanuel
Medical Center, Inc., N.D.Tex., May 28, 2003
105 S.Ct. 2174
Supreme Court of the United States
3 Cases that cite this headnote
[2]
BURGER KING CORPORATION, Appellant
v.
Parties cannot stipulate to a particular
construction of state law, and thereby obtain
jurisdiction over appeal to Supreme Court,
where state law might, in fact, be in harmony
with the Federal Constitution; Supreme
Court’s jurisdiction is properly invoked only
where a Court of Appeals has squarely held
that the statute is unconstitutional on its face
or as applied and jurisdiction does not lie if
the decision might rest on other grounds. 28
U.S.C.A. § 1254(2).
John RUDZEWICZ.
No. 83–2097.
|
Argued Jan. 8, 1985.
|
Decided May 20, 1985.
Franchisor brought action against franchisee alleging
breach of franchise obligations and trademark
infringement. The United States District Court for the
Southern District of Florida entered judgment in favor of
franchisor and franchisee appealed. The Court of Appeals
for the Eleventh Circuit, 724 F.2d 1505,reversed and
denied rehearing, 729 F.2d 1468. The Supreme Court,
Justice Brennan, held that: (1) where it was not clear that
Court of Appeals had found Florida long-arm statute
unconstitutional as applied, Supreme Court did not
have jurisdiction over appeal; (2) jurisdictional statement
would be treated as petition for writ of certiorari; and (3)
exercise of long-arm jurisdiction over Michigan franchisee
in Florida did not offend due process.
Federal Courts
Particular Cases, Contexts, and
Questions
16 Cases that cite this headnote
[3]
Constitutional Law
Non-residents in general
Due process clause protects an individual’s
liberty in not being subject to the binding
judgments of a forum with which he has
established no meaningful contacts, ties, or
relations; although the protection operates to
restrict state power, it is ultimately a function
of the individual liberty interest preserved
by the due process clause rather than a
function of federalism concern. U.S.C.A.
Const.Amend. 14.
Reversed and remanded.
Justice Stevens dissented and filed an opinion in which
Justice White joined.
494 Cases that cite this headnote
West Headnotes (27)
[1]
Federal Courts
Proceedings to Obtain Review
Where it was unclear whether Court of
Appeals actually held statute unconstitutional
as applied to the circumstances of the case,
jurisdiction did not properly lie in the
Supreme Court by appeal and appeal would
be dismissed, with the jurisdictional statement
[4]
Federal Courts
Purpose, intent, and foreseeability;
purposeful availment
Federal Courts
Related contacts and activities; specific
jurisdiction
Where forum seeks to assert specific
jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant
who has not consented to suit there,
fair-warning requirement is satisfied if the
© 2017 Thomson Reuters. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.
1
Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462 (1985)
105 S.Ct. 2174, 85 L.Ed.2d 528, 53 USLW 4541
defendant has purposefully directed his
activities at residence of the forum and the
litigation results from injuries that arise out of
or relate to those activities.
forum for redressing injuries inflicted by outof-state actors and, where those individuals
purposefully derive benefit from their
interstate activities, it may be unfair to
allow them to escape having to account in
other states for the consequences that arise
proximately from such activities and, for
those reasons, forum may legitimately exercise
personal jurisdiction over a nonresident who
purposefully directs activities toward forum
residents.
2724 Cases that cite this headnote
[5]
Constitutional Law
Consent; forum-selection clauses
Contracts
Agreement as to place of bringing suit;
forum selection clauses
Where forum selection provisions have
been obtained through freely negotiated
agreements and are not unreasonable and
unjust, their enforcement does not offend due
process. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 14.
1069 Cases that cite this headnote
[9]
Constitutional touchstone in long-arm
jurisdiction cases is whether the defendant
purposefully established minimum contacts in
the forum state.
273 Cases that cite this headnote
[6]
Federal Courts
Manufacture, Distribution, and Sale of
Products
Publisher who distributes magazines in a
distant state may fairly be held accountable
in that forum for damages resulting therefrom
an allegedly defamatory story.
2931 Cases that cite this headnote
[10]
Foreseeability of causing injury in another
state is not a sufficient benchmark for
exercising personal jurisdiction; foreseeability
which is critical to due process analysis is
that the defendant’s conduct and connection
with the forum state are such that he should
reasonably anticipate being haled into court
there.
Federal Courts
Unrelated contacts and activities; general
jurisdiction
Parties who reach out beyond one state
and create continuing relationships and
obligations with citizens of another state are
subject to regulation and sanctions in the
other state for the consequences of their
activities.
339 Cases that cite this headnote
[8]
Federal Courts
Purpose, intent, and foreseeability;
purposeful availment
State generally has a manifest interest in
providing its residents with a convenient
Constitutional Law
Non-residents in general
Federal Courts
Purpose, intent, and foreseeability;
purposeful availment
11 Cases that cite this headnote
[7]
Federal Courts
Purpose, intent, and foreseeability;
purposeful availment
998 Cases that cite this headnote
[11]
Federal Courts
Purpose, intent, and foreseeability;
purposeful availment
Purposeful availment requirement for longarm jurisdiction insures that defendant will
not be haled into a jurisdiction solely as the
result of random, fortuitous, or attenuated
© 2017 Thomson Reuters. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.
2
Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462 (1985)
105 S.Ct. 2174, 85 L.Ed.2d 528, 53 USLW 4541
contacts or the unilateral activity of another
party or a third person.
Once it has been decided that a defendant has
purposefully established minimum contacts
with the forum state, the contacts may
be considered in light of other factors to
determine whether the assertion of personal
jurisdiction would comport with fair play and
substantial justice.
3246 Cases that cite this headnote
[12]
Federal Courts
Nature, number, frequency, and extent of
contacts and activities
Jurisdiction is proper where the contacts of
the defendant proximately result from actions
by the defendant himself which create a
substantial connection with the forum.
4262 Cases that cite this headnote
[17]
Where defendant who purposefully has
directed his activities at forum residents
seeks to defeat jurisdiction, he must present
a compelling case that the presence of
some other considerations would render
jurisdiction unreasonable.
721 Cases that cite this headnote
[13]
Federal Courts
Nature, number, frequency, and extent of
contacts and activities
So long as it creates a substantial connection
with the forum, even a single act can support
jurisdiction.
1487 Cases that cite this headnote
[18]
242 Cases that cite this headnote
[14]
127 Cases that cite this headnote
[19]
765 Cases that cite this headnote
[15]
So long as a commercial actor’s efforts are
purposefully directed toward residents of
another state, absence of physical contacts
cannot defeat personal jurisdiction there.
[16]
Constitutional Law
Non-residents in general
Federal Courts
Nature, number, frequency, and extent of
contacts and activities
Individual’s contact with an out-of-state
party cannot alone automatically establish
sufficient minimum contacts in the other
party’s home forum to permit exercise of
jurisdiction in that forum.
Federal Courts
Commercial Contacts and Activities;
Contracts and Transactions
287 Cases that cite this headnote
Courts
Construction and application of
particular rules
Jurisdictional rules may not be employed
in such a way as to make litigation so
gravely difficult and inconvenient that a
party is unfairly at a severe disadvantage in
comparison to his opponent.
Federal Courts
Business contacts and activities;
transacting or doing business
When defendant has availed himself of the
privilege of conduct …
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