This article is written by Ashpreet Kaur, IInd year student, B.B.A. LL.B, Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. In this article, the author discusses about the rights of unpaid seller against the buyer and seller under Sale of Goods Act, 1930.
In every contract of sale, a seller is under an obligation to deliver the goods sold and buyer is under an obligation to pay the requisite amount set or quid pro quo i.e something in return, under the contract of sale, by them. This is known as reciprocal promise as per Section 2(f) of the Indian Contract Act. In other words, any set of promises made which forms the consideration or part of the consideration for each other are called reciprocal promises and every contract of sale of goods consists of reciprocal promises.
In certain cases, when a buyer refuses or fails to pay the requisite amount to the seller, the seller becomes an unpaid seller and can exercise certain rights against the buyer. These rights are considered as seller’s remedies in case there is a breach of contract by the buyer. These remedies can be against:
According to Section 45(1) of Sale of Goods Act, 1930, the seller is considered as an unpaid seller when:
a- When the whole price has not been paid and the seller has an immediate right of action for the price.
b- When Bills of Exchange or other negotiable instrument has been received as conditional payment, and the pre-requisite condition has not been fulfilled by reason of the dishonour of the instrument or otherwise. For instance, X sold some goods to Y for $50 and received a cheque. On presentment, the cheque was dishonoured by the bank. X is an unpaid seller.
Seller also includes a person who is in a position of a seller i.e agent, consignor who had himself paid or is responsible for the price.
Rights against buyer
1- Suit for the price
When any goods are passed on to the buyer and the buyer has wrongfully neglected or refused to pay as per the terms and conditions of the contract, the seller may sue him as per the Section 55(1) because once the property has been passed the buyer is bound to pay the price.
But in the case due date of payment has been passed and goods had not been delivered yet, the seller can sue the buyer for the wrongful neglect or refusal on his part according to clause 2 of Section 55.
In case the price is due in foreign currency the damages must be calculated at the rate of exchange prevailing at the time when the price was due not on the judgement date.
2- Suit for damages
In case there is a wrongful refusal on the part of buyer for acceptance of goods and payment of money, the seller can sue him for damages of non-acceptance as per Section 56. For calculating the quantum of damages Section 73 and 74 of the Indian Contract Act applies.
In case the goods have a ready market, the seller has to resell the goods and buyer have to pay the losses if incurred. If the seller does not resell the goods the difference between contract and market price at the day of breach is taken as a measure for damages. If the difference between them is nil seller gets nominal value.
There is a duty of mitigation on the part of the seller, which means that injured has to make reasonable efforts to minimise the loss from that breach. For instance, if the seller can resale the goods, the difference in price in contract and resale price is given to the seller but if the seller deliberately refuses to resale the goods and its market value reduces then the buyer will not be liable for the exaggerated loss.
The nature of the duty of mitigation has been explained by the supreme court in case of M. Lachia Shetty V Coffee Board, where, a dealer who bid at an auction of coffee had been accepted, refused to carry out the contract, consequently, coffee was reauctioned at next best bidding price and dealer who refused the bid have to give the difference in the amount of loss to the board.
3- Suit for interest
As stated under Section 61, where there is a specific agreement between buyer and seller with regards to interest on the price of goods from the date on which payment becomes due, the seller may recover interest from a buyer. But if there were no such agreement the seller may charge interest from the day he notifies the buyer.
If there is no contract to the contrary, the court of law may award interest to the seller at such rate as it thinks fit on the amount of the price from the date on which amount is payable.
4- Repudiation of the contract before the due date
According to Section 60, the rule of anticipatory breach contract applies, wherein, if buyer repudiates the contract before the date of delivery the seller can consider the contract as rescinded and can sue for damages of the breach.
According to this Section, if one party repudiates before due date other has two courses of action. Either he may immediately accept the breach and bring the action of damages the contract is rescinded and damages will be assessed according to the prices then prevailing or he can wait for the date of delivery. In the second case, the contract is open at risk and will be a benefit to both parties. May be the party changes is mind and agree to perform and damages will be assessed according to prices on the day of delivery.
