Swinton v. Whitinsville Savings Bank – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Swinton v. Whitinsville Savings Bank, 42 N.E.2d 808 (1942).

Nature of the Case: Fraudulent concealment

Relief Sought: Damages and cost of repairs

Facts

Whitinsville Savings Bank (D) sold a house to Swinton (P, appellant) in September 1938. Two years later a termite infestation forced Swinton to make costly repairs to prevent further damage to the house. Swinton’s complaint alleged that he did not know of the termite infestation when he purchased the house, he could not observe the condition when he inspected the house, and that Whitinsville Savings Bank knew of the infestation and did not inform him. Swinton alleged that the defendant fraudulently concealed the termite infestation. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss and the plaintiff appealed.

Issue

  • Does a failure to inform the buyer of a house of a termite infestation give rise to a cause of action for recovery of damages caused by the undisclosed condition?

Holding and Rule

  • No. A failure to inform the buyer of a house of a termite infestation does not give rise to a cause of action for recovery of damages caused by the undisclosed condition.

Unless there was a duty the seller had no obligation to disclose the infestation. In Massachusetts, a contract cannot be made voidable for mere nondisclosure. In this case the defendant did not have a fiduciary duty to the plaintiff and therefore did not have a duty to disclose. The caveat emptor rule applies in arms-length transactions.

Swinton’s complaint did not provide sufficient facts to show that Whitinsville Savings Bank knowingly made false statements or misrepresentations. The complaint did not offer proof that the plaintiff had asked whether there was a termite infestation or whether the defendant had been aware of one.

Disposition

Judgment affirmed.

See Vokes v. Arthur Murray, Inc. for a law school contracts case brief in which it was held that a representation of value must be coupled with some false or misleading statement to reinforce the opinion in order to amount to fraud.


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