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Moen v. Minzel

Supreme Court of Idaho
Jul 10, 1957
313 P.2d 1079 (Idaho 1957)


No. 8504.

July 10, 1957.


J. Ward Arney, and Pat W. Arney, Coeur d'Alene, for appellants.

James W. Ingalls, Coeur d'Alene, for respondents.

It is a fundamental rule that while the statute of frauds is designed to prevent fraud, it cannot be invoked to perpetrate fraud. * * * This rule is based on the doctrine of estoppel. It is applied in those cases in which one party, in reliance on a parol contract that should have been reduced to writing, has changed his position or parted with value so that it would be an injustice to permit the other party to plead the statute of frauds. * * *" Grant v. Long, 33 Cal.App.2d 725, 92 P.2d 940.

"There is in this state but one form of civil actions for the enforcement of protection of private rights and redress or prevention of private wrongs: provided that in all matters not regulated by this code, in which there is any conflict or variance between rules of equity jurisprudence, and the rules of the common law, with reference to the same matter, the rules of equity shall prevail." Idaho Code, § 5-101.

This case comes definitely within an exception to the statute of frauds.

"It is well established that where the meaning of language used in a note or memorandum under the statute of frauds is uncertain or ambiguous, parol evidence is admissible to show the circumstances surrounding the transaction for the purpose of arriving at a determination of the meaning intended and understood by the parties. * * *" Gibson v. De La Salle Institute, 66 Cal.App.2d 609, 152 P.2d 774.

This Court has previously upheld, in effect, the theory that, where warranted, a case should be heard on its facts, before a decision is rendered, with respect to whether or not there is an enforceable contract, partly in writing, partly verbal. Crouch v. Bischoff, 76 Idaho 216, 280 P.2d 419.

We are not disposed to hold under any view of the law that title to real estate may be transferred by word of mouth and without any written instrument purporting to convey such property or any change of possession. The mere giving of a check as evidence of good faith is not sufficient to pass title to real estate under the laws of this state. Schulz v. Hansing, 36 Idaho 121, 209 P. 727.

The general rule is that to entitle one to specifically enforce a contract in a court of equity which is wholly executory, the contract must be complete and definite and certain in all its material terms. * * * Sherman v. Watson, 58 Idaho 451, 74 P.2d 181.

"The Courts will not resort to extrinsic evidence for the purpose of reading into a writing terms and conditions other than those intended to be included therein by the parties. We have no quarrel with the rule under which parol evidence is admitted to explain ambiguities in a writing. That principle has no application here. There is no ambiguity or uncertainty in the written provisions of the agreement here involved. The writing is merely incomplete and so deficient in its terms as to preclude relief by specific performance. This, alone, does not warrant the introduction of extrinsic evidence to vary or add to an agreement concededly executed exactly as intended by the parties. The complaint, therefore, fails to allege a cause for equitable interposition." Pascoe v. Morrison, 219 Cal. 54, 25 P.2d 9.

An instrument cannot be specifically enforced "when left open for future negotiations." Alexander v. Alexander, 154 Or. 317, 58 P.2d 1265.

"* * * To comply with the statute of frauds, the writing required thereby must state the contract with such certainty that its essentials will be known from the memorandum itself, or by reference contained in it to some other writing, without recourse to parol. Thompson v. Burns, 15 Idaho 572, at pages 597 and 598, 99 P. 111.

Appellants brought this action seeking specific performance by respondents of an instrument in the form of an alleged unexecuted contract for the sale and purchase of real property owned by respondents.

Appellants in their amended complaint allege that respondents own "Section 5, Township 51 North, Range 3 W.B.M., Hayden Lake, Kootenai County, Idaho," comprising 640 acres known as E.C. Minzel ranch. The form of the alleged instrument of contract, however, attached to and made a part of the amended complaint, sets out that only respondents E.C. Minzel and Delores Minzel are the owners of said property.

Appellants further allege that May 25, 1955, certain negotiations between appellants and respondents culminated in a memorandum, reading as follows:

"For E.C. Menzel Ranch

Approx 640 acres at H. Lake $25,000

$5,000 down

$ 150 month

$1,000 note by Jan 1 for putting in crop

$ 500 paid 5/25/55

$4,500 due soon as papers on place are

brought up to date. bal. at $150.00 per month Interest First

Anton M. Moen Ron T. Moen E.C. Minzel Naomi C. Moen Delores G. Minzel"

Appellants then allege that at the time of the signing of the memorandum, appellant Ron T. Moen wrote a check for the $500 mentioned, and delivered it to respondents.

Appellants then set out that further negotiations "culminated in the preparation of a contract during July, 1955," which appellants signed but which, by innuendo, respondents refused to execute.

Appellants further allege that they have been ready, willing and able to perform as indicated by the alleged instrument of contract, and they seek specific performance thereof.

December 28, 1955, respondents, by written tender filed with the clerk of the district court, tendered the $500 check to appellants through and by deposit with the clerk, alleging that on numerous occasions respondents had attempted to return the check to appellants, but that they had refused to accept it.

