Assignment of Contract
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An assignment of contract is a legal term that describes the process that occurs when the original party (assignor) transfers their rights and obligations under their contract to a third party (assignee). When an assignment of contract happens, the original party is relieved of their contractual duties, and their role is replaced by the approved incoming party.
How Does Assignment of Contract Work?
An assignment of contract is simpler than you might think.
The process starts with an existing contract party who wishes to transfer their contractual obligations to a new party.
When this occurs, the existing contract party must first confirm that an assignment of contract is permissible under the legally binding agreement . Some contracts prohibit assignments of contract altogether, and some require the other parties of the agreement to agree to the transfer. However, the general rule is that contracts are freely assignable unless there is an explicit provision that says otherwise.
In other cases, some contracts allow an assignment of contract without any formal notification to other contract parties. If this is the case, once the existing contract party decides to reassign his duties, he must create a “Letter of Assignment ” to notify any other contract signers of the change.
The Letter of Assignment must include details about who is to take over the contractual obligations of the exiting party and when the transfer will take place. If the assignment is valid, the assignor is not required to obtain the consent or signature of the other parties to the original contract for the valid assignment to take place.
Check out this article to learn more about how assigning a contract works.
Contract Assignment Examples
Contract assignments are great tools for contract parties to use when they wish to transfer their commitments to a third party. Here are some examples of contract assignments to help you better understand them:
Anna signs a contract with a local trash company that entitles her to have her trash picked up twice a week. A year later, the trash company transferred her contract to a new trash service provider. This contract assignment effectively makes Anna’s contract now with the new service provider.
Hasina enters a contract with a national phone company for cell phone service. The company goes into bankruptcy and needs to close its doors but decides to transfer all current contracts to another provider who agrees to honor the same rates and level of service. The contract assignment is completed, and Hasina now has a contract with the new phone company as a result.
Here is an article where you can find out more about contract assignments.
Assignment of Contract in Real Estate
Assignment of contract is also used in real estate to make money without going the well-known routes of buying and flipping houses. When real estate LLC investors use an assignment of contract, they can make money off properties without ever actually buying them by instead opting to transfer real estate contracts .
This process is called real estate wholesaling.
Real Estate Wholesaling
Real estate wholesaling consists of locating deals on houses that you don’t plan to buy but instead plan to enter a contract to reassign the house to another buyer and pocket the profit.
The process is simple: real estate wholesalers negotiate purchase contracts with sellers. Then, they present these contracts to buyers who pay them an assignment fee for transferring the contract.
This process works because a real estate purchase agreement does not come with the obligation to buy a property. Instead, it sets forth certain purchasing parameters that must be fulfilled by the buyer of the property. In a nutshell, whoever signs the purchase contract has the right to buy the property, but those rights can usually be transferred by means of an assignment of contract.
This means that as long as the buyer who’s involved in the assignment of contract agrees with the purchasing terms, they can legally take over the contract.
But how do real estate wholesalers find these properties?
It is easier than you might think. Here are a few examples of ways that wholesalers find cheap houses to turn a profit on:
- Direct mailers
- Place newspaper ads
- Make posts in online forums
- Social media posts
The key to finding the perfect home for an assignment of contract is to locate sellers that are looking to get rid of their properties quickly. This might be a family who is looking to relocate for a job opportunity or someone who needs to make repairs on a home but can’t afford it. Either way, the quicker the wholesaler can close the deal, the better.
Once a property is located, wholesalers immediately go to work getting the details ironed out about how the sale will work. Transparency is key when it comes to wholesaling. This means that when a wholesaler intends to use an assignment of contract to transfer the rights to another person, they are always upfront about during the preliminary phases of the sale.
In addition to this practice just being good business, it makes sure the process goes as smoothly as possible later down the line. Wholesalers are clear in their intent and make sure buyers know that the contract could be transferred to another buyer before the closing date arrives.
After their offer is accepted and warranties are determined, wholesalers move to complete a title search . Title searches ensure that sellers have the right to enter into a purchase agreement on the property. They do this by searching for any outstanding tax payments, liens , or other roadblocks that could prevent the sale from going through.
Wholesalers also often work with experienced real estate lawyers who ensure that all of the legal paperwork is forthcoming and will stand up in court. Lawyers can also assist in the contract negotiation process if needed but often don’t come in until the final stages.
If the title search comes back clear and the real estate lawyer gives the green light, the wholesaler will immediately move to locate an entity to transfer the rights to buy.
One of the most attractive advantages of real estate wholesaling is that very little money is needed to get started. The process of finding a seller, negotiating a price, and performing a title search is an extremely cheap process that almost anyone can do.
On the other hand, it is not always a positive experience. It can be hard for wholesalers to find sellers who will agree to sell their homes for less than the market value. Even when they do, there is always a chance that the transferred buyer will back out of the sale, which leaves wholesalers obligated to either purchase the property themselves or scramble to find a new person to complete an assignment of contract with.
