Law School Case Brief
Milliken v. Jacono - 2012 PA Super 284, 60 A.3d 133
The appellate court views the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party. Only where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and it is clear that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law will summary judgment be entered. The appellate court's scope of review of a trial court's order granting or denying summary judgment is plenary, and its standard of review is clear: the trial court's order will be reversed only where it is established that the court committed an error of law or abused its discretion.
The owner of the property prior to the sellers allegedly shot his wife and himself at that property. Defendant sellers, Kathleen and Joseph Jacono, purchased the property at a real estate auction, and subsequently, sold it to plaintiff buyer, Janet Milliken. Milliken, the buyer alleged that she was unaware of the murder/suicide until three weeks after she moved into the property. Thereafter, plaintiff buyer filed a complaint against defendant sellers for violation of the Real Estate Disclosure Law, alleging fraud and misrepresentation. Sellers filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the court.
Did the murder/suicide that had occurred in the house constitute a material defect in the contract of sale?
The appellate court held that because the Legislature limited required disclosures to structural matters, legal impairments, and hazardous materials, the extension suggested by the buyer would be both unwarranted and legislative in nature. The fact that a murder once occurred in a house fell into that category of homebuyer concerns best left to caveat emptor. While the murder/suicide may have been subjectively material to the buyer's decision, under common law fraud a seller of real estate was only liable for failing to reveal objective material defects. Psychological damage to real estate did not constitute a defect that the law recognized as material. The buyer had no supportable cause of action under the "catch-all" section of the Penn. Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, 73 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 201-2(xxi).
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