Frequently in breach of contract cases people will sue for money damages for the value of the breach. If a particular promise within a contract has an agreed upon value, or if a reasonable estimate for the value of the service can be obtained, people often opt to seek that monetary amount in court as a remedy for the breach of that particular promise. However, another form of remedy that a person could seek in a breach of contract case is a remedy called “specific performance.” This is a remedy in which the court orders that the party in breach fulfill their contractual promise rather than monetarily compensate the other party for the estimated value of the breach.
One famous example of a case in which a plaintiff sued for specific performance was Lucy v. Zehmer. The one sentence contract that was the subject of this lawsuit was written on the back of a restaurant receipt and stated, “We hereby agree to sell to W. O. Lucy the Ferguson Farm complete for $50,000.00, title satisfactory to buyer.” After Mr. Zehmer refused to sell the land or accept the money that Mr. Lucy had offered, W. O. Lucy sued Mr. Zehmer seeking specific performance as a remedy; in other words, he was hoping that the court would force Mr. Zehmer to sell the land and accept 50,000 dollars as the price for the farm.
Specific Performance is an important remedy because it helps protect parties from “efficient breach,” a tactic in which one party deliberately breaches their contractual promise because the promisor has calculated that compensating the promisee for the value of the breach will cost the promisor less resources than fulfilling the promise. Promisee’s who rely heavily on a certain transaction taking place can breathe a sigh of relief that specific performance is an available remedy in certain scenarios.
The United States famously does not allow people to sue for specific performance in employment contracts. In the 1905 Supreme Court case Clyatt v. United States, the Court issued an opinion stating that the Thirteenth amendment to the United States constitution prohibits specific performance as remedy in employment contracts. The Supreme Court stated that the reason why someone is forced into labor is irrelevant, and that even an otherwise perfect contract can never be enforced via the remedy of specific performance regardless of the consent of the promisor at the time of signing the contract.
If you are the promise of a promise that is so valuable that you need the performance of the contract far more than the monetary value of the promise, you should speak with an experienced contract lawyer in your area to see if specific performance might be an applicable remedy in case of breach.