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Ala. Code § 8-9-2 (1975) provides that in the following cases, every agreement is void unless such agreement or some note or memorandum thereof expressing the consideration is in writing and subscribed by the party to be charged therewith or some other person by him thereunto lawfully authorized in writing: (5) Every contract for the sale of lands, tenements or hereditaments, or of any interest therein, except leases for a term not longer than one year, unless the purchase money, or a portion thereof is paid and the purchaser is put in possession of the land by the seller. Ala. Code § 8-9-2(5) (1975).
Plaintiffs Anthony and Sheila Durham sued defendants Frank and Angela Harbin for the breach of an alleged agreement to sell some land. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that Frank Harbin had orally agreed to convey the lot for $7600. Although the plaintiffs paid the money to the defendants, Harbin refused several requests to convey the lot. There was no evidence that the plaintiffs ever took possession of the lot. The defendants defended the refusal to convey the property on the basis of the Statute of Frauds, Ala. Code (1975), § 8-9-2(5), and the trial court granted a summary judgment in their favor. On appeal, the plaintiffs did not deny that the defendants made out a prima facie case calling for the application of the Statute. However, they contended that certain letters written by Angela Harbin to the plaintiffs satisfied the Statute's requirement of a writing, or, alternatively, that the defendants were estopped from asserting the defense due to their conduct, conduct that included an alleged judicial admission of the existence and substance of the contract.
The court affirmed the trial court's decision. The court held that the letters written by the wife did not satisfy the statute of frauds because the first letter was written without the seller's knowledge or consent and the second letter contained terms that varied from the terms alleged in the oral contract. The court also held that defendants were not estopped from asserting the defense of the statute of frauds because the buyers relied on promissory estoppel and judicial admission of the contract, which were not recognized in Alabama, and that equitable estoppel was not applicable because the buyers never had possession of the property.