Learn more about assignment of contract in real estate by checking out this article .
Who Handles Assignment of Contract?
The best person to handle an assignment of contract is an attorney. Since these are detailed legal documents that deal with thousands of dollars, it is never a bad idea to have a professional on your side. If you need help with an assignment of contract or signing a business contract , post a project on ContractsCounsel. There, you can connect with attorneys who know everything there is to know about assignment of contract amendment and can walk you through the whole process.
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Assignment is a legal term whereby an individual, the “assignor,” transfers rights, property, or other benefits to another known as the “ assignee .” This concept is used in both contract and property law. The term can refer to either the act of transfer or the rights /property/benefits being transferred.
Under contract law, assignment of a contract is both: (1) an assignment of rights; and (2) a delegation of duties , in the absence of evidence otherwise. For example, if A contracts with B to teach B guitar for $50, A can assign this contract to C. That is, this assignment is both: (1) an assignment of A’s rights under the contract to the $50; and (2) a delegation of A’s duty to teach guitar to C. In this example, A is both the “assignor” and the “delegee” who d elegates the duties to another (C), C is known as the “ obligor ” who must perform the obligations to the assignee , and B is the “ assignee ” who is owed duties and is liable to the “ obligor ”.
(1) Assignment of Rights/Duties Under Contract Law
There are a few notable rules regarding assignments under contract law. First, if an individual has not yet secured the contract to perform duties to another, he/she cannot assign his/her future right to an assignee . That is, if A has not yet contracted with B to teach B guitar, A cannot assign his/her rights to C. Second, rights cannot be assigned when they materially change the obligor ’s duty and rights. Third, the obligor can sue the assignee directly if the assignee does not pay him/her. Following the previous example, this means that C ( obligor ) can sue B ( assignee ) if C teaches guitar to B, but B does not pay C $50 in return.
(2) Delegation of Duties
If the promised performance requires a rare genius or skill, then the delegee cannot delegate it to the obligor. It can only be delegated if the promised performance is more commonplace. Further, an obligee can sue if the assignee does not perform. However, the delegee is secondarily liable unless there has been an express release of the delegee. That is, if B does want C to teach guitar but C refuses to, then B can sue C. If C still refuses to perform, then B can compel A to fulfill the duties under secondary liability.
Lastly, a related concept is novation , which is when a new obligor substitutes and releases an old obligor. If novation occurs, then the original obligor’s duties are wiped out. However, novation requires an original obligee’s consent .
Under property law, assignment typically arises in landlord-tenant situations. For example, A might be renting from landlord B but wants to another party (C) to take over the property. In this scenario, A might be able to choose between assigning and subleasing the property to C. If assigning , A would be giving C the entire balance of the term, with no reversion to anyone whereas if subleasing , A would be giving C for a limited period of the remaining term. Significantly, under assignment C would have privity of estate with the landlord while under a sublease, C would not.
[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team ]
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Legal terms explained: assignment.
This post is part of the following categories:
Construction Law (Journal) , Legal Terms Explained
What is assignment?
An assignment is the transfer of an interest from one party (“ assignor ”) to another (“ assignee ”). Assignment allows the assignor to transfer the benefit of a contract to the assignee. For example, the tenant of recently built office premises may transfer the benefit of a collateral warranty originally granted in its favour to a subsequent tenant.
Without express words, assignment usually involves an assignment of accrued and future rights. Clear words are required to assign only future rights under a contract ( Energy Works (Hull) Ltd v MW High Tech Projects UK and others  EWHC 2537 (TCC)).
Assignment in a construction context typically refers to a legal or equitable assignment (although assignment can also occur by other means, e.g. operation of law). A key difference between legal and equitable assignments is that, in the case of a legal assignment, the assignee may enforce any assigned rights in its own name. In contrast, following an equitable assignment, the assignee would need to join the assignor in any action brought to enforce its rights.
To take effect as a legal assignment under English law, an assignment must comply with section 136(1) of the Law of Property Act 1925 (“ LPA 1925 “). This requires the assignment to be: (i) in writing; (ii) absolute; and (iii) expressly notified in writing to the other party to the contract (“ debtor “). In practice, parties tend to effect a legal assignment by way of an assignment agreement or deed of assignment to ensure that these requirements are satisfied.
However, if the parties fail to meet any of the requirements set out in LPA 1925 the assignment will usually have equitable effect. Equitable assignments may arise orally or in writing, and whilst recommended, there is no need to notify the debtor, provided a clear intention to assign can be established. Neither legal nor equitable assignments generally require the debtor’s consent.
Assignment v novation
Although both terms are sometimes used interchangeably, assignment should be distinguished from novation. The most notable difference is that assignment only transfers the benefit of a contract (e.g. a warranty that works have been carried out to the required standard), whereas a novation transfers both the benefit and the burden (e.g. an obligation to pay for a service). As novation also requires the consent of all parties, it will typically be effected by a tripartite agreement between the novating party, the party to whom the contract is to be novated, and the counterparty to the relevant contract.
