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REAL ESTATE 66: Finding all of defendant-seller’s arguments unpersuasive, the court affirmed the trial court’s order granting judgment for plaintiff-buyer in this land contract dispute.


On  May 5,  2014, the parties entered into a land contract for the sale of  real property from defendant to plaintiff. In the land contract, plaintiff   agreed to pay defendant a  purchase  price  of $90,000.  Plaintiff  agreed to  make a down  payment of $5,000 on the day the parties executed   the  land  contract, leaving  a  balance  of  $85,000  to  be  paid  through  monthly  installments.  In  turn, defendant   agreed   to   provide   plaintiff   with   a   quitclaim   deed   to the   property  “[u]pon   total   payment  of   the   purchase   price   and   any   and   all   late   charges,  and   other   amounts   due”  to   defendant.  The   land  contract  granted  plaintiff  the  right  to  prepay  the  unpaid  balance, either  in  whole  or  in  part,  and  without   penalty, at   any   time   before   it   became   due.  After   successfully   making   monthly   payments   to   defendant   for   almost   three   years,  plaintiff  filed   a   complaint   against   defendant   alleging  claims   for   breach   of   contract,  nuisance,  trespass,  and  quiet   title.  The  complaint   alleged   that,  when   plaintiff   announced   his   intention   to   pay  the   remaining  balance  owed  on   the  land  contract,  defendant  provided   him   with  a   notice   of   default   and   announced  her  decision  to  refuse  prepayment  of  the  remaining  balance.  Plaintiff  alleged  that  defendant  committed   a   breach   of   contract   by   refusing  to   accept   prepayment   of   the   balance.  In   his  complaint,  plaintiff  requested   the   remedy   of   specific   performance.  

In   March   2018,   the   parties   filed   cross-motions   for   summary   disposition   in   this   case.  The  trial  court  denied  plaintiff’s  motion, and  then  granted  defendant’s  motion  in  part, dismissing  without  prejudice  plaintiff’s  claim  for  quiet  title.  After  listening  to  the  testimony  and  reviewing  the  evidence, the  trial  court  dismissed  plaintiff’s  claims  for  trespass  and  nuisance, and  held  as  follows  regarding  plaintiff’s  claim   for  breach  of  contract:  This   Court   will   find   that   a   breach   of   contract   occurred.  The   date   of   the   breach   of  the  contract  was  September  5,  2018  when  [defendant]  deposited  the  $75,000.00  prepayment, made  by  [plaintiff], and  failed  to  provide  the  plaintiff  any  accounting   regarding   the   balance   remaining   to   be   paid   or   the   payoff   status,  of   the  account   at   that   time.  Certainly,  before   that,  this   matter   was   in   negotiation   and   there  had  been  set—some  amounts  tendered  and  not  accepted.  Clearly  when  the  $75,000.00  check  was  accepted, that  then  generates  a  corresponding  duty  on  the  part   of   the   defendant   to   say   what   the   status   of   the   account   is.

The   trial   court   therefore   granted   plaintiff’s   request   for  specific   performance   and   ordered   defendant  to   provide   a   quitclaim   deed   to   the   property   within   30   days.  On   July   10,   2019,   the   trial   court   entered  a   final   judgment   and   order   in   favor   of   plaintiff, finding  that  plaintiff  was  the  rightful  owner  of  the  real  property.  The   trial   court   ordered   defendant  to  provide  plaintiff   a   quitclaim   deed   to   the   property.  Defendant   now   appeals   the   trial   court’s   final   order.  


On   appeal,  defendant  raises   four   issues   in  her  statement   of   questions   presented:  (1)  the   trial  court  misapplied   the   rules   of   evidence   and   erred   in   its   factual   findings;  (2)   plaintiff   failed   to   provide  the  evidence  required  to  support  his  complaint;  (3)  the  trial  court  failed  to  understand  the  defendant’s  payments  under  the  land  contract;  and  (4)  the  trial  court  improperly  accepted  defendant’s  Exhibit  H  during   the   bench  trial.  

This   Court   reviews   a   trial   court’s   factual   findings   in   a   bench   trial   for   clear   error.  A   finding   is  clearly   erroneous   if   there   is   no   evidentiary   support   for   it   or   if   this   Court   is   left   with   a   definite   and  firm   conviction   that   a   mistake   has   been   made.  The   trial   court’s   findings   are   given   great   deference  because   it   is   in   a   better   position   to   examine  the   facts.

First,  defendant   argues   that   the   trial   court   misapplied   the   rules   of   evidence   and   erred   in   its  factual   findings.  Defendant   contends   that   the   trial   court   erroneously   relied   on   plaintiff’s   Exhibit  H,  which   defendant   refers   to   as  “an   11 th hour   payment   schedule.” Defendant  further  argues   that  the   trial   court   erred   in   accepting   defendant’s   trial   exhibit   because   it   contained   serious   errors   that  constituted   an  “apparent   or   fatal   defect.”  When   plaintiff   offered   this   exhibit   into   evidence,  the   trial  court  expressly  asked  whether  defendant  objected  to  its  admission, and  defendant’s  counsel  answered, “No.”  By   expressly   disclaiming   any   objection   to   the   admission   of   this   exhibit   at   trial, defendant   has   waived   any   appellate   argument   regarding   its   admissibility.  Because  defendant  waived  review  of  this  issue, we  decline   to   consider   it.  

All   of   defendant’s   arguments   on   appeal   boil   down   to   arguments   that   the   trial   court’s   factual  findings   made   during   the   bench   trial   were   in   error.  Defendant’s   arguments   are   unpersuasive.  The  trial  court  was  permitted  to  consider  the  pleadings  that  defendant  filed  in  the  district-court  forfeiture   action   and   the   assertions   that   defendant   made   in   those   pleadings   regarding   the   amount  due   from   plaintiff   under   the   land   contract.  Furthermore,  the   trial   court   was   permitted   to   find   that  defendant’s   calculations   of   the   amount   due   under   the   land   contract   were   inconsistent   and   replete  with  errors.  Giving  the  trial  court’s  factual  findings  the  “great  deference”  they  are  due, and  acknowledging   that  the   trial   court   was  “in   a   better   position   to   examine   the   facts”  than  this  Court, we   cannot   say   that   the   trial   court’s   rulings   were   clearly   erroneous.


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