Wollums v. Horsley (1892)

Wollums v. Horsley
Court of Appeals of Kentucky, 1892
93 Ky. 582, 20 S.W. 781

Facts: Plaintiff, Wollums, was living on his mountain farm of 200 acres.  He was 60 years old, uneducated, unable to work, owned no other land, and had very little personal property.  Defendant, W.J. Horsley, was an experienced business man, who was buying thousands of acres of mineral rights in the area.  Wollums sold to Horsley, through an agent, all the oils, gases and minerals in his land for 40 cents per acre.  The agent was to receive $80 payment for the deal.  Purchase money was not paid as stipulated, as the agreement was a sale of the minerals by the acre; the quantity of land was not known and Wollums refused to have it surveyed.  Horsley demanded a deed the summer after the trade.  Later, Horsley brought suit for specific performance of the contract.  Wollums’ main defense was that the contract was procured through an undue advantage, and its performance should not be decreed.  The lower court ordered specific execution of the contract.  Wollums appealed.

Issue: Will a court of equity enforce a contract that is not equitable or reasonable?

Holding: No.

Decision/Analysis: An unconscionable bargain will not be enforced.  A contract ought not to be carried into specific performance unless it is just and fair in all respects.  It was later shown that the land had a $15 per acre value, almost entirely made up of its mineral value. The contract was not equitable, reasonable, or grounded upon sufficient consideration.  Therefore, the court of equity refused specific performance.  Judgment was reversed.

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