Crawford v. Detring

Decision Date20 January 1998
Docket NumberNo. 71893,71893
Citation965 S.W.2d 188
PartiesPeggy CRAWFORD and Joey Crawford, Plaintiffs/Respondents, v. Clifford DETRING, William A. Detring, and Margaret N. Thomas, Defendants/Appellants.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Dennis E. McIntosh, Farmington, for appellants.

Christina L. Kime, L. Dwayne Hackworth, Hackworth, Kime & Bowless, L.L.C., Piedmont, for respondents.

GRIMM, Presiding Judge.

Plaintiffs sued defendants seeking specific performance of a contract for the sale of real property. Following a bench trial, the trial court ordered specific performance and defendants appeal. Although their brief sets forth five points, their basic contention is that the written contract does not satisfy the statute of frauds. We affirm.

Our standard of review is governed by Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo.banc 1976). The judgment of the trial court will be sustained by the appellate court unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, unless it is against the weight of the evidence, unless it erroneously declares the law, or unless it erroneously applies the law. Id.

Further, Rule 73.01(c) directs that we give due regard to the opportunity of the trial judge to assess the credibility of witnesses. Thus, where there is conflicting evidence, we accept as true the evidence and inferences from it favorable to the trial court's result and disregard contrary evidence. Forester v. Whitelock, 850 S.W.2d 427, 428 (Mo.App.S.D.1993). We keep in mind that a trial court is free to believe or disbelieve all, part, or none of the testimony of any witness. Id. With these guidelines in mind, we state the facts favorable to the judgment.

I. Background

Defendants' mother died in January 1993, and following the probate of her estate, the three defendants each received a one-third interest in land she owned. Some of the decedent's land laid on the west side of a highway; approximately 16 acres laid on the east side.

Sometime in the fall of 1993, plaintiff Peggy Crawford and Ronald White approached defendant Clifford Detring to inquire about the purchase of some land. Clifford Detring showed them a 100-acre tract he owned, as well as the property the defendants inherited. He priced the inherited property at $5,000 per acre.

Neither Crawford nor White had the money to purchase the property. In November, White approached Tom Wills to see if he was interested in purchasing the property with him. Wills agreed to do so. The two of them, together with Clifford Detring, walked the east tract. Mr. Detring pointed out to them that his sister, defendant Thomas, lived on the property and wanted to keep a tract surrounding her house of approximately three acres. Mr. Detring described the boundaries of the property to be retained as "from where their stake was along the highway ... to approximately where the hackberry tree on the east line was." Further, he said his sister "wanted to keep whatever the property was from there parallel with [the south property line]." The rectangle piece would front on the highway.

After walking over the property, an appointment was made to write the contract. White and Wills met with the three defendants at Clifford Detring's house on December 2, 1993. The meeting lasted one and one-half to two hours. The discussions included White and Wills' plans to subdivide the property and to have it annexed to the City of Farmington. In addition, they talked about getting sewers to the property and several options they had for development.

All three defendants said that Mrs. Thomas wanted to keep approximately three acres. Wills said that the defendants wanted to keep "like a safety barrier there and they had staked off, already, put a stake out in the front yard and in the back by the back fence where they wanted to have their property go out to." Defendants agreed to have the property surveyed to determine its exact acreage.

None of the five were lawyers or real estate brokers; "all of [them] came up with the wording" for the document. Wills actually wrote the document based on the agreements reached. It provides:

On this day, 12-2-93 this contract entered in between Margaret N. Thomas, Clifford E. Detring, and William A. Detring and Thomas D. Wills III for property known as part of Frieda Detring farm east of Highway H Farmington, Mo. Ernest (sic) money exchanged of 1,000.00 with the balance due twelve months from now or sooner at buyers (sic) discretion. Taxes to be paid for 1993 by Detring family. Taxes for 1994 and thereafter will be Tom D. Wills responcibility (sic). Sellers agree to pay one half of closing cost at closing date and buyer pays for Title Ins. and other half of closing expenses. Price to be $5,000.00 per acre, total acreage to be determined after Margaret N. Thomas retains a portion of said property for herself.