Some issues concerning assignment
- Restrictions on assignment – Unless there is an express prohibition in the contract, the parties will usually be free to assign the benefit of a contract. However, many standard form building contracts, including the JCT Design and Build Contract, prohibit assignment, or allow it only subject to certain conditions. In this regard, a developer may seek to amend the contract to reduce any restrictions on their ability to assign. In contrast, a contractor may seek to limit any rights to assign, for example by specifying the number of permitted assignments. This is often linked to the contractor’s professional indemnity insurance terms which may provide for restricted cover in respect of successive assignments.
- Ineffective assignment where prohibited – If a party purports to assign a right in contravention of an assignment clause, the assignment will only be effective as between the assignee and the assignor, and will not be enforceable against the debtor.
- Means of assignment – A clause in a contract permitting assignment is not sufficient to effect an assignment. There must be a separate document or oral agreement to show the assignor’s intention to assign ( Allied Carpets Group Plc v Macfarlane (t/a Whicheloe Macfarlane Partnership)  EWHC 1155 (TCC)).
* This is an updated version of an article originally published as part of the ‘Legal Terms Explained’ series of Construction Law .
For further information, please contact James Doe, David Nitek, Noe Minamikata or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.
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Legal Assignment: Everything You Need to Know
A legal assignment occurs when a party assigns their contractual rights to a third party. 3 min read
A legal assignment occurs when a party assigns their contractual rights to a third party. The benefit that the issuing party would have received from the contract is now assigned to the third party. The party appointing their rights is referred to as the assignor, while the party obtaining the rights is the assignee.
Assignment of Contract
A legal assignment occurs when:
- The rights in personal or real property are transferred from one party to another
- The transfer also gives the new owner the rights to the property that the prior owner held prior to the transfer occurring
In the Purman Estate case, the court stated that a legal assignment is a transfer of property, or of some right or interest, from one person to another. It also stated that it must be the proper transfer of one whole interest in that property.
An assignment of rights occurs when an assignor gives up or transfers their rights of a future benefit to another party. In other words, an assignment is the act of one party transferring, vesting, or causing to vest their interest in a property to another party. A valid legal assignment only occurs when all underlying elements of a lawfully binding contract are included in it, including intent. A trial court can determine if an assignment has occurred. To prevent disputes or miscommunications, it's important that the subject matter is clearly identified in the assignment.
A contract assignment occurs when a party assigns their contractual rights to a third party. The benefit the issuing party would have received from the contract is now assigned to the third party. The party appointing their rights is referred to as the assignor, while the party obtaining the rights is the assignee. Essentially, the assignor prefers that the assignee reverses roles and assumes the contractual rights and obligations as stated in the contract. Before this can occur, all parties to the original contract must be notified.
How Assignments Work
The specific language used in the contract will determine how the assignment plays out. For example , one contract may prohibit assignment, while another contract may require that all parties involved agree to it before proceeding. Remember, an assignment of contract does not necessarily alleviate an assignor from all liability. Many contracts include an assurance clause guaranteeing performance. In other words, the initial parties to the contract guarantee that the assignee will achieve the desired goal.
When Assignments Will Not Be Enforced
The following situations indicate when an assignment of a contract is not enforced:
- The contract specifically prohibits assignment
- The assignment drastically changes the expected outcome
- The assignment is against public policy or illegal
Delegation vs. Assignment
Occasionally, one party in a contract will desire to pass on or delegate their responsibility to a third party without creating an assignment contract. Some duties are so specific in nature that they cannot be delegated. Adding a clause in the contract to prevent a party from delegating their responsibilities and duties is highly recommended.
Three Steps to Follow if You Want to Assign a Contract
There are three main steps to take if you're looking to assign a contract:
- Make sure the current contract does not contain an anti-assignment clause
- Officially execute the assignment by transferring the parties' obligations and rights
- Notify the obligor of the changes made
Once the obligor is notified, the assignor will effectively be relieved of liability.
If you'd prefer not to allow the party you're doing business with to assign a contract, you may be able to prevent this from occurring by clearly stating anti-assignment clauses in the original contract. The three most common anti-assignment clauses are:
- Consent required for assignment
- Consent not needed for new owners or affiliates
- Consent not unreasonably withheld
Based on these three clauses, no party in the contract is allowed to delegate or assign any obligations or rights without prior written consent from the other parties. Any delegation or assignment in violation of this passage shall be deemed void. It is not possible to write an anti-assignment clause that goes against an assignment that is issued or ordered by a court.
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- Assignment Law
- Assignment Contract Law
- Assignment of Rights and Obligations Under a Contract
- Assignment of Rights Example
- Consent to Assignment
- Assignment Legal Definition
- What Is the Definition of Assigns
- Delegation vs Assignment
- Assignment Of Contracts
- Assignment of Contract Rights
- assignments basic law
Assignments: The Basic Law
The assignment of a right or obligation is a common contractual event under the law and the right to assign (or prohibition against assignments) is found in the majority of agreements, leases and business structural documents created in the United States.
