T.G. KAVANAGH, J.
Plaintiff, an insurance agent, contracted to place several advertisements in the Flint classified telephone directory. The defendant, Michigan Bell Telephone Company, accepted the order and agreed to publish the listings in its 1963 Yellow Pages — but failed to do so. Upon plaintiff's suit for damages, the defendant Bell Telephone asserted the following clause of their contract as an affirmative defense:
"Telephone company (a) will not be bound by any verbal agreements or (b) will not be liable to advertiser for damages resulting from failure to include all or any of said items of advertising in the directories or from errors in the advertising printed in the directories, in excess of the agreed prices for such advertising for the issue in which the error or omission occurs."
Then the defendant moved for, and was granted, a summary judgment of no cause of action.
The plaintiff's appeal questions the trial court's application of this clause in granting the motion for summary judgment and, further, challenges the legality of such a clause on the grounds of public policy.
He argues that the clause in question limits the liability of the telephone company only as it pertains to damages for breach of contract, and that such a contracted disclaimer may not be read as a limitation of its liability for its own negligence. He cites as authority two Michigan cases: Harbaugh v. Citizens
The defendant asserts that it is not required to provide the Yellow Pages and therefore it is to be treated as a private party and not a public utility when soliciting and contracting advertisements. The defendant further contends, that, since this is an area of private contract, it may lawfully require those who desire to advertise in the Yellow Pages to agree to a limitation of liability in the event of an omission or error in the Yellow Pages.
The principle of freedom to contract does not carry a license to insert any provision in an agreement which a party deems advantageous. The public is concerned with the legality of contracts and limits the contractual freedom of private parties to legal undertakings. This public concern is manifest in the statutes and decisions of this state.
Nor can we say it is against public policy for the defendant to limit its liability for its own negligence in all circumstances.
Implicit in the principle of freedom of contract is the concept that at the time of contracting each party has a realistic alternative to acceptance of the terms offered. Where goods and services can only be obtained from one source (or several sources on noncompetitive terms) the choices of one who desires to purchase are limited to acceptance of the terms offered or doing without. Depending on the nature of the goods or services and the purchaser's needs, doing without may or may not be a realistic alternative. Where it is not, one who successfully exacts agreement to an unreasonable term cannot insist on the courts enforcing it on the ground that it was "freely" entered into, when it was not. He cannot in the name of freedom of contract be heard to insist on enforcement of an unreasonable contract term against one who on any fair appraisal was not free to accept or reject that term.
There are then two inquiries in a case such as this: (1) What is the relative bargaining power of the parties, their relative economic strength, the alternative sources of supply, in a word, what are their options?; (2) Is the challenged term substantively reasonable?
"Unconscionability has generally been recognized to include an absence of meaningful choice on the part of one of the parties together with contract
Thus, merely because the parties have different options or bargaining power, unequal or wholly out of proportion to each other, does not mean that the agreement of one of the parties to a term of a contract will not be enforced against him; if the term is substantively reasonable it will be enforced. By like token, if the provision is substantively unreasonable, it may not be enforced without regard to the relative bargaining power of the contracting parties.
Where the contract is affected with a "public interest" a court is more likely to refuse enforcement to an exculpatory provision.
It is not enough to say that "freedom of contract" is the founding principle of our economy, for freedom of contract is directly related to another basic principle of our economy — "freedom of enterprise". It must be recognized that freedom of enterprise became severely restricted as the giants in our industries and services overwhelmed their competition. It is neither rational nor just to contend that freedom of contract must remain static and immutable as freedom of enterprise inexorably recedes. Both concepts must adjust and adapt to the times.
The parties to this suit are not in positions of equal bargaining power. It is common knowledge that defendant's Yellow Pages is the only directory of classified telephone listings freely distributed to
Under the circumstances the plaintiff had the option of agreeing to the offered terms or doing without advertising in the Yellow Pages. There being no competing directory or means of communicating with the same audience of potential customers except possibly at prohibitive (and by comparison totally disproportionate) cost, doing without in this case was not a realistic alternative. Clearly the challenged term is substantively unreasonable. It relieves the defendant from all liability — its only obligation is to return the agreed contract price paid for the service it did not perform. We have concluded that this provision is unreasonable and, accordingly, we decline to enforce it.
We believe the law in Michigan to be that, where goods or services used by a significant segment of the public can be obtained from only one source, or from limited sources on no more favorable terms, an unreasonable term in a contract for such goods or services will not be enforced as a matter of public policy.
Reversed and remanded for trial on the merits. Costs to appellant.
LEVIN, J., concurred.
QUINN, P.J. (dissenting).
Being an appellate judge and not an appellate advocate, I must dissent. The majority opinion is based on a theory not pleaded
If this Court does not consider theories not presented to the trial court, Kirby v. Monroe Paper Products Company (1965), 1 Mich.App. 680, we could not properly reach the result of the majority opinion had plaintiff briefed or argued on appeal the theory adopted by the majority opinion. When the additional fact that plaintiff neither briefed nor argued such theory on appeal is considered, it appears to me that the majority opinion has exceeded the appellate jurisdiction of this Court.
On this record, the grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment was proper and legally correct. I vote to affirm.
In only one case was mention made of the question of relative bargaining positions. In McTighe v. New England Telephone and Telegraph Company (CA 2, 1954), 216 F.2d 26, Judge Medina devoted most of his opinion to discussion of the white pages aspect of the case. After pointing out that the yellow pages involve no such public duty as is connected with the white pages, Judge Medina observed:
"If there be some disparity in the bargaining power of the contracting parties it is no more than may be found generally to exist; and the courts follow the general rule that the parties are free to contract according to their own judgment and the reasonableness of their engagements will not be entered into."
This indicates that he was aware of the unequal bargaining power argument but does not disclose what considerations or facts moved him to reject it out-of-hand
We must conclude, therefore, that the factor of unequal bargaining power between the parties to the contract has never been fairly considered in connection with the standard limitation of liability clause in a Yellow Pages advertisement contract.