David Berman critique of consumer advocates’ advocacy against the proposed Restatement of the Law of Consumer Contracts

David Berman has written A Critique of Consumer Advocacy Against the Restatement of the Law of Consumer Contracts, 54 Columbia Journal of Law & Social Problems. Here is the abstract:

In May 2019, the American Law Institute proposed adopting a Restatement of the Law of Consumer Contracts. In it, the Restatement’s Reporters suggested a “grand bargain,” which removed the requirement that consumers meaningfully assent to contractual terms and compensated for this by adding teeth to ex post remedies already available to consumers. The proposed Restatement drew immense criticism from consumer advocates, who argued both that meaningful assent was not disappearing in the common law, and that the ex post remedies did not go far enough to cure consumer harms. In the wake of this critique, the draft was shelved for further consideration.

This Note argues that consumer advocates’ approach to critiquing the Restatement is misguided. Contrary to the position of consumer advocates, the Reporters were fundamentally correct in identifying the gradual demise of assent as a reality in consumer contracts. However, this Note acknowledges that ex post review procedures, such as the application of the unconscionability doctrine, are inadequate mechanisms for redressing consumer harm. 

Instead, this Note argues that consumer groups are better served by focusing on ex ante regulation of contract design, which would ensure that consumers are presented with fair contracts. This Note suggests that consumer advocates should focus their attention on the adoption of more rigorous Unfair and Deceptive Acts & Practices statutes on the state level. Provided that the right combination of prohibited terms, administrative updating mechanisms, and enforcement provisions are included, such state-level regulation would better protect consumers from unfair adhesive contracts.

(Apologies for formatting issues; they are my fault, not David's)

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