Citation. 35 Cal. 2d 621, 220 P.2d 737, 1950 Cal. 370
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Brief Fact Summary.
Defendant Christie Lo Greco, forewent obtaining an independent source of income in order to live with his family and participate in the family venture in exchange for receiving the property after his mother and stepfather died. Before his death, the stepfather, unbeknownst to Defendant and his mother, became dissatisfied with the agreement and left his half of the joint property to his grandson, Plaintiff Carmen Monarco.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The Statute of Frauds cannot defeat the enforcement of an oral contract where the aggrieved party so seriously changed his position in reliance upon the contract that he would suffer an unconscionable injury were the contract not enforced.
Natale and Carmela Castiglia were married. Carmela had three children by a previous marriage, John, Rosie, and the defendant, Christie. Natale had one grandchild, Plaintiff Carmen Monarco, the son of a deceased daughter by a previous marriage. Natale and Carmela invested approximately $4,000 in a half interest in agricultural property. The other half interest was acquired by Rosie and her husband Nick Norcia. At the time Natale and Carmela invested in the venture, Defendant was still in his teens and resided with them. When he reached eighteen, he chose to leave the home to make an independent living. In order to induce Defendant to participate in the family venture, Natale and Carmela proposed that they would keep their property in joint tenancy so that it would pass to the survivor who would leave it to Defendant by will. Defendant performed his end of the bargain by remaining at home and working diligently in the family venture. He received only room and board and spending
money. He gave up any opportunity for further education or a chance to accumulate property of his own. When he married, he asked to secure some present interest to support his wife, but Natale and Carmela denied the request stating that his new wife should move in with the family and Defendant need not worry because he would receive all the property upon their deaths. At some point before his death, Natale became dissatisfied with the agreement and decided to leave his half of the joint property to Plaintiff. Without mentioning it to Carmela or Defendant, Natale terminated the joint tenancies and revised his will leaving all of his property to Plaintiff. Upon his death, the will was probated, and Plaintiff brought this action for an accounting and partition.
Is Plaintiff estopped from relying upon the statute of frauds to defeat the enforcement of the oral contract?
Yes. A plaintiff is estopped from relying upon the statute of frauds when the opposing party has so seriously changed his position in reliance upon the oral agreement that he would suffer an unconscionable injury if the contract were not enforced, and further, the person seeking to have the contract enforced reaped the benefits of the contract so that he would be unjustly enriched if he could escape his obligations. Here, Defendant gave up any opportunity to accumulate his own property and devoted his life to the family venture. Natale (and his devisees) certainly benefited richly from having the defendant devote his life to the venture and would be unjustly enriched if the contract were not enforced.
A party is estopped from asserting the statute of frauds to prevent the enforcement of an oral contract where (1) a party has so substantially changed his position in reliance upon the contract that he would suffer an unconscionable injury if the contract were not enforced and (2) the party seeking to assert the statute of frauds will be unjustly enriched if he is permitted to escape the obligations of the con