Brief Fact Summary. Chronister Oil Co., (Petitioner) brought suit for breach of contract against Unocal Refining & Marketing, (Respondent) arising out of a contract for the sale of 25,000 barrels of gasoline by Petitioner to Respondent at 60.4 cents per gallon. The district court ruled that Petitioner had breached the contract and awarded Respondent damages.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. If a reasonable response for a buyer to the breach would be to make the product itself, then the difference between the market price of that product and the contract price would be the appropriate measure of the harm from the breach.
The point of an award of damages, whether it is for breach of contract or for a tort, is, so far as possible, to put the victim where he would have been had the breach or tort not taken place.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Whether Respondent was entitled by U.C.C. Section:2-712 to obtain as damages the difference between the cover price which it deems to be 63.14 cents per gallon, the average cost of the inventory from which it obtained the substitute supply of gasoline and the contract price of 60.4 cents.
Held. No. This amount would result in conferring a windfall gain on Respondent.
Discussion. Respondent’s response in diverting gasoline in transit to storage was reasonable. The concept of loss that underlies the computation of legal damage thus resembles the economist’s concept of “opportunity cost”: the opportunity one gives up by engaging in some activity is the cost of that activity. By diverting the gasoline, Respondent gave up the opportunity to sell the gasoline on the market, which would have yielded it substantially less than the average cost of its inventory because the market price was much lower than that cost, or the opportunity have larger and soon to be unusable inventory. Neither course of action would have yielded value equal to Respondents average cost of inventory or equal to the contract price.
Sellers usually break their contracts in a rising market where they can get more for the product by selling to someone other than the buyer with whom they signed the contract. Here a seller in a declining market broke a contract that he desperately wanted to perform, conferring a windfall gain on the buyer which the latter would like as it were to double with the help of the courts. The judgment is reversed with respect to damages and remanded with directions to enter judgment for Respondent for nominal damages, to which every victim of a breach of contract is entitled.