April 9, 1956, respondents filed a motion to strike certain portions of appellants' amended complaint and generally demurred thereto. June 20, 1956, the trial court in large part sustained the motion to strike; also sustained the general demurrer. Appellants refused to amend within the time that the trial court allowed them so to do. The trial court thereupon, July 9, 1956, entered judgment of dismissal of said action with prejudice. Appellants have perfected an appeal therefrom.

Appellants assign error of the trial court in sustaining respondents' general demurrer to the amended complaint. Appellants urge equitable estoppel of respondents, against their assertion of the applicability of the statute of frauds which requires an agreement for the sale of real property, or an interest therein, to be in writing subscribed by the party sought to be charged. I.C. § 9-505.

Appellants in asserting their position state, "The memorandum, together with the formal written contract executed by appellants, is unquestionably sufficient to take the case out of the statute of frauds." The instrument of "formal written contract" to which appellants refer is appended to and made a part of the amended complaint. It is in the form of a contract for the sale and purchase of real property; but it cannot be regarded as a contract, since it is not subscribed by respondents, the parties sought to be charged. Since appellants admit the insufficiency of the memorandum, standing alone, as a contract for the sale and purchase of real property, the statute of frauds defeats appellants' contention. I.C. § 9-505.

Next, appellants contend that a change in their position allegedly occurred "with the preparation of or actual purchase of machinery." The allegations contained in the amended complaint are, that respondent E.C. Minzel withdrew objection to the completion of the sale "when plaintiff-husband [Anton Moen] explained that plaintiff-son [Ron T. Moen] had made plans, acquiring machinery, and to place it in operation immediately on the ranch."

Such allegation fails to allege a change of position of appellant Ron T. Moen.

Further, the form of the alleged contract, made a part of the amended complaint, sets out that Ron T. Moen, minor son of the other two appellants, had no interest whatever in the alleged transaction of asserted sale and purchase between appellants Anton Moen and Naomi Moen, on the one hand, and respondents, on the other hand, since, quoting from said instrument, "for the purpose of mention of his name only, [Ron T. Moen] joins in the execution of this contract." Those allegations of the amended complaint further negative any change in position of appellant minor son since they set out his lack of any interest in the alleged transaction.

The amended complaint also fails to allege any change in position of the two remaining appellants, or either of them.

It therefore follows that the allegations of appellants' amended complaint do not support equitable estoppel of respondents, based on change of position of appellants or any of them. See discussion of this principle, Leaf v. Reynolds, 34 Idaho 643, 203 P. 458; Murtaugh Highway District v. Twin Falls Highway District, 65 Idaho 260, 142 P.2d 579; White v. Ralph, 66 Idaho 38, 154 P.2d 167; 31 C.J.S. Estoppel § 72, p. 273; 19 Am.Jur., Estoppel, sec. 84, p. 732.

Here, there was a failure to plead any injury of appellants or any of them as alleged interested parties under the asserted contract or otherwise. No estoppel can arise where there is no injury. Sunshine Min. Co. v. Treinies, D.C., 19 F. Supp. 587, affirmed Treinies v. Sunshine Min. Co., 9 Cir., 99 F.2d 651; 308 U.S. 66, 60 S.Ct. 44, 84 L.Ed. 85.

Appellants rely on the case of Grant v. Long, 1939, 33 Cal.App.2d 725, 92 P.2d 940. In that case the California court, under the facts shown applied the rule that equitable estoppel prevents invocation of the statute of frauds where one party, in reliance on a parol contract which should have been reduced to writing, has changed his position or parted with value so that injustice would result if the other party were permitted to plead such statute. That case is not in point under the facts shown here, since appellants failed to show any change of position.

Appellants also rely on the case of Crouch v. Bischoff, 76 Idaho 216, 280 P.2d 419. In that case evidence was adduced for the purpose of determining the existence or nonexistence of an enforceable contract for the sale and purchase of real property, whereas in the case here, it was not necessary to adduce evidence to determine such fact. Herein, the amended complaint on its face shows both the nonexistence of an enforceable contract, and no change in position of any of appellants.

The amended complaint fails to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action against respondents for specific performance or otherwise. Hancock v. Elkington, 67 Idaho 542, 186 P.2d 494.

We find no merit in appellants' remaining assignment that the trial court erred in sustaining respondents' motion to strike portions of the amended complaint, since appellants have not supplied authorities or argument in support thereof. Sup.Ct. Rule No. 41; Zenier v. Spokane International Railroad Co., 78 Idaho 196, 300 P.2d 494; State v. Davidson, 78 Idaho 553, 309 P.2d 211.

The judgment of the trial court is affirmed. Costs to respondents.

PORTER, TAYLOR and McQUADE, JJ., concur.

KEETON, C.J., sat at hearing, but did not participate in the decision.

Summaries of

Moen v. Minzel

Supreme Court of Idaho
Jul 10, 1957
313 P.2d 1079 (Idaho 1957)
Case details for

Moen v. Minzel

Case Details

Full title:Anton MOEN and Naomi C. Moen, husband and wife, and Ron T. Moen, a…

Court:Supreme Court of Idaho

Date published: Jul 10, 1957


313 P.2d 1079 (Idaho 1957)
313 P.2d 1079

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