Brief Fact Summary.
. Fitzpatrick (Plaintiff) was a nurse employed by Michael (Defendant) to care for his sick wife prior to her death. After Defendant’s wife died, he entered into an oral contract with the Plaintiff to leave her a life estate in his home and furnishings and full title to his cars if she cared for him for the rest of his life.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
. The Statute of Frauds requires that contracts not to be performed within one year be in writing. Equity can lift the bar of the Statute of Frauds where there has been partial performance. But, in order for equity to lift the Statute of Frauds, there must be a remedy available; and the general rule is that equity will not specifically enforce contracts for personal services.
Maryland will not ordinarily enforce a contract for personal service, the reason being that the mischief likely to result from the enforced continuance of the relationship incident to the service when it has become personally obnoxious to one of the parties is so great that the best interests of society require that the remedy be refused.View Full Point of Law
Plaintiff agreed to perform a variety of household services and to care for the Defendant, in exchange for $8 per week and room and board during the Defendant’s lifetime, and a life estate and his cars at death. Defendant was very pleased with Plaintiff’s services for over two years, but then had a change of heart after consulting with relatives. Defendant left the home and tried to get Plaintiff to leave by turning off the utilities. Finally, he had her arrested for trespass.
The Plaintiff filed a bill of complaint requesting specific performance, the Defendant demurred to the bill for a want of equity, the demurrer was sustained and the bill dismissed.
Was the Plaintiff entitled to some relief from the Defendant?
Affirmed. The Plaintiff was not entitled to any relief in equity.
The service portion of the contract was not within the Statute of Frauds because it was capable of being performed within one year, if Defendant had died within one year. However, the life estate that Plaintiff was seeking fell within the Statute of Frauds and was unenforceable.
The court sought to lift the Statute of Frauds based on equity for partial performance, but could not do so because there was no other remedy available.
The personal services performed by the Plaintiff were everyday services which involved no unusual skill. The general rule that equity will not specifically enforce contracts for personal services was especially applicable here, for doing so would have compelled Defendant to accept the personal services of the Plaintiff against his will. The court could no more force the Defendant to accept services he did not want than it could compel the Plaintiff to render them if she were unwilling to give them.
There was simply no relief available to the Plaintiff.
Equity can lift the bar of the Statute of Frauds where there has been partial performance. Partial performance represents reliance and probably restitution. But, in order for equity to lift the Statute of Frauds, there must be a remedy available.
The court looked to whether specific performance was appropriate because it was the only remedy that could lift the Statute of Frauds. Since executory contracts are not within the scope of specific performance, Fitzpatrick could not recover.