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What is specific performance?

Specific performance is an equitable remedy for a breach of a contract. In a suit for specific performance, the non-breaching party asks the Court to order the breaching party to perform his or her end of the bargain, as agreed in the contract. The remedy simply forces the breaching party to do what he or she promised to do in the contract. If the plaintiff prevails, the court will order the defendant to comply with the contract. Note that the plaintiff must also be willing and able to perform his or her end of the bargain, as well. Once an order of specific performance is issued, the court can then police compliance with the order through various legal remedies, such as sanctions and contempt.

Because specific performance is an “equitable” remedy – one originally granted only in English and early American chancery courts – specific performance is generally granted when a lawsuit for money damages would not be sufficient. Contracts for the sale of real estate are perhaps the most common examples of contracts for which specific performance is granted. Because parcels of land are each considered to be unique, money damages are generally assumed to be insufficient to compensate the aggrieved plaintiff. Thus, when one contracts to purchase a plot of land, a house, or a building, and the other party breaches the contract, the plaintiff can seek to have the contract specifically performed.

By contrast, specific performance is not usually granted for personal property (i.e., moveable property or things), unless the property cannot be easily valued on the open market. For instance, where an object, such as a family heirloom, has an emotional value to its owner over and above its intrinsic value, specific performance may be warranted. Likewise, specific performance may be available for a contract involving the sale of corporate stock, where the company is closely held or the stock is not available on the open market. In these instances, the court will likely look to whether the item in question can be reasonably valued for purposes of a damages award. If not, specific performance would be the plaintiff’s alternative remedy.

Please note: McCabe Rabin, P.A. provides these FAQ’s for informational purposes only, and you should not interpret this information as legal advice. If you want advice as to how the law might apply to the specific facts and circumstances of your case, please contact one of our attorneys.

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