When you’ve signed an agreement with another party, one issue you may find yourself dealing with is an “anticipatory” breach of contract, which often means taking action before an actual breach has occurred.
For a little context, a contract could be considered breached or broken if either party unconditionally refuses to perform under the contract as promised. This unconditional refusal is referred to as a “repudiation” of the contract.
Whenever a party indicates through actions or words that it will not live up to its contractual obligations, the other may file a breach of contract claim and seek remedies, typically in the form of monetary payment. This is referred to as “anticipatory breach of contract,” a situation in which the party might not have actually breached the contract yet, but there is reason to believe it will not live up to its end of the deal.
The following are a few of the most common situations in which repudiation may occur:
Express repudiation: Express repudiation is a circumstance in which one party clearly communicates an unconditional refusal to the other party. The repudiating party must outright state that it will not follow through with the deal. An ambiguous refusal—or one qualified with certain conditions—is not enough to be considered express repudiation. It must be completely clear, direct and straightforward, with no other potential meaning.
Actions make it impossible for the party to perform: Actions can sometimes be just as powerful as words when it comes to repudiation. If, for example, someone wanted to start a business and took out loans to do so, but then recklessly ran the business into the ground and incurred numerous other debts in the process, it would be impossible for that person to pay back those original loans. Although this isn’t considered express repudiation, it is clear to the lender, through the actions of the borrower, that the borrower will not live up to his/her contractual agreement because of voluntary actions.
Property that is the subject of the deal was transferred to another party: If the contract in question was in regard to the sale of a certain piece of property, repudiation would occur if one party either transfers or makes a deal to transfer that same property to a different party. For example, if you were under contract to purchase a house, but then discovered the seller sold it to someone else, your contract was repudiated and you may be able to seek legal remedies.
It is, in some circumstances, possible for a party to repudiate the contract, but then retract that repudiation. If the other party did not make a “material change” in his or her standing due to that repudiation, the agreement may return to normal.
Consult an experienced business attorney to learn more about this issue and others related to business contracts.
Adam N. Marinelli is an attorney in the Civil Litigation Practice Group at BoltNagi PC, a full-service business law firm on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.