Lonergan v. Scolnick – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Lonergan v. Scolnick, 129 Cal. App. 2d 179, 276 P.2d 8 (Cal. Ct. App. 1954).
Scolnick (D) sought to sell certain real property and placed the following ad in a Los Angeles paper: ‘Joshua Tree vic. 40 acres, . . . need cash, will sacrifice.’ Lonergan (P) answered the ad and Scolnick wrote to him describing the property and providing directions, and stated that his rock-bottom price was $2,500 cash.
Lonergan wrote to Scolnick to ask for details regarding the precise location of the real estate and to recommend an escrow agent “should I desire to purchase the land.” Scolnick replied the next day and told him to decide quickly because he expected to have a buyer within a week. Scolnick sold the property four days later. Two days later the plaintiff received Scolnick’s letter and replied the next day that he accepted the offer.
Lonergan brought this lawsuit alleging that the defendant had breached a contract to sell the land. The plaintiff claimed that the land was worth $6,081 and sought the difference between that and the asking price of $2,500. Defendant denied that a contract had formed. The trial court favor of Scolnick and Lonergan appealed.
- Must there be a manifestation of contractual intent in order to create an enforceable contract?
Holding and Rule
- Yes. There must be a manifestation of contractual intent and it must be unequivocal and show that the parties intended to create a binding agreement.
There can be no contract unless there has been a meeting of the minds and the parties have mutually agreed upon some specific thing. This is usually evidenced by one party making an offer which is accepted by the other party. Section 25 of the Restatement of the Law on Contracts reads: ‘If from a promise, or manifestation of intention, or from the circumstances existing at the time, the person to whom the promise or manifestation is addressed knows or has reason to know that the person making it does not intend it as an expression of his fixed purpose until he has given a further expression of assent, he has not made an offer.’
The court held that the language used by the defendant in his letters indicated that they were not intended as an expression of fixed purpose to make a definite offer. The advertisement in the paper was a mere request for an offer. The letter of March 26 contained no definite offer because it merely gave further particulars and told the plaintiff how to locate the property if interested. The letter of April 8 answered some questions asked by the plaintiff, and stated that if he were really interested he would have to act soon. That the defendant expected a buyer in a short time indicated that he intended to sell to the first-comer. Lonergan was not being given a right to act within a reasonable time after receiving the letter.
Judgment for Scolnick affirmed.
Manifestation of contractual intent is determined by the objective person standard of a reasonable person standing in the shoes of the offeree.
See Raffles v. Wichelhaus (The Peerless Case) for a law school contracts case brief holding that there is no mutual assent to contract where a latent ambiguity arises that shows there was no meeting of the minds.