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Lawskills.com Georgia Caselaw
PETHEL v. WATERS.
22719.
Specific performance. Hall Superior Court. Before Judge Smith.
QUILLIAN, Justice.
1. Where the evidence submitted on the trial authorizes but does not demand a verdict in favor of either party, a ground of a motion for new trial asserting the evidence does not support . the verdict and a motion for judgment non obstante veredicto are properly overruled.
2. Where the exception taken to a charge of the court is that it was incorrect as an abstract principle of law and none of the evidence or pleadings to illustrate the inaptness of the charge to the facts of the case is set out or referred to in the ground, the question for consideration is whether the instruction given can under normal circumstances constitute a sound statement of the law.
3. Where as in the present case the issues presented by the pleadings and evidence involve the principles pertaining to waiver and estoppel, the trial judge properly charged the jury on those subjects.
4. A party may enter into a contract invalid and unenforceable, and by reason of the covenants therein contained and promises made in connection with the same, wrongfully cause the opposite party to forego a valuable legal right to his detriment, and in this manner by his conduct waive the right to repudiate the contract and become estopped to deny the opposite party any benefits that may accrue to him under the terms of the agreement. A suit by the other party in which he claims the benefits that, in such circumstances, he is equitably entitled to is not a suit on the contract but a suit to declare such rights and assert the waiver and estoppel.
5. Where a witness admits, without qualification, that he testified as appears from the transcript of his testimony taken by the court reporter on a former hearing of the same case, the transcript of his testimony on the previous hearing is not admissible when offered for the purpose of impeachment.
Henry L. Waters, Jr., filed suit for legal and equitable relief in the Hall Superior Court against D. T. Pethel, Jr. His petition alleged: He leased a described farm from Pethel on March 23, 1956, for a period of five years from that date at $700 per month, payable in advance. The written lease which both the lessor and lessee signed gave him an option to purchase the premises during the lease period. If he elected to purchase it during 1958, 1959 or 1960, he was to pay a stated amount for it and, if he elected to purchase it before the end of the lease period in 1961, he was to pay $20,000 for it. He took possession of the farm under the lease-option contract, has continuously remained in possession of it, and now has possession thereof. He has paid Pethel all rent due under the terms of the contract and has in fact paid him as rent $600 more than was due. During 1959 and 1960 he notified Pethel several times that he had elected to and would purchase and pay him $20,000 for the farm during 1961 in accordance with the terms of the contract. He also requested Pethel to have a deed prepared for delivery to him on payment of the $20,000 and Pethel assured him that he would do so.
On or about October 10, 1959, and again about December 19, 1959, he again told Pethel that he had elected to and was then exercising his option under the written contract and was buying the land in 1961 for $20,000 and wanted this clearly understood and wanted him to have a deed ready for delivery to him. Pethel at those times told him that he knew he had elected to purchase the farm and that he would bring the deed to him when the lease expired and he could pay the $20,000 for it when the deed was brought and delivered to him. The parties mutually agreed, understood and intended that the sale would be concluded in that manner. About February 4, 1961, he talked with Pethel and asked him to deliver the deed pursuant to the contract and his previous election to exercise the option to purchase the farm, and Pethel at that time told him he already had the deed made out and would deliver it to him when the lease expired and he could pay him the $20,000 when the deed was delivered to him. During the month of February, 1961, he, without success, made several efforts to contact the defendant by telephone and by looking for him for the purpose of paying him the $20,000 and securing a deed from him to the farm. During the week of March 13, 1961, he called the defendant by telephone several times for the same purposes, but was unable to contact him. During April, 1961, he, at his office in Gainesville, Georgia, made another personal demand on Pethel for a deed to the farm and told him that the $20,000 due for it was then immediately available in his office in lawful currency, but Pethel then refused to accept it and deliver him a deed to the farm. At that time, Pethel sought to have him make a new contract for the farm which he declined to do. During May, 1961, he made an actual unconditional tender of $20,000 in lawful currency of the United States to Pethel by counting it out in his presence and offering it to him as the purchase money for the farm and without any demand for a deed or any other condition.
