Wood v. Boynton – Case Brief

Wood v. Boynton, 64 Wis. 265, 25 N.W. 42 (1885).

Facts
: Wood (P) sold a gem for $1 to Boynton (D), a jeweler. Both parties believed the stone to be topaz at the time of the sale. Boynton later learned that the stone was a diamond worth $700. Boynton declined Wood’s offer to buy back the gem for $1.10 and Wood sued for its return. At trial the court directed a verdict in favor of Boynton and Wood appealed.

Issue: Is a party to a contract entitled to rescission if both parties were mutually mistaken regarding the value of the items sold and the seller has not committed fraud?

Holding and Rule: No. A contract made where there is mutual mistake regarding the nature and value of the items sold cannot be rescinded without fraud. The only way P can rescind the sale is by showing that there was some fraud by D in procuring the sale, or that the seller made a mistake by delivering an article that was not the article sold. The latter amounts to a mistake in fact as to the identity of the article sold. Except for these two cases, there can be no rescission of a contract for sale based on mutual mistake.

In this case, both parties were ignorant of the true value of the gem. There was no mistake regarding the identity of the item sold and delivered to D. P made a bad bargain and that alone is not grounds for rescission of the contract.

The court held that inadequacy of price as evidence of fraud depends upon the facts known to the parties at the time the sale was made. When this sale was made, the value of the thing sold was open to investigation by both parties. Neither party knew its intrinsic value and believed that the price paid was adequate.

Disposition: Judgment affirmed.

Notes: The real issue underlying this case is one of proof. P should have presented the testimony of an expert to prove that no jeweler would have failed to recognize the gem as an uncut diamond. The jeweler had examined the stone for some time before he made the offer to buy it from P.


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