Luddites Unite – Artificial Intelligence Will Replace Us

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We’ve been thinking about artificial intelligence applications and how they might change, even transform, the way we do our business. Then, we heard an interesting story on public radio. It was about a Southern California manufacturer of sex dolls who was introducing models incorporating artificial intelligence. For reasons quite obvious, the story didn’t get very deep into the details, but we learned that these new models were designed to figure out what their owners wanted and to respond appropriately.

We thought this application to be quite amazing in that here was a business way ahead of our own. Artificial intelligence is being used to read medical images with better results than even experienced radiologists achieve. It is being used to screen job applicants, much, much faster than humans doing so and with more satisfactory outcomes. Artificial intelligence is at the heart of visual recognition, allowing machines to replace people in manufacturing operations. It is used to write newspaper articles, such as those reporting sporting events. The list could go on and on. But, what it won’t include is negotiating agreements such as leases. That is, not yet.

Agreements such as leases are not zero-sum games. Though the parties exchange things of equal value, one needs to ask, “Value to whom?” Basically, when someone gets an item of value to them worth, say, $100, the other person may be giving up something worth only $60 to them. Someone may have two widgets and only need one. The duplicate widget isn’t very valuable to that person. A second person may need a widget and have two gizmos, but only need one. In each case, one widget or gizmo has a utility value of $100, but a duplicate one has a utility value of $60. Thus, if the parties trade widget for gizmo, each gives up $60 of value and gets $100 of value in return. That trade creates $200 of value out of $120 of value – a good deal for each trader. [Read more…]

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How To Cap The Very Wrong Lease Payment Obligation

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Here’s a question for commercial leasing mavens (that’s informal for: an expert or connoisseur). Have you ever seen (or contemplated) where a tenant wants to have a cap on its monthly estimated payments for its share of operating expenses, but doesn’t want a cap on its actual annual share of those expenses? If the question isn’t clear, it soon will become so.

Normally, we would give some background before presenting any lease clauses but, today, the clauses in question are the background. They come from a January 4, 2018 Court of Appeal of Louisiana decision, one that can be read by clicking: HERE[Read more…]

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Again: Say What You Mean; Mean What You Say!

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It’s been a while since we used these words: “Say What You Mean; Mean What You Say!” Well, we’re back (and, no, this isn’t going to be a dinosaur’s story.) Today, we report on an unremarkable, unpublished January 22, 2018 Order out of a United States District Court in Illinois. That’s what brings us back to those words.

Before we reveal exactly what we saw in that Order, we’ll start with a simple thought: How many times have you seen the following formulation?

If Grantor begins such repair work or to performs such obligations, but fails to promptly and diligently prosecute the same to completion within thirty (30) days of so beginning, … [Ed. – Note the underlined words]

Well, that drives us crazy. Obviously, the parties meant “within thirty (30) days after.” Yes, “after” is obvious in our example, but every time you encounter this formulation, think about whether, in the case in front of you, you really meant to say that the action could happen within the 30 days BEFORE. [Read more…]

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Groceries And Other Definitions Revisited

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Groceries, sandwiches, ice cream, supermarkets, restaurants, department stores, variety stores – oh, the words we use, what do they mean? Today, we revisit one of our most-read blog postings because a federal appeals court revisited the underlying case (again). We’re “talking” about the Winn-Dixie case. Our “take” on that underlying case can be read by clicking: HERE. Ruminations urges readers to refresh their memories now by re-reading our earlier blog posting

Winn-Dixie, a supermarket chain, won a court decision in Florida where the lower court ruled that “groceries” included soup, aluminum foil, and similar items. As a result, it ruled that dozens of “dollar” type stores run by three retailers were in violation of a provision in the supermarket’s lease prohibiting others from selling groceries. Basically, the federal court that first heard the lawsuit looked at an earlier state court ruling, and (kind of properly) treated it as binding on itself, the federal court. [Read more…]

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Grammar And Optical Illusions

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Ruminations has never really figured out when to use “which” and when to use “that.” No matter how many times we read that one is used with dependent clauses and the other is used with independent clauses, the rule never sinks in. We don’t even remember which is used with which. To us, it seems like the optical illusion of a hollow mask where you see either a convex face or a concave face depending on who knows what. Small comfort to us that we think we are in good company in this failing. [To learn more about the hollow mask, click: HERE.]

