From the Circuit Court of Warren County; Civil Appeal; Judge Edward D. Hodge; Reversed and Remanded
Motion for Rehearing Overruled, Transfer Denied September 15, 1983.
Before Crandall, P.j., Reinhard, Crist, Snyder, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Snyder
This is an appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court of Warren County, dismissing appellants' petition for specific performance of an alleged promise by respondents to help construct a house on a parcel of real estate owned by respondents and then to convey a life interest in the property to appellants. The judgment is reversed and remanded.
In September 1976, appellants, Gary and Carolyn Sassenrath, made an oral agreement with Gary's parents, respondents in this action, to construct a house on land owned by respondents. The house was to be built by Gary and his father, both of whom are experienced in carpentry and other construction skills. Respondents agreed to pay for all building materials. No deadline was set for completion of the house.
Work on the house stopped in May, 1978 due to a dispute between the parties. Appellants proposed to hire a contractor to finish the house and sought a deed in fee simple from respondents in order to secure a construction loan. Respondents refused to convey a fee simple interest in the property, but said they would convey a life interest when Gary completed his part of the bargain.
Gary quit working on the house and he and his wife filed suit to impose a constructive trust on the land or to recover in quantum meruit the value of the services Gary had performed. The trial court refused to impose a constructive trust, but awarded appellants damages of $3,500 in quantum meruit.
Appellants appealed that decision to this court which affirmed the trial court. This court held that appellants had failed to prove that respondents had breached the alleged oral agreement to convey; that the trial court in the earlier case may have found there was no breach because Gary had failed to complete construction of the house. Sassenrath v. Sassenrath, 624 S.W.2d 77, 78 (Mo. App. 1981) (Sassenrath I).
Appellants have now brought a second suit against respondents seeking completion of construction and a life interest for themselves. The trial court has dismissed the petition and appellants seek review of that dismissal.
On this appeal, Sassenrath II, appellants contend their lawsuit should not have been dismissed because their petition states a cause of action and because this court's earlier decision in Sassenrath I does not bar the present action. This court agrees.
"Traditionally, res judicata (claim preclusion) precludes the same parties or their privities from relitigating the same cause of action . . ." American Polled Hereford Association v. City of Kansas City, 626 S.W.2d 237, 241[3,4] (Mo. 1982).
Sassenrath I held that the oral agreement was that appellants would help respondents build the house and respondents would convey a life estate to appellants. Respondents at that time stood ready, willing and able to complete the house and to convey a life estate; therefore, this court held that appellants had proved no breach of the oral agreement to convey.
Sassenrath I made particular mention of the court's view of the res judicata effect of the opinion:
We wish to note that, in our view, after final Disposition of this case on appeal the only matter that will be res judicata will be whether there has been a breach of the oral agreement up to this point. If, for example, the house is completed with Gary's help and his parents refuse to convey the property to him for life, ...