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Thumbs up emoji costs Sask. farmer $82,000

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A Saskatchewan court has ruled that sending someone a thumbs-up emoji could indicate a contractual agreement.

The case in question was between South West Terminal Ltd. (SWT) and Achter Land & Cattle Ltd. over a flax contract.

SWT argued that a text message with a thumbs-up emoji was understood as an agreement that Achter would deliver flax to SWT.

Justice T. J. Keene agreed, awarding SWT $82,200 in damages, plus interests and court costs.

The court decision says SWT has purchased grain through Achter since 2012.

On March 26, 2021, a representative from SWT sent a text to the owners of Achter with details of the agreement for the delivery of flax, according to the court decision.

There were a couple of calls between the SWT representative and the owners of Achter. Then SWT had a contract drafted, the court document said.

The SWT representative took a photo of the contract, including his signature. He then texted the image to one of the owners with the message “Please confirm flax contract.”

Achter’s owner responded with a thumbs-up emoji.

However, the flax was not delivered in November.

“The parties disagree as to whether there was a meeting of minds which is the basis of a contractual obligation,” Justice T. J. Keene wrote in the summary judgment.

“A contract is only formed where there is an offer by one party that is accepted by the other with the intention of creating a legal relationship and supported by consideration.”

Justice Keene said the standard was whether a “reasonable bystander” could conclude the parties agreed to the contract.

The SWT representative said before this incident, he had done 15-20 contracts with Achter, four of those involved sending the contract via text message.

The court record says that on July 2020, the representative texted a similar contract with his signature to the owner of Achter who texted back ‘looks good’, the court record states.

The representative said he took that to mean the owner agreed to the contract. Achter delivered on that contract without issue, the court record said.

“What we have is an uncontested pattern of entering into what both parties knew and accepted to be valid and binding deferred delivery purchase contracts on a number of occasions,” Justice Keene said.

Each time the contract was texted, the owner of Achter would respond with an ‘okay’ or ‘yup’, the court heard.

“The parties clearly understood these curt words were meant to be confirmation of the contract and not a mere acknowledgement of the receipt of the contract,” Keene said.

Justice Keene ruled in favour of SWT.

“In my view a reasonable bystander knowing all of the background would come to the objective understanding that the parties had reached consensus ad item – a meeting of the minds – just like they had done on numerous other occasions,” he wrote.

“I find under these circumstances a thumbs up emoji is ‘an action in electronic form’ that can be used to allow to express acceptance.”

Justice Keene acknowledged the novelty of the case.

“Nevertheless this Court cannot (nor should it) attempt to stem the tide of technology and common usage – this appears to be the new reality in Canadian society and courts will have to be ready to meet the new challenges that may arise from the use of emojis and the like,” he said.

The decision was made in Swift Current’s Court of King’s Bench on June 8. 

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