It is further alleged that the petitioner has at all times and in good faith relied on Pethel's statements, acts and conduct and has in good faith relied on his express notice to Pethel of his election to purchase the farm and the improvements placed on the farm and Pethel's statement that he could in 1961 pay $20,000 for the farm when Pethel delivered him a deed to it and for these reasons Pethel is estopped from contesting his right to purchase the farm on his payment to Pethel of $20,000 for it and is estopped from contesting or refusing to convey to him good title to the farm and the improvements thereon, and from pretending or claiming that he has not complied with all the terms of the lease-option contract and all obligations thereunder. It is also alleged that the lease-option contract is fair, reasonable, lawful and equitable.
The prayers are for a judgment decreeing title to the farm in the plaintiff on his payment of $20,000 either to Pethel or into the registry of the court and a judgment for $600, the amount he overpaid Pethel for rent.
The defendant demurred to the petition on the ground that its allegations were insufficient to state a cause of action for the relief sought. His demurrer was overruled and he excepted. This court in Pethel v. Waters, 219 Ga. 376 (133 SE2d 334), affirmed the judgment overruling the demurrer to the petition. The above statement of the allegations of the petition is more fully stated in the opinion when the case was previously before this court. The statement there made is adapted and incorporated as a part of the statement of facts here set forth.
1. The one general ground of the motion for new trial insisted upon here, that the verdict was not supported by evidence, and the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, made upon the ground that a verdict in the defendant's favor was demanded, may be conveniently considered together.
The overruling of the general demurrer on the previous appearance of the case adjudicated the sufficiency of the petition to set forth a cause for the relief prayed. The petition did not allege that the purchase money for the farm described in the option contract was tendered before the expiration date of the contract, but that the defendant by his conduct, related in the petition, waived the tender of the purchase money before the expiration of the option and was estopped to deny the tender of the purchase money shortly after the expiration date was timely. The petition alleged the defendant, before the expiration of the lease-option contract, recognized the plaintiff had elected to exercise his option and purchase the farm on March 23, 1961; that the defendant agreed with the plaintiff, however, that the date of consummating the sale would be deferred until the lease expired at which time he would bring the plaintiff a deed to the farm in question and the plaintiff would then pay the purchase price for the farm.
This court held in Pethel v. Waters, 219 Ga. 376, 379, supra: "Pethel waived payment or tender of the purchase money before the option expired and since Waters allegedly made an actual unconditional tender of the purchase money, namely, $20,000 to Pethel during May 1961, it was then the duty of Pethel to accept it and convey the farm to Waters; and on his refusal to do so, Waters became entitled to specific performance of the contract or to a decree of title to the farm either on payment of the purchase money to Pethel or on payment of it into the registry of the court for his benefit." It was also held that the allegations of the petition that the defendant prior to the expiration of the option agreed with the plaintiff that the sale would be completed by the delivery of the deed and the payment of the purchase money after the lease expired and "that Bethel knew Waters was making extensive permanent improvements on the farm which involved large expenditures of money during February and March immediately prior to the expiration date of the option and after Pethel had assured him that he would deliver to him a deed to the farm after the expiration date of the option and the purchase money could then be paid" were sufficient to show the defendant was estopped to insist that the tender of the purchase money within a short time after the expiration of the lease was not timely. Studdard v. Hawkins, 139 Ga. 743 (2) (78 SE 116).
The defendant's answer denied every material allegation of the petition except the execution of the contract and that its terms were "fair, reasonable, lawful and equitable."
Thus emerged as the only issues of the case the truth of the allegations of the petition in reference to waiver and estoppel on the part of the defendant to contend the tender of the purchase price of the farm during May 1961, was not timely and sufficient to consummate the contract of sale.
