Published in the Union Leader (2/25/2019)
Q. My small business is negotiating with a vendor who has asked to remove our contract’s “assignment” clause entirely. Is it worth the time to argue over whether to include an assignment clause?
A. First, it’s important to understand the purpose of the assignment clause. “Assignment” occurs when a party transfers its rights and obligations under a contract to another party. Generally, unless the parties have agreed otherwise, each can assign its rights and obligations freely.
Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code, a set of laws governing the sale of goods that has been adopted by 49 states, including New Hampshire, provides that a party can freely assign its rights and obligations to another unless such assignment would materially change the duties of the other party, burden the other party, or decrease the other party’s chances of receiving performance under the contract.
If your vendor eliminates the assignment clause and no agreement on the topic is provided in the contract, your vendor will be free to transfer its obligations to another person or company without giving you notice or obtaining your approval.
Parties do have the ability, however, to mutually decide against the free assignability of a contract and this is often accomplished through an assignment clause. An assignment clause spells out which, if any, of a party’s obligations and rights under a contract are able to be assigned, or transferred, to another party. Free assignability and no assignability are not the only options, and you and your vendor can negotiate terms for assignment that are amenable to both of you.
For example, some clauses allow for assignment with the other party’s consent, meaning, the vendor would have to obtain your approval of the assignee prior to assigning any of its rights or obligations under the contract. Other times, assignment clauses allow for free assignment only to certain persons or entities, such as the vendor’s subsidiaries and affiliates, provided that the vendor gives you notice of such permitted assignment. Another option is to allow for assignment by the vendor provided that it guaranties the assignee’s performance.
Consider potential situations in which the vendor may want to assign the contract and determine whether it’s important to you to have control over assignment in each instance.
Consider discussing situations in which it may be important for the vendor to have freedom of assignment and, instead of removing the provision all together, specify those situations in which assignment is permitted, list those rights or obligations that are assignable, and consider whether, when assignment is permitted, notice, consent or a guaranty will be required.
Megan Coneeny can be reached at [email protected]. Know the Law is a biweekly column sponsored by McLane Middleton, Professional Association. We invite your questions about business law. Questions and ideas for future columns should be addressed to: McLane Middleton, 900 Elm St., Manchester, NH 03101 or emailed to [email protected].
Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation.