Unico v. Owen

Decision Date31 July 1967
Docket NumberNo. A--30,A--30
Citation232 A.2d 405,50 N.J. 101
Parties, 4 UCC Rep.Serv. 542 UNICO, a partnership of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. James F. OWEN, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Ernest Prupis, Elizabeth, for appellant (Weltchek & Weltchek, Elizabeth, attorneys).

Steven Wise, Linden, for respondent (Kaplowitz & Wise, Linden, attorneys).

Israel Spicer, Newark, for New Jersey Bankers Assn., amicus curiae (Richard R. Hellstern, Farmingdale, on the brief).

Richard Newman, Deputy Atty. Gen., for Arthur J. Sills, Atty. Gen., amicus curiae.

The opinion of the court was delivered by


The issue to be decided here is whether plaintiff Unico, a New Jersey partnership, is a holder in due course of defendant's note. If so, it is entitled to a judgment for the unpaid balance due thereon, for which this suit was brought. The District Court found plaintiff was not such a holder and that it was therefore subject to the defense interposed by defendant, maker of the note, of failure of consideration on the part of the payee, which endorsed it to plaintiff. Since it was undisputed that the payee failed to furnish the consideration for which the note was given, judgment was entered for defendant. The Appellate Division affirmed, and we granted plaintiff's petition for certification in order to consider the problem. 47 N.J. 241, 220 A.2d 114 (1966).

The facts are important. Defendant's wife, Jean Owen, answered an advertisement in a Newark, N.J. newspaper in which Universal Stereo Corporation of Hillside, N.J., offered for sale 140 albums of stereophonic records for $698. This amount could be financed and paid on an installment basis. In addition the buyer would receive 'without separate charge' (as plaintiff puts it) a Motorola stereo record player. The plain implication was that on agreement to purchase 140 albums, the record player would be given free. A representative of Universal called at the Owens' home and discussed the matter with Mr. and Mrs. Owen. As a result, on November 6, 1962 they signed a 'retail installment contract' for the purchase of 140 albums on the time payment plan proposed by Universal.

Under the printed form of contract Universal sold and Owen bought 'subject to the terms and conditions stipulated in Exhibit 'A' hereto annexed and printed on the other side hereof and made part hereof, the following goods * * *: 12 stereo albums to be delivered at inception of program and every 6 months thereafter until completion of program,' a 'new Motorola consolo (sic)' and '140 stereo albums of choice * * *.' The total cash price was listed as $698; a downpayment of $30 was noted; the balance of $668, plus an 'official fee' of $1.40 and a time price differential of $150.32, left a time balance of $819.72 to be paid in installments. Owen agreed to pay this balance in 36 equal monthly installments of $22.77 each beginning on December 12, 1962, 'at the office of Universal Stereo Corp., 8 Hollywood Avenue, Hillside, N.J., or any other address determined by assignee.' The contract provided:

'If the Buyer executed a promissory note of even date herewith in the amount of the time balance indicated, said note is not in payment thereof, but is a negotiable instrument separate and apart from this contract even though at the time of execution it may be temporarily attached hereto by perforation or otherwise.'

It was part of Universal's practice to take notes for these contracts, and obviously there was no doubt that it would be done in the Owen case. Owen did sign a printed form of note which was presented with the contract. The name of Universal Stereo Corporation was printed thereon, and the note provided for the monthly installment payments specified. On the reverse side was an elaborate printed form of endorsement which began 'Pay to the order of Unico, 251 Broad St., Elizabeth, New Jersey, with full recourse;' and which contained various waivers by the endorser, and an authorization to the transferee to vary the terms of the note in its discretion in dealing with the maker.

Exhibit 'A,' referred to as being on the reverse side of the contract, is divided into three separate parts, the body of each part being in very fine print. The First section sets out in 11 fine print paragraphs the obligations of the buyer and rights of the seller. Under paragraph 1 the seller retains title to the property until the full time price is paid. Here it may be noted that Universal recorded the contract in the Union County Register's Office a few days after its execution. Paragraph 2 says that the term 'Seller' as used shall refer to the party signing the contract as seller 'or If said party has assigned said contract, any holder of said contract.' (Emphasis added). It is patent that Universal contemplated assigning the contract forthwith to Unico, and it was so assigned. Of course, it was a bilateral executory contract, and since under the language just quoted 'assignee' and 'seller' have the same connotation, the reasonable and normal expectation by Owen would be that performance of the delivery obligation was a condition precedent to his undertaking to make installment payments. See, 3 Williston on Contracts (3d ed. Jaeger 1960) §§ 418, 418A. It has not been suggested that this assignment provision which equates 'seller' with 'assignee' creates such an intimate relationship between Universal and Unico as to impose Universal's delivery performance obligation on Unico as well as to transfer Universal's right to payment to Unico. Consequently the question is reserved for future consideration in an appropriate case under the Uniform Commercial Code. See N.J.S. 12A:2--210(4), N.J.S.A. In view of the comprehensive language employed, is such an assignment one for security only? Note New Jersey Study Comment 5, and Uniform Commercial Code Comment 5, to subsection 4. Universal sought under paragraph 5 to deprive Owen of his right to plead failure of consideration against its intended assignee, Unico. The paragraph provides:

'Buyer hereby acknowledges notice that the contract may be assigned and that assigness will rely upon the agreements contained in this paragraph, and agrees that the liability of the Buyer to any assignee shall be immediate and absolute and not affected by any default whatsoever of the Seller signing this contract; and in order to induce assignees to purchase this contract, the Buyer further agrees not to set up any claim against such Seller as a defense, counter-claim or offset to any action by any assignee for the unpaid balance of the purchase price or for possession of the property.'

