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Miranowic v. Tweeds, Inc.

A-5013-97T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)

WARRANTIES; MAIL ORDER—A mail order seller can change its return policy, but any ambiguities in the new policy will be construed against it.

A customer sued a mail order clothing seller claiming that the seller failed to honor its unrestricted merchandise return policy and therefore committed breach of contract, consumer fraud, and breach of warranty. The customer had been ordering huge amounts of clothing from the seller, on an average of one order per week. Before 1992, the seller had an unconditional return policy. Pursuant to that policy, the customer would return goods for a refund or credit, sometimes more than three years after purchase and without explanation. In April, 1992, the mail order seller advised this particular customer that it would only issue purchase credits for the return of items that had been purchased in previous seasons. Later, it sent a letter to the customer allowing her to return any items, old or new, until June 1, 1992 for a full refund. Thereafter, any returns, old or new, would only result in a credit against future purchases. The customer believed that the agreement allowed her to return any merchandise, for a cash refund, provided that the merchandise was returned prior to June 1, 1992. After June 1, 1992, she understood that she would receive purchase certificates for old merchandise, and believed that she could continue to return new merchandise for either credit or refund, without any limit. The lower court accepted the seller’s contention that its unconditional guarantee was legally modified, and the Appellate Division agreed that it was legally permissible for the mail order seller and its customer to agree to a new return policy that would cover the customer’s purchases. On the other hand, the Appellate Division pointed out that such an agreement requires mutually consent. The Court found the letters from the mail order seller to be ambiguous with respect to the customer’s ability to return new merchandise. Therefore, the Court found in favor of the customer’s interpretation of the agreement and remanded to the lower court for determination as to which merchandise was “old” and which merchandise was “new,” so that it could be determined which merchandise the customer would be permitted to return for a cash refund.


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