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Blaise v. Stein





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Jackson County; the Hon. PEYTON KUNCE, Judge, presiding.


Defendants Otto Stein and Julia Blaise Stein appeal from a judgment of the circuit court of Jackson County granting plaintiffs specific performance of an oral contract to convey real property.

The series of events culminating in this action began on June 12, 1893, when Celestine Marie Blaise conveyed an 80-acre tract of land known as Section 31 to her daughter, Mary Celine Blaise. Under the conveyance, Mary Celine received a life estate in Section 31, and the remainder was to vest in her surviving children upon her death.

Mary Celine was married to Ferdinand Blaise. Ferdinand owned a section 80-acre tract known as Section 30, where he and his family made their home. Section 30 touched Section 31 at one of its corners.

Mary Celine and Ferdinand had two children, Julia and Edward. It is conceded by all of the parties that prior to 1938, it was generally understood and agreed within the family that after the death of both Ferdinand and Mary Celine, Julia was to receive all of Section 30 and Edward was to receive all of Section 31.

On January 31, 1937, Ferdinand died intestate. Mary Celine, Edward and Julia each received a one-third interest in Section 30 under the intestate succession statute then in effect. Julia and her husband, Otto Stein, testified that in 1938, Mary Celine, Edward, Julia, and Otto went to see an attorney with the intention of arranging the previously described division of property between Edward and Julia. During the ensuing discussion, a disagreement arose between Edward and Mary Celine over precisely what interest Edward should receive. Mary Celine chose to retain a life interest in her share, and Edward found this objectionable. Edward refused to convey his interest in Section 30 to Julia. Edward denied that such a meeting transpired, or that any of the events described ever occurred.

On August 28, 1939, Edward conveyed his interest in Section 30 to his second wife, Bessie. Mary Celine conveyed her interest in Section 30 to Julia on September 11, 1939. Bessie and Edward conveyed Bessie's interest in Section 30 to Julia on June 19, 1940.

The consideration for the June 19, 1940, conveyance is disputed by the parties. Edward testified that the conveyance constituted his consideration for Julia's conveying her interest in Section 31 to Edward. Julia and Otto contended that they had paid or cancelled three debts owed by Edward as payment for Bessie's interest in Section 30. Otto produced three cancelled checks, totaling $415, with which he claimed to have paid the debts. Evidence of a chattel mortgage and a judgment against Edward was admitted by the trial court. The deed recited a consideration in the amount of $415, an amount equal to the sum of amounts of the three cancelled checks. The parties agree that an attorney representing Otto and Julia prepared the deed. Edward denied owing any of the three debts in question, and further denied that Otto paid them on his behalf as consideration for the conveyance of Bessie's interest in Section 30.

On May 18, 1950, Mary Celine died. The parties agree that upon her death, Edward and Julia each received a one-half interest in Section 31. From 1950 until 1976, Julia neither paid taxes or insurance on nor collected rents or profits from Section 31. Edward lived on the section and made all decisions regarding its use and management.

In March of 1976, Edward entered into a contract to sell certain standing timber from Section 31. Julia was not a party to the contract, and was not consulted prior to its execution. Shortly thereafter, Otto asserted Julia's ownership interest in Section 31 to the tenant who had been renting the property, and offered to sell the property to the tenant for $40,000. The offer was presented to Edward, who agreed to the purchase price, and stated that if Julia would take $20,000 for her interest, he was willing to take $20,000 for his. Edward accepted and cashed a $500 earnest deposit from the tenant.

The sale was not completed, and the already strained relations between Julia and Edward apparently deteriorated rapidly, culminating in Otto's threat to evict Edward from Section 31. Edward then conveyed his interest in Section 31 to his five children.

On December 31, 1976, Edward and his children, hereinafter "plaintiffs," commenced this action, seeking specific performance of the alleged oral agreement that Julia would convey her interest in Section 31 to Edward in exchange for Edward's conveyance of his interest in Section 30 to Julia. On January 13, 1977, Julia and Otto, hereinafter "defendants" answered the complaint, denying the agreement and alleging that they had paid Bessie for her interest in Section 30. They further counterclaimed for rents, profits and damages. Plaintiffs filed their reply to the affirmative defense and counterclaims on January 26, 1977. On April 25, 1977, defendants filed a motion to amend their pleadings by adding the affirmative defense that the alleged agreement was unenforceable under the statute of frauds. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 59, par. 2.) The trial court granted the motion, which was originally made orally in open court without any objection from plaintiffs.

After hearing the evidence, the trial court entered an order dated June 20, 1977, requiring defendants to execute a quitclaim deed to the plaintiffs for all of defendants' interest in Section 31. No specific findings of fact were made except that the action was not barred by the Statute of Frauds and that defendants failed to make the requisite proof on their affirmative defenses and counterclaims.

Defendants appeal, asserting that (1) no enforceable oral contract existed between Edward and Julia, and (2) even if there was an enforceable contract prior to 1938, Edward abandoned it by refusing to convey his interest in Section 30 to Julia, and by subsequently disabling himself from giving the agreed-upon consideration when he transferred his entire interest in the property to his wife. We are somewhat hindered in our review of this case by the absence of specific findings of facts from the trial court. ...

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