Brief Fact Summary. One party allowed another to deposit waste near their property during the construction of a road. The parties agreed to a procedure of how the waste was to be concealed. This procedure, however, was not contained in the parties' written agreement.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. " 'A court of equity has the power to reform the written evidence of a contract and make it correspond to the understanding of the parties. … However, the mistake must be mutual to the parties to the contract.' "
Once a person enters into a written agreement he builds around himself a stone wall, from which he cannot escape by merely asserting he had not understood what he was signing.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Should the contract be reformed to include a paragraph that was left out due to a mutual mistake?
Held. The court first quoted [Bugen v. New York Life Insurance Co.], which stated " 'A court of equity has the power to reform the written evidence of a contract and make it correspond to the understanding of the parties. … However, the mistake must be mutual to the parties to the contract.' " Mutual mistake can still be found even if one party argues there was not a mistake. Generally, parties are bound by agreements even if they do not read them or do not understand them. However, equity allows for an exception to this rule, upon a finding of mutual mistake. This court agreed with the lower court's finding that reformation was appropriate especially because the Defendant initially followed the mutual agreement, but at some point discontinued doing so. Additionally, the Defendant agreed to conceal the waste in a similar fashion on one of the Plaintiffs' neighbor's property. Further, if the Defendant did not think they were bound by the waste disposal provision, they never would have followed it at all.
Discussion. This case demonstrates how narrow the reformation remedy really is. There must be a mutual mistake and nothing less.