Specific Performance and Contract Law
The most common remedy that people receive when suing over a contract are damages, money paid by the defendant in order to compensate them for some harm. However, sometimes that payment is not what people really want. After all, the parties entered into the contract with specific obligations, and sometimes plaintiffs would rather see those obligations fulfilled than merely receive payment for the harm that they suffered. In those cases, plaintiffs can seek a special remedy known as specific performance. If successful then the court forces the defendant to make good on their contractual promise, rather than just telling them to make a compensatory payment. However, it is important for potential plaintiffs to understand that specific performance is not always an available option.
What Specific Performance Is
Specific performance is something known as an equitable remedy that allows courts to force someone to live up to their end of a contractual agreement. The name comes from a historical fluke of old English law, the antecedent to American law. In England, courts used to be divided into courts of law and courts of equity. Courts of law had the authority to award monetary remedies like damages. Courts of equity had broader powers, such as the power to compel someone to do something or to forbid someone from doing something.
In modern times, all of those powers have merged in the courts, and courts can choose to issue monetary or equitable relief. The issue is that courts are often leery of using their power to compel someone to do something. They are much more comfortable using their authority to force payment or to bar someone from taking certain specific actions. However, courts recognize that there are times when specific performance is the most sensible remedy, so they will award it in certain circumstances.
When Specific Performance Is Available
Specific performance is a remedy that has long been established in Florida law, and an old case sets the standard for when it applies. In essence it states that people may seek specific performance of a contract when monetary compensation would be insufficient, but they may not seek it if enforcement of the agreement would be “unfair, inequitable, or unjust.” This is a very broad, flexible standard that makes predicting the applicability of specific performance somewhat difficult because it is designed to give judges a large amount of discretion.
However, there are certain instances where specific performance comes up more often. Contracts related to real estate and the exchange of other unique property are some of the most common places that it appears because people cannot simply go out on the open market and buy an identical piece of property. Another common scenario is when people have obligations to fulfill that are not services that people can just go buy. For instance, there was a case dealing with a contract that included an obligation to disclose financial records. The disclosure was required through specific performance.
Contract litigation is a complex area of law with many different nuances. If you or your business is currently engaged in a contractual dispute, contact a West Palm Beach commercial litigation attorney at Pike & Lustig, LLP.