The document was signed by the three defendants and Wills. At that time, Wills paid defendants $1,000 in cash. The document noted this, saying: "Received $ 1,000.00 cash from Tom D. Wills as stated above." Below this language was the signature of Clifford Detring.

Shortly after this meeting, William Detring contacted a surveyor. Clifford Detring told the surveyor to use the stake on the highway as the beginning point for defendant Thomas' property. The surveyor was to project the point east and west to intersect the highway on the west and to the property line on the east. That line was to be parallel with the south property line. The highway and the property line would be the other sides of the rectangle.

This survey created a 3.06 acre tract for defendant Thomas, with the remaining acreage being 13.35 acres. That was all the land that defendants' mother had owned on the east side of the highway. The surveyor said he did not have any contact with either White or Wills while he was doing the survey.

The survey was completed December 30, 1993. Shortly thereafter, the surveyor met with the three defendants at the Thomas' house. He went over the results with them. None of them gave any indication to the surveyor "that they weren't happy with the results or something was wrong with coming up with 3.06 acres."

Shortly after meeting with the surveyor, the 3.06 acres were conveyed to defendant Thomas. Also, about that time, Clifford Detring contacted White and Wills. They went to Detring's house and he gave them several copies of the survey. Thereafter, with Mr. Clifford Detring's approval, White put up two "For Sale" signs on the property. Defendants never voiced any objections to these signs.

In the meantime, the day after the contract was signed, White contacted two engineers. He asked them to give estimates on the cost of subdividing the property. White apparently received the estimates in January and discussed them with Wills. After seeing the projected costs, Wills thought that he had "bit off more" than he could chew. He then decided to sell the contract and sold it to plaintiff Joey Crawford for his $1,000 investment.

Because Wills knew some of the Detring family, and "out of courtesy," he and White visited Clifford Detring. At that time they discussed the contract and wrote the following:

On this day, 2-1-94 this letter is simply to notify that my holdings in this property A.K.A. Detring Property East of Hwy H. is being sold to Ron White. The contract written on 12-2-93 is not altered in any way the price is now on 13.35 acres @ 5,000.00/ac.

This document was signed by Clifford Detring, White, and Wills. Mr. Detring did not make any objections concerning the document or any portion of it.

White later assigned his rights to the land to plaintiffs. Thereafter, plaintiffs entered into an agreement to sell the property to the Grays. The Grays submitted an application to the City of Farmington to have the property annexed.

On April 8, 1994, the City notified defendant Thomas of this application. The notice indicated that the Grays proposed that the property be annexed as R-4, General Residential property. Further, the notice indicated that a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting would be held on April 14. After receiving the notice, defendant Thomas talked with one of the Grays and learned that the Grays were paying $9,000 per acre for the land.

On May 5, defendants' attorney wrote Wills. He indicated that the document did not constitute a complete contract and asked for directions for returning the $1,000. This was Wills' first knowledge that the defendants "felt that the contract was not valid." On May 31, defendants' attorney wrote a similar letter to plaintiffs' attorney.

Plaintiffs' attorney notified defendants' attorney that plaintiffs planned to close the transaction prior to twelve months from December 2, 1993. Plaintiff Peggy Crawford appeared with the funds to close, but defendants did not appear.

II. Statute of Frauds

Defendants' first three points all concern the statute of frauds defense. For ease of discussion and in order to avoid repetition, we consolidate them.

In their first point, defendants allege the trial court erred in ordering specific performance of the December 2, 1993 writing because it "does not satisfy the statute of frauds." They argue "it does not describe the property to be retained and does not refer to an external standard and the trial court improperly considered the February 1, 1994 writing to supply the missing term." The second point alleges that the December 2 writing left an essential term for future determination. The third point alleges that the February 1, 1994 writing was not signed by two of the defendants and there was no showing that the signing defendant was an agent for the others.

It is doubtful that defendants' statute of frauds defense is preserved. Rule 55.08 designates the statute of frauds as an affirmative defense. To allege an affirmative...

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