The plaintiff proved the case as laid in the petition; that is, he submitted sufficient competent evidence to prima facie prove every allegation therein essential to his right to prevail and have the relief prayed. The defendant proved the averments of the answer, except the denial that the plaintiff made the tender of the purchase money for the farm during May 1961, as alleged in the petition. The evidence in the case, while in conflict and sufficient to have supported a verdict in favor of either party, authorized the verdict returned by the jury. Hence, we hold there is no merit in the general grounds of the motion for new trial nor in the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
2. Ground 1 of the amended motion for new trial assigns as error the charge: "that in order for Henry L. Waters, Jr., to raise a binding promise on D. T. Pethel, Jr., to sell the property described in the contract, Henry L. Waters must have performed all of the obligations of the contract and must have elected to purchase the farm on or before March 23, 1961, and must have complied with all of the terms of the contract, unless excused from doing so by some other law, about which the court will instruct you later."
We have carefully considered the cases cited by the defendant, plaintiff in error here, all holding: "where one holds an option to purchase property the optionee must communicate a notice to the optionor that he is exercising his right to purchase within the time specified in the option." North Fulton Realty Co. v. Kane, 105 Ga. App. 274, 277 (124 SE2d 405). See Hughes v. Holliday, 149 Ga. 147, 150 (99 SE 301); Broadwell v. Smith, 152 Ga. 161 (2) (108 SE 609). However, for two reasons we deem sound the ground is without merit.
First, we do not construe the charge to instruct the jury that the plaintiff's failure to elect to exercise the option before its expiration date could be excused, but only that "and must have complied with all of the terms of the contract," that is the plaintiff's failure to so comply, was subject to be excused for some sufficient legal reason.
3. Special ground 2 of the motion for new trial complains that the court charged the jury concerning the principles of waiver, because the instructions were confusing and not adjusted to the pleadings and evidence. The pleadings and evidence necessary to illustrate the validity of the ground are not set forth or indicated as is necessary in perfecting a ground for new trial. Moreover, the controlling issue in the case presented by the pleadings and evidence involved the principles of waiver and estoppel. The ground does not show error.
4. Grounds 3 and 4 of the special grounds of the motion for new trial except to the refusal of the trial judge to give the following requests to charge: (3) "that where the owner of land upon a valuable consideration grants an option to another to buy the land within a stated time, time is of the essence of the contract; and in order to raise a binding promise on the part of the optionor to sell, the optionee must make an election and offer to perform within the time stipulated in the option contract. A subsequent agreement by the optionor to extend the time, whether made before or after the time limited for exercise of the original option, must be supported by a valuable consideration, as such agreement is in effect a new option." (4) "A subsequent agreement by D. T. Bethel, Jr., to extend the time of the option, as contended by the plaintiff, whether made before or after the time limited for the exercise of the original option, that is March 23, 1961, must be supported by a valuable consideration, as this agreement, if you find one to have been made, is in effect a new option."
However, the present suit is not brought to enforce such a contract or any contract. The plaintiff's cause as set out in the petition rests upon his right to exercise the option after its expiration date because by the defendant's conduct discussed in the first division of this opinion he waived and was estopped to contend the tender of the purchase money for the farm described in the option came too late when made within a reasonable time after the expiration of the option and that upon such tender being made the plaintiff was not entitled to have the sale of the farm consummated in conformity with the other terms of the option.
In the case of Studdard v. Hawkins, 139 Ga. 743, supra, the difference between a suit on a contract and one founded upon the waiver and estoppel of the defendant to deny the plaintiff's offer to consummate an option contract is made very clear. It is held in the Studdard case, at page 747: "On the last trial the plaintiff offered an amendment striking all previous amendments to the fifth paragraph of the petition, and setting up, that, presently after the contract was made, he offered to pay the balance of the purchase-money, but the defendant waived the time of payment and appointed a later day therefor; that, in reliance on such waiver, the plaintiff did not at once make tender of the money, but delayed doing so until the time which the defendant appointed; that for the defendant to induce the plaintiff to delay making a formal tender until that time, and then insist that the delay forfeited the plaintiff's rights under the contract, would work a fraud on him; and that the defendant was estopped to question the timeliness of the tender. This plea does not set out or rely on any contract, written or in parol, as binding on the parties to vary the terms of the written instrument, but a delay in making payment or tender, induced by the vendor, whose conduct operated as a waiver or estoppel.