Rights against goods
Lien is a right which seller of goods can exercise when a buyer has not paid the price of goods, under this right seller can retain the possession of goods as an agent or bailee for the buyer. The seller can retain his possession as per Section 47 under the following circumstances:
1- In case the buyer is insolvent.
2- When the term of goods sold on credit is expired.
3- Goods sold without any stipulation as to credit.
When the goods are sold on credit the right to lien is suspended during the term of credit and lien exist only for the price of goods, not any additional charges.
According to Section 48 if the seller has delivered a part of unpaid goods he can exercise his right of lien on rest. In Grice V Richardson, the sellers had delivered a part of the three parcels of tea comprised in the sales, and they had not been paid for the part which remained with them. They were allowed to keep it till the payment of the price. Where, however, a part of goods delivered which show an agreement to waive the lien, the seller cannot the remainder.
Termination of lien takes place when the seller losses the possession of goods. As per Section 49, under following circumstances right of lien is terminated-
1- Waiver of lien-
The right of lien is an implied right attached by law in every contract of sale, the seller has the autonomy to waive this right, it may be expressed or implied from the conduct of the seller.
2- When buyer or agent lawfully obtains possession of goods.
Once the buyer got the possession of goods from the seller, all the rights of the seller in respect to goods are ceased even if the price is not paid. The seller can recover the price as a normal debt because the acceptance of possession gives absolute, unqualified and indefeasible right of goods to the buyer. When the goods are given again to the seller for repair he can not access the right of lien.
3- When the seller delivers goods to a carrier or other bailee for the purpose of transmission to the buyer without reserving the right of disposal of the goods.
When the seller has delivered goods to the carrier for transmission, his right of lien is ceased but the right to stoppage in transit is still accessible by him. In case seller regains possession of goods in transit by stoppage his right to lien is revived.
Like in Valpy V Gibson, the goods were delivered to the buyer’s shipping agent, who had put them on board a ship. But the goods were returned to the seller for repacking, while they were still with the sellers the buyer became insolvent and seller being unpaid seller claimed to retain the goods in the exercise of their lien. It was held that they have lost their lien by delivery to the shipping agent. On the contrary, when the seller has reserved the rights of disposal his right of lien continues till the end of the transit. And the seller cannot lose his right to lien just because he has obtained a decree for the price of goods.
When the goods have been transferred to carrier or bailee for the purpose of transmission to the buyer, who has become insolvent, the seller has the right to stop the goods in transit in order to protect himself against the loss that may arise due to insolvency. As per Section 50, there are four essential requirements for stopping the goods in transit:
- Unpaid seller.
- Buyer insolvent.
- Property should have passed to the buyer.
- Property should be in course of transit.
The course of transit depends upon the capacity of middleman to hold the goods. Middleman should be an intervening person between the seller who has parted with the goods and the buyer who has not yet received the goods as held in the case of Schotsmans v Lancashire & Yorkshire Rly co.
Section 5 lays down the rules and regulations related to commencement and end of the transit, this Section is divided into seven sub-Sections which solve all the issues related to commencement and end of transit:
1- Delivery to the buyer- Goods are considered to be in transit from the time when they are delivered to the carrier or other bailee for the purpose of transmission to the buyer, till the goods are received by the buyer himself or his agent takes delivery of them.
For example, in the case of Great Indian Peninsula v Hanmandas, the seller consigned the goods with the GIP Ry Co for transportation to the buyer. On the arrival at the destination, the company had delivered the goods to the buyer who had loaded them on his cart, but the cart had not yet left the railway compound when a telegram was received by the company to stop the goods. The company did not do so and were sued by the seller in damages. It was held that the transit had ended as soon as the goods were handed over to the buyer.
But when the buyer denies accepting the delivery even when it has been landed at the place of destination, the transit does not end. This happened in the case of James v Griffin where on arrival of goods at the port of destination in the river Thames, the buyer sent his son to have goods landed, but told him that on account of his insolvency he did not intend to receive the goods and would like the seller to have them. When goods were so lying the seller’s instruction to stop them was received. The buyer’s trustee in bankruptcy claimed the goods. It was held that the goods were still in transit.
