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Law School Case Brief

Saxby v. S. Land Co. - 109 Va. 196, 63 S.E. 423 (1909)

Rule:

A misrepresentation, the falsity of which will afford ground for an action for damages, must be of an existing fact, and not the mere expression of an opinion. The mere expression of an opinion, however strong and positive the language may be, is no fraud. Such statements are not fraudulent in law, because they do not ordinarily deceive or mislead.

Facts:

Plaintiffs C.B. Chapman, trading as the Southern Land Company, filed an action in Virginia state court against defendant Saxby to recover damages for alleged false and fraudulent representations made in regard to the sale of a certain farm purchased from Saxby by Chapman. Chapman claimed that two years after the purchase, he discovered that Saxby did not own the farm as he had represented at the time of the sale. Instead, Saxb merely had an option to purchase the farm. Chapman  claimed that the real owners would have sold the farm at half the price. Additionally, Chapman claimed that Saxby's representations regarding the amount of timber, the price at which the timber would sell, and the farm's suitability for growing potatoes were inaccurate. The trial court dismissed the action, holding that no false and fraudulent representations had been proven.

Issue:

Was it proper to dismiss the action?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court affirmed judgment. Saxby's representation to Chapman that he owned the land on which he held an option to purchase did not constitute fraud, and Saxby's expressions of opinion were not fraudulent in law. The court held that the mere fact that an option was taken for the purpose of speculation did not constitute fraud or unfair dealing on the part of Saxby, the person taking the option. Furthermore, Saxby's representations regarding the land were sufficiently vague and indefinite so as to constitute an opinion and, therefore, were not fraudulent.

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