Leonard v. PepsiCo: No Jet For You

You may have heard about Netflix’s docuseries, “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?”, an entertaining exploration of the backstory behind John Leonard’s mid-1990’s attempt to trade in 7 million “Pepsi Points” that he had acquired for a Harrier jet allegedly offered by the company in its disclaimer-less commercial. It’s a fascinating story that culminates in (spoiler alert) plaintiff’s loss; Mr. Leonard remains, upon information and belief, jet-less.

In a landmark decision, Leonard v. Pepsico, Inc., 88 F. Supp. 2d 116 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 5, 1999), Judge Kimba Wood granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment. In a nutshell, the court held that: (1) defendant’s advertisement was not an offer; (2) an objective, reasonable person would not have considered the commercial an offer (rejecting plaintiff’s argument, based on the commercial’s “obvious absurdity,” that it “was not clearly in jest”, and deferring to Pepsi’s characterization of the ad as “zany humor”); and (3) the alleged contract did not satisfy the Statute of Frauds. In a terse opinion adopting Judge Woods’ reasoning, the Second Circuit affirmed.

Unlike any of the thousands, if not millions, of breach of contract cases that have since been decided, the Leonard case has made its way into law school classrooms and casebooks – achieving noteworthy status on par with the 19th century “Carbolic Smoke Ball” decision (a cornerstone of the law of unilateral offers, which Leonard cited but which Judge Wood distinguished).

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