2- Interception by the buyer- When the buyer or the agent takes the delivery of the goods from the carrier, the transit ends even before their arrival at the appointed destination.
In case the carrier delivers the goods before the arrival of the buyer, although it is wrongful and the carrier may be held liable for the damages but the transit ends here.
In the case of Lyons v. Honffnung, the buyer takes his seat as a passenger in a ship which was carrying the goods. The court said that this does not amount to delivery to the buyer before their arrival at the appointed destination.
3- Acknowledgement to the buyer- The transit is considered to come to an end when the goods arrive at the appointed destination and the carrier acknowledges to the buyer or his agent that he is now holding the goods on his behalf. It is immaterial if the gods are still in the carrier or the buyer has indicated another destination. In order to put an end to the original contract of carriage, a very clear acknowledgement is required.
In the case of Whitehead v. Anderson, a quantity of timber was consigned on board. When the ship arrived at the destination, the buyer went bankrupt. The buyer’s agent came to the board and told that he has come to take possession. The captain said that he will deliver only when the freight is paid. Before this could be done, the seller sent a notice to stop and asked to send the goods to be delivered to the agent of the seller. The court said that since the transit has not ended, the carrier was within his rights in returning the goods to the seller. The captain agreed to deliver the goods on a condition and if the condition is not fulfilled, the buyer does not acquire the constructive possession of goods.
4- Rejection by the buyer– When the buyer rejects the goods and the carrier or other bailee continues to possess them, the goods are held to be still in transit. This will also include the case when the seller himself refuses to take back goods.
5- Delivery to ship charted by the buyer- It is a question of fact whether the carrier is acting independently or as an agent of the buyer at the time when the goods are delivered to a ship charted by buyer. As soon as the goods are loaded on the ship, the transit ends if the carrier is acting as an agent of the buyer.
Thus, for instance, Rosewear china clay co ltd, re, the contract was for the sale of china clay at FOB Fowey. The buyer chartered a ship and instructed the seller to load to the goods at Fowey, which was accordingly done. The destination of the ship was not told to the seller nor any bill of lading signed. The seller gave notice stopping the goods.
6- Wrongful refusal to delivery- When the carrier wrongfully denies delivering the goods to the buyer or his agent the transit is at the end. It is obvious that goods should have arrived at their destination because otherwise, the carrier has the right to refuse to deliver them.
In the case of Bird v. Brown, the court discussed as to when it is wrongful to refuse the delivery of goods. In this case, the goods arrived at the destination but the buyer has become insolvent. A merchant was acting for the seller who gave stop notice to the seller without authority.
Subsequently, the trustee of the buyer demanded the goods as the buyer was insolvent. The carrier refused to deliver the goods and handed them to the merchant. The court said that after the formal demand for goods by the trustee, there could be no valid stoppage in transit.
7- Part delivery- in the case when the goods have been delivered partly, the seller has a right to stop the delivery of the rest of the goods unless the part delivery shows an agreement to the possession of the whole. For instance, A sells to B 20kg of wheat, 10kg has been transferred to B but rest 10kg is still in transit, in case B fails to pay A has a right to stop the goods in transit.
Exercising the right of lien or stoppage does not rescind the agreement but reselling of goods does and without this right, the other two rights of lien and stoppage would not be of much usage because he can only retain goods under these right till the buyer pays back the money.
The unpaid seller can exercise his right under following conditions and circumstances-
1- Seller before reselling the goods needs to send a notice to the buyer except in the case of perishable goods, giving him last chance to pay the price and take back the goods within a reasonable time. If the buyer does not pay the money back seller has the right to resell the goods. If the seller fails to give notice of his intention to resell, he cannot claim damages from the buyer and he has to give any profit.
2- If there is any loss in the resale of goods he can claim the loss from the buyer, on the contrary, if there is profit buyer cannot claim it.
3- Seller gives rightful ownership to buyer after the resale it does not matter notice of resale is given or not to defaulted buyer.
