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Lucy v Zehmer Case Brief
1 to 2 pages.
12 point Times New Roman Font. 1.5 Spacing. 1 inch margins.
Who (plaintiff) is suing whom (defendant)?
How did the case get to the court? Where is this case being heard? Case History: What happened at
the trial court level?
Case Brief Description:
What type of case is it?
A contract dispute?
A negligence claim?
Facts of the Case These are the underlying facts — not who sued whom or what the trial court did, but
what happened to create the dispute in the first place.
What do the plaintiffs or defendants want?
Issues: The issue should state the question before the court in a manner that captures the procedural
posture, but also reflects the facts of the case. For example: “Did the trial court make error?”
Decision and Analysis: The holding or decision is the answer to the question posed in the “Issue”
statement. It is the reason, or the justification, for the court’s conclusion that the plaintiff or defendant
ought to prevail on appeal. It is, more generally, a rule that explains how a case with similar facts
should be decided. A court may answer the issue presented in the following way: “If the defendant
produces evidence that the plaintiff had been drinking while making the contract does that matter?
What did the court hold and why? Is there a contract? Why or Why not?
Is there a dissent?
What are you supposed to learn from reading the case?
See the below word document for the case to brief~
LUCY v. ZEHMER
Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. 1954
196 Va. 493, 84 S.E.2d 516.
BUCHANAN, JUSTICE. This suit was instituted by W.O. Lucy and J.C. Lucy,
complainants, against A.H. Zehmer and Ida S. Zehmer, his wife, defendants, to have
specific performance of a contract by which it was alleged the Zehmers had sold to
W.O. Lucy a tract of land owned by A.H. Zehmer in Dinwiddie county containing 471.6
acres, more or less, known as the Ferguson farm, for $50,000. J.C. Lucy, the other
complainant, is a brother of W.O. Lucy, to whom W.O. Lucy transferred a half interest in
his alleged purchase.
The instrument sought to be enforced was written by A.H. Zehmer on [Saturday]
December 20, 1952, in these words: We hereby agree to sell to W.O. Lucy the Ferguson
Farm complete for $50,000.00, title satisfactory to buyer,” and signed by the defendants,
A.H. Zehmer and Ida S. Zehmer.
The answer of A.H. Zehmer admitted that at the time mentioned W.O. Lucy offered him
$50,000 cash for the farm, but that he, Zehmer, considered that the offer was made in
jest; that so thinking, and both he and Lucy having had several drinks, he wrote out the
memorandum” quoted above and induced his wife to sign it; that he did not deliver the
memorandum to Lucy, but that Lucy picked it up, read it, put it in his pocket, attempted
to offer Zehmer $5 to bind the bargain, which Zehmer refused to accept, and realizing
for the first time that Lucy was serious, Zehmer assured him that he had no intention of
selling the farm and that the whole matter was a joke. Lucy left the premises insisting
that he had purchased the farm.
Depositions were taken and the decree appealed from was entered holding that the
complainants had failed to establish their right to specific performance, and dismissing
their bill. The assignment of error is to this action of the court.
The defendants insist that the evidence was ample to support their contention that the
writing sought to be enforced was prepared as a bluff or dare to force Lucy to admit that
he did not have $50,000; that the whole matter was a joke; that the writing was not
delivered to Lucy and no binding contract was ever made between the parties.
It is an unusual, if not bizarre, defense. When made to the writing admittedly prepared
by one of the defendants and signed by both, clear evidence is required to sustain it.
In his testimony Zehmer claimed that he “was high as a Georgia pine,” and that the
transaction was just a bunch of two doggoned drunks bluffing to see who could talk the
biggest and say the most.” That claim is inconsistent with his attempt to testify in great
detail as to what was said and what was done. It is contradicted by other evidence as to
the condition of both parties, and rendered of no weight by the testimony of his wife
that when Lucy left the restaurant she suggested that Zehmer drive him home. The
record is convincing that Zehmer was not intoxicated to the extent of being unable to
comprehend the nature and consequences of the instrument he executed, and hence
that instrument is not to be invalidated on that ground. C.J.S. Contracts, §, 133, b.,
p.483; Taliaferro v. Emery, 124 Va. 674, 98 S.E. 627. It was in fact conceded by
defendants’ counsel in oral argument that under the evi- dence Zehmer was not too
drunk to make a valid contract.
