A more passive type of concealment is nondisclosure. Although generally the law imposes no obligation on anyone to speak out, nondisclosure of a fact can operate as a misrepresentation under certain circumstances. This occurs, for example, whenever the other party has erroneous information, or, as Reed v. King (Misrepresentation by Concealment ) shows, where the nondisclosure amounts to a failure to act in good faith, or where the party who conceals knows or should know that the other side cannot, with reasonable diligence, discover the truth.
In a remarkable 1991 case out of New York, a New York City stockbroker bought an old house upstate (basically anyplace north of New York City) in the village of Nyack, north of New York City, and then wanted out of the deal when he discovered—the defendant seller had not told him—that it was “haunted.” The court summarized the facts: “Plaintiff, to his horror, discovered that the house he had recently contracted to purchase was widely reputed to be possessed by poltergeists [ghosts], reportedly seen by defendant seller and members of her family on numerous occasions over the last nine years. Plaintiff promptly commenced this action seeking rescission of the contract of sale. Supreme Court reluctantly dismissed the complaint, holding that plaintiff has no remedy at law in this jurisdiction.”
The high court of New York ruled he could rescind the contract because the house was “haunted as a matter of law”: the defendant had promoted it as such on village tours and in Reader’s Digest. She had concealed it, and no reasonable buyer’s inspection would have revealed the “fact.” The dissent basically hooted, saying, “The existence of a poltergeist is no more binding upon the defendants than it is upon this court.”1