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Superior Court of Pa. reverses trial court decision ruling in favor of Burns White client demanding specific performance for purchase of real estate

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently reversed a decision by the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County denying our client’s post-trial motion to remove a compulsory non-suit in a breach of contract claim asking for specific performance. Our client entered into a sale of real estate contract for the purchase of a 71-acre tract of land located in Butler County. The client brought an action in the Court of Common Pleas when the sellers refused to close on the transaction and convey the property to the client. The lawsuit sought the remedy of “specific performance,” meaning that he was seeking the Court to order the sellers to transfer the property to our client. Following a non-jury trial, the Court of Common Pleas ruled that a valid contract existed and that it had been breached, but granted a non-suit on the client’s claim for specific performance, ruling that our client had not proven that a remedy of money damages would be inadequate as a matter of law.

After the trial court denied the post-trial motion to remove the non-suit, the client retained Burns White to handle the appeal to the Superior Court. Our team, led by Member Ira L. Podheiser, argued that the trial court abused its discretion after finding a valid and enforceable contract of sale, but not granting specific performance directing transfer of the property. The Superior Court agreed, and in a unanimous, published opinion, found that the trial court erred in denying specific performance, the appropriate remedy, when our client clearly established that his remedy at law was inadequate given the circumstances. In addition, the Superior Court clarified and reaffirmed the long-established doctrine holding that “land is unique,” and that specific performance for a purchaser of real estate was the normal remedy for a breach and should only be denied if it would be “inequitable” to do so. As a result, the Court reversed the judgment, and remanded for the entry of judgment on the client’s claim for specific performance.

Note: The results obtained in a particular case are heavily dependent on the facts and the law specific to that case.