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Robinson v. Pattee - 359 Mo. 584, 222 S.W.2d 786 (1949)

Rule:

A vendor who alone contracts to sell land and who is unable to convey a good title because of the refusal of a spouse to join in a conveyance can be held liable in damages for breach of contract. It is not unlawful for a person to contract to sell and convey something he does not own but expects to acquire, and, if he unqualifiedly undertakes to do that which later he finds he cannot perform, he should suffer the liability the law imposes upon the contract breaker.

Facts:

The husband, Walter J. Pattee, was adjudicated of unsound mind and died after trial. His wife, Eula D. Pattee, and the co-executor were substituted as parties. The couple owned by the entirety their residence. Eula signed for herself and Walter an "earnest money" contract to sell their property. Eula told the buyer that she had Walter’s power of attorney because he was sick. However, the power of attorney did not authorize her to enter into a sale contract for land. Upon learning of this deficiency, Eula refused to fulfill the contract. The jury returned a verdict for the defendants, but the trial court granted a new trial on the specific grounds Instructions Nos. 3 and 4 were erroneous.

Issue:

Was the contract between the parties valid?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court upheld the trial court's order. A new trial was necessary based on the trial court's erroneous instructions. The instructions confused the theories of recovery upon a valid completed contract and of recovery upon an express or implied covenant of authority. Because Walter did not authorize or assent to the contract, the contract was never valid. But, Eula sought to bind Walter as his attorney in fact and could have rendered herself personally liable. The court noted that her belief that she had authority to act should not have operated as a defense unless the buyer knew of her lack of authority or Walter’s incompetency.

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