| I've gotten a flood of e-mail about legal tender. Some people pointed to a Department of the Treasury FAQ, which confirmed that a vendor who operates on a pay-first system can refuse to do business with people who offer bills that it dislikes, but wasn't completely clear whether a vendor on a pay-after system has to take any bills in discharge of a debt. Others asked what the vendor's obligation with regard to change might be; can it just refuse to give change? Can it take the large bill and promise to send the change later, when it has it? I don't know the answers to that, except I do know that I'm glad I mentioned up front that my sense was "more an educated guess than the product of real research" (especially since the item below suggests I was at least partly requested).|
However, let me close this topic with a message from someone I know who's actually a lawyer with the Federal Reserve Bank, and knows his money law very well:
You're right on the "pay up front" part of your answer. A person can always turn down a legal tender, that comes in as an offer. There's a recent case cite for this: Nemser v. New York City Transit Authority, 530 NYS 493 (Sup. Ct. 1988). Some cranky soul tried to get on a bus with a dollar, rather than a token that cost a dollar. He lost.I haven't read 4A-406, and still have some questions: The chief, I take it, is that failure to pay in a casual retail transaction is often enforced not through threat of lawsuit, but through threat of arrest. If you don't pay for your meal at a restaurant, the owner may call the police to arrest you, or in theory may even try a citizen's arrest himself. What if you offer to pay with a $100, and then when the restaurant balks, say, "OK, if you won't take my money, I'm leaving, though here's my address in case you want to sue me for the rest"? (Or is this where the restaurant's legal right -- if it has this right -- to take the cash and promise to give me the change later kicks in?)
In any event, I think I have to quit this topic; need to do some real work. Still, this is a reminder of how some even very simple-seeming legal concepts ("cash is legal tender") can end up being quite complicated -- sometimes because the law is needlessly complex, but sometimes because the world itself is pretty complex.
Posted by Eugene Volokh to The Volokh Conspiracy at 8/7/2003 08:47:09 AM
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