The validity and efficacy of this paragraph will be discussed hereinafter. At this point it need only be said that the design of Universal in adopting this form of contract and presenting it to buyers, not for bargaining purposes but for signature, was to get the most and give the least. Overall it includes a multitude of conditions, stipulations, reservations, exceptions and waivers skillfully devised to restrict the liability of the seller within the narrowest limits, and to leave no avenue of escape from liability on the part of the purchaser.

The Second part of Exhibit 'A' is entitled in large type, 'Assignment and dealer's recommendation.' This must be executed by the dealer.' There follows an elaborate fine-print form of assignment of the contract and the rights thereunder to Unico, which name is part of the printed form. It is signed by Murray Feldman, President of Universal.

The Third part of Exhibit 'A' is entitled 'Guaranty.' It is a printed form signed by Murray Feldman, as President, and Rhea M. Feldman, as Secretary, of Universal, and also as individuals guaranteeing payment of the sums due under Owen's contract to Unico.

As Exhibit 'A' appears in the appendix, the Owen note referred to above is not now attached to the contract. The record is not clear as to just how it was attached originally, i.e., by a perforated line or otherwise; indication from the agreement itself is that it was attached, and was removed after execution and after or upon endorsement to Unico. In any event it was presented to and executed by Owne with the contract, and in view of the result we have reached in the case, whether it was attached or simply presented to Owen for signature with the contract is of no particular consequence.

At this point the hyper-executory character of the performance agreed to by Universal in return for the installment payment stipulation by Owen must be noted. Owen's time balance of $819.72 was required to be paid by 36 monthly installments of $22.77 each. Universal's undertaking was to deliver 24 record albums a year until 140 albums had been delivered. Completion by the seller therefore would require 5 1/3 years. Thus, although Owen would have fully paid for 140 albums at the end of three years, Universal's delivery obligation did not have to be completed until 2 1/3 years thereafter. This means that 40% Of the albums, although fully paid for, would still be in the hands of the seller. It means also that for 2 1/3 years Universal would have the use of 40% Of Owen's money on which he had been charged the high time-price differential rate. In contrast, since Universal discounted the note immediately with Unico on the strength of Owen's credit and purchase contract, the transaction, so far as the seller is concerned, can fairly be considered as one for cash. In this posture, Universal had its sale price almost contemporaneously with Owen's execution of the contract, in return for an executory performance to extend over 5 1/3 years. And Unico acquired Owen's note which, on its face and considered apart from the remainder of the transaction, appeared to be an unqualifiedly negotiable instrument. On the other hand, on the face of things, by virtue of the ostensibly negotiable note and the waiver or estoppel...

To continue reading

Request your trial
89 cases
  • Gladden v. Cadillac Motor Car Division, General Motors Corp.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • June 30, 1980
    ...Fireco Equipment Co., supra, 150 N.J.Super. at 307, 375 A.2d 687 (consequential damages clause is unconscionable); cf. Unico v. Owen, 50 N.J. 101, 125, 232 A.2d 405 (1967) (N.J.S.A. 12A:2-302 authorizes the court to refuse to enforce any consumer contract clause which it finds unconscionabl......
  • King v. South Jersey Nat. Bank
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • December 10, 1974
    ...oppression or grossly unfair dealing or the like not here present, or conflict with the public policy of the state (Cf. Unico v. Owen, 50 N.J. 101, 232 A.2d 405 (1967)), the court should not declare unconscionable the provisions for acceleration and for self-help repossession deliberately a......
  • Humble Oil & Refining Co. v. Doerr
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court
    • April 11, 1973
    ...the option was an integral part of the overall mortgage transaction in which Humble was a direct participant. Unico v. Owen, 50 N.J. 101, 112--113, 122--123, 232 A.2d 405 (1967). Furthermore, it is clear that Humble was the dominant party in the transaction. Humble volunteered its participa......
  • Glaire v. La Lanne-Paris Health Spa, Inc.
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • December 2, 1974
    ...447 P.2d 638; Commercial Credit Corp. v. Orange County Machine Works (1950) 34 Cal.2d 766, 771, 214 P.2d 819; see also Unico v. Owen (1967) 50 N.J. 101, 232 A.2d 405, 417.) In such cases, we treat the finance company as though it were a party to the original transaction. So too under Truth-......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • The Development of Consumer Protection Law, the Institutionalization of Consumerism, and Future Prospects and Perils
    • United States
    • Georgia State University College of Law Georgia State Law Reviews No. 26-4, June 2010
    • Invalid date
    ...124 F. Supp. 2d 958 (W.D. Va. 2000). 152. Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co., 350 F.2d 445 (D.C. Cir. 1965). 153. Unico v. Owen, 232 A.2d 405 (1967). 154. Peter A. Alces, Guerilla Terms, 56 emory L.J. 1511, 1513 (2007). 155. Id. 156. Id. at 1552. 157. Id. at 1512. Professor Alces gives......
  • Consumer Liability for Deficiencies in Washington
    • United States
    • Seattle University School of Law Seattle University Law Review No. 4-01, September 1980
    • Invalid date
    ...in subjecting an assignee to all claims and defenses that a consumer could assert against the original seller. See, e.g., Unico v. Owen, 50 N.J. 101, 232 A.2d 405 (1967). 61. For a recent discussion of the consumer protection movement in general, see Wallace, The Logic of Consumer Credit Re......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT