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LEGGETT et al. v. TODD et al.
Action for commissions, etc. Brunswick City Court. Before Judge Little.
1. An incorrect instruction to the jury is not obviated by a later correct instruction on the same subject unless the jury's attention is called to the mistake and it is withdrawn from their consideration.
2. It is proper to inquire of a contracting party whether she has received anything of value under a contract on which she has an outstanding written obligation. The refusal to allow the question was, however, under the facts of this case, immaterial.
3. The charge considered as a whole was not subject to the objection urged.
4. Where a contract to auction off property contemplates a sale and recites that the commission is payable to the auctioneer on the day of the sale, the seller may reject any and all bids but, in the absence of a legal excuse for nonacceptance or of special contract provisions, will nevertheless be liable for the commission to the same extent as though the sale had in fact been consummated.
5. Inadequacies in tender of performance are waived when the party to whom the tender is made responds with an unqualified refusal to perform based on other reasons.
J. L. Todd Auction Company, a partnership, sued the defendant property owner, Mrs. Leggett, on a check signed by her in the face amount of $4,140 as a commission on property offered at auction by the plaintiff. Her husband filed an intervention which was allowed and he was made a party defendant. The defendants in their answer contended that they were induced by Smith, an agent of the plaintiff, to enter into a contract to have the property auctioned off by reason of fraudulent representations that the agent would personally conduct the sale and would obtain a price of at least $55,000; that brochures advertising the sale stated it would take place at ten o'clock in the morning on May 30, 1960, when as a matter of fact it did not take place until two o'clock in the afternoon; that Smith did not appear on the day of the sale and that due to the negligence of the plaintiff and failure to comply with its representations the high bid was $27,000, which defendants refused; that later in the day while plaintiff's attorney was distracting Mrs. Leggett by conversation, one of the partners, Todd, who had conducted the sale, handed her two papers to sign stating they would help her with her income tax; that plaintiff signed the papers without realizing they were in fact a check and settlement statement; that the check on which the action was brought was not knowingly signed by her and was without consideration, and that she is not indebted to the defendant in any amount. The original contract introduced in evidence contained the statement that the owner "does hereby sell to second party the exclusive right to sell her property as hereinafter described, at auction, for the highest price obtainable, on or before May 31, 1960. First party agrees to pay second party 15% cash on day of sale of the total consideration of said sale, and further agrees to make deed or other necessary conveyances to any purchaser to whom second party may sell . . . I/we state that no representations as to guarantee of appraised value or price to be obtained has been made to me/us by J. L. Todd Auction Company . . . or their agent." The settlement statement signed contemporaneously with the check recited that the high bid "is rejected by seller, and the commission due on said bid of $27,600 is $4,140.00 and is paid herewith by check . . . and the contract between the parties to sell seller's property shall be completed and each discharged therefrom." There was testimony that after the instruments were signed Mrs. Leggett stated she would go to the bank the next morning and transfer funds into her account to cover the check; that the following morning the check was presented and, there being insufficient funds in Mrs. Leggett's account and it being unusual that such a large check was presented, a bank officer got in touch with her by telephone and was informed that
payment should be stopped, and thereafter a written stop-payment order was in fact received by the bank. Following a verdict for the plaintiff, the defendant moved for a new trial, the overruling of which motion is assigned as error.
1. The trial court instructed the jury: "If you should find that the check in question, if given, was wholly without consideration; than the defendant was not indebted to the plaintiff in that amount or in any other amount whatever, and that she did not intend to give the plaintiff any such check and did not know that she was doing so, but that the same was obtained by fraud, then I charge you that the plaintiff would not be entitled to recover. He then charged that if there was a valid contract fully complied with by the plaintiff the plaintiff would be entitled to recover." This was followed by a correct instruction that the plaintiff would not be entitled to recover should the jury find the contract was not complied with or was void by reason of fraud on the part of the plaintiff. It thus appears that the court at one point erroneously put the burden on the defendant of sustaining both of her defenses in order to win a favorable verdict, and thereafter correctly placed on her a burden to prove either of them. The court should not give conflicting rules of law in charge and leave the jury to choose between them; where an erroneous statement is made it is not cured by a correct statement in another portion of the charge unless the jury's attention is called to the correction by a retraction of the erroneous statement or in some other like manner. Wheeler v. State Hwy. Dept., 106 Ga. App. 323 (126 SE2d 808); Brewer v. Covington, 104 Ga. App. 857 (123 SE2d 343); Gurley v. Hardwick, 98 Ga. App. 334 (106 SE2d 53); Western &c. R. v. Mansfield, 98 Ga. App. 421 (105 SE2d 804); Snellings v. Rickey, 57 Ga. App. 836 (197 SE 44). The jury might well have been confused as to whether the defendant needed to prove both or only one of her defenses in order to prevail. Ground 6 of the amended motion for a new trial is meritorious and demands a reversal of the case.