As with many terms commonly used, people are familiar with the term but often are not aware or fully aware of what the terms entail. The concept of assignment of rights and obligations is one of those simple concepts with wide ranging ramifications in the contractual and business context and the law imposes severe restrictions on the validity and effect of assignment in many instances. Clear contractual provisions concerning assignments and rights should be in every document and structure created and this article will outline why such drafting is essential for the creation of appropriate and effective contracts and structures.
The reader should first read the article on Limited Liability Entities in the United States and Contracts since the information in those articles will be assumed in this article.
Basic Definitions and Concepts:
An assignment is the transfer of rights held by one party called the “assignor” to another party called the “assignee.” The legal nature of the assignment and the contractual terms of the agreement between the parties determines some additional rights and liabilities that accompany the assignment. The assignment of rights under a contract usually completely transfers the rights to the assignee to receive the benefits accruing under the contract. Ordinarily, the term assignment is limited to the transfer of rights that are intangible, like contractual rights and rights connected with property. Merchants Service Co. v. Small Claims Court , 35 Cal. 2d 109, 113-114 (Cal. 1950).
An assignment will generally be permitted under the law unless there is an express prohibition against assignment in the underlying contract or lease. Where assignments are permitted, the assignor need not consult the other party to the contract but may merely assign the rights at that time. However, an assignment cannot have any adverse effect on the duties of the other party to the contract, nor can it diminish the chance of the other party receiving complete performance. The assignor normally remains liable unless there is an agreement to the contrary by the other party to the contract.
The effect of a valid assignment is to remove privity between the assignor and the obligor and create privity between the obligor and the assignee. Privity is usually defined as a direct and immediate contractual relationship. See Merchants case above.
Further, for the assignment to be effective in most jurisdictions, it must occur in the present. One does not normally assign a future right; the assignment vests immediate rights and obligations.
No specific language is required to create an assignment so long as the assignor makes clear his/her intent to assign identified contractual rights to the assignee. Since expensive litigation can erupt from ambiguous or vague language, obtaining the correct verbiage is vital. An agreement must manifest the intent to transfer rights and can either be oral or in writing and the rights assigned must be certain.
Note that an assignment of an interest is the transfer of some identifiable property, claim, or right from the assignor to the assignee. The assignment operates to transfer to the assignee all of the rights, title, or interest of the assignor in the thing assigned. A transfer of all rights, title, and interests conveys everything that the assignor owned in the thing assigned and the assignee stands in the shoes of the assignor. Knott v. McDonald’s Corp ., 985 F. Supp. 1222 (N.D. Cal. 1997)
The parties must intend to effectuate an assignment at the time of the transfer, although no particular language or procedure is necessary. As long ago as the case of National Reserve Co. v. Metropolitan Trust Co ., 17 Cal. 2d 827 (Cal. 1941), the court held that in determining what rights or interests pass under an assignment, the intention of the parties as manifested in the instrument is controlling.
The intent of the parties to an assignment is a question of fact to be derived not only from the instrument executed by the parties but also from the surrounding circumstances. When there is no writing to evidence the intention to transfer some identifiable property, claim, or right, it is necessary to scrutinize the surrounding circumstances and parties’ acts to ascertain their intentions. Strosberg v. Brauvin Realty Servs., 295 Ill. App. 3d 17 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1998)
The general rule applicable to assignments of choses in action is that an assignment, unless there is a contract to the contrary, carries with it all securities held by the assignor as collateral to the claim and all rights incidental thereto and vests in the assignee the equitable title to such collateral securities and incidental rights. An unqualified assignment of a contract or chose in action, however, with no indication of the intent of the parties, vests in the assignee the assigned contract or chose and all rights and remedies incidental thereto.
More examples: In Strosberg v. Brauvin Realty Servs ., 295 Ill. App. 3d 17 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1998), the court held that the assignee of a party to a subordination agreement is entitled to the benefits and is subject to the burdens of the agreement. In Florida E. C. R. Co. v. Eno , 99 Fla. 887 (Fla. 1930), the court held that the mere assignment of all sums due in and of itself creates no different or other liability of the owner to the assignee than that which existed from the owner to the assignor.
And note that even though an assignment vests in the assignee all rights, remedies, and contingent benefits which are incidental to the thing assigned, those which are personal to the assignor and for his sole benefit are not assigned. Rasp v. Hidden Valley Lake, Inc ., 519 N.E.2d 153, 158 (Ind. Ct. App. 1988). Thus, if the underlying agreement provides that a service can only be provided to X, X cannot assign that right to Y.
Novation Compared to Assignment:
Although the difference between a novation and an assignment may appear narrow, it is an essential one. “Novation is a act whereby one party transfers all its obligations and benefits under a contract to a third party.” In a novation, a third party successfully substitutes the original party as a party to the contract. “When a contract is novated, the other contracting party must be left in the same position he was in prior to the novation being made.”
