Law School Case Brief
Bale v. Allison - 173 Wash. App. 435, 294 P.3d 789 (Wash. Ct. App. 2013)
A party asserting the existence of an express or implied contract bears the burden of proving the essential elements of a contract, including mutual intent.
The decedent, Bob Fletcher, owned a certain cabin where his nephews, defendants John and Robert G. Fletcher ("Nephews"), often visited and performed various maintenance work over a period of years. By his last will and testament, the decedent devised the cabin to his stepsons, plaintiffs Dennis Bale and Allen Bale, with the desire that they allow the Nephews to use the cabin. A few years later, after being diagnosed with cancer, the decedent told the Nephews, in the presence of defendant Garry Allison, that he wanted them to have the cabin. The decedent duly executed a quitclaim deed, and the Nephews recorded it. When the Bales learned of the cabin's conveyance, the filed a complaint in Washington state court against the Nephews and Allison, who was the representative of the decedent's estate, alleging numerous causes of action and requesting that the cabin be transferred from the Nephews to the Bales. Allison filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted on all claims except on the oral and implied contract issues in which the Bales claimed that there was an understanding that the decedent would transfer the cabin in exchange for the work and substantial improvements the Bales made to the cabin. The court entered a judgment awarding clear title to the Bales on the ground, inter alia, that the deed to the Nephews was void under Wash. Rev. Code § 64.04.050 because it lacked a recitation of consideration. The trial court rejected the Bales' oral contract claims. The Nephews and the Bales appealed.
Did the trial court err in its determination that the Bales failed to prove an oral contract to devise under the clear, cogent, and convincing standard?
The appellate court reversed and remanded the trial court's judgment. The court ruled that the quitclaim deed effectively conveyed title to the Nephews because the deed met all statutory requirements and no recital of consideration was required to effectively gift real property. As to the Bales' oral contract claim, the court ruled that the trial court applied the correct standard of proof when it found that the evidence presented by them was insufficient to satisfy by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that an oral contract to devise existed. The court declined to award appellate attorney fees and costs to either party because the case involved the unique issue of whether a quitclaim deed gifting real property must recite consideration. However, the court remanded the case to the trial court to consider an award of attorney fees and costs to the Nephews.
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