New Jersey Courts have followed the Parole Evidence Rule since at least 1882. The Parole Evidence Rule holds that outside (or “extrinsic”) evidence is not allowed to alter the terms of a contract – in other words, the Parole Evidence holds that, the meaning of a contract is contained within its own four walls. Unlike most rules with the word “evidence” in it, the Parole Evidence Rule is not actually part of the Rules of Evidence. In fact, it is not really an evidence rule at all. Rather, it is a substantive rule of law which holds that once the parties sign a contract, their prior negotiations are irrelevant because they have selected the terms of their agreement.
The first requirement for the Parole Evidence Rule to be invoked is that there must be a written contract – the Parole Evidence Rule only applies to agreements which have placed into a written contact. Second, the written contract must be intended as the parties’ final agreement. While this may seem self-evident, in the early stages of commercial transactions parties often use “letters of intent” which are not intended as the final agreement, but only as the broad outlines of how the parties foresee their eventual agreements turning out. Finally, the contract must be a “fully integrated” agreement. This means that the contract must cover all parts of the transactions, not just some elements; the Parole Evidence Rule does not bar extrinsic evidence in the interpretation of “partially integrated” contracts.
Limitations on Application of the Parole Evidence Rule