Law School Case Brief
Wucherpfennig v. Dooley - 351 N.W.2d 443 (N.D. 1984)
The acceptance of an offer must be absolute, unequivocal, and unconditional, and it may not introduce additional terms or conditions.
Donald Wucherpfennig, Elizabeth Dooley, and Louise Grettum are the children of Fred and Harriet Wucherpfennig. Fred died in 1964 and Harriet died in 1977. The family farm, consisting of four quarters of land, passed to Donald, Elizabeth, and Louise by their parents' wills. The quarter which includes the farmstead, known as the "home quarter," was devised as follows: two-thirds undivided interest to Donald, one-sixth undivided interest each to Elizabeth and Louise. Each of the three children received a one-third undivided interest in the remaining three quarters. During the probate of Harriet's estate, Elizabeth expressed an interest in selling her share of the property to Donald. Accordingly, Elizabeth sent to Robert Case, the attorney handling the probate of the estate a letter expressing such interest. Case responded by letter, stating that Donald was "interested" in purchasing Elizabeth's interest in the property. Case subsequently followed up with another letter, dated 17 February 1979, stating that Donald has made arrangements with a bank to secure funds to purchase the interest. Elizabeth did not respond to this letter, but revoked her offer to sell the land to Donald. Donald brought an action seeking to enforce the contract which he alleges was formed by Elizabeth's offer and his acceptance as communicated in Case's letter of 17 February. Donald also sought, in the alternative, partition of the property. By consent of the parties the specific performance action was tried first. The district court found that there was no acceptance of Elizabeth's offer, and that even if there had been an acceptance the resulting contract could not have been specifically enforced. Judgment dismissing Donald's claim for specific performance was entered, and Donald appealed.
Was there a valid contract between the parties?
The court concluded that Donald did not accept Elizabeth's offer prior to her revocation of the offer on 9 March 1979, and thus there was no contract between the parties. The language of the 17 February letter did not embody an absolute, unequivocal, and unconditional acceptance of Elizabeth's offer, and was not expressive of an intent to create, without more, a contract. The terms of the letter appear to be more in the nature of negotiations with a view toward reaching an agreement in the future. Case stated that Donald is "ready to proceed" and asks what amount Elizabeth expects to receive for her interest in the property. These were hardly the words of an unequivocal, unconditional acceptance of Elizabeth's offer.
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