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Budner v. Haas

Court of Chancery of Delaware, New Castle County

June 25, 1953

BUDNER et al.
v.
HAAS et al.

Suit by purchasers to reform a deed with respect to description of boundary line between portion of realty sold and portion retained by vendors. The Court of Chancery, Seitz, Chancellor, held that the evidence was not sufficiently clear and convincing to show a definite oral agreement fixing disputed boundary line materially at variance with description in deed.

Order for defendants.

[33 Del.Ch. 562] Aaron Finger and Louis J. Finger (of Richards, Layton & Finger), Wilmington, for plaintiffs.

Page 510

Vincent A. Theisen, Wilmington, for defendant, Leon V. Haas.

Thomas Herlihy, Jr., Wilmington, for defendant, Arle E. Haas.

SEITZ, Chancellor.

The question is whether a deed given by defendants to plaintiffs should be reformed to include certain land on the grounds either of mistake of one party known to the other or activity amounting to fraud.

The defendants owned a residence situated on a tract of 3.17 acres located on the Washington Street Extension in Brandywine Hundred. In May 1948 defendants decided to sell the residence and a portion of the tract of land. Defendants intended to retain the balance of the land. Plaintiffs responded to an advertisement of sale. Unless otherwise indicated, reference to ‘ plaintiff’ will embrace only Mr. Budner and reference to ‘ defendant’ will embrace only Mr. Haas.

If we assume that the Washington Street Extension runs north and south, the tract is on the east side thereof. Because of the curve in the road the dimensions of the tract are irregular. The whole case turns on the factual issue as to what was the agreement of the parties with respect to the southwesterly line, but which I shall call the southern boundary of the tract to be sold. The other boundaries were fixed and are not in dispute.

Defendant claims that they orally agreed that the boundary was to run straight back from a cement marker located in the front property line and was to be about two feet south of the most southerly point of the existing driveway. The deed which plaintiff seeks to have reformed is, with differences not here material, in [33 Del.Ch. 563] accordance with defendant's contention. Plaintiff claims they agreed that the southern boundary was to run in front of a row of trees which are about half way back and about 30 feet south of the deed boundary at that point.

The Supreme Court of Delaware recently stated the following principle which governs this case:

‘ Unless there was a clear understanding with which the formal contract conflicts, there is, of course, no comparative standard upon which to base a reformation, and the contract as executed must stand.'[1]

Let us consider whether plaintiffs have proved by ‘ clear’ and ‘ convincing’ evidence[2] that they orally agreed with defendants that the so-called southern division line between the property sold plaintiffs and the property retained by defendants would run along and in front of a certain identifiable line of trees rather than, as defendants contend, approximately two feet south of the southern edge of the existing driveway.

Following a number of conversations an agreement was reached orally on June 7, 1948 and a down payment made. Presumably plaintiff and defendant agreed at that time on the southern boundary ...


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