Employment Law Questions? Ask an Employment Lawyer.
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Under contract law, a contract arises or is formed when there is an offer, an acceptance, consideration or promises of future consideration, and a mutual intent to the bound. Based on what you have stated, a court is likely to find that when you accepted the school offer on 6/8 by signing the agreement, a contract was formed. That said, what you may be able to do is reduce or avoid all together the penalty. If the contract says that you have to pay XYZ dollars to get out of it, that clause cannot be enforced if it acts as a penalty.
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Here is the supporting Iowa law:
A party seeking to recover for breach of contract is entitled only to be placed in as good a position as the party would have occupied had the contract been performed. Midland Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Mercy Clinics, 579 N.W.2d 823, 831 (Iowa 1998). A party is not entitled to use the breach to better its position by recovering damages not actually suffered. Id. These propositions are equally true when the contract calls for liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are permitted in contracts as long as they do not constitute a penalty. Aurora Bus. Park Ass'n v. Michael Albert, Inc., 548 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Iowa 1996); Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 356 (1981)…Liquidated damages are not penalties if they are set at an amount reasonable in light of the anticipated or actual loss caused by the breach. Rohlin Constr. Co. v. City of Hinton, 476 N.W.2d 78, 80 (Iowa 1991).