“Termination” and “Expiration”

During a recent in-house seminar, a participant took issue with one of my sample provisions, namely This agreement terminates on August 23, 2007. The participant argued that termination entails one or more parties’ ending a contract sooner than it otherwise would have ended; he said that in this case the correct word to use would have been expires.

At the time, I said something noncommittal and moved on. I’ll now take the opportunity to explain why I’d leave my sample provision as is. (To those seminar participants who ask awkward questions, thank you!)

One can readily find in legal reference works instances of termination used to refer to any means by which a contract comes to an end. Consider, for example, the following, which is from 17A Am. Jur. 2d. Contracts § 524: “A contract may be discharged by performance in accordance with its terms; in fact, this is the normal termination of every contract. A contract may also be terminated by the expiration of the time during which it is to remain operative.” In this passage, expiration is considered a form of termination rather than something distinct from termination.

This understanding of the relationship between termination and expiration can be found outside the realm of contracts. For example, the heading of 4 N.Y. Jur. 2d Appellate Review § 650 is “Expiration or other termination of order appealed from.” Again, expiration is just one form of termination.

On the other hand, it’s even easier to find contract language suggesting that expiration doesn’t constitute a form of termination. To select an example at random, a contract filed last week on the SEC’s EDGAR system contains the following: “All such charges and expenses shall be promptly settled between the Parties at the Closing or upon termination or expiration of further proceedings under this Agreement.” If expiration constituted a form of termination, logic would require that one omit “or expiration.” Innumerable similar examples come readily to hand. But that doesn’t mean you should emulate them.

The definitions of termination and terminate in Black’s Law Dictionary are consistent with the notion that termination includes expiration. Termination is defined as meaning “The act of ending something” and “The end of something in time or existence.” In other words, termination is both something you do and something that can simply happen. To the same effect, terminate is defined as meaning “To put an end to; to bring to an end” and “To end; to conclude.”

Interestingly, the definition of termination in Black’s contains a link to Corpus Juris Secundum Contracts § 422, which states that “The word ‘termination’ generally refers to an ending, usually before the end of the anticipated term of the contract.” But the one case that it cites for this proposition itself quotes the sixth edition of Black’s—the current edition is the eight—as stating that termination generally “refers to an ending, usually before the end of the anticipated term of the … contract.” It’s reasonable to conclude that the editorial staff of Black’s subsequently eliminated that limitation on the meaning of termination because they decided that it wasn’t warranted.

But a cardinal rule in drafting is to avoid, to the extent possible, relying on a court to construe a word in a particular way. So even if you, like me, consider that termination is best thought of as including expiration, it would be reckless to leave the matter open to question in a contract. In this regard, the provision the seminar participant questioned—This agreement terminates on August 23, 2007—poses no problem, in that there is no possible confusion as to its meaning. And if you use termination in this context, it follows that if elsewhere in the same contract you specify the consequences of termination, those consequences apply not only if the parties take steps to terminate the contract, but also if the contract expires.

But why not use expires in the provision in question instead of terminates? Because not only would it be unnecessary to do so, it would also lumber you with having to use elsewhere in the contract more ponderous constructions such as When this agreement expires or is terminated [or otherwise terminates] rather than just When this agreement terminates. (Note that using instead When this agreement is terminated would suggest that the stated consequences only apply if the parties terminate the agreement as opposed to letting it expire.)

By the way, one can dismiss out of hand the usage terminates and expires, as in This agreement will terminate and expire upon cessation of commercial operation of the Plant. Depending on the meaning of termination that you prefer, terminates and expires entails either inconsistency or redundancy.

  • http://plainlanguage.com Cheryl Stephens

    Will you explain why you will not use “end”, for the situation you refer to as “a contract comes to an end.”.

  • mike

    I’m going to agree with the question asker. While termination and expiration may be synonymous, the effect of “expiration” and “termination” ought to be treated differently. As I have used and understood it, expiration is the “end” of the agreement term. On the other hand, “termination” is what happens when one does not reach the end of the term. Indeed most of the contracts I’ve reviewed include both a “Term” and a “Termination” clause.

    Indeed, it seems advantageous for a contract to treat what happens in either situation differently. For example, I “terminate,” you can get a refund, but if the agreement “expires,” nothing happens since the agreement has done for both of us what we intended it to do. Clearly, you shouldn’t get a refund if the agreement expires.

    Now, it may be that the “refund” contemplated by the example is really a codification of the remedy available to me at law, but why would I want to sue?

  • Pingback: AutoMuse » Blawg Review # 95()

  • Chris Lemens

    I recently re-wrote a website use agreement. After some thought, I replaced every use of the words terminate, expire, and cancel (and their variants) with the word end. “If you want to end this agreement, you may do so at any time by sending us notice.” “When this agreement ends (regardless of how it ends or who ends it) . . . “

  • Ryan

    I have a situation that has a monetary outcome based on the difference between expiration and termination and it’s interpretation in an agreement.

    I had an agreement that required I carry errors and omissions insurance during the life of the agreement and “for a period of not less than two years after the expiration of this agreement”.

    However, the agreement has been terminated by the buyer well before the expiration, and well within the rights of the buyer per the terms of the agreement, but it was terminated and did not expire. For reference, this requirement to carry insurance is under a section of the agreement titled “INSURANCE”.

    Under the section “SURVIVAL OF TERMS”, it says “Termination or expiration of this Agreement for any reason shall not release either party from any liabilities or obligations what (i) are set forth in the Sections of the Agreement entitled “Ownership of Work Product”, “Proprietary Rights Indemnification”, “Cross Indemenification”, “Limitation of Liability”, “Confidentiality”, “Taxes”, and “Compliance with Laws, Regulations and Policies”, or (ii) remain to be performed or by their nature would be intended applicable following any such termination or expiration.

    Since the agreement was terminated and did not expire and the section titled “INSURANCE” requires the insurance for two years beyond the “expiration” and because the “INSURANCE” section of the document is not specifically indicated in the “SURVIVAL OF TERMS”, I don’t believe I am still required to to carry the insurance? Because of the termination, there was no expiration, and therefore no applicable date of reference by which to calculate the two year insurance maintenance period beyond “expiration”. Does termination CAUSE expiration or does it VOID expiration, or does the original expiration continue to exist?

    Obviously, I would want it to void expiration and then argue that this insurance is not “intended applicable following any such termination or expiration”.

    The buyer does not even want the data from the services supplied, which further indicates that the data in which I was insuring is not “intended applicable” after the termination, so the “INSURANCE” section of the agreement does not survive.

  • Ken Adams

    Ryan: Your situation is a great example of how distinguishing between termination and expiration can trip up a drafter. I suspect that in the provision in question, the drafter screwed up by not saying “termination or expiration.” The question is whether the other party gives up without a fight or not. But not that this doesn’t constitute legal advice! Ken