STATUTE OF FRAUDS: Barbara Lucinda Sawyer v. Melbourne Mills, Jr. (SC 8/27/2009)

Barbara Lucinda Sawyer v. Melbourne Mills, Jr.
2007-SC-000296-DG August 27, 2009
Opinion by Justice Noble. All sitting; all concur.

Sawyer was formerly employed by Mills—a lawyer representing clients in a class action suit. Sawyer helped recruit members for the class and the lawyer promised her a “big payday” when the case settled. After the case settled, Mills verbally agreed to pay Sawyer a million dollars in monthly installments of $10,000. After her employment was terminated, Sawyer sued to enforce the agreement and the jury returned a verdict in Sawyer’s favor. The trial court granted Mills’ motion for a JNOV on the grounds that the Statute of Frauds barred Sawyer’s claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, holding that since there was no writing between the parties and the agreement could not be completed within one year, the Statute of Frauds precluded enforcement of the agreement. The Court rejected Sawyer’s argument that a secret recording of the parties making the agreement combined with canceled checks constituted a writing for the purposes of the Statute of Frauds. Further, the Court held that Sawyer’s past performance could not amount to consideration to support a binding agreement.

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