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Avtalsinstrument med oklara rättsverkningar - en studie av letters of intent och letters of comfort i svensk rätt

Nilsson, Caroline LU (2011) JURM01 20111
Department of Law
Abstract (Swedish)
I avtalsrätten utgörs en central princip av pacta sunt servanda – löften ska hållas. Denna princip, som på ytan kanske inte ser ut att innebära några svårigheter, kan leda till bekymmer sett inom ramen för användandet av letter of intent respektive letter of comfort.

I det moderna näringslivet har ett flertal sätt att sluta kommersiella avtal vuxit fram och lett till att avtalslagens anbud-acceptmodell inte alltid är tillämplig. Det är vanligt förekommande att avtal sluts först efter en viss tids förhandlingar, varvid parterna gemensamt bidragit till avtalsinnehållet på ett sådant sätt att anbud och accept inte går att urskilja. Ytterligare en modell för avtalsingående är den s.k. additionsmetoden, varvid avtalsbundenhet uppkommer... (More)
I avtalsrätten utgörs en central princip av pacta sunt servanda – löften ska hållas. Denna princip, som på ytan kanske inte ser ut att innebära några svårigheter, kan leda till bekymmer sett inom ramen för användandet av letter of intent respektive letter of comfort.

I det moderna näringslivet har ett flertal sätt att sluta kommersiella avtal vuxit fram och lett till att avtalslagens anbud-acceptmodell inte alltid är tillämplig. Det är vanligt förekommande att avtal sluts först efter en viss tids förhandlingar, varvid parterna gemensamt bidragit till avtalsinnehållet på ett sådant sätt att anbud och accept inte går att urskilja. Ytterligare en modell för avtalsingående är den s.k. additionsmetoden, varvid avtalsbundenhet uppkommer successivt.

Den centrala frågan för denna uppsats är om, och i så fall när, ett letter of intent respektive – comfort utgör en för parterna rättsligt bindande utfästelse och härvid ställs bl.a. omsättningsintresset mot principen om avtalsfrihet. Vidare ställs tillitsprincipen mot viljeprincipen.

Ett letter of intent är ett dokument som vanligen upprättas under förhandlingarna mellan parterna och som uttrycker en avsikt hos dessa att samarbeta och föra seriösa förhandlingar med sikte på ett slutligt avtal. Som exempel i uppsatsen beskrivs den roll som ett letter of intent kan spela i transaktionsprocessen inför ett företagsförvärv. Det förekommer inte sällan att en sådan avsiktsförklaring kompletteras med sekretess- och exklusivitetsklausuler. Utgångspunkten är ett letter of intent inte är avsett att vara bindande, men samtidigt är det inte dokumentets titel som är avgörande. Ett letter of intent kan, om det inte är bindande, bidra till att skärpa lojalitetsplikten parterna emellan och komma att beaktas inom ramen för en skadeståndsbedömning inom ramen för culpa in contrahendo.

Ett letter of comfort utfärdas främst i de situationer då ett moderbolag önskar öka sitt dotterbolags kreditvärdighet, utan att för den skull vilja göra ett formellt borgensåtagande som belastar dess balansräkning. Problem kan uppstå då dotterbolaget inte kan fullgöra sina åtaganden och kreditgivaren med åberopande av stödbrevet vänder sig till moderbolaget. Till skillnad mot letter of intent, anses utgångspunkten vara att ett letter of comfort är rättsligt bindande.

Varken letter of intent eller comfort är föremål för lagreglering i svensk rätt. Vid tvister måste därför frågan om dess rättsliga innebörd avgöras i varje enskilt fall efter sedvanlig avtalstolkning. Härvid försöker domstolen i första hand utröna den gemensamma partsavsikten. Ofta går det dock inte att fastslå någon gemensam partsavsikt, det förekommer att parterna har varit medvetet otydliga i sin överenskommelse – båda har eftersträvat en affär eller fortsatta förhandlingar och använder sig därför av ett letter of intent eller – comfort för att komma runt det faktum att man inte är överens. Om den partsinriktade tolkningen inte ger något resultat, övergår domstolen till en objektiverad tolkning, varvid man beaktar bl.a. ordalydelsen, omständigheterna före och efter dokumentets upprättande och parternas uppträdande i övrigt.

