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Oral Contracts, Partial Performance, Statute of Frauds

Many types of contracts have to be in writing and signed by the party sought to be charged to be enforceable in Court. Examples of such contracts include agreements for an interest in real estate and contracts that take longer than one (1) year to complete. Frequently, individuals will try to make claims for breach of contract for a type of contract that falls within the statute of frauds but do not have a signed writing. In those circumstances, a plaintiff will typically resort to an equitable theory of recovery, like unjust enrichment or money had and received. Howard v. Turnbull, 316 S.W.3d 431, 436 (Mo. Ct. App. 2010). Given the broad discretion Courts/Judges are allowed with equitable claims, recovery is much more uncertain.

Before eschewing your potential breach of contract claim for apparent failure to follow the statute of frauds, however, it’s important to first define the subject matter of the contract as well as what (if anything) has been performed under the terms of the agreement. Missouri courts have held, for example, that the statute of frauds does not bar recovery of an oral contract where the unopposed evidence supports that one of the parties fully performed under the oral agreement. Straatmann v. Straatmann, 809 S.W.2d 95, 99 (Mo. Ct. App. 1991); Serafin v. Med 90, Inc., 932 S.W.2d 422, 424 (Mo. Ct. App. 1996). If, therefore, you can provide evidence of the nature and extent of the agreement, and that one of you fully performed under that agreement, then a breach of contract suit would survive a statute of frauds challenge.

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