So, does this have anything to do with legal matters? We think so based on a recent decision out of the Delaware Chancery Court, one pitting lawyers from a pair of top drawer Delaware and Washington DC firms against a similar pair of top draw firms from Delaware and Washington DC. And, like many other disputes we’ve read about in judicial decisions, we just wonder: “How do some of us keep a straight face when making some of these arguments?” [Read more…]

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How Can I Get Out Of My Oral Agreement?

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It’s not true that oral contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. In fact, for all but some small classes of agreements, oral ones are no different than ones printed on the finest of rag papers. Certainly, they are more difficult to prove their very existence, let alone their detailed provisions. That’s a good reason they should be memorialized in a written version. We’ve written, “memorialized” because, in many cases that’s the real function the writing performs. The parties will have already agreed to the terms of their intended transaction. At that stage, they have a contract – a binding agreement. Writing it down doesn’t make it any more “official,” just a lot easier to follow and a lot easier to explain the “deal” to others, attorneys included.

So as not to mislead some readers, we aren’t dismissing the “Statute of Frauds,” something most (perhaps all) states adopted based on a 1677 English law with the self-explanatory name: “An Act for the Prevention of Frauds and Perjuries.” While various states have different lists of what kind of agreements need to be in writing lest one party or the other be able to disavow their agreement just because it was oral (and for no other disabling reason), traditionally most agreements involving conveyances of real property fall or fell (depending on where the property is located) under these statutes. [Read more…]

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Can A Tenant Just Pay-Up And Close Its Store In Violation Of A Continuous Operating Covenant?

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Continuous operation lease provisions are contentious. The ability of a landlord to impose such an obligation within a particular lease is determined by the relative bargaining power of the parties. All bargaining power, like all politics, is local. If a tenant doesn’t really “need” to be at a particular property and the landlord really “needs” that (or any) tenant, then it’s unlikely that any resulting lease will include one. At least, in a rational world, that’s the way it would be.

Today, Ruminations will describe two unusual court decisions with the caveat that the fat lady hasn’t yet sung. Each are at the “preliminary injunction” stage, actually at the stage where two courts, in geographically distant jurisdictions, have ordered two different tenants, with different landlords, to keep their stores open. That’s where the similarity ends, as today’s blog posting will tell.

[As to the two cases, each being in the preliminary injunction stage, no final decision has been reached. All the separate courts have ruled is that what the tenants were “doing yesterday,” i.e., operating a store, they need to do “today,” i.e., keep operating that store (at least until a final decision is reached). That means not all the facts and legal arguments are yet on the table. For that reason, Ruminations won’t be analyzing the living daylights out of either case. We’ll be waiting for a final “call” as to one of those cases (the Indiana one) before going down that road.] [Read more…]

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Stop Them Now – They Are Killing Me!

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  • Until about a month ago (or, perhaps until this past September), had you asked us if a court would order a tenant to keep its store open and operating, we would have said, “Probably, not,” with an emphasis on the “Not.” We think a large majority of our colleagues would have agreed. That’s not to say that there couldn’t have been very special circumstances not included within our “Not,” but we would have thought those circumstances would need to have been unique in character. Today, after an Indiana court has (for now) barred a chain store retailer from closing 77 stores located in the aggrieved developer’s malls and a Washington state court has (for now) barred a (chain) supermarket from closing a single store, we’re far less sure. We aren’t going to dissect those two court orders today. That’s for next week, another holiday weekend. Today, we’ll just glaze eyes over with some legal background. [Read more…]
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