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Jones v. Capitol Broadcasting Co.

January 06, 1998

DOUGLAS R. JONES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAPITOL BROADCASTING COMPANY, INC., AND CAROLINA FORD DEALERS ADVERTISING ASSOCIATION, INC., DEFENDANTS.



Appeal by plaintiff from order entered 25 November 1996 by Judge Melzer A. Morgan in Guilford County Superior Court.

Lewis, Judge. Judges Martin, John C. and Mcgee concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lewis

LEWIS, Judge.

Plaintiff appeals from an order granting defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure.

According to the allegations of the complaint, during the 1995-1996 football season, defendants conducted a promotional campaign to promote the Carolina Panthers football team and the Ford Dealers of North Carolina, the "One Half Ton of Fun" Contest ("Contest"). Defendants advertised to the general public a contest for which the grand prize was a new Ford F-150 pickup truck. Plaintiff filled out an entry form and entered the Contest. On 16 January 1996, defendants' agent, Brittany Foster, notified plaintiff that he had been selected as the winner. Plaintiff alleged that Ms. Foster stated: "Congratulations, you have won a F-150 Ford truck." At first plaintiff did not believe that he had won the Contest, but after repeated assurances from Ms. Foster, he was convinced. Later that day, Scott Crites, Manager of the Carolina Panthers Radio Network, called plaintiff and told him that he had not won the Contest and that the prize had been given to someone else.

Defendants maintained that plaintiff was not the winner because his name was not the first selected from the drawing. Unable to reach the first person whose name was drawn, defendants selected plaintiff's name during a second drawing. Subsequently, the first winner appeared to claim his prize and defendants awarded him the truck.

Plaintiff initiated this suit alleging breach of contract, violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-32, "Representation of Winning a Prize," and violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-1.1 for unfair and deceptive trade practices. Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The motion was granted, and plaintiff appeals.

Plaintiff assigns error to the trial court's dismissal of its complaint on the three aforementioned grounds. We find that plaintiff has stated a claim for breach of contract and violation of G.S. § 75-32, but not for unfair and deceptive trade practices.

Our standard of review of a motion to dismiss is "whether, as a matter of law, the allegations of the complaint, treated as true, are sufficient to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under some legal theory." Harris v. NCNB Nat'l Bank of N.C., 85 N.C. App. 669, 670, 355 S.E.2d 838, 840 (1987). In ruling upon such a motion, the complaint is to be liberally construed, and the trial court should not dismiss the complaint "unless it appears beyond doubt that [the] plaintiff could prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Dixon v. Stuart, 85 N.C. App. 338, 340, 354 S.E.2d 757, 758 (1987).

With these principles in mind, we find that plaintiff has stated a claim for breach of contract against defendants. Plaintiff alleges that a contract was formed when he submitted his entry ticket according to contest rules. Defendants respond that no contract exists because the contest was completely voluntary, unconnected to the purchase of an automobile, and placed no obligation on plaintiff. As a result, defendants contend that there is no consideration supporting the purported contract.

Whether the entry of a contest ticket into a raffle or contest gives rise to a binding contract is an issue of first impression for North Carolina courts. We choose to follow the majority of jurisdictions that hold contract law governs the issue. See Annotation, Private Contest and Lotteries: Entrants' Rights and Remedies, 64 A.L.R.4th 1021, 1045-52 (1988). We adopt the rule that advertising a promotional contest to the public is in the nature of an offer. An enforceable contract is formed when a party accepts that offer and consideration is provided by entering the contest and complying with all of the terms of the offer. See Walters v. National Beverages, Inc., 18 Utah 2d 301, 422 P.2d 524 (Utah 1967) (public promotion program offering automobile as first prize governed by contract law); Johnson v. BP Oil Company, 602 So. 2d 885 (Ala. 1992) (running a promotional contest is in the nature of offer and enforceable contract is formed when party accepts); Haynes v. Department of the Lottery, 630 So. 2d 1177 (Fla. 1994) (lottery winner's entitlement to a prize is governed by the principles of contract law), review denied, 642 So. 2d 746 (1994); Lucas v. Godfrey, Reader's Digest Association, 161 Wis. 2d 51, 467 N.W.2d 180 (Wis. 1991) (contract law governs relationship between sponsor and contestant, so that contestant who returns card accepts offer to enter the contest and if number is selected, contestant is entitled to prize) .

In this case, plaintiff alleged that he entered the Contest by submitting an entry form in exchange for an opportunity to have it drawn as the winning ticket. Plaintiff's name was drawn and plaintiff was notified by defendant that he had won the prize or its cash equivalent. Plaintiff has never received the truck or anything else. We find these allegations sufficient to state a claim for breach of contract.

Next, we also find that plaintiff has stated a cause of action under G.S. § 75-32. The statute provides:

No person, firm or corporation engaged in commerce shall, in connection with the sale or lease or solicitation for the sale or lease of any goods, property, or service, represent that any other person, firm or corporation has won anything of value or is the ...


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