2. In view of the full testimony from both sides as to the services rendered by the plaintiff and the defendant's reasons for refusing to accept the high bid obtained at the auction, it is immaterial that the court refused to allow the defendant to respond to the question: "I'll ask you if you ever got anything at all of value to you or Mr. Leggett from the J. L. Todd Auction Company?" on the ground that it was a mere opinion of the witness. However, the ruling in Brown v. Brown, 89 Ga. App. 428 (6) (80 SE2d 2) does not mean that such opinions should necessarily be excluded where the facts on which they are based are before the jury, but only that a witness cannot state, in the form of an opinion, the ultimate conclusion which the jury must draw from the facts. It is possible that the witness might have replied in the affirmative, in which case the question of what she received of value would be one of fact. No harmful error is shown here.
3. In special ground 1 the defendants complain of an instruction that if the jury should find all elements of a valid contract to be present it should be enforced according to its terms unless void by reason of fraud on the part of the plaintiff, because it authorized the jury to enforce the contract without regard to whether or not the plaintiff had itself performed its obligations thereunder. The court also charged: ". . . look to the evidence and ascertain whether or not the plaintiff had fully complied with the terms and conditions of said contract which was applicable to it; whether or not it had done all of the things that it was obligated to do thereunder . . . If, on the other hand, you should find that the plaintiff had not complied with the terms of the contract, or that the contract had been rendered void by reason of some fraud on the part of the plaintiff against the defendants, as the defendants contend, then the plaintiff would not be entitled to recover." This portion of the charge was not subject to the exception urged.
4. The court submitted to the jury the meaning of that part of the contract reciting: "First party agrees to pay second party 15% cash on day of sale of the total consideration of said sale," stating that the plaintiff contended "sale" meant a bona fide purchase offer accompanied by a cash binder, and the defendants "contend that they owe the plaintiff nothing because there was no delivery of a deed to the property by them and no payment of the purchase price to them." It is noteworthy that the contract here is the same as that involved in Rountree v. Todd, 210 Ga. 226 (78 SE2d 499), where it was held that commissions were earned, not by a consummated sale, but by the procurement of a bona fide bid. This fact was alleged in the pleadings in Rountree; here it is not alleged in the pleadings but the testimony shows that both parties understood that the seller would not have the right to refuse performance, absent any fraud or breach of contract on the part of the auctioneer, and thereby escape all liability, nor did she so contend in the pleadings. That part of the charge next following which stated: "The defendants, on the other hand, contend that they owe the plaintiff nothing because there was no delivery of a deed to the property by them and no payment of the purchase price to them" is, standing alone, too restrictive and an inaccurate statement of the defendant's contentions. Her true position as shown by the pleadings and evidence was not that she had an arbitrary right to refuse to consummate the sale and avoid commissions, but that she did not owe commissions because her refusal to consummate the sale was justified. The error was harmless, however, since its only effect was to give the defendant the benefit of a contention which she was not urging and to which she was not entitled.
5. The alleged error in special ground 1 is unlikely to recur, and special ground 3 has been abandoned. The evidence was sufficient as against the general grounds of the motion. It is unnecessary to decide whether, under the terms of the contract between the plaintiff and the defendant, it was necessary for the plaintiff to produce a high bidder ready, willing, and able to pay cash on the day of the auction, or whether the offer reciting that one-third of the purchase price was received in cash with the balance payable in 30 days was sufficient. This amounted to a tender of performance within 30 days. If the tender was insufficient because not in cash, this objection was waived by the defendant when she refused to accept the bid, not on this ground, but because she considered it inadequate. A formal tender is unnecessary where the party to whom the tender is made responds with an unqualified refusal to perform which makes it clear that the tender will not under any circumstances be accepted. Arnold v. Empire Mut. Annuity &c. Ins. Co., 3 Ga. App. 685 (60 SE 470); Groover v. Brandon, 200 Ga. 153 (36 SE2d 84); Nickelson v. Owenby, 208 Ga. 352 (66 SE2d 828).
The trial court erred in overruling the motion for a new trial.
Judgment reversed. Nichols, P. J., and Hall, J., concur.
Conyers, Fendig, Dickey & Harris, Albert Fendig, Jr., contra.
Gibson & McGee, Lamar Gibson, for plaintiff in error.
Friday May 22 21:44 EDT

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