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Outputs Contracts and Needs Contracts

15 January, 2016 - 09:32

A similar issue arises with outputs contracts and needs contracts. In anoutputs contract, the seller—say a coal company—agrees to sell its entire yearly output of coal to an electric utility. Has it really agreed to produce and sell any coal at all? What if the coal-mine owner decides to shut down production to take a year’s vacation—is that a violation of the agreement? Yes. The law imposes upon the seller here a duty to produce and sell a reasonable amount. Similarly, if the electric utility contracted to buy all its requirements of coal from the coal company—a needs contract—could it decide to stop operation entirely and take no coal? No, it is required to take a reasonable amount.


Courts do not inquire into the adequacy of consideration, but (with some exceptions) do require the promisor to incur a legal detriment (the surrender of any legal right he or she possesses—to give up something) in order to receive the bargained-for benefit. The surrender of the right to sue is a legal detriment, and the issue arises in analyzing various kinds of dispute settlement agreements (accord and satisfaction): the obligation to pay the full amount claimed by a creditor on a liquidated debt, an unliquidated debt, and a disputed debt. Where unforeseen difficulties arise, an obligor will be entitled to additional compensation (consideration) to resolve them either because the contract is modified or because the parties have entered into a novation, but no additional consideration is owing to one who performs a preexisting obligation or forbears from performing that which he or she is under a legal duty not to perform. If a promisor gives an illusory promise, he or she gives no consideration and no contract is formed; but exclusive dealing agreements, needs contracts, and outputs contracts are not treated as illusory.


  1. What is meant by “legally sufficient” consideration?
  2. Why do courts usually not “inquire into the adequacy of consideration”?
  3. How can it be said there is consideration in the following instances: (a) settlement of an unliquidated debt? (b) settlement of a disputed debt? (c) a person agreeing to do more than originally contracted for because of unforeseen difficulties? (d) a creditor agreeing with other creditors for each of them to accept less than they are owed from the debtor?
  4. Why is there no consideration where a person demands extra compensation for that which she is already obligated to do, or for forbearing to do that which she already is forbidden from doing?
  5. What is the difference between a contract modification and a novation?
  6. How do courts resolve the problem that a needs or outputs contract apparently imposes no detriment—no requirement to pass any consideration to the other side—on the promisor?