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International Sales Contracts - COVID-19 Pandemic and Force Majeure

Client Alert

Q: What is force majeure in the context of a contract?

A: Generally speaking, a force majeure clause is a contract provision that relieves a party from performing its contractual obligations when certain circumstances beyond its control arise, making performance inadvisable, commercially impracticable, illegal, or impossible.

Q: If a party enters into an international commercial contract and the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented or delayed performance by such party, is such party excused from performing?

A: It depends. Does the contract for sale of goods stipulate that the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (“CISG”) is the determinative governing law, or, by default the CISG governs?

The CISG generally applies if the parties to a contract are from different signatory countries (unless the parties expressly waive its applicability), or when private international law provisions default to the CISG. The United States is a signatory country to the CISG.  Specifically, CISG Article 79 provides that “[a] party is not liable for a failure to perform any of his obligations if he proves that the failure was due to an impediment beyond his control and that he could not reasonably be expected to have taken the impediment into account at the time of the conclusion of the contract or to have avoided or overcome it, or its consequences.” The treatment of impediment under the CISG is different from the treatment under common law (see below). Generally, four conditions must be satisfied in order for a party to assert the force majeure protection under the CISG. First, the impediment must be beyond the party’s control. Secondly, the impediment is unforeseeable at the time the contract was signed (thus, a party probably would not prevail in court if it enters into a contract today and claims that it cannot perform under the contract due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Thirdly, the impediment and its consequences could not be reasonably avoided or overcome. Lastly, the non-performance of the party is the result of the impediment.  

Q: What if the contract does not contain an express force majeure clause or the CISG does not apply to the contract?

A: Consider other options under U.S. law to excuse non-performance.

Under Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”) (Section 2-615), a seller may be excused from delay or non-delivery of the goods if performance “has been made impracticable” by either (i) the occurrence of an event “the nonoccurrence of which was a basic assumption on which the contract was made” or (ii) good faith compliance with foreign or domestic government regulation. Can the COVID-19 pandemic and/or compliance with the governmental health orders be used to excuse performance under the UCC? Perhaps, but analysis should be done on a case by case basis.

The common law doctrines of “frustration” and “impossibility” may be invoked, but they have higher thresholds to overcome. Additionally, states in the U.S. apply different treatments of these concepts.

Some jurisdictions focus on whether the impossibility of performance was foreseeable at the time the contract was entered. Additionally, the contract must be consummated based on the assumption that the event (which rendered performance impossible) would not occur. Some states expand the impossibility defense to include the doctrine of impracticability (see the UCC discussion above).

The doctrine of “frustration of purpose” generally provides where the breaching party finds that the purposes for which it bargained have been frustrated to the extent that the breaching party is not receiving the benefit of the bargain for which it contracted; i.e., the frustration destroyed the purpose of the contract. Some jurisdictions also require that an event resulting in such frustration of purpose is unforeseeable and beyond the parties’ control.

If you have any questions about force majeure, please contact Robert Q. Lee at rqlee@bmdpl.com or 407.232.6881.


Valley National Bank/Trulieve Loan: A Big Step Out of the Shadows

In a late December press release, Trulieve announced that it had secured a $71.5 million commercial bank loan. In addition to the amount of the loan, which may be the largest commercial bank loan to date to a cannabis company, the release prominently identified Valley Bank and featured both a quote from Valley’s Senior Vice President, John Myers, and a description of the Bank’s service platform and commitment to the cannabis industry.

The End of Non-Competes? The Impact It Will Have on the Healthcare Industry

On January 5, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced a proposed rule that, if enacted, will ban employers from entering into non-compete clauses with workers (the “Rule”), and the Rule would void existing non-compete agreements. In their Notice, the FTC stated that if the Rule were to go into effect, they estimate the overall earnings of employees in the United States could increase by $250 billion to $296 billion per year. The Rule would also require employers to rescind non-competes that they had already entered into with their workers. For purposes of the Rule, the FTC has defined “worker” to also include any employees, interns, volunteers, and contractors.”

2022 Healthcare Recap and 2023 Healthcare Check-Up

As the country begins to return to a new “normal” following the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many healthcare rules changing on both the federal and state levels as a result. Thus, it is important for healthcare providers and their employers to be aware of these changing rules, and any implications they may have on their practice. Look back on healthcare in 2022 and find a checklist for 2023.

Direct Support Professional Retention Payments

On December 15, the Ohio Senate and House passed House Bill 45, which authorizes the Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD), in conjunction with the county boards of developmental disabilities, to launch their initiative to issue retention payments to Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). These retention payments will be distributed quarterly to participating home and community-based waiver providers to address the workforce crisis in the direct provider sector. Governor DeWine needs to sign the Bill to begin the payments, but he is expected to do so by the end of 2022.

Real Estate Investors Position for 2023 Opportunities

Real estate investors weathered another year in a post-pandemic world, with the year closing with yet another interest rate increase coupled with both uncertainty and heightened interest carrying into 2023. Just last Wednesday, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate 0.50 percentage points, shifting the target range to 4.25% to 4.50%. The new level is the highest the fed funds rate has been since December 2007 and marks the seventh rate hike this year. So what does this mean to investors, brokers, lenders, and others in the real estate world? Read a few perspectives below from stakeholders familiar with our BMD clients and the markets in which they do business.