Gemensamt för de båda dokumenten är att de inte enbart fungerar som rättsliga instrument, utan kanske främst som affärsmässiga instrument som syftar till att skapa en moralisk förpliktelse mellan parterna. Det är sannolikt att förlust av good-will på marknaden och försämrade affärsrelationer kan medföra större konsekvenser för en näringsidkare, än att bli dömd att betala skadestånd för culpa in contractu eller in contrahendo. Detta talar för att det kanske är i detta hänseende som instrumenten fyller sin största funktion.

Slutsatsen blir att parter bör vara försiktiga vid upprättandet av dessa dokument och gärna vara övertydliga beträffande den avsedda rättsliga bundenheten. (Less)
Abstract
One fundamental principle within the field of contract law is pacta sunt servanda - agreements must be kept. This principle, which on the surface might not seem very complicated, may cause problems when applied on the use of letter of intent and letter of comfort.

In the modern business world several ways of entering commercial contracts have arisen, causing the offer-and-acceptance-model provided in the Swedish law of contract as the only way of concluding a contract, to not be applicable in all situations. Frequently, commercial contracts are not entered into until they have been carefully negotiated by the parties for some period of time and both parties have contributed to the content in such a way that neither offer nor acceptance... (More)
One fundamental principle within the field of contract law is pacta sunt servanda - agreements must be kept. This principle, which on the surface might not seem very complicated, may cause problems when applied on the use of letter of intent and letter of comfort.

In the modern business world several ways of entering commercial contracts have arisen, causing the offer-and-acceptance-model provided in the Swedish law of contract as the only way of concluding a contract, to not be applicable in all situations. Frequently, commercial contracts are not entered into until they have been carefully negotiated by the parties for some period of time and both parties have contributed to the content in such a way that neither offer nor acceptance may be distinguished.

The fundamental issue of this thesis is whether, and if so when, a letter of intent and letter of comfort constitutes a legally binding commitment. In this respect the interest of economic efficiency needs to be balanced with the principle of freedom of contract.

A letter of intent is a document which usually is drafted during negotiations between the parties and which expresses their intent to cooperate and to work towards reaching a final agreement. To exemplify the use of letters of intent, the use of this document in the transaction process preceding the acquisition of a company, is described. Frequently the letter of intent is combined with clauses prescribing secrecy and exclusiveness for the negotiations. The fundamental attitude towards letters of intent is that these are considered to be non-binding, but it must be stressed that in determining this, it’s not the title of the document that’s determinant. A letter of intent may, even if not legally binding, contribute to strengthen the principle of loyalty that is generally considered being a part to each contract relation. The document may also come to be considered as an aspect in determining whether one of the parties is obliged to pay damages to the counterparty due to culpa in contrahendo.

A letter of comfort is mainly issued in situations where a parent company wishes to increase the creditworthiness of a daughter company, but wants to avoid entering into a formal guarantee that needs to be included in the balance sheet of the mother company. Problems may arise if the daughter company becomes unable to fulfill its obligations, causing the creditor to turn to the mother company in order to acquire payment, basing its claims on the letter of comfort. In comparison to the letter of intent, the fundamental attitude towards the letter of comfort is that this document is considered to be legally binding, at least to some extent.

Neither the letter of intent nor the letter of comfort is being statutory regulated in Swedish law. If a dispute arises, the question of the legal effect of the document therefore must be settled in each specific case following the interpretation of the document. First and foremost, the court tries to establish the common intent of the parties. Sometimes this is not possible, due to the fact that the parties have expressed themselves consciously vague in order to continue the negotiations, despite the fact that they have not reached an agreement on certain matters. If the common intent of the parties can’t be established, the court will turn to a more objective way of interpretation, taking circumstances such as the wording of the document and the general conduct of the parties, into account.

The letter of intent and letter of comfort have in common that they do not only function as a legal document, but also – and perhaps foremost – as a commercial instrument aiming to create a moral responsibility between the parties. It’s plausible that the loss of good-will and deteriorated business relations may lead to consequences far greater for a company, than an obligation to pay damages for culpa in contractu or in contrahendo. This indicates that it’s perhaps in this latter aspect that the instruments play their most significant role.

