The court makes this simple case sound complicated.
Plaintiff sued for specific enforcement of an oral contract to sell a house, relying on the part-performance exception to the statute of frauds. The trial court denied Defendant’s JMOL; the jury found for Plaintiff; the trial court then denied Defendant’s renewed motion for JMOL. Defendant appealed.
Court of Appeals affirms. On appeal a jury’s findings are accepted unless clearly erroneous; the jury found by special verdict that Plaintiff had done things, which the court recites at length, because of and in reliance on the contract. Whether the facts satisfy the part-performance exception is a conclusion of law that the court makes de novo; the court has no trouble concluding that these facts do satisfy it.
The court, though, apparently doesn’t think this a no-trouble case. “This case requires us to assess the interplay between two standards of review where a legal question is raised on appeal, and reviewed de novo, but the answer to the legal question hinges on the factual findings of a jury, which are reviewed for clear error.” But that’s just a convoluted way of expressing the ABCs of appellate review: findings you accept unless clearly erroneous, legal conclusions you make yourself. Always, not just in this case. The idea that JMOL rulings are reviewed de novo — which is what seems to throw the court off onto this tangent — doesn’t change that. The court’s attempt to “assess the interplay” lasts only a couple of paragraphs (13 and 14) and adds nothing to the law.
Defendant also argued that specific performance was not a proper remedy. While there can be a conceptual argument against specific performance in some statute-of-frauds cases the evidence here was pretty clear. The court agrees that the remedy was appropriate.