Many consumers and corporate executives alike believe that in order to have a contract that a court will honor, a prospective litigant must produce a written contract signed by both parties to the agreement. In fact, oral agreements are often enforceable, but Massachusetts law provides through the colorfully-named "Statute of Frauds" that certain categories of contracts must be in writing to be enforceable. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 259, §1 provides several categories of contracts that can only be enforced by way of a civil action if there is a written agreement "signed by the party [or an agent of the party] to be charged therewith," including agreements for the sale of land and other real estate, and contracts that cannot be performed within one year.
Nowadays, it is not uncommon for real estate brokers to communicate with their clients and negotiate deals through text messages. The use of text messages in that context has given rise to a new legal issue: whether an exchange of text messages between brokers can create an enforceable contract for the sale of land.
In a recent Land Court case, the Court held that an unsigned Memorandum of Understanding regarding an ownership interest in a home on Nantucket was not binding upon the parties. In Slover v. Carpenter, Walter Boyd Jr. and his sister Josephine Carpenter owned a house on Nantucket as tenants-in-common. No. 14 MISC 487353 KFS, 2016 WL 54899, at *1 (Mass. Land Ct. Jan. 4, 2016). Ms. Carpenter's daughter Katherine Slover and her husband claimed that Ms. Carpenter had repeatedly promised orally and in writing to transfer her one-half interest in the property to them. Id. Ms. Slover and her husband had been long-time tenants of the property under a ten-year lease signed by Mr. Boyd and Ms. Carpenter, but had held over at the expiration of the lease and continued to occupy the property. Id. Mr. Boyd notified Ms. Slover and her husband that the lease would not be renewed, and that the property would revert to the common family usage. Id. at *3.