14.2 Real Property
Robert Briggs and his wife purchased a home located at 167 Lower Orchard Drive, Levittown, Pennsylvania. They made a down payment and borrowed the balance on a 30-year mortgage. Six years later, when Mr. and Mrs. Briggs were behind on their mortgage payments, they entered into an oral contract to sell the house to Winfield and Emma Sackett if the Sacketts would pay the three months’ arrearages on the loan and agree to make the future payments on the mortgage. Mrs. Briggs and Mrs. Sackett were sisters. The Sacketts paid the arrearages, moved into the house, and continued to live there. Fifteen years later, Robert Briggs filed an action to void the oral contract as in violation of the Statute of Frauds and evict the Sacketts from the house. Who wins? Briggs v. Sackett, 275 Pa. Super. 13, 418 A.2d 586, Web 1980 Pa.Super. Lexis 2034 (Superior Court of Pennsylvania). Facts
The Briggs purchased a home at 167 Orchard Drive in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Six years later the Briggs were three months behind on the mortgage payments. The Briggs entered into an oral contract to sell the house to the Sacketts if the Sacketts would pay their late mortgage and continue to pay their mortgage. The Sacketts paid the late mortgage, moved in and continued to pay the mortgage while living in the house. Fifteen years later Robert Briggs files to void the contract.
The legal issue presented by Robert Briggs is an action to void an oral real estate contract because it violates the Statute of Frauds. While, the Statute of Frauds does indeed require real estate contracts to be in writing in order to be enforceable, the Statute of Frauds does not apply to Briggs v. Sackett as the specifics of this case warrant an exception from the Statue of Frauds under the equitable doctrine of part performance. Applicable Laws
The equitable doctrine of part performance allows the court to enforce an oral real estate contract if the agreement was partially performed. The buyer must make at least a partial payment towards the property and possess the property or make valuable improvements to the property. When considering if a case warrants exception to the Statute of Frauds under the equitable doctrine of part performance, the court also considers if a failure to enforce the agreement would cause injustice. Judge Kline, P.J. clearly states in a similar case involving an oral real estate contract that: "The doctrine of part performance by the purchaser is a well-recognized exception to the Statue of Frauds as applied to contracts for the sale of real property." Sutton v. Warner, 12 Cal.App.4th 415, 15 Cal.Rptr.2d 632, Web 1993 Cal.App.Lexis 22 (Court of Appeal of California) The Sacketts meet the criteria for the exception to the Statute of Frauds under the equitable doctrine of part performance. We can infer that since Briggs filed to void the oral contract he admits the oral contract exists. Let's assume that the court accepts the terms of the oral agreement from the credible testimony of the Sacketts or their witnesses to the oral agreement. The Sacketts are fulfilling their part of the oral agreement as they paid the delinquent mortgage and they are continuing to pay the mortgage as agreed. In addition the Sacketts did take possession of the house after making the first payment. Voiding the contract now would cause considerable financial injury to the Sacketts. Justice would not be served if the contract was voided because the Sacketts cannot easily be returned to status quo, as they have paid the mortgage of the home for 15 years under the assumption that they are the owners. Further, for 15 years the Sacketts have lived under the assumption that Briggs would fulfill the contract, as they had no reason to infer otherwise. Briggs' silence could be interpreted as a conduct of acceptance of the terms of the oral contract. If Briggs did not agree with the terms of the oral contract he...