A promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance of a definite and substantial character on the part of the promisee and which does induce such action or forbearance, is binding if injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise.
The mother filed an action against the son to recover possession of an eighty-acre tract of land. The son filed a counterclaim against the mother that contended that the mother had promised to convey the land to him in order to rectify the fact that the son had been disinherited by his father's will. The trial court granted judgment in favor of the son and ordered the mother to convey the property to the son. On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court's decision on the basis of promissory estoppel. The court held that the mother had made a promise to the son that she would convey him a home and the land if the son moved to the land.
Should the mother execute a deed in favor of her son?
A promise for breach of which the law gives a remedy, or recognizes as creating a legal duty, is a contract. The promise need not be in any crystallized form of words: "I promise," "I agree," etc. Ritual scrupulousness is not required and, generally, any manifestation, by words or conduct or both, which the promisee is justified in understanding as an expression of intention to make a promise, is sufficient. (Restatement Law of Contracts, Am. Law Inst., §§ 1, 2, 5.) In this instance there is no doubt whatever respecting the intention of Maggie Greiner, either before or after she first sent for Frank to come to Mitchell county. Indeed, she fulfilled her intention up to the point of the formal matter of executing and delivering a deed. The only question is whether the untutored woman--she could not write--sufficiently expressed a promise to Frank when he came down to see her in response to the letter from Nicholas. The court has no hesitation in saying that Mrs. Greiner did promise to give Frank land for a home if he would move back to Mitchell county. Just at that point the promise was unenforceable because of indefiniteness. No particular land was specified. But the offer was later made perfectly definite. The eighty-acre tract was segregated for Frank, Mrs. Greiner fitted it for his occupancy as a home, and she gave him possession of it.
The evidence satisfied the district court that Mrs. Greiner should execute a deed to Frank. On the evidence favorable to him, and the inferences derivable from the evidence favorable to him, this court cannot say it would not be unjust to deny him a deed and to put him off, and cannot say a money judgment would afford him adequate relief.