A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Ryan Leslie Says “Reward? What Reward?”

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By Nadia-Elysse Harris

Behind the scenes footage of R&B singer Ryan Leslie on his European tour last November showed the frantic moments immediately following the loss of his laptop. At the end of the clip, a written statement turned Mr. Leslie’s laptop search into a real life treasure hunt:

“In the interest of retrieving the invaluable intellectual property contained in his laptop and hard drive, Mr. Leslie has increased the reward offer from $20 thousand to $1 million.”

Apparently the singer had been creating material for his new album when a bag containing his laptop, $10 thousand in cash, and his passport disappeared in Cologne, Germany.  Word of the hefty reward sparked interest across the web, but when no one heard anything further from the singer on the subject, it was assumed that his effort to retrieve his lost belongings had been futile.

That was, until 52-year-old Armin Augstein filed suit on October 24 in the New York Southern District Court. (Though the laptop was lost and found in Germany, diversity jurisdiction allows Mr. Augstein to sue in U.S. federal court.) claiming that he’d found the laptop while walking his dog nearly ten miles away from Cologne. He brought the laptop to the police who, in turn, returned it to Mr. Leslie. Mr. Augstein further claims that he repeatedly tried to contact the musician, but never heard back from him with the reward.  Now he’s seeking the $1 million reward that Mr. Leslie promised, plus interest.

The NY Daily News reported the suit and did not lend much credence to the merits of Mrs. Augstein’s case. But LASIS believes that Mr. Augstein’s suit is a strong one, and that Mr. Leslie, who graduated Harvard with a degree in Government, should use his smarts and settle out of court instead of getting caught up in a trial and legal fees.  Here’s why:  

Once Mr. Leslie offered $1 million to whomever found and returned his laptop, all that was missing from a valid contract was someone accepting the offer by returning the laptop.

In simple terms:  offer + acceptance = contract.  In contract law, an offer of a reward is a bona fide offer. And the performance of what’s asked for in the offer is an acceptance of that offer.

Here’s the thing about rewards: in order for the acceptance to be valid, the person who accepts the reward must have known the reward existed. So in order for Mr. Augstein to have a successful claim for the $1 million, he will have to prove that he actually knew about the reward when he returned the laptop.

Given that the loss of the computer and the $1 million reward likely made the local news, (how often does someone offer a $1 million reward in your local neighborhood?), the odds of Mr. Augstein knowing of the reward offer were high.

In addition to having knowledge of the reward, Mr. Augstein must also prove that his belief of receiving the reward was reasonable.

Contrast our scenario with the famous Pepsi-Hanger Jet case.

Back in the 90s, Pepsi introduced a promotional campaign inviting consumers to collect “Pepsi points” each time they drank Pepsi, with the idea that accumulated points could be exchanged for various items. As part of the campaign, Pepsi commissioned television spots showing various merchandise that could be redeemed through the point program.

At the tail end of one particular TV ad, a Herrier Jet was displayed along with a seven million Pepsi point price tag.  This was done for what is popularly known as “comedic effect”.

But one guy didn’t get the joke, and he set out to collect seven million Pepsi points.  He notified Pepsi of his plans, and when Pepsi pointed out that the jet wasn’t even in its merchandise catalogue, he sued, alleging that the company was reneging on a bona-fide offer.

The court basically looked at the plaintiff and said “Dude, really?” — holding that when it comes to rewards advertised in commercials, an offer is only valid if an objective reasonable person would consider it so.

Since no reasonable (think: sane) person would believe that any amount of Pepsi points would actually purchase a private jet, there was no valid offer for the Pepsi-guzzling plaintiff to accept.

But it was reasonable for Mr. Augstein to believe that Mr. Leslie would actually pay him the $1 million in exchange for the laptop.  Mr. Leslie is a wealthy and fairly well known singer and though he has yet to gain a huge fan base in the U.S., he was selling out stadiums across Europe. As a whole — based on the comments posted below the YouTube clip — people who viewed Mr. Leslie’s reward video took it seriously.

If the case goes forward to trial (and we wager it won’t), our laptop finder will likely walk away $1 million richer.  And if he doesn’t, whatever settlement he gets will definitely have him walking away with a smile.

Mr. Augstein may actually have taken the most profitable dog walk in history.

Comments

6 Comments »

6 Responses

  1. J-Swa says:

    Its funny how quickly something can be found…when a reward is at stake. There is NO WAY the thief would have left that laptop sitting outside somewhere. Mr. Augstein or someone he knows is the thief.

  2. Lawyer Man says:

    J-Swa — Interesting, I hadnt thought of that. But are you saying that Ryan Leslie shouldn’t give the reward?

  3. Interested Attorney says:

    You write: “in order for the acceptance to be valid, the person who accepts the reward must have known the reward existed. So in order for Mr. Augstein to have a successful claim for the $1 million, he will have to prove that he actually knew about the reward when he returned the laptop.” Have you considered that since the laptop was lost and found in Germany, and the reward offer made in Germany, that German law may apply here? German law be different than US law on the necessary elements for recovery of a reward.

    Just a thought.

  4. Emi says:

    “Mr. Augstein may have actually taken the most profitable dog walk in history.” I love it!!

  5. Kudos! That was perfect :)

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