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Panco v. Rogers

Decided: March 20, 1952.


Haneman, J.s.c.


[19 NJSuper Page 14] The plaintiffs herein seek the rescission of a written agreement to sell real estate, upon the ground of mutual mistake. The defendant seeks specific performance of said agreement, by way of counterclaim. The alleged mistake lies in the consideration to be paid for the conveyance of the realty, plaintiffs alleging that it should

have been $12,500 and defendant alleging it should have been $5,500, as expressed in said agreement.

I find the following facts in connection herewith:

John Panco, a man of some 77 years of age, had been the owner of the realty here involved since 1913, the purchase of which was his only transaction involving real estate until that now under consideration. Being a carpenter by trade, he had, by his own efforts, constructed the home there situated. He had had very little formal schooling and was, at the time of the execution of the agreement, quite deaf.

In the fore part of the year 1951 the plaintiffs had decided to sell the premises here involved and to move to Florida. In furtherance of such a plan, with the aid of their daughter, Alice Panco, they prepared an advertisement which was inserted in the Philadelphia Inquirer , and placed a sign in the window of the house, advertising said property for sale. In response to these advertisements, several prospective purchasers arrived at the premises, but none accepted at the asking price of $12,500. The defendant, who lived in the neighborhood, came to the property on or about May 15, 1951. He was escorted through the property by the plaintiff Mary Panco, in the absence of her husband, John Panco. Mary Panco is apparently of foreign extraction and speaks with an accent. Upon inquiring the price, defendant alleges that he was advised by Mary Panco that it was $5,500. The plaintiff Mary Panco denies the price as so stated, but alleges that the price asked was $12,500. The said defendant brought his intended bride to examine the premises upon the following Thursday. Upon this occasion there was no further discussion of price. On the succeeding Tuesday, May 22, 1951, the defendant, as per arrangements made the preceding night, took John Panco to his, defendant's, attorney, where the agreement was prepared. The plaintiff, John Panco, took very little vocal part in the discussion at the attorney's office.

The attorney who was counsel for the defendant at the time of the making of the contract testified that John Panco

responded generally by the monosyllabic "Yes" or "No" or by shaking his head in the affirmative or negative when defendant related the details of the transaction to said counsel and when the latter dictated the agreement. There was some discussion during the preparation of the agreement between defendant and his counsel relating to the obtainance of a mortgage by the defendant, succeeding which said counsel called a building and loan association to make arrangements therefore.

The defendant, after the agreement had been signed by him and John Panco, drove the latter to his home, where the signature of Mary Panco was obtained. That evening, when Alice Panco returned home from work, the plaintiffs for the first time, upon her explanation, understood that the agreement called for a consideration of $5,500. John Panco insisted that the $5,500 related to a part payment on account of the purchase price of $12,500. They immediately contacted a son-in-law of the plaintiffs who, in turn, contacted the defendant. A conference ensued at plaintiffs' residence. Although plaintiffs contend that the defendant agreed to cancel the transaction, the defendant states that he did not definitely agree to do so. The plaintiffs then offered to repay to the defendant not only his deposit, but whatever expenses he had been put to, including attorney's fees. This offer they still make.

The testimony satisfies me that the property here involved is worth considerably in excess of $5,500, and is worth at least $10,000, and that the plaintiffs had established their sale price at $12,500 and believed that they were obtaining $12,500.

Mistake has been defined in Santamaria v. Shell Eastern Petroleum Products, Inc. , 116 N.J. Eq. 26 (Ch. 1934), as follows:

"Mistake exists when a person, under some erroneous conviction of law or fact, does, or omits to do, some act which but for the erroneous conviction he would not have done or omitted. Cummins v. Bulgin , 37 N.J. ...

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