Figgie International v. Destileria Serralles

190 F.3d 252 (1999)

Quick Summary

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Figgie International (plaintiff) and Destileria Serralles (defendant) disputed over failed bottle-labeling equipment provided by Figgie. Serralles sought additional damages beyond a refund for equipment failure and delays. Figgie argued that industry trade practices limited remedies to repair, replacement, or refund.

The Court upheld that industry trade usage indeed limited remedies and did not fail its essential purpose under UCC provisions. Consequently, Serralles was not entitled to additional damages beyond what was already refunded.

Facts of the Case

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Figgie International, Inc. (plaintiff), a manufacturer of bottle-labeling equipment, entered into an agreement with Destileria Serralles, Inc. (defendant), a rum bottler, to supply labeling machinery. The equipment failed to function as promised, leading to repeated but unsuccessful attempts by Figgie to fix the issues.

Eventually, after nine months of malfunctioning, Serralles returned the equipment and received a refund of the purchase price. However, Serralles sought additional compensation for losses caused by the equipment’s failure and the subsequent delay in acquiring an alternative solution.

Figgie initiated a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment to affirm that the contract terms and industry trade usages limited Serralles’s remedy to repair, replacement, or refund only. Due to Figgie losing its copy of the contract in a reorganization, it relied on standard terms that it claimed accompanied every sales contract at the time.

Serralles produced its copy of the contract, which made reference to additional terms on the reverse side, but that side was blank.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Figgie filed for declaratory judgment in the trial court asserting limited remedies based on contract terms and trade usage.
  2. The trial court granted summary judgment for Figgie.
  3. Serralles appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, disputing the trade usage and seeking all remedies under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC).

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether trade usage in the bottle-labeling industry limits a buyer’s remedy to repair, replacement, or refund and whether such a limitation failed its essential purpose under the Uniform Commercial Code.

Rule of Law

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An ‘agreement’ under the UCC includes implied terms from circumstances such as course of dealing or usage of trade. These can supplement or qualify terms of an agreement. Under UCC ยง 2-719, parties can limit remedies to those such as repair, replacement, or refund unless circumstances cause the exclusive remedy to fail its essential purpose.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The Court analyzed affidavits from industry experts provided by Figgie, which supported the argument that limiting remedies to repair, replacement, or refund was standard in the industry. Serralles did not provide evidence to contest this industry practice.

Thus, the Court found trade usage did limit remedies accordingly. Furthermore, the Court determined that the limited remedy did not fail its essential purpose because Serralles received a refund after unsuccessful repair attempts, which aligned with the industry’s standard practices and UCC provisions.

Serralles’s argument that subsequent communications from Figgie amounted to new agreements without limited remedies was rejected by the Court. The Court viewed these as part of Figgie’s attempts to fulfill its obligations under the original agreement rather than creating new contracts or modifying existing ones.


Conclusion Icon

The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision granting summary judgment for Figgie.

Key Takeaways

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  1. Trade usage in an industry can supplement and qualify the terms of a commercial agreement under the UCC.
  2. A remedy limitation to repair, replacement, or refund does not fail its essential purpose if it operates within expected industry standards and aligns with UCC provisions.
  3. Communications made during attempts to fulfill contractual obligations do not necessarily modify or create new agreements.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What constitutes a failure of an exclusive remedy under the UCC?

An exclusive remedy under the UCC fails when it does not adequately compensate for a breach, effectively depriving the aggrieved party of the substantial benefits of the contract.

  • For example: If a seller provides defective goods and the only remedy is repair, but repairs are repeatedly ineffective, this could be seen as a failure of the exclusive remedy if the buyer cannot use the goods as intended.

How does usage of trade influence contract interpretation?

Usage of trade can provide context to ambiguous contract terms, fill in gaps where the contract is silent, and may even override express terms if widely accepted in the industry.

  • For example: In a contract for the sale of wool, if ‘grade A’ is not defined in the agreement but is understood in the wool trade to mean wool with certain micron measurements, this interpretation would be used to resolve disputes.

What is the effect of course of performance on existing contractual terms?

Course of performance refers to how parties have acted under the terms of a contract and can be used to interpret or modify those terms based on consistent past actions between them.

  • For example: If a supplier habitually accepts late payments without complaint, this may alter the original payment terms to allow for late payments without penalty.


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