A sublease is the transfer when a tenant retains some right of reentry onto the leased premises. However, if the tenant transfers the entire leasehold estate, retaining no right of reentry or other reversionary interest, then the transfer is an assignment. The assignor is normally also removed from liability to the landlord only if the landlord consents or allowed that right in the lease. In a sublease, the original tenant is not released from the obligations of the original lease.
An equitable assignment is one in which one has a future interest and is not valid at law but valid in a court of equity. In National Bank of Republic v. United Sec. Life Ins. & Trust Co. , 17 App. D.C. 112 (D.C. Cir. 1900), the court held that to constitute an equitable assignment of a chose in action, the following has to occur generally: anything said written or done, in pursuance of an agreement and for valuable consideration, or in consideration of an antecedent debt, to place a chose in action or fund out of the control of the owner, and appropriate it to or in favor of another person, amounts to an equitable assignment. Thus, an agreement, between a debtor and a creditor, that the debt shall be paid out of a specific fund going to the debtor may operate as an equitable assignment.
In Egyptian Navigation Co. v. Baker Invs. Corp. , 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30804 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 14, 2008), the court stated that an equitable assignment occurs under English law when an assignor, with an intent to transfer his/her right to a chose in action, informs the assignee about the right so transferred.
An executory agreement or a declaration of trust are also equitable assignments if unenforceable as assignments by a court of law but enforceable by a court of equity exercising sound discretion according to the circumstances of the case. Since California combines courts of equity and courts of law, the same court would hear arguments as to whether an equitable assignment had occurred. Quite often, such relief is granted to avoid fraud or unjust enrichment.
Note that obtaining an assignment through fraudulent means invalidates the assignment. Fraud destroys the validity of everything into which it enters. It vitiates the most solemn contracts, documents, and even judgments. Walker v. Rich , 79 Cal. App. 139 (Cal. App. 1926). If an assignment is made with the fraudulent intent to delay, hinder, and defraud creditors, then it is void as fraudulent in fact. See our article on Transfers to Defraud Creditors .
But note that the motives that prompted an assignor to make the transfer will be considered as immaterial and will constitute no defense to an action by the assignee, if an assignment is considered as valid in all other respects.
Enforceability of Assignments:
Whether a right under a contract is capable of being transferred is determined by the law of the place where the contract was entered into. The validity and effect of an assignment is determined by the law of the place of assignment. The validity of an assignment of a contractual right is governed by the law of the state with the most significant relationship to the assignment and the parties.
In some jurisdictions, the traditional conflict of laws rules governing assignments has been rejected and the law of the place having the most significant contacts with the assignment applies. In Downs v. American Mut. Liability Ins. Co ., 14 N.Y.2d 266 (N.Y. 1964), a wife and her husband separated and the wife obtained a judgment of separation from the husband in New York. The judgment required the husband to pay a certain yearly sum to the wife. The husband assigned 50 percent of his future salary, wages, and earnings to the wife. The agreement authorized the employer to make such payments to the wife.
After the husband moved from New York, the wife learned that he was employed by an employer in Massachusetts. She sent the proper notice and demanded payment under the agreement. The employer refused and the wife brought an action for enforcement. The court observed that Massachusetts did not prohibit assignment of the husband’s wages. Moreover, Massachusetts law was not controlling because New York had the most significant relationship with the assignment. Therefore, the court ruled in favor of the wife.
Therefore, the validity of an assignment is determined by looking to the law of the forum with the most significant relationship to the assignment itself. To determine the applicable law of assignments, the court must look to the law of the state which is most significantly related to the principal issue before it.
Assignment of Contractual Rights:
Generally, the law allows the assignment of a contractual right unless the substitution of rights would materially change the duty of the obligor, materially increase the burden or risk imposed on the obligor by the contract, materially impair the chance of obtaining return performance, or materially reduce the value of the performance to the obligor. Restat 2d of Contracts, § 317(2)(a). This presumes that the underlying agreement is silent on the right to assign.
If the contract specifically precludes assignment, the contractual right is not assignable. Whether a contract is assignable is a matter of contractual intent and one must look to the language used by the parties to discern that intent.
In the absence of an express provision to the contrary, the rights and duties under a bilateral executory contract that does not involve personal skill, trust, or confidence may be assigned without the consent of the other party. But note that an assignment is invalid if it would materially alter the other party’s duties and responsibilities. Once an assignment is effective, the assignee stands in the shoes of the assignor and assumes all of assignor’s rights. Hence, after a valid assignment, the assignor’s right to performance is extinguished, transferred to assignee, and the assignee possesses the same rights, benefits, and remedies assignor once possessed. Robert Lamb Hart Planners & Architects v. Evergreen, Ltd. , 787 F. Supp. 753 (S.D. Ohio 1992).
On the other hand, an assignee’s right against the obligor is subject to “all of the limitations of the assignor’s right, all defenses thereto, and all set-offs and counterclaims which would have been available against the assignor had there been no assignment, provided that these defenses and set-offs are based on facts existing at the time of the assignment.” See Robert Lamb , case, above.