The evidence is convincing also that Zehmer wrote two agreements, the first one
beginning “I hereby agree to sell. Zehmer first said he could not remember about that,
then that “I don’t think I wrote but one out.” Mrs. Zehmer said that what he wrote was `I
hereby agree,” but that the “I” was changed to “We” after that night. The agreement that
was written and signed is in the record and indicates no such change. Neither are the
mistakes in spelling that Zehmer sought to point out readily apparent.
The appearance of the contract, the fact that it was under discussion for forty minutes
or more before it was signed; Lucy’s objection to the first draft because it was written in
the singular, and he wanted Mrs. Zehmer to sign it also; the rewriting to meet that
objection and the signing by Mrs. Zehmer; the discussion of what was to be included in
the sale, the provision for the examination of the title, the completeness of the
instrument that was executed, the taking possession of it by Lucy with no request or
suggestion by either of the defendants that he give it back, are facts which furnish
persuasive evidence that the execution of the contract was a serious business
transaction rather than a casual jesting matter as defendants now contend..
If it be assumed, contrary to what we think the evidence shows, that Zehmer was jesting
about selling his farm to Lucy and that the transac- tion was intended by him to be a
joke, nevertheless the evidence shows that Lucy did not so understand it but
considered it to be a serious business transaction and the contract to be binding on the
Zehmers as well as on himself. The very next day he arranged with his brother to put up
half the money and take a half interest in the land. The day after that he employed an
attorney to examine the title. The next night, Tuesday, he was back at Zehmer’s place
and there Zehmer told him for the first time, Lucy said, that he wasn’t going to sell and
he told Zehmer “You know you sold that place fair and square.” After receiving the
report from his attorney that the title was good he wrote to Zehmer that he was ready to
close the deal.
Not only did Lucy actually believe, but the evidence shows he was warranted in
believing, that the contract represented a serious business transaction and a good faith
sale and purchase of the farm.
In the field of contracts, as generally elsewhere, “We must look to the outward
expression of a person as manifesting his intention rather than to his secret and
unexpressed intention. `The law imputes to a person an intention corresponding to the
reasonable meaning of his words and acts.'” First Nat. Exchange Bank of Roanoke v.
Roanoke Oil Co., 169 Va. 99, 114, 192 S.E. 764, 770.
At no time prior to the execution of the contract had Zehmer indicated to Lucy by word
or act that he was not in earnest about selling the farm. They had argued about it and
discussed its terms, as Zehmer admitted, for a long time. Lucy testified that if there was
any jesting it was about paying $50,000 that night. The contract and the evidence show
that he was not expected to pay the money that night. Zehmer said that after the writing
was signed he laid it down on the counter in front of Lucy. Lucy said Zehmer handed it
to him. In any event there had been what appeared to be a good faith offer and a good
faith acceptance, followed by the execution and apparent delivery of a written contract.
Both said that Lucy put the writing in his pocket and then offered Zehmer $5 to seal the
bargain. Not until then, even under the defendants’ evidence, was anything said or done
to indicate that the matter was a joke. Both of the Zehmers testified that when Zehmer
asked his wife to sign he whispered that it was a joke so Lucy wouldn’t hear and that it
was not intended that he should hear.
The mental assent of the parties is not requisite for the formation of a contract. If the
words or other acts of one of the parties have but one reasonable meaning, his
undisclosed intention is immaterial except when an unreasonable meaning which he
attaches to his manifestations is known to the other party. Restatement of the Law of
Contracts, Vol. I, § 71, p.74..
An agreement or mutual assent is of course essential to a valid contract but the law
imputes to a person an intention corresponding to the reasonable meaning of his words
and acts. If his words and acts, judged by a reasonable standard, manifest an intention
to agree, it is immaterial what may be the real but unexpressed state of his mind. C.J.S.
Contracts, §32, p. 361; 12 Am.Jur., Contracts, §19, p. 515.
So a person cannot set up that he was merely jesting when his conduct and words
would warrant a reasonable person in believing that he intended a real agreement…
Whether the writing signed by the defendants and now sought to be enforced by the
complainant was the result of a serious offer by Lucy and a serious acceptance by the
defendants, or was a serious offer by Lucy and an acceptance in secret jest by the
defendants, in either event it constituted a binding contract of sale between the parties.
The complainants are entitled to have specific performance of the contract sued on. The
decree appealed from is therefore reversed and the cause is remanded for the entry of a
proper decree requiring the defendants to perform the contract in accordance with the
prayer of the bill.
Reversed and remanded.
Purchase answer to see full
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