Firefly is Still Teaching Contract Law

Serenity_9686The comic series Serenity Leaves on the Wind continues both the story of our favorite Firefly class ship AND lessons in contract law.

The basics of contract formation is offer, acceptance, consideration and performance.

Contracts cannot be for an illegal activity, which would be substantive unconscionability, or formed under duress, which would be procedural unconscionability. See, Falls v. 1CI, Inc., 208 Md. App. 643, 664-665 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2012) and Rivera v. Rivera, 149 N.M. 66, 72-73 (N.M. Ct. App. 2010).

So, virtually all of Malcolm Reynolds contractual agreements would be unenforceable in Court. Let’s overlook those issues for purposes of understanding formation or the Parol Evidence Rule on the assumption Murray on Contracts did not make it off Earth.

Jayne’s Got a Gun

The contractual issues of Leaves on the Wind begin with Jayne’s cousin offering to tell Bea, the leader of the New Resistance, Jayne’s location in order for Bea to find Serenity. This agreement does have offer, acceptance and performance, but the negotiations were also at gunpoint.

Bea entered into a contract with Jayne Cobb to find Malcolm Reynolds on behalf of the New Resistance after a short negotiation at the Cobb family “estate.” The time between offer and acceptance was extremely short, consisting only of “We need to find Malcolm Reynolds” and presenting Jayne with a briefcase of money when questioned on why.

Firefly_Question_8840A contract is not enforceable if it fails to specify all material terms. Sanderford v. Duplin Land Dev., Inc., 531 Fed. Appx. 358, 362 (4th Cir. N.C. 2013). The negotiations between Bea and Jayne contained the specific performance of finding Malcolm Reynolds as a requirement for payment. These conditions for payment would be specific enough to define material terms.

Jayne accepted the verbal terms of finding Mal and visual offer presentation of money with “Well, what are we waiting for?” Jayne accepted Bea’s offer, even though he accepted with a question, because the manner of acceptance demonstrated an intent to accept Bea’s performance contract. This demonstrates mutual assent between the parties, even if acceptance is implied-in-fact from Jayne’s actions instead of an express contract. Murray on Contracts, section 38, citing Day v. Caton, 119 Mass. 513 (1876).

Jubal Early and a Bounty Hunter’s Performance 

Early from the episode Objects in Space is once again a threat to the crew as a bounty hunter acting on behalf of the Alliance to capture the crew of the Serenity.

Firefly_SP_9840“Bounty hunters” are known as “runners” under some code sections for “someone who hunts another person in return for the payment of a bounty if they succeed in finding and returning them.” Carson v. Vance, 326 S.C. 543, 546 (S.C. Ct. App. 1997), citing S.C. Code Ann. § 38-53-10 (9) (1989). Bounty hunters are generally employed by bail bondsmen. See, S.C. Code Ann. § 38-53-10(10).

Ironically, Early’s contract with the Alliance might be the only legal one in Leaves on the Wind. However, the contract would require “complete performance” in order for Early to be paid, so no Mal, no duty for the Alliance to pay.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.