You are here

The Statute of Frauds’ Main Purpose Doctrine

15 January, 2016 - 09:33

Wilson Floors Co. v. Sciota Park, Ltd., and Unit, Inc.

377 N.E.2d 514 (1978)

Sweeny, J.

In December of 1971, Wilson Floors Company (hereinafter “Wilson”) entered into a contract with Unit, Inc. (hereinafter “Unit”), a Texas corporation to furnish and install flooring materials for “The Cliffs” project, a development consisting of new apartments and an office building to be located in Columbus, Ohio. Unit…was the general manager for the project. The Pittsburgh National Bank (hereinafter the bank), as the construction lender for the project, held mortgages on The Cliffs property security for construction loans which the bank had made to Unit.

As the work progressed on the project Unit fell behind in making payments to Wilson for its completed work in the spring of 1973. At that time, the project was approximately two-thirds completed, the first mortgage money of seven million dollars having been fully dispersed by the bank to Unit. Appellant [Wilson] thereupon stopped work in May of 1973 and informed Unit that it would not continue until payments were forthcoming. On May 15, 1973, the bank conducted a meeting with the subcontractors in The Cliffs project, including Wilson.

At the meeting, the bank sought to determine whether it would be beneficial at that stage of the project to lend more money to Unit, foreclose on the mortgage and hire a new contractor to complete the work, or do nothing. Subcontractors were requested to furnish the bank an itemized account of what Unit owed them, and a cost estimate of future services necessary to complete their job contracts. Having reviewed the alternatives, the bank determined that it would be in its best interest to provide additional financing for the project. The bank reasoned that to foreclose on the mortgage and hire a new contractor at this stage of construction would result in higher costs.

There is conflicting testimony in regard to whether the bank made assurances to Wilson at this meeting that it would be paid for all work to be rendered on the project. However, after the May meeting, Wilson, along with the other subcontractors, did return to work.

Payments from Unit again were not forthcoming, resulting in a second work stoppage. The bank then arranged another meeting to be conducted on June 28, 1973.

At this second meeting, there is conflicting testimony concerning the import of the statements made by the bank representative to the subcontractors. The bank representative who spoke at the meeting testified at trial that he had merely advised the subcontractors that adequate funds would be available to complete the job. However, two representatives of Wilson, also in attendance at the meeting, testified that the bank representative had assured Wilson that if it returned to work, it would be paid.

After the meeting, Wilson returned to work and continued to submit its progress billings to Unit for payment. Upon completion of its portion of The Cliffs project, Wilson submitted its final invoice of $15,584.50 to Unit. This amount was adjusted downward to $15,443.06 upon agreement of Unit and Wilson. However, Wilson was not paid this amount.

As a result of nonpayment, Wilson filed suit…against Unit and the bank to recover the $15,443.06 [about $60,700 in 2010 dollars]. On September 26, 1975, Wilson and Unit stipulated that judgment for the sum of $15,365.84, plus interest, be entered against Unit. When Unit failed to satisfy the judgment, appellant proceeded with its action against the bank. [The trial court decided in favor of Wilson, but the intermediate appellate court reversed the trial court decision.]…[The Ohio statute of frauds provides]:

No action shall be brought whereby to charge the defendant, upon a special promise, to answer for the debt, default, or miscarriage of another person…unless the agreement…or some memorandum thereof, is in writing and signed by the party to be charged.…

In paragraph one of Crawford v. Edison [an 1887 Ohio case], however, this court stated:

When the leading object of the promisor is, not to answer for another, but to subserve some pecuniary or business purpose of his own, involving a benefit to himself…his promise is not within the statute of frauds, although it may be in form a promise to pay the debt of another and its performance may incidentally have the effect of extinguishing that liability.…

So long as the promisor undertakes to pay the subcontractor whatever his services are worth irrespective of what he may owe the general contractor and so long as the main purpose of the promisor is to further his own business or pecuniary interest, the promise is enforceable.…

The facts in the instant case reflect that the bank made its guarantee to Wilson to subserve its own business interest of reducing costs to complete the project. Clearly, the bank induced Wilson to remain on the job and rely on its credit for future payments. To apply the statute of frauds and hold that the bank had no contractual duty to Wilson despite its oral guarantees would not prevent the wrong which the statute’s enactment was to prevent, but would in reality effectuate a wrong.

Therefore, this court affirms the finding of the Court of Common Pleas that the verbal agreement made by the bank is enforceable by Wilson, and reverses the judgment of the Court of Appeals.


  1. The exception to the Statute of Frauds in issue here is the main purpose doctrine. How does this doctrine relate to the concept of promissory estoppel?
  2. What was the main purpose behind the bank’s purported promise?