Contract Assignments

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 What is a Contract Assignment?

In a contract assignment, one of the two parties to a contract may transfer their right to the other’s performance to a third party. This is known as “contract assignment.” Generally, all rights under a contract may be assigned. A provision in the contract that states the contract may not be assigned usually refers to the delegation of the assignor’s (person who assigns) duties under that contract, not their rights under the contract. 

In modern law, the phrase “assignment of contract” usually means assignment of both rights and duties under a contract.

Who are the Various Parties Involved in a Contract Assignment?

In a contract, there are two parties to the agreement, X and Y. The parties may agree to let X assign X’s rights to a third party. Once the third party enters the picture, each party has a special name. For instance, suppose X, a seller of bookmarks, contracts with Y, a purchaser of bookmarks. Y desires to have Y’s right to X’s performance (the sale of bookmarks on a monthly basis) to another person. 

This third person, Z, is called the assignee. X is called the obligor, and Y is called the assignor, since Y has assigned its right to X’s performance. X, the obligor, is obligated to continue to perform its duties under the agreement.

How is a Contract Assignment Created?

There are no “magic words” needed to create an assignment. The law simply requires that the would-be assignor have an intent to immediately and completely transfer their rights in the agreement. In addition, writing is typically not required to create an assignment. As long as X and Y both adequately understand what right is being assigned, an assignment is created. 

Words that indicate a transfer is to take place suffice, such as “I intend to transfer my rights under this agreement,” or, “I intend to give my rights to Z,” or “I intend to confer an assignment on Z.” In addition,consideration,which is a bargained-for exchange required for a contract to be valid, is not required for assignment.

When is a Contract Assignment Prohibited?

In certain instances, an assignment of contract rights can be prohibited. If the contract contains a clause prohibiting assignment of “the contract,” without specifying more, the law construes this language as barring only delegation of the assignor’s duties, not their rights. If the assignment language states “assignment of contractual rights are prohibited,” the obligor may sue for damages if the assignor attempts to assign the agreement. If the contract language states that attempts to assign “will be void,” the parties can bar assignment.of rights.

Under modern contract law, the phrase “I assign the contract” is usually interpreted to mean that one is assigning rights and duties. What is an assignment of duties? An assignment of duties occurs where Y, called the obligor or delegator, promises to perform for X, the obligee. Y then delegates their duty to perform to Z, the delegate. Under the law, most duties can be delegated. 

There are exceptions to this rule. Delegation can be prohibited when:

  • The duties to be performed involve personal judgment and special skill (e.g., a portrait, creation of a custom-made dress). 
    • “Personal judgment” is the exercise of some kind of superior judgment when it comes to determining how, when, or where to do something. Examples of individuals who exercise personal judgment include talent scouts and financial advisors.  Special skill is the unique ability to create a good or perform a service. A delegator can be prohibited from delegating duties when it is that specific delegator’s services are sought. For example, if the services of a specific famous chef are sought, and the original agreement was entered into on the understanding that the chef was hired for their specific talent, the delegator may not delegate the services;
  • The assignment fundamentally changes risks or responsibilities under the agreement;
  • The assignment is over future rights associated with a future contract that does not currently exist;
  • Delegation would increase the obligation of the obligee. For example, if a shoe manufacturer contracts to deliver soles to a store in the same town as the shoe factory, the other party cannot assign the delivery to a different store in another state. Doing so would impose a greater obligation on the obligee than was originally contemplated;
  • The obligee had placed special trust in the delegator. For example, assume that you have hired a patent attorney, based on that attorney’s significant skill and expertise, to obtain a valuable patent. You have placed special trust in this person, hiring them instead of other patent attorneys, because of their unique expertise. In such a situation, the attorney may not delegate his duties to another attorney (delegate), since the attorney was hired because of one person’s special capabilities;
  • The delegation is of a promise to repay a debt; or
  • The contract itself restricts or prohibits delegation. If the contract states, “any attempt to delegate duties under this contract is void,” a delegation will not be permitted.

Which Parties are Liable to Each Other in a Contract Assignment?

In a contract involving assignment of rights, the assignee may sue the obligor. This is because the assignee, once the assignee has been assigned rights, is entitled to performance under the contract. If the obligor had a defense that existed in the original contract between obligor and assignor, the obligor may assert that defense against the assignee. Examples of such defenses include the original contract was not valid because of lack of consideration, or because there was never a valid offer or acceptance).

An assignee may also sue an assignor. Generally, if an assignment is made for consideration,it is irrevocable. Assignments not made for consideration, but under which an obligor has already performed, are also irrevocable. If an assignor attempts to revoke an irrevocable assignment,the assignee may sue for “wrongful revocation.” 

In circumstances involving delegation of duties,an obligee must accept performance from the delegate of all duties that may be delegated. The delegator remains liable on the agreement. Therefore, the obligee may sue the delegator for nonperformance by the delegate. The obligee may sue the delegate for nonperformance, but can only require the delegate to perform if there has been an assumption by the delegate. An assumption by the delegate is a promise that the delegate will perform the delegated duty, which promise is supported by consideration. 

Are There Issues with Multiple Assignments?

Assignments that are not supported by consideration are revocable. If an initial assignment is revocable, a subsequent assignment can revoke it. If a first assignment is irrevocable, because consideration was present,the first assignment will usually prevail over a subsequent assignment. This means the person who can claim the assignment was first made to them will prevail over someone who claims a subsequent assignment. 

If, however, the second person paid value for the assignment, and entered into the assignment without knowing of the first assignment, the “subsequent”assignee is entitled to proceeds the first judgment against the obligor (the original party who still must perform), in the event such a judgment is issued,

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Contract Assignments?

If you have an issue with assignment of rights or duties under a contract, you should contact a contract lawyer for advice. An experienced business lawyer near you can review the facts of your case, advise you of your rights, and represent you in court proceedings.

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