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Holbrook v. Holbrook

    Brief Fact Summary. The circuit court dismissed the complaint of Edwina T. Holbrook, (Appellant) against Arthur M. Holbrook, Jr., and Gladys J. Holbrook, (Appellees), in an action in which Appellant sought specific performance to compel Appellees to convey to her a certain interest in real property. The dismissal was based on Appellees claim that inasmuch as the action involved an oral agreement for the sale of land, the agreement was unenforceable pursuant to West Virginia’s statute of frauds

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A party to an oral contract for the sale of land may by conduct on his part, be estopped in equity to assert the statute of frauds as a defense. In the doctrine of part-performance, payments coupled with possession of the property or the making of improvements supports the validity of the contract.

    Facts. Appellees conveyed 1 acre of a parcel land to their son who built home upon it. Appellees orally agreed to convey the remaining 2.98 acres of land to their son and his wife, Appellant, upon the completion by the two of 120 payments of 132.16 each. Appellees’ son and Appellant eventually divorced. As part of the divorce decree Appellees’ son purchased Appellant’s one-half interest in the one-acre parcel but neither the divorce decree nor the property settlement agreement mentioned the 2.978 acres remaining. Appellant brought this action claiming entitlement to an undivided one-half interest in the 2.978 acres. Appellees filed a motion to dismiss the complaint alleging the agreement was unenforceable pursuant to the State’s statute of frauds. The circuit court agreed.

    Issue. Whether Appellant can prove the validity of an oral contract for the sale of land using an equitable exception to the statute of frauds.

    Held. Yes. Appellant can prove the validity of an oral contract for the sale of land on the theory of part-performance.

    Discussion. The purpose of the statute of frauds is to prevent the fraudulent enforcement of unmade contracts, not prevent the enforcement of contracts that were in fact made. A party to an oral contract for the sale of land may by conduct on his part, be estopped in equity to assert the statute of frauds as a defense. In the doctrine of part-performance, payments coupled with possession of the property or the making of improvements supports the validity of the contract. Here, it is alleged that Appellant and Appellee’s son as a married couple, made substantial payments for the land based upon an oral agreement. It is disputed however, whether the payments were in fact for the 2.978 acres. In addition, they lived on the land and it is alleged that the whole 3.978 parcel was intended by Appellees to be transferred in contemplation of marriage. The complaint’s merging of the two land transactions coupled with the allegations of payment render the complaint sufficient to withstand dismis
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