Vokes v. Arthur Murray, Inc. – Case Brief

Vokes v. Arthur Murray, Inc., 212 So.2d 906, 28 A.L.R.3d 1405 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1968).

Facts: Vokes (P) decided to become an accomplished professional dancer at age 51. Arthur Murray (D) was the franchisor of Arthur Murray Dance Schools. Vokes alleged that Arthur Murray’s employees used flattery, cajolery, and awards to lead her to believe that she was a promising student capable of a career as a professional dancer. Arthur Murray convinced her to sign up for $31,000 in dance lessons.

Vokes brought suit to cancel the remainder of the 2,300 hours of lessons for which she had contracted. In her complaint she alleged that she had attained little or no skill as a dancer and had no aptitude, that Arthur Murray’s employees had purposefully misrepresented her skills and taken unconscionable advantage of her, and that she had relied upon Arthur Murray’s employees’ superior knowledge to assess her ability. D contended that its employees’ representations were statements of opinion and therefore not actionable. P’s fourth amended complaint was dismissed with prejudice and P appealed.

Issue: 1) Under what circumstances may a statement of opinion be relied upon as fact? 2) Under what circumstances will a misrepresentation as to value amount to fraud?

Holding and Rule: 1) Statements made by parties having superior knowledge to parties without such knowledge can be regarded as statements of fact. 2) In order to amount to fraud, a representation as to value must be coupled with some untrue or misleading statement of fact used to reinforce the opinion.

Generally for a misrepresentation to be actionable it must be one of fact rather than of opinion. This general rule does not apply however where there is a fiduciary relationship between the parties, or where there has been some artifice or trick employed by the party making the misrepresentation, or where the parties do not in general deal at arm’s length, or where the person to whom the representation is made does not have an equal opportunity to become apprised of the truth or falsity of the fact represented. A statement of a party having superior knowledge may be regarded as a statement of fact even though it would be considered an opinion if the parties were dealing on equal terms.

Even when a party to a transaction owes no duty to disclose facts within his knowledge or to answer inquiries respecting such facts, the rule is that if he undertakes to do so he must disclose the whole truth. D was in a position of superior knowledge to properly evaluate whether P in fact had real potential. The court held that by virtue of the sheer volume of flattery and the volume of purchases, Arthur Murray owed a duty to be honest with Vokes.

Disposition: Reversed.

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