Contracts, generally, are freely assignable i.e., either party can freely transfer one’s obligations or rights to a third party. This is what an assignment clause signifies. An assignment is a transfer of rights and liabilities that the third party must then discharge to the other party. But sometimes, some contracts include an Anti-assignment clause to obstruct or limit assignment. They prevent either party to contract to transfer contractual obligations and/or rights to a third party.
The early legal system was against assigning contract rights as it considered them highly personal and intelligible. Fear of litigation, fear of maintenance, and champerty are some of the other reasons that many commentators feel led to the development of a non-assignability clause. However, with the passage of time and the development of technology, the work-load increased mani-fold necessitating the assignment of some rights and liabilities to the third party; now assignment of rights has become a general trend and non-assignment has taken a backseat which especially needs to be drafted to forbid assignment.
An anti-assignment clause also referred to as a non-assignment clause is a boilerplate clause that either bar completely or partially either of the party to the contract from transferring their rights and obligations under the contract to a third party without due permission from the non-assigning party.
FORMS OF ANTI-ASSIGNMENT CLAUSE
A non-assignment clause in a contract can be presented to the oblige in varied forms depending on the nature of the contract and its terms and conditions.
It may take the following forms-
- Assignments of contract rights and liabilities may be completely prohibited, or;
- Assignments may be limited to entities within the same group as the assignor.
- The agreement may prohibit any transfers of the obligation without the approval of the obligor, which should not be unreasonably denied.
IMPORTANCE OF ANTI-ASSIGNMENT CLAUSE
A non-assignment clause limits the obligor’s contractual obligations to the obligee. The courts construe the clause in favor of the non-assigning party i.e., the obliger. Since the oblige afterward assigns its rights, the obliger then needs to also cooperate with the assignee i.e., a third-party or a stranger to the contract for the performance of the contract; therefore, the courts assume that only the party that can complain about the assignment is the non-assigning party.
SCOPE OF ANTI-ASSIGNMENT CLAUSE
Anti-assignment clauses in contracts have become a frequent practice because, without them, contracts are freely assignable. However, there are certain contracts where the assignment is excused by the statutes itself, however, the anti-assignment clause is still drafted into the contract for efficient enforcement. For example, Section 37 of the Indian Contract Act prohibits the practice of “offering to perform” where it is against the lex-terrae. Such contracts could be of IPR where the nature of the contract is personal or could be an employment agreement where an assignment without permission would lead to significant and unfavorable consequences for non-assigning parties. For all other contracts, anti-assignment clauses can be used with ease.
Examples of the use of the Anti-Assignment Clause
- In Franchise Agreement, this clause clearly outlines the extent of the permissibility of the assignment of the intellectual property of the franchise.
- In a Purchase and Sale Agreement, the purchaser may need to assign its rights and obligations to be able to obtain financing more easily. Certainly, the seller would need to keep some control over the financing parts of the transaction through a non-assignment clause to be on the safer side and protect himself against dealing with any strange entity.
- In Asset Acquisition Agreement, a purchaser only obtains those assets and liabilities of a target listed in the agreement. In the case of an asset acquisition. In the case of an asset acquisition, any agreement with an anti-assignment clause will be activated.
- In the Stockholders’ Agreement, this clause will kick in (if included), the moment stockholder tries to transfer, assign, hypothecate, mortgage, or alienate any or all stocks in a corporation. This is the case where there is a complete ban on assignment, however the same can be assigned if however, there are exemptions to non-assignment by operation by law.
- Almost in all Commercial Lease Agreements, there is an anti-assignment clause. The transfer of ownership may be forbidden by an anti-assignment clause, so before selling the business, you must seek permission from your proprietor; however, this permission should not be withheld against the interests of the lease.
However, the list is not exhaustive. There are still a lot of businesses where the anti-assignment clause is used including but not limited to joint-venture agreements, partnership agreements, limited liability company operating agreements, real estate contracts, bills of sale, Assignment, and transaction financing agreements, etc.
ENFORCEABILITY OF ANTI-ASSIGNMENT CLAUSE
This restrictive clause’s effect will be triggered the moment there is any breach of this clause. According to the traditional view, a contract is void if this restrictive clause is violated; however, the modern view holds that a breach of it will only result in a claim for damages; the contract is not ipso-facto void unless expressly stated in the contract. Along with this view, the court will consider the relevant law, the jurisdiction that governs the contract, and the language of the contract to enforce this clause.
MERITS OF ANTI-ASSIGNMENT CLAUSE
A contract with an anti-assignment clause thrives with the following advantages-
- The relationship between the assignor and the obligor is preserved, while the connection between the obligor and the assignee is either limited or eliminated.
- The obligor is safeguarded by this, as they may not want to be in a situation where they must mention a set-off defence against one party and a counterclaim against the other or become involved in a disagreement between the assignor and assignee under the contract of assignment.
DEMERITS OF ANTI-ASSIGNMENT CLAUSE
The anti-Assignment clause also suffers from the following disadvantages-
- In cases where this clause is violated, it is extremely difficult to quantify and measure the damages.
- It can be a lengthy and exasperating process for businesses that are on the brink of bankruptcy, such as start-ups, to finalize the closure until they get the approval of all the commercial entities with whom they had a contract that included a non-assignment clause.
- In the event of a change in ownership, such as a merger or acquisition, a business may feel uneasy about the new owner of its partner company. To have a say in the selection of the other party’s owner, the business may include a clause in the agreement that mandates their approval before the change can occur, allowing them to indirectly manage the situation.
In conclusion, an anti-assignment clause is a provision in a contract that prohibits one party from transferring or assigning their rights or obligations under the contract to a third party without the other party’s consent. This clause is commonly used in contracts to protect the interests of the parties involved and to ensure that the original parties to the contract are the ones who will perform the obligations and receive the benefits. Anti-assignment clauses can be beneficial for both parties in a contract. For the party who is providing goods or services, it ensures that they are dealing with the same party throughout the duration of the contract, which can help to maintain consistency and quality. For the party who is receiving the goods or services, it can assure that they are dealing with a party that has the necessary expertise and resources to fulfill the obligations under the contract. However, there are also potential drawbacks to anti-assignment clauses. They can limit a party’s ability to transfer their rights or obligations under the contract, which can be problematic if the party needs to assign the contract due to unforeseen circumstances. Additionally, anti-assignment clauses can make it more difficult for a party to obtain financing or sell their business, as potential buyers or lenders may be hesitant to take on a contract with such a clause. Overall, the use of anti-assignment clauses in contracts should be carefully considered and tailored to the specific needs of the parties involved. It is important to strike a balance between protecting the interests of the parties and allowing for flexibility in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
Author(s) Name: Avee Singh Dalal (Dr B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Sonipat)
The Indian Contract Act, 1872, Sec. 37, No. 9, Acts of Parliament, 1872 (India)
Kapilaben v. Ashok Kumar Jayantilal Sheth, (2020) 20 SCC 648
Aaron R Katz, A Guide to Understanding Anti-Assignment Clauses, GT ISRAEL LAW BLOG (Feb. 18, 2023, 5:15 PM), https://www.gtlaw-israelpractice.com/2016/02/04/a-guide-to-understanding-anti-assignment-clauses/.
The Law of Offices of STIMMEL, STIMMEL & ROESER, https://www.stimmel-law.com/en/articles/assignments-basic-law (last visited Feb. 18, 2023).