Law School Case Brief
Harrington v. Harrington - 365 N.W.2d 552 (N.D. 1985)
Mere inadequacy of consideration does not justify a denial of specific performance in the absence of unfairness or overreaching. Generally, specific performance will be denied only when the inadequacy of consideration is such as to demonstrate some gross imposition, undue influence, or shocks the conscience.
Plaintiff ex-wife instituted a foreclosure action on the two mortgages that she held against a farm owned by her ex-husband. The district court dismissed the ex-wife's foreclosure complaint and ordered the ex-wife to satisfy the mortgages against the farm. When the parties divorced, their property settlement agreement provided for the ex-husband to receive the farm, and the ex-wife was to receive $150,000, paid with a $10,000 first payment, and 15 annual payments. The ex-husband executed a note for this amount, and the ex-wife took two mortgages on the farm to secure payment of the note. Later, the ex-husband sought mortgage satisfactions from the ex-wife to enable him to refinance debt on the farm. The parties signed an agreement stating that the ex-wife would execute satisfactions on the mortgages if the ex-husband agreed to leave the farm to the parties' son in his will. The ex-husband made a holographic will in which he devised the farm to his son, and which referenced the agreement with his ex-wife. The trial court found that pursuant to the agreement between the parties, the ex-wife was contractually obligated to satisfy the mortgages and to release the ex-husband from liability on a promissory note. The ex-wife claimed that the agreement was not enforceable and was illusory because it was not supported by consideration.
Was the parties' agreement illusory and not supported by consideration?
The court held that even if the consideration was inadequate, the ex-wife did not demonstrate the inequity of her position to warrant the denial of specific performance. Although she may have felt some compunction to sign the agreement it did not appear to the court that she was unduly influenced or coerced by the other party. The court further held that the granting of specific performance rests in the sound discretion of the trial court and it will not interfere with that discretion unless it was abused.
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