Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Patel v. Liebermensch (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 21, 2007)

Normally I wouldn't comment on this case, as it's very fact-specific, and concerns whether a particular real estate option contract was detailed enough to justify the trial court's award of specific performance. But the fact that (1) there's a dissent, (2) both the majority opinion and the dissent are authored by people who teach as adjuncts at the University of San Diego School of Law, (3) the attorney for plaintiff and respondent (James Mitchell) is a USD Law graduate, and (4) the holding has broad implications for many different types of real estate option contracts persuaded me to give my two cent's worth.

I think that the trial court properly awarded specific performance, and that Justice McIntyre is right in his dissent. Mind you, I wouldn't be as emphatic as Justice McIntyre is, because I think that Justice Huffman (who wrote the majority opinion) makes a darn good case to the contrary. But I'd have voted with Justice McIntyre rather than Justice Huffman, and think that the layperson-drafted option contract here was specific enough to support the jury's verdict (and judge's finding) that there was a meeting of the minds. Sure, there were things left out -- period of escrow, amount of deposit, etc. -- but that doesn't negate the option, and the trial court can (and did) properly fill those in. So sayeth me, at least. Which, with $3.50, will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

So I'd have voted in favor of the USD Law graduate's client alongside a USD adjuct professor, notwithstanding the contrary views of a longtime (and well-respected) USD adjunct professor. Party-drafted options contracts like this one should, in my view, be enforced rather than disregarded. Even though a lawyer -- at $350/hour -- could surely have done better.