The power of the contract to restrict assignment is broad. Usually, contractual provisions that restrict assignment of the contract without the consent of the obligor are valid and enforceable, even when there is statutory authorization for the assignment. The restriction of the power to assign is often ineffective unless the restriction is expressly and precisely stated. Anti-assignment clauses are effective only if they contain clear, unambiguous language of prohibition. Anti-assignment clauses protect only the obligor and do not affect the transaction between the assignee and assignor.
Usually, a prohibition against the assignment of a contract does not prevent an assignment of the right to receive payments due, unless circumstances indicate the contrary. Moreover, the contracting parties cannot, by a mere non-assignment provision, prevent the effectual alienation of the right to money which becomes due under the contract.
A contract provision prohibiting or restricting an assignment may be waived, or a party may so act as to be estopped from objecting to the assignment, such as by effectively ratifying the assignment. The power to void an assignment made in violation of an anti-assignment clause may be waived either before or after the assignment. See our article on Contracts.
Noncompete Clauses and Assignments:
Of critical import to most buyers of businesses is the ability to ensure that key employees of the business being purchased cannot start a competing company. Some states strictly limit such clauses, some do allow them. California does restrict noncompete clauses, only allowing them under certain circumstances. A common question in those states that do allow them is whether such rights can be assigned to a new party, such as the buyer of the buyer.
A covenant not to compete, also called a non-competitive clause, is a formal agreement prohibiting one party from performing similar work or business within a designated area for a specified amount of time. This type of clause is generally included in contracts between employer and employee and contracts between buyer and seller of a business.
Many workers sign a covenant not to compete as part of the paperwork required for employment. It may be a separate document similar to a non-disclosure agreement, or buried within a number of other clauses in a contract. A covenant not to compete is generally legal and enforceable, although there are some exceptions and restrictions.
Whenever a company recruits skilled employees, it invests a significant amount of time and training. For example, it often takes years before a research chemist or a design engineer develops a workable knowledge of a company’s product line, including trade secrets and highly sensitive information. Once an employee gains this knowledge and experience, however, all sorts of things can happen. The employee could work for the company until retirement, accept a better offer from a competing company or start up his or her own business.
A covenant not to compete may cover a number of potential issues between employers and former employees. Many companies spend years developing a local base of customers or clients. It is important that this customer base not fall into the hands of local competitors. When an employee signs a covenant not to compete, he or she usually agrees not to use insider knowledge of the company’s customer base to disadvantage the company. The covenant not to compete often defines a broad geographical area considered off-limits to former employees, possibly tens or hundreds of miles.
Another area of concern covered by a covenant not to compete is a potential ‘brain drain’. Some high-level former employees may seek to recruit others from the same company to create new competition. Retention of employees, especially those with unique skills or proprietary knowledge, is vital for most companies, so a covenant not to compete may spell out definite restrictions on the hiring or recruiting of employees.
A covenant not to compete may also define a specific amount of time before a former employee can seek employment in a similar field. Many companies offer a substantial severance package to make sure former employees are financially solvent until the terms of the covenant not to compete have been met.
Because the use of a covenant not to compete can be controversial, a handful of states, including California, have largely banned this type of contractual language. The legal enforcement of these agreements falls on individual states, and many have sided with the employee during arbitration or litigation. A covenant not to compete must be reasonable and specific, with defined time periods and coverage areas. If the agreement gives the company too much power over former employees or is ambiguous, state courts may declare it to be overbroad and therefore unenforceable. In such case, the employee would be free to pursue any employment opportunity, including working for a direct competitor or starting up a new company of his or her own.
It has been held that an employee’s covenant not to compete is assignable where one business is transferred to another, that a merger does not constitute an assignment of a covenant not to compete, and that a covenant not to compete is enforceable by a successor to the employer where the assignment does not create an added burden of employment or other disadvantage to the employee. However, in some states such as Hawaii, it has also been held that a covenant not to compete is not assignable and under various statutes for various reasons that such covenants are not enforceable against an employee by a successor to the employer. Hawaii v. Gannett Pac. Corp. , 99 F. Supp. 2d 1241 (D. Haw. 1999)
It is vital to obtain the relevant law of the applicable state before drafting or attempting to enforce assignment rights in this particular area.
In the current business world of fast changing structures, agreements, employees and projects, the ability to assign rights and obligations is essential to allow flexibility and adjustment to new situations. Conversely, the ability to hold a contracting party into the deal may be essential for the future of a party. Thus, the law of assignments and the restriction on same is a critical aspect of every agreement and every structure. This basic provision is often glanced at by the contracting parties, or scribbled into the deal at the last minute but can easily become the most vital part of the transaction.
