Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Contracts 101 in Nevada debate suit

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled against Rep. Kucinich in his suit to force NBC to include him in the Tuesday Democratic debates.

The Court's rulings included:

  • The District Court had no jurisdiction over the sec. 315(a) claim under the Federal Communications Act because Kucinich failed to first bring his complaint through the FCC; and
  • There was no contract NBC could breach because of lack of consideration.
So, while pundits spout about activist courts, or the right to vague first amendment rights, it all boiled down to: (1) lack of consideration and (2) failure to plead promissory estoppel at the District Court.

The latter point is interesting. The position that promissory estoppel cannot be raised for the first time on appeal is the general rule, but one Wisconsin court has held otherwise:

"In Winnebago Homes Inc. v. Sheldon, [29 Wis. 2d 692, 700-01, 139 N.W. 2d 606
(1966)], we made it clear that the failure to plead a cause of action for
promissory estoppel in the trial court precludes the plaintiff, as a matter of
right, from raising the question for the first time on appeal. However, in the
instant case, the facts which plaintiff relies upon to support this new cause of
action are of record, and the defendant-respondent has been able to defend on
the basis of the facts as found by the trial court. Under these circumstances,
where the consideration of promissory estoppel for the first time on appeal does
not result in hardship or inequity to either party, we will proceed upon the
basis of the facts found by the trial court to dispose of the plaintiff's
contention upon the merits." [citing to]Babler, 39 Wis. 2d at 572-73. Based on Holt,
Liberty Trucking and Babler, we are confident that our action is supported by
law and promotes justice.

In general, promissory estoppel is used to create a cause of action under a "quasi-contract" theory. So, would it be reasonable, and within the Supreme Court's discretion, to construe the breach of contract claim as implicitly containing a quasi-contract claim? Especially where there is a well-developed factual record?

Even if this theory was accepted, Kucinich would had to have shown some form of detrimental reliance (continued campaign costs possibly?).

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