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Specific Performance

15 January, 2016 - 09:33

Specific performance is a judicial order to the promisor that he undertake the performance to which he obligated himself in a contract. Specific performance is an alternative remedy to damages and may be issued at the discretion of the court, subject to a number of exceptions. Emily signs a contract to sell Charlotte a gold samovar, a Russian antique of great sentimental value because it once belonged to Charlotte’s mother. Emily then repudiates the contract while still executory. A court may properly grant Charlotte an order of specific performance against Emily.

Once students understand the basic idea of specific performance, they often want to pounce upon it as the solution to almost any breach of contract. It seems reasonable that the nonbreaching party could ask a court to simply require the promisor to do what she promised she would. But specific performance is a very limited remedy: it is only available for breach of contract to sell a unique item, that is, a unique item of personal property (the samovar), or a parcel of real estate (all real estate is unique). But if the item is not unique, so that the nonbreaching party can go out and buy another one, then the legal remedy of money damages will solve the problem. And specific performance will never be used to force a person to perform services against his will, which would be involuntary servitude. A person may be forced to stop doing that which he should not do (injunction), but not forced to do what he will not do.