As an example, one client of ours came into the office outraged that his co venturer on a sizable exporting agreement, who had excellent connections in Brazil, had elected to pursue another venture instead and assigned the agreement to a party unknown to our client and without the business contacts our client considered vital. When we examined the handwritten agreement our client had drafted in a restaurant in Sao Paolo, we discovered there was no restriction on assignment whatsoever…our client had not even considered that right when drafting the agreement after a full day of work.
One choses who one does business with carefully…to ensure that one’s choice remains the party on the other side of the contract, one must master the ability to negotiate proper assignment provisions.
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The Assignment of Commercial Contracts in Legal Practice
Contracts are a prime example of intangible property. Parties to commercial contracts, like other property owners, frequently want to transfer their property to a third party. The transfer of a contract refers to the assignment of some or all of a party’s rights or the delegation of some or all of a party’s performance, or both, to a non-party to the agreement.
Some common instances in which a contracting party in a commercial context may desire to assign contractual rights, performance responsibilities, or both are as follows:
- In an asset sale, a corporation sells parts or all of its company.
- A contractor who subcontracts its work under certain projects.
- A business conglomerate that is going through an internal corporate reorganization.
- The borrower who offers its lender a security interest in its assets.
- A manufacturer who sells its receivables to a third party.
In any of these cases, the non-transferring party may object to assignment or delegation for a variety of grounds, including:
- The desire to choose the party with whom it does business.
- Concern that a different obligor or obligee may jeopardize the non-transferring party’s capacity to benefit from the contractual deal
To decide whether the transferring party (also known as the transferor) can execute the proposed transfer without gaining the non-transferring party’s approval, the transferring party must turn to relevant legislation and the plain text of the contract. If consent is necessary and not obtained, the transferring party faces the following risks:
- Violation of the contract.
- Making an ineffective and invalid transfer.
The Definitions of Assignment and Delegation
Each party to a contract is an:
- Obligee in terms of its contractual rights; and
- Obligor in terms of its contractual performance responsibilities.
Contract “assignability” is a term frequently used by contracting parties and practitioners. While they may expressly address the assignment of a party’s rights under the contract in some contexts, they frequently use the term “assignment” to refer to both:
- The delegation of duty to perform.
- The assignment of rights to obtain performance.
However, assignment and delegation are two distinct legal concepts that must be treated individually due to the fact that they might have different outcomes.
What is an Assignment?
Assignment is the transfer of some or all of an obligee’s (assignor’s) rights to receive performance under a contract, generally but not always to a non-party (assignee). A contract benefit is a right (a chose in action) that, in theory, may be delegated by the benefiting party to a non-party. For clarity purposes, this informative piece will assume that the assignee is a non-party, although the rights and responsibilities of the parties addressed apply equally to an assignee who is also a party to the agreement. When these rights are assigned, the assignor no longer has any claim to the advantages of the given rights, which are completely passed to the assignee.
Technically, a contract’s burden cannot be assigned under the law (see National Trust Co. v. Mead [i] and Irving Oil Ltd. v. Canada [ii] ). Transferring performance responsibilities under a contract requires the approval of all parties, making such a transfer a novation.
In practice, parties frequently refer to “assigning a contract” or “allowing the assignment of a contract,” which is actually an inaccurate representation of their intentions. For example, the parties may plan for some or all of the following:
- The contract’s rights or benefits may be assigned.
- The contract’s burdens or performance duties may be transferred.
- Rights and burdens may be transferred.
The Effects of Assignment
The assignor is no longer entitled to any benefits from the assigned rights, which have all been passed to the assignee; nonetheless, even if the assignor is stripped of its contractual rights, assignment does not decrease or remove the assignor’s duties to the non-assigning party. As previously stated, a contract’s burden may only be assigned to a third party with the approval of all parties. As a result, the assignor is still obligated to fulfill its contractual commitments. The non-assigning party retains the following:
- Its entitlement to get performance from the assignor; and
- Its remedies against the assignor in the event of non-performance.
The ordinary rule is that a party can only assign its benefits without the consent of the other party to the contract and will remain liable to the other party for its performance obligations (see National Trust Co. v. Mead [iii] and Rodaro v. Royal Bank [iv] ). If the assignor intends to transfer its obligations and both the non-transferring party and the potential assignee agree, the parties should enter into a novation agreement, which results in a new contract between the assignee and the old contract’s remaining (non-transferring) party. In practice, the assignee often undertakes the contract’s performance responsibilities as of the date of assignment, and the assignor gets an indemnity from the assignee in the event of a breach or failure to perform.
A clear, present, purpose to transfer the assigned rights without needing any additional action by the assignee is required for an assignment to be effective, which means that a promise to assign in the future is ineffective as an actual transfer. Otherwise, no special terminology is necessary to draft an effective assignment.
What is Delegation?
Delegation is the transfer of some or all of an obligor’s (delegating party’s) performance responsibilities (or conditions demanding performance) under a contract to a non-party (delegatee). To be effective, a delegation requires the delegatee to agree to take on the delegated performance; however, unless the non-delegating party has consented to a novation, the delegating party remains accountable for the delegated performance, whether or not it has also transferred its contractual rights.
