Nelligan O'Brien Payne gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Stéphane Serafin, Student-at-Law in writing this blog post.
When does a bargain become a contract? Does the answer to this question change when a transaction is completed electronically?
Although these issues may sound academic, they lie at the heart of the Quebec Court of Appeal's decision in Ifergan c Société des lotteries du Québec (Ifergan), a case involving Joël Ifergan’s entitlement to half of a $27,000,000 lottery jackpot that recently made headlines across the country.
On May 23, 2008, Mr. Ifergan paid for two randomly selected lottery tickets at a convenience store shortly before 9:00 P.M., the deadline to purchase tickets for that week's draw. The store clerk inputted Mr. Ifergan's selections, sending them to a central Lotto Quebec computer system for processing. However, Lotto Quebec's computers only processed one of the tickets before the deadline and issued Mr. Ifergan one ticket for May 23, 2008, and one for the next week's draw on May 30, 2008.
None of this might have mattered under normal circumstances. But Mr. Infergan then became one of the (un)luckiest lottery participants in history. The ticket numbers he received on his ticket for the May 30, 2008 draw matched the jackpot numbers for May 23, 2008 – the day on which he had purchased it. As a result, Mr. Infergan brought a claim against Lotto Quebec for the payment of $13,500,000.00 – half of the $27,500,00.00 to which he would have been entitled had his ticket been stamped for the May 23, 2008 draw.
Justice Thibault, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel at the Quebec Court of Appeal, upheld an earlier Quebec Superior Court decision and rejected Mr. Ifergan's claim. The Court held that, under the particular statutory scheme applicable to gaming contracts in Quebec, the contract between Mr. Infergan and Lotto Quebec – the one that would have entitled Mr. Ifergan to part of the $27,000,000.00 lottery jackpot – had only been concluded when Lotto Quebec's computers processed his lottery ticket request. Since the system had not processed Mr. Ifergan's ticket request until after the deadline, he did not have a valid lottery ticket for that day's draw.
While the facts in Ifergan are extraordinary, and the case was decided according to the laws of Quebec, the case does raise some interesting questions with respect to contracts in general. This is particularly true in light of the growing importance of electronic commerce both within Canada and internationally. As Ifergan demonstrates, a proper understanding of the often complex legal issues involved in these transactions is extremely important for businesses and consumers alike. Sometimes, it might even be all that stands in the way of a $13,500,000.00 lottery payout.