"A new contract fixing a new date for performance and a waiver of performance at the time fixed in the original contract, and an estoppel which prevents the setting up of non-compliance within the time fixed, are not the same thing. In the case of a new contract or the modification of an existing one, both parties are bound by the terms of the new contract, and have a right to insist on the new date fixed therein for performance. In the case of a waiver the original contract remains; the purchase-money is due; the seller merely waives strict enforcement as to time, so as to prevent him from declaring a forfeiture on account of a past failure. Generally he may still demand and require compliance with the contract, upon reasonable notice. In the case of an estoppel in pais by reason of his conduct or acts, he will not be allowed to claim that there has been a failure in compliance by the other party, so as to relieve him. Waiver and estoppel are often similar; but while the words are frequently used as equivalent terms, they are not identical."
It will be observed that here, as in the Studdard case, the agreement of the optionor to extend the expiration date of the option, not in writing and without consideration, was not an enforceable contract. But where, as here and in the Studdard case, a party by making an invalid agreement or promise induces another to forego a valuable legal right, he waives and is estopped to deny the right of the promisee to have the agreement carried out or the promise fulfilled.
5. Special ground 5 of the amended motion for new trial complains that the trial judge excluded a transcript of some of the plaintiff's testimony recorded on interlocutory hearing of the case. The evidence was offered by the defendant for the purpose of impeachment of the plaintiff on the ground that his testimony given on the former hearing was contrary to his testimony on the trial then in progress. The trial judge inquired of counsel for the defendant if the plaintiff had not admitted under oath on the latter trial that he testified on the former hearing to the facts shown by the transcript. To this inquiry, counsel gave affirmative answer. Whereupon, the trial judge ruled that since the plaintiff admitted he had sworn to the facts shown in the transcript offered in evidence the document was not admissible.
There is a dearth of precedent on this particular point. See in this connection Molyneaux v. Collier, 30 Ga. 731; Estill v. Citizens & Southern Bank, 153 Ga. 618 (113 SE 552); Manley v. Combs, 197 Ga. 768 (30 SE2d 485). However, the general rule is as held in Briggs v. Chicago Great Western R. Co., 248 Minn. 418 (80 NW2d 625): Where, upon cross-examination of a medical witness, he admitted that in a written report previously made to former counsel for one of the parties he had made certain statements which were inconsistent with his present testimony, after such admission, the trial court properly excluded the written report from the evidence, since once a witness has unequivocally admitted having previously made inconsistent statements in a written report, the written report becomes inadmissible, as proof of the inconsistency is no longer necessary or material. As succinctly stated in 58 Am. Jur. 430, Witnesses, 780: "If he admits that he made the statements in question, there is no necessity for proving them and they are not admissible in evidence." The Manley case, 197 Ga. 768, supra, impliedly recognized the general rule although the holding allowed the introduction of the documentary evidence under the exception "where the document contains other statements whose falsity is not admitted."
Thus, although the point is a close one, it appears that where the witness is read a transcript of his testimony given on a previous hearing and admits he testified as shown by the documents, it may be excluded when offered in evidence.
Judgment affirmed. All the Justices concur, except Duckworth, C. J., who dissents,
Kenyon, Kenyon & Gunter, E. D. Kenyon, A. R. Kenyon, Joseph H. Blackshear, contra.
Stow & Andrews, Frank B. Stow, Robert E. Andrews, for plaintiff in error.
ARGUED NOVEMBER 9, 1964 -- DECIDED JANUARY 7, 1965 -- REHEARING DENIED FEBRUARY 4, 1965.
Friday May 22 21:10 EDT


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