This is distinct from an assignment of rights, in which the assignor relinquishes its contractual claims upon assignment. As a result, even if the delegating party can effectively delegate its actual performance to the delegatee (such that the delegatee’s actual performance discharges the delegating party’s duty), the delegating party cannot be relieved of its obligation to perform and liability for non-performance unless the non-delegating party agrees to a novation.
There is no precise wording necessary to create an effective delegation, just as there is not for the assignment of rights. When performance is effectively delegated, the delegatee assumes liability for the delegating party’s performance obligations (under an assumption agreement), even if the delegating party retains liability to the non-delegating party for the delegatee’s failure to adequately perform the delegated obligations in the absence of a novation. Under an assumed agreement, the delegating party may have recourse against the delegatee, which is frequently addressed through a contractual indemnity right.
If the delegating party wishes to entirely exclude itself from liability for non-performance, it must get the non-delegating party’s approval to the contract (novation). In the majority of novations, the delegating party, the delegatee, and the non-delegating party all agree on the following:
- The delegatee replaces the delegating party as a party to the contract.
- The delegating party is no longer liable for contract performance.
- The delegatee is directly and solely liable for the delegating party’s contract fulfillment.
Types of Assignment – Legal (Statutory) Assignment vs. Equitable Assignment
- Legal (Statutory) Assignment: An assignment that satisfies the provisions of the appropriate province or territory laws (for example, the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act [v] )
- Equitable Assignment: An equitable assignment may be enforced even if it does not fulfill the statutory requirements for a legal assignment.
Requirements for a Legal (Statutory) Assignment
All of Canada’s common law provinces have enacted legislation allowing the transfer of contract rights. Notably, the legislation for Ontario is the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act .
These statutory assignments are enforceable if the parties comply with the following procedures:
- The assignment is absolute.
- The assignment is in writing, signed by the assignor
- the non-assigning obligor is given express written notice.
A statutory assignment does not need consideration, and no precise words or form are necessary. They can be made as gifts and be valid.
Requirements for an Equitable Assignment
An assignment may be enforceable as an equitable assignment even if it does not fulfill the formality criteria of a statutory assignment. An equitable assignment does not necessitate the use of any specific terms or form. However, in order to comply with any provincial statutes of frauds regulations, the assignment must be in writing. The phrasing must clearly indicate that the assignee is to benefit from the rights being assigned. In contrast to a statutory assignment, consideration is required until there is a full transfer, such as a gift. It is not necessary to provide the non-assigning obligor with express written notification (except in the case of a transfer of land). However, notification is often given largely to assure that:
- The obligor ceases to pay the assignor.
- The assignee has priority over subsequent encumbrances.
Contractual Anti-Assignment & Anti-Delegation Clauses
Rather than relying on relatively uncertain legal rules, most commercial contract parties handle transferability issues in the written agreement. As a result, most commercial contracts include a negative covenant that restricts one or both parties’ rights to assign.
These clauses frequently include specific exceptions that allow one or more of the parties to assign and delegate rights and duties, often to designated non-parties such as affiliates and successors-in-interest to the transferring party’s business.
Courts frequently uphold provisions that prevent assignment because they favor the rights of parties to freely contract. However, subject to specific limitations, there is a broad assumption that contractual rights are assignable. As a result, the case law on anti-assignment provisions is a little erratic. Some courts have upheld anti-assignment clauses and declared the agreement unenforceable. Others have argued that an anti-assignment provision cannot preclude assignment.
Overall, contractual anti-assignment and anti-delegation provisions are commonly included in many types of business contracts. If not, transferability is determined by the contract’s subject matter and the nature of the rights and obligations to be transferred. It is important to stay knowledgeable the existence of such contractual terms when dealing with various commercial contracts…such as contracts for the sale of goods, personal service contracts, commercial real estate leases and various other types of contracts.
If you have any questions about your business’s contractual assignment or delegation needs, contact Cactus Law today to speak with a lawyer specializing in commercial law.
The information presented above is solely for general educational and informational purposes. It is not intended to be, and should not be taken as, legal advice. The information given above may not be applicable in all cases and may not even reflect the most recent authority after the date of its publication. As a result, please refer to all updated legislation, statutes, and amendments. Nothing in this article should be relied on or acted upon without the benefit of legal advice based on the specific facts and circumstances described, and nothing in this article should be interpreted otherwise.
About the Author:
Kanwar Gujral is entering his third year at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Ontario. He has a dedicated interest in real estate, business, and corporate law.
[i] National Trust Co. v. Mead , 1990 CarswellSask 165 (S.C.C.).
[ii] Irving Oil Ltd. v. Canada , 1984 CarswellNat 137 (Fed. C.A.).
[iii] Supra note 1.
[iv] Rodaro v. Royal Bank , 2002 CarswellOnt 1047 (Ont. C.A.).
[v] Conveyancing and Law of Property Act , R.S.O. 1990, c. C.34.
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