Wilson v. Frederick R. Ross Inv. Co

In Wilson v. Frederick R. Ross Inv. Co., 116 Colo. 249, 180 P.2d 226 (Colo. 1947), the federal government was interested in purchasing land. It met with a broker, explaining the type of land it wanted and warning that any brokerage fee would have to come from the landowner. The broker obtained a willing seller, and the parties signed several option agreements on a piece of land. The government then filed condemnation proceedings on part of that land. When the broker did not receive his commission, he sued for breach of contract and quantum meruit. At trial, the broker dropped the contract claim and proceeded solely on the quantum meruit claim. Thus, the issue on appeal was whether the broker had adequately stated a claim in quantum meruit. On appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court noted that the case presented the "clear-cut issue of whether the unexpected condemnation by the government" of property that had been the subject of traditional sales negotiations "operates as a sale so as to entitle the brokers to a commission." 180 P.2d at 229 . As the court noted, "at no time was the possibility of condemnation mentioned to the landowner" and there was "no indication . . . that the landowner agreed to sell her property under any arrangement other than that contained in the written options." Id. at 228-29. The court characterized the government's condemnation action as a "sudden avalanche from the mountains above . . . without warning to the owner." Id. at 231. The court in Wilson denied the broker a commission. It reasoned that in a condemnation proceeding, the owner cannot designate or negotiate the property to be sold, cannot determine when the grantee may take possession, and cannot refuse to transfer the property if the offered price is inadequate, but must either reach an accord or litigate the question of just compensation. Id. The court did not intimate that its holding--and the factors it created--would apply where the owner sought condemnation.