Geisinger v. A & B Farms, Inc.

Decision Date10 December 1991
Docket NumberNo. WD,WD
Citation820 S.W.2d 96
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals
PartiesWillard GEISINGER, et al., Respondents, v. A & B FARMS, INC., et al., Appellants. 44344.

Tim Eugene Dollar, Kansas City, for appellants.

Phillip Sanford Smith, Kansas City, for respondents.

Before LOWENSTEIN, P.J., and FENNER and HANNA, JJ.

HANNA, Judge.

Appellants/plaintiffs have brought a cause of action against respondents/defendants alleging promissory estoppel and wrongful ejectment. The trial court sustained the defendants' motions for summary judgment. We affirm.

The cause of action arises out of an oral agreement allowing plaintiffs to farm the land owned by the defendant A & B Farms. The plaintiffs claim that in February, 1980, Donald Matthews, on behalf of A & B Farms, Inc., represented to plaintiffs Geisingers and Kisers that they would be allowed to lease farmland owned by A & B Farms, Inc. for a term certain of five years. This is the specific allegation in plaintiff's first amended petition. The petition further alleges that at the same time Wilbert Matthews told plaintiffs that they could purchase farming equipment from Wilbert and Marion Matthews and finance the purchase over the term of the farming operations agreement.

The plaintiffs and Wilbert and Marion Matthews entered into a written security agreement for the purchase of the farming machinery in the amount of $150,000.00. As additional security for the purchase of the farm equipment, the agreement provided that the Geisingers and Kisers would assign 50% of the income from their farming operations to Wilbert and Marion Matthews. The agreement acknowledged that the profits from the farming operations were expressly tied to the purchase of the farm equipment. Two years into the farming operations, Donald Matthews, on behalf of A & B Farms, Inc., terminated the oral agreement to farm the land. The plaintiffs were forced to dispose of the farming machinery by sale to M & M Enterprises, a partnership composed of Wilbert and Donald Matthews. Thereafter, Donald Matthews farmed the land.

It is plaintiff's position that the written agreement to purchase farming equipment over five years for $150,000.00 was done in reliance on the defendants' promise that they would be allowed to lease the farmland for the full five year period. Further, plaintiffs Willard and Delores Geisinger claim, relying on the representations of Matthews, that they sold their auto parts store in order to engage full time in the farming operations.

The defendant's position is that they had an agreement with plaintiffs that included a sharing of expenses and compensation paid per the number of acres farmed, per head for tending the cattle and hours worked. Accordingly, they paid the plaintiffs during the two years they farmed the land. The defendants correctly note that there was no written agreement to farm the land for five years. The defendants moved for summary judgment because the oral agreement fell within the Statute of Frauds.

Plaintiffs argue that the court erred by sustaining the motion for summary judgment because they have pleaded a cause of action for promissory estoppel which removes the oral agreement from the proscription of the Statute of Frauds. They do not seek specific performance but rather are asking for money damages.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the record must be scrutinized in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion was rendered, and must accord that party the benefit of every doubt. Kansas City v. W.R. Grace & Co., 778 S.W.2d 264, 268 (Mo.App.1989). A summary judgment is proper where there remains no genuine issue as to any material fact. Schwartz v. Lawson, 797 S.W.2d 828, 832 (Mo.App.1990). It is appropriate only where no theory within the scope of the pleadings, depositions, admissions and affidavits filed would permit recovery and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Zafft v. Eli Lilly & Co., 676 S.W.2d 241 (Mo. banc 1984).

Section 432.010, RSMo (1969) provides in part: "No action shall be brought ... upon any contract made for the sale of lands, ... or any lease thereon, for a longer time than one year, or upon any agreement that is not to be performed within one year from the making thereof, unless the agreement ... shall be in writing...." Whether the defendant's promise to farm the land was an agreement not to be performed within one year or a contract made for the lease of land is not addressed by the parties and left unresolved. In either case the agreement clearly falls within the proscription of the Statute of Frauds. "If the contract was in violation of the Statute of Frauds, and admittedly it was, plaintiff could not recover compensatory damages for breach of contract or in tort." Gipson v. Fisher Bros. Co., 204 S.W.2d 101, 105 (Mo.App.1947). The facts dictate the conclusion that the oral agreement falls within the Statute of Frauds and the parties acknowledge it.

Plaintiffs rely on the doctrine of promissory estoppel for recovery of their losses. The essential elements of promissory estoppel are: 1) a promise; 2) detrimental reliance on the promise; 3) the promisor should have or did in fact clearly foresee the precise action which the promisee took in reliance; and 4) injustice can only be avoided by enforcement of the promise. A.L. Huber & Son, Inc. v. Jim Robertson Plumbing, Inc., 760 S.W.2d 496, 498 (Mo.App.1988). Missouri has adopted Section 90 of the Restatement of the Law of Contracts which recognizes a cause of action for promissory estoppel. In Re Jamison's Estate, 202 S.W.2d 879, 886-87 (Mo.1947).

