Winternitz v. Summit Hills Joint Venture, 532 A.2d 1089 (1987)

Case Name: Winternitz v. Summit Hills Joint Venture
Plaintiff: Winternitz
Summit Hills Joint Venture
73 Md. App. 16, 532 A.2d 1089 (1987)

Key Facts:
Plaintiff operated a pharmacy and convenient store under a lease with defendant. The end of the lease was approaching and the plaintiff asked if he could renew the lease with the option to transfer the lease to a purchaser of his business. The defendant stated that it had no objection. The defendant delivered a two year lease which was not signed.
The plaintiff had a purchaser for his business but after the contract was signed, the defendant told him he would not allow him to transfer the lease to the new purchaser.
The plaintiff alleged:
(1) The landlord orally agreed to renew that lease and to permit him to assign it to a purchaser of his business,
(2) the landlord and its agents thereafter breached both the renewed lease and the assignment, and
(3) as a result of their conduct, he was required to reduce significantly the sale price of his business.

Procedural Posture: A jury awarded him $45,000 in damages. The court nullified that awarded by granting judgment N.O.V. on the basis that the Statute of Frauds made the allege lease renewal unenforceable, leaving nothing to assign.

Judgment: The court affirmed the court’s findings on the first two claims but agreed that the defendant did maliciously interfere with the plaintiff’s right to contract.

Reasoning: The plaintiff relied on “part performance” for counts 1 and 2. “Part performance” is an equitable doctrine available only where the principal relief sought is specific performance of the oral agreement. The claims were specifically for money damages.

Note: If he had been seeking specific performance, the exception of part performance would apply and he would have won.

See Exceptions to Statute of Frauds