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Law School Case Brief

Oliver v. Ball - 2016 PA Super 45, 136 A.3d 162


An appellate court's standard of review following the denial of a motion to remove a compulsory nonsuit is as follows: The appellate court will reverse an order denying a motion to remove a nonsuit only if the trial court abused its discretion or made an error of law. Judicial discretion requires action in conformity with law on facts and circumstances before the trial court after hearing and consideration. Consequently, the court abuses its discretion if, in resolving the issue for decision, it misapplies the law or exercises its discretion in a manner lacking reason.


Plaintiff Jerome Oliver entered into a sale of real estate contract with Defendants Larry M. Ball, Danny R. Ball, Larry J. Ball, and Mary H. Ball (Balls) for the purchase of two tracts of land (Property). The Balls failed to convey the Property. Oliver filed suit against the Balls for breach of contract, seeking specific performance and/or monetary damages. The Balls eventually joined as additional defendants the parties' dual real estate agents Joyce Harmon and Al Harmon, individually and as authorized agents for Howard Hanna Company, t/d/b/a Howard Hanna Company t/d/b/a Howard Hanna Real Estate Services (Hanna defendants). The Balls asserted that the Hanna defendants were liable to them for contribution and/or indemnification. Oliver's claim for specific performance was severed from his claim for damages and proceeded to a non-jury trial. Following testimony on the liability phase, the trial court concluded that a valid and binding contract for the sale of the Property existed between the parties, which the Balls had breached. The case next proceeded to the damage phase, at which Oliver testified in support of specific performance. Thereafter, the Balls moved for nonsuit, arguing that Oliver failed to establish that he lacked an adequate remedy at law. The trial court agreed, granting the Balls' motion for nonsuit and denying Oliver's request for specific performance. Oliver then filed a post-trial motion, seeking the removal of the nonsuit. Oliver argued that he was entitled to specific performance because the Property was unique and, therefore, his remedy at law was inadequate. The trial court denied Oliver's post-trial motion, and Oliver sought appellate review.


Was the trial court's denial of a property purchaser's post-trial motion to remove a compulsory non-suit at the close of his case-in-chief for specific performance against the property sellers proper?




The Superior Court of Pennsylvania noted that the location of the pPoperty was objectively unique because it was situated at the entrance to the plaintiff’s commercial development properties. Taking this into consideration, the Court concluded that the post-trial motion to remove a compulsory nonsuit under Pa.R.C.P. No. 230.1 was the proper remedy since the remedy at law was inadequate. Hence, the Court held that the trial court erred in denying the motion.

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