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Wood v. Boynton

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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Wood v. Boynton
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    Brief Fact Summary. An individual sold a stone which she thought was topaz to a jeweler for a nominal sum.  The stone was actually an uncut diamond worth a lot more money.  The jeweler did not know that the stone was an uncut diamond at the time of the sale.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A sale can be rescinded and title revested in the vendor if “(1) [  ] the vendee was guilty of some fraud in procuring a sale to be made to him; (2) [  ] there was a mistake made by the vendor in delivering an article which was not the article sold,–a mistake in fact as to the identity of the thing sold with the thing delivered upon the sale.”

    Facts. The Defendants, Boynton and another (the “Defendants”), are partners in the jewelry business.  The Plaintiff, Wood (the “Plaintiff”), was the owner of a small stone on or before December 8, 1883.  The Plaintiff did not know what the exact type of the stone was or the value of the stone.  The Plaintiff was under the impression that it was topaz and Boynton agreed it probably was.  The Plaintiff sold the stone to the Defendants for $1.  After the transaction, it was determined that the stone was a rough diamond worth about $700.  Boynton said that when he bought the stone he had never seen an uncut diamond and he did not think the stone was a diamond.  After learning of the stones true value, the Plaintiff gave the Defendants $1 plus 10 cents interest and demanded the return of the stone.  The Defendants refused to return the stone and the Plaintiff commenced this lawsuit.

    Issue. Was there “anything in the sale which entitled the vendor [the Plaintiff] to rescind the sale and so revest the title in her?”

    Held. The court first observed there was no evidence that the Plaintiff was induced by fraud or unfair dealing by Boynton to sell the stone.  The court concluded that at the time of sale both parties were entirely ignorant about the type and value of the stone.  As such, a case for fraud could not be made out.
    •    The court further observed there was “no pretense of any mistake as to the identity of the thing sold.”  The court continued and observed “[w]e can find nothing in the evidence from which it could be justly inferred that Mr. Boynton, at the time he offered the plaintiff one dollar for the stone, had any knowledge of the real value of the stone, or that he entertained even a belief that the stone was a diamond.”  Further, “[i]t cannot, therefore, be said that there was a suppression of knowledge on the part of the defendant as to the value of the stone which a court of equity might seize upon to avoid the sale.”  Thus, a cause of action for mistake of fact does not lie.

    Discussion. It is interesting to read this case along side [Lenawee County Board of Health v. Messerly] and recognize how the law surrounding mistake of fact has not changed all that much from the late 1800’s to the late 1900’s.


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