Summary of Hickey v. Green, Appeals Court of MA (1982)
Parties: Hickey (prospective purchaser of lot S) v. Green (seller of the lot).
Cause of action/remedy sought: The remedy sought was specific performance. Green asserts Hickeys are barred by SOF under state law.
Procedural History: The judge granted specific performance. Mrs. Green appealed, and this court remands the case to the trial court for the purpose of amending the judgment to require conveyance of Lot S by Green only upon payment to her in cash within a stated period of the balance of the agreed price of $15K.
Facts: Green listed her lot S and Hickey offered to buy it, Green accepted, and the two entered an oral agreement, with consideration to be a $500 check. Hickeys told Greens they wanted to buy their property to build on it. Check given to Mrs. Green, but the payee line was blank b/c of uncertainty as to whom to fill the check out. Hickeys advertised their home for sale, and entered into an agreement with another party, receiving a $500 check as well. Later that month, Green tells Hickey she’s selling to someone else; a higher price was offered and denied.
Issue(s): Under MA property law, does an oral agreement bar enforcement of the SOF when one party has relied to its detriment on the property by selling its own house?
Holding: Yes. An exception to the SOF is equitable estoppel; under common law fairness, the agreement must be enforced to prevent an innocent and injured party from being injured.
Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: After noting MA law, Green’s conduct was seen as pretty obvious: she took a better offer after knowing the original buyer wanted to buy and build, and was selling its old place in order to do so. Thus, there was detrimental reliance on the part of the Hickeys, and a balance of the equities shows (1) there never was any intent to memorialize the sale by a written agreement, as the down payment was expected in check as discussed, (2) there was no contemplation by Green between buyers, meaning there was no possibility the Hickeys could misunderstand the circumstances, (3) Hickeys would be severely injured if the agreement were not enforced b/c they already sold their home to a subsequent purchaser.
Rule: Rule of estoppel as an exception to SOF: A K for the transfer of an interest in land may be specifically enforced notwithstanding failure to comply with the SOF if it is established that the party seeking enforcement, in reasonable reliance on the K, and on the continuing assent of the party against whom enforcement is sought, has so changed his position that injustice can be avoided only by specific performance. (restatement second)
Did court avoid issues?: No.