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Suppose a celebrity autographs whatever fans hand over (usually in an enthusiastic, crowded, and rushed setting).

Suppose one item being signed is a thousand-dollar I.O.U. (promissory note or some such). A million dollars would look ridiculous in court but $1,314.55 sounds reasonable. The celebrity didn't keep a copy of whatever they autographed.

The celeb's lawyer would likely advise against signing anything. The celeb's movie studio, record label, etc. would likely say to keep your fans happy and everyone does it. The celeb could hand over presigned autograph cards, but I think many celebs still sign whatever fans offer.

A celeb could say they didn't know what it was but that comes under the principle of coulda-woulda-shoulda. That defense usually fails in court.

How does the celebrity protect themself and still sign autographs in a rush?

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    "That defense usually fails in court." Citation needed. The signature isn't what makes the debt valid, but rather the consent of both parties and their intent to form the agreement. If the plaintiff admits the circumstances of the signature, it will be clear that the defendant had no intent to agree, and the plaintiff will lose. If the plaintiff lies, they are liable to be convicted of perjury, and may not be believed in any case. – Nate Eldredge Sep 25 '20 at 2:10
  • note that many movie stars have 2 signatures: the autograph and the proper legal signature. – Trish Sep 27 '20 at 11:03
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According to Nolo.com five requirements must be met for an agreement to be binding and enforceable by a court.

Your scenario meets one requirement at best (see comments). Therefore, there is no legally binding agreement.

Contract Requirements

To be enforceable by a court, every contract (whether written or oral) must meet several requirements. Let's take a look at each of them.

Consideration. As Cole Porter wrote in the song, True Love, "You give to me and I give to you." That sums up consideration. Each party has to promise or provide something of value to the other. Without this exchange, there is no contract. (Learn more in Nolo's article Consideration: Every Contract Needs It.)

Offer and acceptance. There must be a clear or definite offer to contract ("Do you want to buy this?") and an unqualified acceptance ("Yes!").

Legal purpose. The purpose of the agreement must not violate the law. For example, you won't be able to enforce a loan agreement that charges interest in excess of what is allowed by usury laws or a service agreement to hire someone to rob a bank or kill your mother-in-law.

Capable parties. To be "capable" of making a contract, the parties must understand what they're doing. For example, there is a presumption that minors and insane people usually don't know what they're doing and, for that reason, contracts they enter into won't be enforced under certain circumstances. (Learn more in Nolo's article Who Lacks the Capacity to Contract?)

Mutual assent. This is also sometimes referred to as a "meeting of the minds." The contracting parties must intend to be bound by their agreement and must agree on the essential terms.

If this isn't enough, there is another common law defense available to such a defendant called estoppel. Courts look to the behavior of the parties to determine if there was an actual contract or not. If the behavior does not fit the alleged agreement, then the plaintiff is estopped from enforcing the words on paper.

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    Actually, I would say that only one of the 5 requirements are met. While failing all of the others, a thousand-dollar IOU satisfies the "legal purpose" requirement. – Dan Henderson Sep 25 '20 at 19:58
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“I didn’t agree to that”

A signature is evidence that you signed it; the surrounding circumstances determine if you agreed to it.

A signature neatly on the bottom, perhaps with a handwritten date, is good evidence you agreed to it. An autograph scrawled in texta right across the middle is poor evidence that you agreed to it.

Each party testifies explaining why there is (or isn’t) a debt, how they know one another(if they do) and if, on the balance of probabilities, the fan proves the debt (which won’t happen) the celebrity pays.

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This would not constitute a valid binding contract

In order for a contract to be binding, there must be a "meeting of the minds" between the parties—that is, both parties must have actually agreed to the terms of the contract. Situations in which there is not considered to have been a meeting of the minds includes if the parties signing the contract reasonably had different understandings of its terms.

If one party is tricked into signing the contract and thus is unaware of the existence of any contractual terms, there can hardly be said to have been mutual agreement to its terms by both parties. Assuming sufficient evidence was presented to prove this, the contract would be invalidated.

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