Obviously, the whole point of a contract is that two parties are seeking security that the other party is going to do something in return for something for them. A contract is essentially a bargain: I do this thing (or don’t do this thing in some cases), and, in return, you do or do not this other thing.
When one party does not hold up its end of the bargains by refusing to perform (or perform up to the standards expected by the other party) – which could come in the form of refusing to pay money, refusing to deliver a good or service, refusing to redo a project to the contract’s specifications, and so on – therein lies the beginnings of a breach of contract action.
In essence, a breach of contract action is where one party (the plaintiff) either goes to court or threatens to go to court to have that court demand that the other party (the defendant) live up to its end of the bargain by performing, paying damages, and/or making some other restitutionary action.
But a defendant, however, may in some cases be excused from performing. California breach of contract actions can be quite complex in many cases, but here is an overview of the types of questions to consider in determining whether a defendant might be excused from performing in California.
Has the Plaintiff Performed On Its Obligations?
Again, a contract is a bargain between two parties to each perform, a quid pro quo (“this for that”) if you will. But if the plaintiff itself has failed to perform any obligations or otherwise meet conditions on the contract, this could be grounds for the defendant not having to perform. For example, if a buyer of a property was required to obtain financing as a condition of the contract, the seller may be excused from performing if that condition was not met.
Courts will, however, often look at whether a failure of a plaintiff to meet its obligations under the contract is “material,” or in other words of a certain legal significance, before excusing performance on the part of the defendant.
Is There a Defense to Enforcement of the Contract?
Not all agreements between parties are legally enforceable in court, even if they are otherwise contracts. There are a number of defenses to breach of contract actions which will excuse a defendant from having to perform.
A full discussion of these defenses is worthy of an entire volume on the topic, but common defenses to contract performance include:
- Illegality of the contract
Is There an Alternative Remedy Available to the Plaintiff?
Even if the plaintiff has a valid breach of contract claim, forcing the defendant to perform its obligations under the contract will not always be ordered by a California court.
In general, courts do not want to get into the business of involuntary servitude, and so courts will generally not require a defendant to perform a service against its will. Instead, a court may order an alternative remedy such as money damages, or restoring the parties to where they were prior to the contract being made.
Speak to a California breach of contract attorney for guidance on your particular situation.
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