4- Sometimes the seller reserves exclusive right to resale the goods if the buyer makes a default in payment, in such cases the buyer cannot ask for profit on resale if no notice is served and seller has the exclusive right to resale.
For instance, R V Ward V Bignall, there was a contract of sale of two cars, vanguard and zodiac for 850$. The buyer deposited 25$ but afterwards did not pay the price despite a reasonable notice. The seller then tried to resell but could be sold only a vanguard for 359$. he then claimed damages for 475$ representing the balance of price and 22$ as advertising expenses. Court held that once the seller resells the goods the contract is rescinded and he cannot claim the money but he can ask for advertising expenses and a shortfall in the price of the vanguard.
Rights against seller
1- Damages for non-delivery
Section 57 states that, whenever any seller or refuses to deliver the goods to the buyer, the buyer may sue for non-delivery of goods. If the buyer has paid any amount he is entitled to recover it. Quantum of damages is decided through market forces, contract and market price on the day of the breach is considered as damages. If the buyer wants to claim that damages he must prove it in the court of law, otherwise, he cannot get a penny more than refund i.e the amount he has already paid. Buyer must try to keep the loss at a minimum by purchasing the goods from other sources instead of waiting for the market to fluctuate.
2- Suit for specific performance
Acc to Section 58 when goods are specific or ascertained and there is a breach of contract committed on the part of the seller then the buyer can appeal to the court of law for specific performance. The seller has to perform the contract and he does not have any option of retaining the goods by paying damages. The power of the court to order specific performance is subject to the provisions of chapter II of Specific Relief Act, 1963.
Thus on the sale of ship buyer was allowed to recover the ship specifically in the case of Behnke V Bede Shopping, there was a ship named the city which holds a unique value to the plaintiff but she was a cheap vessel being old but her engines were new and as to satisfy the German regulations and hence plaintiff could as a German shipowner have her at once put on the German register. A very experienced ship-valuer has said that he knew only one other comparable ship, but that may not be sold. Thus, on sale of a ship buyer was allowed to specifically recover the ship.
3- Suit for breach of warranty
As stated under Section 59, the buyer cannot reject the goods solely on the basis of breach of warranty on the part of the seller or when a buyer is forced to treat a breach of condition as a breach of warranty. But he may sue the seller for damages or set up against the seller the breach of the warranty in the extinction of the price.
The measure of damages is directly and naturally occurring loss in ordinary events from breach of warranty. Mason V Burningham, the buyer of a second-hand typewriter spends some money on getting it overhauled. Afterwards, the typewriter was seized from her as stolen property. this was a breach on the part of the seller of warranty of quiet possession. She was held entitled to recover damages including the cost of repair. She did a natural thing in having the typewriter repaired and the amount she had spent was a loss directly and naturally resulting from the breach.
4- Suit for anticipatory breach
According to Section 60, the rule of anticipatory breach contract applies, wherein, if any party repudiates the contract before the date of delivery the other party can consider the contract as rescinded and can sue for damages of the breach.
According to this Section, if one party repudiates before due date other has two courses of action. Either he may immediately accept the breach and bring the action of damages the contract is rescinded and damages will be assessed according to the prices then prevailing or he can wait for the date of delivery. In the second case, the contract is open at risk and will be a benefit to both parties. Maybe the party changes is mind and agree to perform and damages will be assessed according to prices on the day of delivery.
The seller becomes an unpaid seller when either he had not been paid in full or the buyer has failed to meet the maturity of bills of exchange or any other negotiable instrument accepted by seller as a condition precedent. Under this situation, the seller can resell the goods if he had exercised the right of lien or stoppage in transit, after giving notice to the buyer and the new buyer will have good title over the goods. In this case, the seller has the right to sue the buyer for failure to pay the required amount as well as a lien. On the contrary, if the seller fails to deliver goods to the buyer, he may sue the seller for non-performance and can claim damages or specific performance.
- Law of Sales of Goods Act, Avtar Singh.
- Business laws, CA Foundation.