There are a few Missouri cases that have allowed recovery pursuant to the promissory estoppel theory. In Feinberg v. Pfeiffer Co., 322 S.W.2d 163 (Mo.App.1959) the court, relying on Section 90 of the Restatement of Contracts (2nd), found sufficient reliance by the plaintiff on the defendant's promise to estop the defendant and create an enforceable contract under the doctrine of promissory estoppel. Id. at 168. The same result was reached in Katz v. Danny Dare, Inc., 610 S.W.2d 121, 126 (Mo.App.1980). Both Feinberg and Katz retired from their jobs with the employer's promise that they would receive a lifetime pension. The employer thereafter stopped making the pension payments. Each court found the elements of promissory estoppel present and that injustice could be avoided only by enforcing the employer's promise. Neither case involved the Statute of Frauds.

Subsequent cases have described the application of the doctrine of promissory estoppel to be used with caution, sparingly, and only in extreme cases to avoid unjust results. Meinhold v. Huang, 687 S.W.2d 596, 599 (Mo.App.1985). See also, Mayer v. King Cola Mid-America, Inc., 660 S.W.2d 746, 749 (Mo.App.1983).

A few Missouri cases have addressed the clash between promissory estoppel and the Statute of Frauds. One such case was Mayer, 660 S.W.2d 746. Mayer was contacted by the defendant and discussed a three year employment contract. He was hired and moved from Chattanooga, Tennessee to St. Louis and commenced work but a written employment agreement was never executed. A few months later he was terminated. The court ruled that Mayer's claim was lacking in all of the required elements of promissory estoppel and, pointedly, that the court would not allow recovery on a promissory estoppel action which would cancel the purpose and intent of the Statute of Frauds. Id. at 750.

The same result was reached in Morsinkhoff v. Deluxe Laundry & Dry Cleaning Co., 344 S.W.2d 639 (Mo.App.1961), where Morsinkhoff accepted employment with the laundry company at $10,000.00 per year pursuant to an oral agreement. Morsinkhoff was then employed and wanted to give his present employer one month's notice and then take one week vacation before starting his new job. He gave his employer notice and resigned but the laundry company refused to hire him. Morsinkhoff submitted his case to the jury on a promissory estoppel theory and recovered damages. The judgment was reversed because the contract of employment was not in writing and was for one year to be commenced in 37 days after the agreement was made. Therefore, it was deemed an agreement not to be performed within one year and was barred by the Statute of Frauds.

At least two other Missouri cases have refused to apply the doctrine of promissory estoppel as a means to overcome the Statute of Frauds. See Sales Service Inc. v. Daewoo Int'l Corp., 770 S.W.2d 453 (Mo.App.1989) and Meinhold, 687 S.W.2d at 599. We may conclude from these cases that there is a reluctance by our courts to abrogate the Statute of Frauds except in the most extraordinary situations. There is an understandable concern that to completely embrace the doctrine would be to totally abrogate the Statute. Consequently, the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
15 cases
  • Chesus v. Watts, WD
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • March 3, 1998
    ... ... In Terre Du Lac Ass'n, Inc., v. Terre Du Lac, Inc., 737 S.W.2d 206 (Mo.App.1987), the Eastern District of this court held that ... 4 See e.g., Geisinger v. A & ... Page 107 ... B Farms, Inc., 820 S.W.2d 96, 98 (Mo.App.1991), and Moore v ... ...
  • Greaves v. Medical Imaging Systems, Inc., 14192-2-II
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • December 8, 1993
    ...Brinkoetter, 85 Ill.2d 44, 421 N.E.2d 182 (1981); Whiteco Indus., Inc. v. Kopani, 514 N.E.2d 840 (Ind.App.1987); Geisinger v. A & B Farms, Inc., 820 S.W.2d 96 (Mo.App.1991); U.S. Oil Co., Inc. v. Midwest Auto Care Servs., Inc., 150 Wis.2d 80, 440 N.W.2d 825 (Wis.App.1989). Additionally, New......
  • Mika v. Central Bank of Kansas City
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • May 30, 2003
    ...are to be rigidly scrutinized, sparingly invoked, and used only in extreme cases to avoid unjust results. Id.; Geisinger v. A & B Farms, Inc., 820 S.W.2d 96, 98 (Mo.App. W.D.1991). Because of this, neither doctrine threatens abrogation of the general statute of frauds or the credit agreemen......
  • Blackburn v. Habitat Development Co.
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • October 22, 2001
    ...with caution, sparingly and only in extreme cases to avoid unjust results." Midwest Energy, 14 S.W.3d at 165; Geisinger v. A & B Farms, Inc., 820 S.W.2d 96, 98 (Mo.App. 1991). "The burden of proof is on the party asserting the estoppel . . . ." Resnik v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield, 912 S.W.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT