Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Rhode Island real estate dispute, the facts of which were heavily in dispute. According to the plaintiff, he paid the defendant $150,000 over the course of ten years under the impression that all the money he paid to the defendant would be put towards the purchase of a certain piece of real estate. The defendant, however, maintained a vastly different story. According to the defendant, the money he received from the plaintiff was for his service as the plaintiff’s agent in the automotive business.
In 2015, the plaintiff filed an eight-count complaint against the defendant. Among the claims raised in the complaint were those of promissory estoppel, fraud, misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment.
Making the case more interesting is the fact that the defendant was a former state representative. The defendant filed a pretrial motion to preclude the plaintiff from mentioning this fact at trial; however, the court denied the motion.
Essentially, the dispute arose when the two parties, who just learned they were distant cousins in 2015, met and began discussing business. The plaintiff ran a towing company and also dabbled in auto sales. He gained a significant amount of business from being on the police tow-list. When the defendant mentioned he owned property in Pawtucket—a location the plaintiff did not operate in—the plaintiff became interested in purchasing the property.
According to the plaintiff, over the course of eight years, the plaintiff made payments in various forms to the defendant. In the memo line of the checks, there were several references to “Pawt land.” Eventually, the plaintiff realized that the deal may not be what he thought it was, so he stopped making payments. However, he continued to inquire about when the land would be transferred to his name. Eventually, after the defendant threatened to obtain a restraining order, the plaintiff stopped asking about the transfer and filed this case.
The defendant claimed that any payments received from the plaintiff were in relation to the help he provided to the plaintiff’s business. Specifically, the defendant claimed he would go to auto auctions and bid on vehicles. He would pay for the vehicles with his own money, and then the plaintiff would reimburse him.
Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor for just over $80,000. The defendant sought a new trial but was denied on each ground. While the scope of the appellate opinion is broad, essentially, the court held that the jury was free to come to the conclusion it did based on the evidence in front of it.
The case, although unusual, is a good example of why it is important to have any real estate purchase and sale agreement in writing.
Contact a Rhode Island Real Estate Attorney for Assistance with Your Deal
If you have an unusual real estate deal in the making, reach out to the dedicated Rhode Island real estate lawyers at Bilodeau Capalbo. We can help you document what you have in mind so everyone’s expectations line up, giving your deal the best chance of being successful. To learn more, and to schedule a consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, call 401-300-4055 today.