The conclusion is that commercial parties ought to be careful when drafting these types of documents and also to be very explicit in regard to the legal effect intended by the parties. (Less)
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author
Nilsson, Caroline LU
supervisor
organization
alternative title
Contractual instruments with uncertain legal effects - a study of letters of intent and letters of comfort in Swedish law
course
JURM01 20111
year
type
H3 - Professional qualifications (4 Years - )
subject
keywords
Avtalsrätt, civilrätt, förmögenhetsrätt, letter of intent, letter of comfort
language
Swedish
id
1966337
date added to LUP
2011-06-09 09:09:26
date last changed
2011-06-09 09:09:26
@misc{1966337,
  abstract     = {One fundamental principle within the field of contract law is pacta sunt servanda  - agreements must be kept. This principle, which on the surface might not seem very complicated, may cause problems when applied on the use of letter of intent and letter of comfort.

In the modern business world several ways of entering commercial contracts have arisen, causing the offer-and-acceptance-model provided in the Swedish law of contract as the only way of concluding a contract, to not be applicable in all situations. Frequently, commercial contracts are not entered into until they have been carefully negotiated by the parties for some period of time and both parties have contributed to the content in such a way that neither offer nor acceptance may be distinguished. 

The fundamental issue of this thesis is whether, and if so when, a letter of intent and letter of comfort constitutes a legally binding commitment. In this respect the interest of economic efficiency needs to be balanced with the principle of freedom of contract. 

A letter of intent is a document which usually is drafted during negotiations between the parties and which expresses their intent to cooperate and to work towards reaching a final agreement. To exemplify the use of letters of intent, the use of this document in the transaction process preceding the acquisition of a company, is described. Frequently the letter of intent is combined with clauses prescribing secrecy and exclusiveness for the negotiations. The fundamental attitude towards letters of intent is that these are considered to be non-binding, but it must be stressed that in determining this, it’s not the title of the document that’s determinant. A letter of intent may, even if not legally binding, contribute to strengthen the principle of loyalty that is generally considered being a part to each contract relation. The document may also come to be considered as an aspect in determining whether one of the parties is obliged to pay damages to the counterparty due to culpa in contrahendo.

A letter of comfort is mainly issued in situations where a parent company wishes to increase the creditworthiness of a daughter company, but wants to avoid entering into a formal guarantee that needs to be included in the balance sheet of the mother company. Problems may arise if the daughter company becomes unable to fulfill its obligations, causing the creditor to turn to the mother company in order to acquire payment, basing its claims on the letter of comfort. In comparison to the letter of intent, the fundamental attitude towards the letter of comfort is that this document is considered to be legally binding, at least to some extent.

Neither the letter of intent nor the letter of comfort is being statutory regulated in Swedish law. If a dispute arises, the question of the legal effect of the document therefore must be settled in each specific case following the interpretation of the document. First and foremost, the court tries to establish the common intent of the parties. Sometimes this is not possible, due to the fact that the parties have expressed themselves consciously vague in order to continue the negotiations, despite the fact that they have not reached an agreement on certain matters. If the common intent of the parties can’t be established, the court will turn to a more objective way of interpretation, taking circumstances such as the wording of the document and the general conduct of the parties, into account. 

The letter of intent and letter of comfort have in common that they do not only function as a legal document, but also – and perhaps foremost – as a commercial instrument aiming to create a moral responsibility between the parties. It’s plausible that the loss of good-will and deteriorated business relations may lead to consequences far greater for a company, than an obligation to pay damages for culpa in contractu or in contrahendo. This indicates that it’s perhaps in this latter aspect that the instruments play their most significant role. 

The conclusion is that commercial parties ought to be careful when drafting these types of documents and also to be very explicit in regard to the legal effect intended by the parties.},
  author       = {Nilsson, Caroline},
  keyword      = {Avtalsrätt,civilrätt,förmögenhetsrätt,letter of intent,letter of comfort},
  language     = {swe},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Avtalsinstrument med oklara rättsverkningar - en studie av letters of intent och letters of comfort i svensk rätt},
  year         = {2011},
}