Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Joan Sullivan v. Merval Porter, Jr. case brief

Joan Sullivan v. Merval Porter, Jr. case brief summary
861 A.2d 625

Defendant sellers of real property appealed from a judgment, based in part on a jury verdict, of the Superior Court, Hancock County (Maine), in favor of plaintiff buyers in an action to enforce an oral contract to sell a farm. The sellers argued that the evidence was insufficient to show a contract, that the contract fell within the statute of frauds, various procedural errors, and that a grant of specific performance was an abuse of discretion.

FACTS: Maine's statute of frauds, at Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 52(4) (1999), required contracts for the sale of real property to be in writing, subject to certain exceptions that included the doctrine of partial performance. The buyers, who relied on the sellers' promise to sell their farm on certain terms, to the extent of moving onto the property, making a partial down payment, and commencing renovations, after borrowing money for the down payment, only to have the sellers renege, argued that their partial performance made the oral agreement enforceable.

The high court found no reason to disturb the jury's factual findings that all the elements of a contract to sell real estate, the identity of the parties and the land, the price, and the terms, were present in the oral agreement and that the buyers had relied on the promise to their detriment, thereby taking the agreement out of the statute of frauds.

-A contract exists if the parties mutually assent to be bound by all its material terms, the assent is either expressly or impliedly manifested in the contract, and the contract is sufficiently definite to enable the court to ascertain its exact meaning and fix exactly the legal liabilities of each party.

Finally, there was no abuse of discretion in the decision to grant specific performance, as it was the only way to restore to the buyers what they had lost. All the sellers' other arguments were waived.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed the judgment.

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