Appeal from the Circuit Court of Bureau County, General
District; the Hon. LEONARD HOFFMAN, Judge, presiding. Decree
The plaintiff, Dr. Silvio Davito, filed this suit for specific performance of an alleged contract with defendant, George Blakely, for the purchase by Davito and sale by Blakely of a farm containing more than four hundred acres. Additional parties defendant included defendant's wife, the tenant on the farm, and a bank which held legal title in trust for Blakely. A second count added Ryan Cawley as a defendant charging him with fraud.
The principal defense was the Statute of Frauds, on the ground there was no sufficient writing signed by the parties to be charged. Copies of documents attached to the complaint were Exhibit A, a letter from Blakely to Cawley, and Exhibit B, a receipt for $5,000 signed by Cawley and given to Davito.
The letter from Blakely to Cawley dated August 27, 1964, reads as follows:
"In answer to your request for a firm price on the farm I stand firm as quoted at $240,000. I will not accept anything but cash, no trades, no contracts, etc. Hope this answers your questions." Signed, George Blakely.
The receipt, Exhibit B, dated August 28, 1964, is as follows:
"Received of Dr. Silvio Davito Five Thousand and no/100 Dollars, Blakely acreage on Dalzell Road, subject to provisions of tentative contract provisions agreeable to George Blakely att. and Dr. Silvio Davito, att." Signed, Ryan Cawley.
The complaint also alleged that Blakely impliedly agreed pursuant to the usual and customary practice in such sale "to provide evidence of merchantability of his title; that the closing date would be March 1, 1965; that Blakely would pay taxes for 1964 and prior years; that title would be conveyed by warranty deed signed by defendant and his wife; and that defendant would attach the required revenue stamps." None of these "implied" provisions actually appear or were suggested in the signed document.
A subsequent paragraph in the complaint which in the first part stated the contract was oral, alleged as an alternative that Blakely made the offer to sell in writing and plaintiff accepted the offer; reference was made to Exhibits A and B attached. Other allegations stated Davito had arranged his financing, etc., and was ready, willing and able to perform.
Other facts brought out in evidence were that about the middle of July, 1964, Blakely had met Cawley and told of his desire to sell his farm located on the Dalzell Road, naming his price. Later Davito called Cawley by phone and inquired as to any farms he had for sale. He was told of the Blakely farm being on the market. Later he inspected the farm and sought to buy the wooded area. Cawley told him the farm would only be sold as a unit. From the middle of July to August 28th and for probably a couple of months thereafter it appears that Blakely and Davito had not met or even were acquainted. It is quite clear that when the letter of August 28 was executed by Blakely he had no particular purchaser in mind and did not even know of Davito as a prospect. In October or November Cawley arranged for the parties to meet in his office for the first time.
During this time other prospective buyers probably appeared. At least there was an organization known as St. Bede's which notified Cawley it would like to buy local real estate. Cawley told of the Blakely farm and sometime later St. Bede's made a written offer to purchase.
The evidence also disclosed that the trust which held title to the farm, had been created by Blakely's father and the Federal Government was asserting a tax lien against it.
Cawley testified that when he told Blakely about the $5,000 down payment, Blakely expressed approval and said he was very happy with the deal. This is not admitted by the testimony of Blakely. He claims that he was constantly asserting that the sale hinged on the tax problem in the estate which had to be cleared up. He received a letter September 10, 1964, from the plaintiff's attorneys saying that they had written St. Bede that Blakely could not sell to them because of his prior commitment. This disturbed Blakely, he called Cawley but Cawley said he knew nothing about it. Then defendant called plaintiff's attorneys and asked why they felt they had authority to write such a letter when there never was a document presented by him which gave them authority so that they had a right to this property. It is clear that Blakely was still contending that he had not made a final contract.
The chancellor who heard this case and decided in favor of defendants, expressed his doubts that the parties had ever come to a definite agreement of any kind, oral or otherwise. And certainly there was no written contract sufficiently definite to comply with the Statute of Frauds. There are some variations in the testimony and some of it indicates that plaintiff knew there was a matter of Federal taxes to be cleared up, the total acreage of the farm was not yet determined, and the closing ...