1L Contracts Flashback: “The Untold Story of Lucy v. Zehmer”

February 9th, 2011

Rember Lucy v. Zehmer? Of course you do! Two drunk dudes in a bar make a contract on a cocktail napkin to sell a plot of land. After sobering up, the land owner seeks to void the contract. The Court finds that the contract was valid. Anyway, this article provides “The Untold Story of Lucy v. Zehmer“:

This article reexamines Lucy v. Zehmer, a staple in most contracts courses, and makes the following discoveries: (1) Lucy, acting as a middleman for southern Virginia’s burgeoning pulp and paper industry, sought the Ferguson Farm for its rich timber reserves; (2) Lucy was one of scores of aggressive timber middlemen eager to purchase timberland across the region, in what amounted to a chaotic land grab that left a wake of shady transactions and colorful litigation; and (3) Within the eight years of winning injunctive relief from the Virginia Supreme Court and purchasing the Ferguson Farm from Zehmer for $50,000, Lucy earned approximately $142,000 from the land and its natural resources. These findings bring into question the opinion’s assertion that $50,000 was a fair price, its conclusion that Zehmer’s actions indicated contractual intent, and its confidence that the objective method captured the relevant background in which Lucy’s and Zehmer’s exchange took place. More generally, they suggest that conclusions reached by the objective method are highly dependent on the facts that are retold and the context in which they occur.