Pay Attention in Class—Eleventh Circuit Rejects Law Student’s Unilateral Contract Claim

In Kolodziej v. Mason, No. 14-10644 (11th Cir. Dec. 18, 2014), the Eleventh Circuit held that summary judgment was properly granted to defendant Mason and his law firm in a case involving a unilateral contract claim. The plaintiff could not show that a reasonable, objective person would deem the defendant’s “Million Dollar Challenge” an offer to enter a unilateral contract. Instead, it could only be reasonably interpreted as hyperbole.

James Cheney Mason is an attorney. In 2006, Mason was representing criminal defendant Nelson Serrano, who was accused of committing four murders in 1997. At Serrano’s trial, Mason presented evidence of Serrano’s alibi defense. Mason determined that Serrano would have had to make the trip the prosecution alleged he took from the Atlanta airport to the La Quinta Inn in only twenty-eight minutes on his return trip. Prior to Serrano’s trial, Mason was interviewed by NBC where he stated, “I challenge anybody to show me, and guess what? Did they bring in any evidence to say that somebody made that route…? State’s burden of proof. If they can do it, I’ll challenge ‘em. I’ll pay them a million dollars if they can do it.” NBC did not broadcast the interview during the trial and Serrano was found guilty. In December 2006, NBC “Dateline” showed an edited version of the interview where Mason’s statement aired as, “I challenge anybody to show me—I’ll pay them a million dollars if they can do it.” Kolodziej was a law student in 2006 and completed the challenge in 2007. However, the details of his challenge differ from Serrano’s route.

The district court granted summary judgment to Mason on two grounds: (1) Kolodziej, being unaware of the unedited interview when he attempted to perform the challenge could not accept an offer he did not know existed and (2) the challenge in the interview was unambiguously directed only to the prosecution. Kolodziej appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Mason.

The Eleventh Circuit determined that summary judgment had been properly granted to Mason but on different grounds than the district court. Namely, Mason’s conduct had not formed an offer sufficient to prove his mutual assent to contract if someone were to perform the challenge. The Eleventh Circuit noted that the circumstances surrounding the challenge—it was made in an interview regarding his work as a criminal defense attorney—that it was not a serious offer for a party to debunk his client’s alibi defense. Additionally, the Eleventh Circuit found that the challenge itself lacked sufficiently definite terms for it to be taken as a serious offer to contract. Mason had not set a start or end date on the challenge and Serrano’s trial had already ended. Thus, Mason’s challenge did not amount to an actual offer.

Further, details of Serrano’s trip from the airport to the hotel were not spelled out in such a way that a party could accurately retrace his steps. For example, Kolodziej also had to guess at the hotel’s location was the La Quinta is now defunct. Therefore, the Eleventh Circuit found that Kolodziej had not adequately performed. Thus, the Eleventh Circuit found that mutual assent had not taken place and no unilateral contract existed between the parties.

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