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Mearida v. Murphy





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of DeWitt County; the Hon. JAMES N. SHERRICK, Judge, presiding.


Defendants appeal from the judgment of the trial court which granted specific performance of an option to purchase a 28-foot easement across the land of defendants. Plaintiffs are third-party beneficiaries of the option.

In Mearida v. Murphy (1980), 87 Ill. App.3d 87, 409 N.E.2d 145, this court reversed a summary judgment entered in favor of these defendants and remanded the cause for further proceedings. It was then held that the deed controlled a conflicting contract through the operation of merger and that plaintiffs, as third-party beneficiaries, had standing to enforce the option.

The record discloses that plaintiffs and defendants acquired title to two separate parcels of property from people named Evans in 1969. The plaintiffs, by a deed filed February 26, 1969, acquired title to a 40-acre unimproved tract lying to the south and east of defendants' land and, in addition, a 32-foot easement over property adjacent to the 40 acres and presently owned by the defendants in fee simple. Two weeks prior to the delivery of the deed to plaintiffs, the grantors, Evanses, entered into a contract for sale of approximately 25 acres to defendants. This contract after reciting a legal description of the property conveyed to defendants, recited that it was "subject to" a separately attached document which purported to give defendants two easements over the property that they were purchasing in fee simple. Apparently, the draftors of the Evans-Mearida real estate sales contract had merely Xeroxed the easement contained in the first contract, which identified plaintiffs as parties of the second part, and attached it to the Murphys' contract, which also identified them as parties of the second part, without changing the references to the proper parties.

On March 1, 1969, the Evanses tendered a warranty deed to the Murphys conveying the land but subject to the 32-foot eastment, and also containing the following provision:

"Grantees agree to give an option to James L. Mearida and Mary K. Mearida, to purchase an additional 28 foot easement West of the above described easement and adjacent thereto which would make an easement of 60 feet in width if purchased, for the sum of $750.00 if said option is exercised by giving notice in writing to grantees within ten (10) years from this date."

Plaintiffs gave timely notice of their intent to exercise this option. Following defendants' refusal, this suit for specific performance was commenced.

Before the cause proceeded after remandment, the defendants amended their answer and raised the defense of the Statute of Frauds, arguing that the option could not be enforced since the defendants had not signed the deed. The defendants then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings raising this same defense. The trial court took the motion under advisement, and following a bench trial entered a judgment in favor of plaintiffs and ordered the defendants to execute the option.

At the bench trial, Mr. Murphy testified that he was not represented by an attorney during the transaction, and that he could not read; he had completed only the second grade of formal education. His only knowledge of the easement was through what had been explained by Mr. Evans. According to Mr. Murphy, Mr. Evans told him that he had retained a 10-year easement which could be renewed for $750 at the end of that period. Mr. Murphy later testified that his understanding was that the 32-foot easement would last 10 years after which he would be paid the sum of $750 for real estate taxes covering the realty over which the easement lay. Mr. Murphy could not recall any discussion of an additional 28-foot easement, and said that Mr. Evans did not mention that the 40-acre area connected by the easement was sold to the plaintiffs. The first year after purchasing his property from the Evanses, Mr. Murphy farmed the area that included the easement. A year later, Mr. Mearida informed Mr. Murphy that he owned a 32-foot easement and requested him to move a fence, which Murphy had placed over the easement. Mr. Murphy removed the fence, and Mr. Mearida subsequently leveled off the area, cut ditches and spread gravel over its length.

Evans, the common grantor, testified that while he could not remember specific conversations between Murphy and himself, he was certain that he had discussed all material aspects of the agreement with Murphy. Evans denied describing the easement in the terms Mr. Murphy alleged, and stated that he was not aware that Mr. Murphy could not read until the hearing.

Plaintiff James Mearida testified that in 1969 he informed Pleasant Murphy that he owned the 32-foot easement and that in 1974 Murphy had asked plaintiff whether he intended to pick up the option for the remaining 28 feet. Mearida testified that he needed a 60-foot easement to move heavy equipment around the two 90-degree curves on the easement and speculated that with only the 32-foot easement the road had a tendency to drift shut during the winter snows, due to the proximity of Mr. Murphy's fence along the 32-foot easement. He felt that with the 60-foot easement such drifting problems would not occur.

In granting specific performance the trial court concluded that defendants were estopped to plead the Statute of Frauds. The court also held that the contract was definite, reasonable, and capable of being specifically performed, and found that Murphy's evidence that he was not aware of the option clause was not convincing.

Defendants raise three issues for our consideration; (1) whether the Statute of Frauds prevents the enforcement of the option contract contained in the deed; (2) whether the option is specific, fair, reasonable, and was free from misapprehension, and (3) whether the trial court erred in admitting into evidence the real estate sales contracts of both parties.

The defendants argue that the acceptance of the deed by them, which was not signed, renders unenforceable the option contract to the Mearidas. This argument is predicated on section 2 of the Statute of Frauds ...

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